As she sat down to watch the first episode of “Invasion,” an Apple TV + series about the violent arrival of alien life on Earth, Shioli Kutsuna said she felt very moved.
Although the Sydney-born actress has appeared in several Hollywood movies, this sci-fi drama, which premiered on October 22, is her first international television series. As with many recent productions, filming was halted in 2020 due to the pandemic and there were times when she thought the series might never air.
“Just watching the opening credits was an incredible feeling,” Kutsuna, 29, recalls in an interview with The Japan Times. “To see the names of these people with whom I had worked closely, I was just very proud of them. … The shoot lasted about a year, with six month intervals during which we were all unsure of what was going to happen. It was the longest break I had experienced. Back in the role, I wasn’t sure I could get back to it without a problem, but it was easier than I expected.
Kutsuna plays Mitsuki, a highly trained Japanese aerospace technician who has a secret relationship with Hinata (Rinko Kikuchi), one of three astronauts to the International Space Station on a one-year mission. When the astronauts are mysteriously dropped from the ship, Mitsuki, spurred on by her anguish, does all she can to find out what happened. However, officials at the Japanese space station JASA are reluctant to investigate further.
“It was one of the most difficult roles I have had,” Kutsuna says. “From the second episode, Mitsuki is in mourning all the time. I remember the first day of filming, we did several really emotional scenes, and then we crammed a sex scene at the end. It was overwhelming and I felt the pressure. I wanted to do Mitsuki justice. He’s an unconventional character who constantly swims against the tide, both in his personal life and at work.
As an isolated character, Mitsuki is alone in many scenes, and Kutsuna says not being able to bounce the ideas of the other actors was a challenge. While she became very close to several of the crew, she never met some of the cast as the drama was filmed in four separate countries: the United States, England, Japan and the Morocco. She briefly bonded with Sam Neill, who plays a near-retired Oklahoma Sheriff who can’t let go of an unfinished business, but Kutsuna made sure to meet and connect with Kikuchi, another actress. Japanese, before the start of filming.
“Although we were only in two or three scenes together, we thought it was important to build a relationship because the two characters mean a lot to each other,” Kutsuna said. “Rinko lived in Hollywood for a while so it was fascinating to hear about her experiences. She’s a tough woman and seeing that up close was encouraging. Having said that, we are very different. worrying about what people think of her even though I am quite sensitive to new surroundings.
Born to Japanese parents in Australia, Kutsuna says she was shy growing up. Being one of the few Asians in her year, she experienced a certain racism in school, which made her even more reserved with people. Taking dance lessons allowed her to express herself and her confidence grew. At 13, she won the Special Jury Prize at the Japan Bishojo Contest, an annual beauty contest organized by the Oscar Promotion art agency. Obtaining the award launched her acting career.
“My father’s colleague saw an advertisement on the online contest and suggested that I participate,” Kutsuna says. “I decided to go, but I wasn’t serious about it. As a family, we hadn’t been to Japan for about three years and thought that would be a good excuse to go. I certainly didn’t think this would be a life-changing trip. The plan was to return to my ordinary Sydney life soon after. Then I got it right, got an agent, and before I knew it I was on a Japanese show.
Fourteen-year-old Kutsuna made her small screen debut in the long-running high school drama series “Mr. Kinpachi in Class 3B” (“San-nen B-gumi Kinpachi-sensei”). She quickly became a regular at television, appearing on shows such as “I Am Mita, Your Housekeeper”, the most watched program in Japan in 2011. Three years later, she won the Newcomer of the Year award at the 37th Japan Academy Prize for her: performances in Isao Yukisada’s “Before the Vigil” and Lee Sang-il’s remake of Clint Eastwood’s western, “Unforgiven,” in which she played a prostitute disfigured by one of her clients.
One of the biggest challenges Kutsuna faced early in his career was reading scripts in Japanese. Even though she spoke the language at home, some lines turned out to be tricky. She improved quickly and her bilingualism opened the doors to many Japanese-American productions such as “Oh Lucy!” starring Josh Hartnett in 2017 and “The Outsider” with Jared Leto in 2018. Then came the opportunity to appear in Marvel’s “Deadpool 2” as Yukio, a mutant with electric powers who fights alongside the title of rude and sarcastic superhero, played by Ryan Reynolds.
“I didn’t really know I was auditioning for ‘Deadpool 2’,” Kutsuna says. “Being a Marvel production, there was a lot of secrecy during filming. Other than my character, Yukio, I knew next to nothing about the story until the premiere. Of course, I was excited to be a part of it, but I try to treat every movie and drama the same, otherwise you think too much about things. I have to say, however, that it was amazing to watch Ryan Reynolds work his magic on set. Everything was so meticulous.
Kutsuna has appeared alongside several other big names in recent years, including Jennifer Aniston and Adam Sandler in ‘Murder Mystery’ in 2019. She has enjoyed working with the duo and generally feels like the atmosphere on the production set Hollywood women tend to be more relaxed than what they are used to when performing in Japan.
“Part of it is culture and respect,” Kutsuna says. “In Japan, you are formally introduced to the main cast, which can be intimidating. In America they work really hard to make you feel as comfortable as possible. We’re also closer to the team and it’s more fluid when we talk to the director. Here, managers are more involved in what is happening. This gives you more protection, but at the same time, less freedom.
Dealing with cultural differences is something Kutsuna has spent her life feeling comfortable with, and with a thriving career in Japan and Hollywood, it doesn’t look like she’s slowing down any time soon. Kutsuna returned to Japan this year to film “Sanctuary,” a Netflix drama on the dark side of professional sumo due out in 2023. It was also recently announced that “Invasion” will return for a second season, giving fans a chance to see the path the conflicting Mitsuki will follow next.
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invasion, Shioli KUTSUNA