AUTHOR: Anna M. Park
ISSUE: Summer 2013
PHOTO: Sasaki Tomokazu
“THE MODEL-TURNED-ACTRESS DISHES ON WORKING WITH HUGH JACKMAN IN THE WOLVERINE.”
On the last day of production of the highly anticipated film from Marvel Studios, The Wolverine, director James Mangold tweeted some black and white photos he took of “three people I adore”: Hugh Jackman, who plays the title character; the Japanese model Tao Okamoto, who plays Logan’s love interest Mariko; and the elfin beauty Rila Fukushima.
Herself a former model who first gained international attention when she appeared in the D&G spring/summer 2004 campaign, Fukushima hasn’t just won over one of Hollywood’s top directors. She’s just signed with ICM Partners, one of the world’s largest talent agencies. “There are so many roles I’d like to try,” says the Tokyo-born actress, now based in Los Angeles. “I love a good challenge, and I look for roles that speak to me somehow.”
In her big screen debut, out in theaters July 26, Fukushima found plenty of challenges in Yukio, the ninja character who first appeared in the original 1982 comic book, tasked by Wolverine’s nemesis to find the mutant. “The role required intense training in a variety of martial arts styles and tech- niques, from sword fighting to bo staff,” says Fukushima, who is fluent in English. “I think the biggest challenge was the physicality of the role. Long days of martial arts and stunts were really hard. It was both incredibly rewarding and humbling to go through it. I definitely learned a lot of things about myself.”
After all, Fukushima isn’t your typical martial arts actress. Raised in Tokyo, she graduated college with a degree in English literature. While working at an advertising agency, she met an agent who encouraged her to give modeling a try. “I am not sure exactly what my first job modeling was; it was so long ago,” says Fukushima, who has been modeling for at least a decade. “But I remember that it was for one of the magazines that I would regularly buy. So one day, I got to pick up an issue, and I saw myself in it. It was such a sur- real experience, seeing the pages I had worked on in a magazine that only a few months before I was just a reader of. It took a while to get used to that feeling.”
Since then, Fukushima’s appeared in everything from Elle to V Magazine to Vogue Japan, and has done campaigns for Vera Wang, Gap, Calvin Klein CK One and Kenneth Cole Reaction. And as a model, she had occasion to work with now-co-star Okamoto. “It was a lot of fun to get to work with Tao,” says Fukushima. “She is a very talented ac- tress, and I had an amazing time work- ing through the script and spending time together with her while shooting the film.”
It seems there was a lot of bonding on set, from director to co-stars to crew. (The film features a number of Japanese actors, including Hiroyuki Sanada, as well as Asian American actors Will Yun Lee and Brian Tee.) “We had a great time every day,” Fukushima recalls. But there was one moment she particularly relished.
“One of my best memories was seeing Hugh with his shirt off for the first time,” she says. “I’m not sure if my reaction will make it into the film, but I must have looked really surprised. It was like looking at a Greek god.”
WHAT WERE YOU DOING 10 YEARS AGO?
“In 2003, I was still living and working in Tokyo. The summer was probably really hot and muggy, as it always is in Tokyo, and I was just a few months away from getting to go to New York.” -Rila Fukushima
AUTHOR: Ada Tseng
ISSUE: Summer 2013
PHOTOS: Jetstar Entertainment
“CANADIAN ACTOR AND MODEL GODFREY GAO TACKLES HIS FIRST ENGLISH LANGUAGE ROLE AS MAGNUS BANE, THE HIGH WARLOCK OF BROOKLYN, IN THIS SUMMER’S ADAPTATION OF THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS.”
In Asian TV dramas, the male protagonist is often a young, arrogant, rich kid who’s about to have his world turned upside down by the wholesome, down-to-earth female who finally makes him want to be a better person. To set this up, there’s often an obliga- tory scene where a crowd of girls lunges themselves at the leading man, causing your average feminist viewer to roll her eyes.
But when Godfrey Gao, dressed in an all-white suit, makes girls’ hearts go aflutter in the first episode of the 2010 Taiwanese drama Volleyball Lover, it seems quite realistic. Or perhaps, your eyes are too stunned to roll.
It doesn’t hurt that Gao’s athletic character, Bai Qian Rui, is not arrogant, but in fact kind of silly. In order to cheer up his best friend, he crouches his entire 6-foot-4-inch frame low to the ground and jumps up and down like a gorilla. “I think that character is closest to my personality,” says the Taiwanese- Malaysian Canadian, “because I can be quite goofy sometimes.”
Born in Taipei, Gao moved to Vancouver at age 9 and immediately noticed cultural differences. “I remember [Canadian] girls in school greeting friends or strangers with hugs, some- times even [taking] a running jump to give a hug,” says Gao, “whereas in Taiwan, girls were mostly shy, and if boys came up to talk to them, they’d run away and giggle from a healthy distance.”
As a child, Gao idolized Michael Jordan, and it was his dream to play basketball in the NBA. A skinny, lanky kid, Gao had his growth spurt between 9th and 10th grades, a period he re- members clearly because it resulted in him dunking a basketball for the first time. He still plays pick-up basketball weekly, and if he hadn’t become a model and actor, he says he would have loved to pursue a career in sports. “Perhaps I might’ve become Jeremy Lin!” he jokes.
At first, modeling and acting seemed out of reach. “Honestly, I didn’t think it would happen because cloth- ing-wise, nothing fits me in Asia,” says the 28-year-old. But then he earned his first acting job in 2006 in the Taiwanese drama The Kid from Heaven, in which he plays an American coming back to Taiwan to run a business. Likewise, Gao had just returned to Taiwan from Canada to give acting a shot.
While he worked hard to perfect his craft, Gao jokes that it was his facial hair that changed the course of his career. “I had a long summer vacation back in Vancouver, and for a while, I just didn’t shave,” remembers Gao. “When I re- turned to shoot another TV drama in Taiwan, my manager and the producers liked my facial hair and thought I looked more masculine. That’s when I shot Wanna Be a Tough Guy, where I played Tiger, and that image stuck. It was definitely a turning point.”
By 2011, he was not only a house- hold name in Taiwan, he was declared the “world’s first Asian male super- model” by The Guardian after being named the new face of Louis Vuitton — the first Asian model for the world’s most valuable luxury brand.
In another first, this year brings Gao’s first English-language role as the Indonesian half-demon warlock Mag- nus Bane in the Hollywood adaptation of The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, in theaters August 23. On her Tumblr, Cassandra Clare, the author of the original young adult fantasy novels, wrote that after an exhaustive search through many hot Asian men, she’s confident that “our Magnus may be … THE HOTTEST MAN IN THE WORLD.” Expect a “warlock for the ages,” says Gao, whose character has a penchant for sparkly eyeliner. “It was magnificent! It was the first time I had glitter and nail polish applied on me.” The only downside, he recalls, was “the Magnus party scene where I was ‘sans pants’ in 0 to 3 degree Celsius weather.”
Godfrey Gao in glittery liner and without pants? “Expect a lot of fun,” says Gao. Indeed.
WHAT WERE YOU DOING 10 YEARS AGO?
“I had just graduated from high school and attended my first year of college where I was playing basketball for Capilano University.” — Godfrey Gao
Buy our 10th anniversary issue with Godfrey Gao here.