Remember the original Predators starring now-California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger? No? Then you just might like this new Predators, with an updated cast, and a hip, young director, Robert Rodriguez. This time, Adrien Brody is a mercenary who reluctantly leads a group of elite warriors who come to realize they’ve been brought together on an alien planet … as prey. With the notable exception of a disgraced physician, they are all cold-blooded killers — mercenaries, Yakuza, convicts, death squad members — human “predators” that are now being systemically hunted and eliminated by a new breed of alien predators.
Among these killers, played by actors Topher Grace and Laurence Fishburne, is Hanzo, played by Louis Ozawa Changchien. His name may be a mouthful, but Changchien is well on his way to becoming a household name. He played a supporting role in Fair Game starring Naomi Watts and Sean Penn, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival last month and will be released worldwide this fall. He was also part of the four-person cast of Michael Golamco’s critically acclaimed play Year Zero at NYC’s Second Stage Theatre and hopes that the heartwarming story about young Cambodian Americans can make its way to California.
Here, some things to know about Changchien.
He felt weird growing up
Changchien was born in Queen, N.Y., and grew up on the Upper East Side. “I don’t know what it’s like being one ethnicity. My father speaks Japanese, as well, even though he’s Taiwanese so I grew up speaking Japanese in the home.”
He attended Japanese school on the weekend as a child and found that people were really confused by him. “I think it was because I had a Chinese last name yet I was speaking Japanese and at the same time Mandarin or Taiwanese.”
About being a kid, Changchien says, “I definitely felt a little weird growing up because I didn’t have much contact with my mother’s side of the family until I was 12 years old. I grew up in New York with my Taiwanese grandparents and I remember as a little kid being confused because they seemed so different from my mother (who is Japanese). The food they cooked was so different. It took me a while to realize that ‘Oh, I actually have two cultures as part of my background.’”
After landing a role in a Jello pudding commercial when he was in the first grade, Changchien could have been well on his way to pursuing an acting career, but his parents had other plans.
“My mom and dad didn’t want me to be a professional child actor so I kind of got out of that and got into sports. It wasn’t until I got to college and I was a little confused about what I really wanted to do in college, as a lot of kids are, and I came across an intro to acting class.”
Changchien really enjoyed the class and his teacher encouraged him to audition for some of the school plays. “I tried out and I got cast and that’s how I really started with my acting.
His parents support him being an actor now
Changchien’s parents understood that conditions for child actors were harsh and they wanted to insure that he’d have a normal childhood. “But now they’re really excited! They realize that I can make a living doing this. I think that’s the thing that most Asian parents are worried about. At the end of the day it’s like, Is my kid going to be stable or are they going to be miserable being a broke-ass actor?’
Asian American actors “have to be better”
Changchien advises Asian Americans aspiring to be actors to take the time to be trained. “I think it’s really important to get training. This is going to sound weird, but as an Asian American you almost have to be better, especially if you want to do parts outside of just being an Asian character. I think going to graduate school at Brown really changed me. I spent three years acting every single day. If you can survive that you can survive this business.
He believes that there are more opportunities now than there ever has been in the U.S. for Asian Americans wanting to make it in show business. It’s a really exciting time and there’s a lot to look forward to. I think there’s a lot further to go but I think we’re in a very exciting time right now.
He’s a big fan of the original Predator
“The first Predator movie was kind of iconic to me as a boy growing up. That was an iconic kind of action movie. I didn’t realize the chronology of this because maybe I was too young, but I think that was the movie that really launched Arnold Schwarzenegger as the action hero he became.”
His character is deadly with a sword
Changchien describes his character Hanzo as the silent, but deadly type. “He’s an enforcer from a Yakuza family in Japan. He’s been plopped unbeknownst to him on this alien planet with the rest of the guys. He’s not your teamwork-oriented type of guy. All of them are actually quite individualist, but they end up having to band together under extreme circumstances. Hanzo is a master of the sword and he’s very proficient with a pistol as well.”
Sword master in real life, too
Changchien has been practicing kendo since he was 5 years old. “This was my dream actually to be able to fight with a Japanese sword in a movie. I asked to have my kendo sensei be brought on and they brought him in for two weeks. He helped us choreograph a beautiful fight. I think it’s a really special scene in the movie.”
He became great friends with the cast
“It doesn’t get much better than working with guys like Laurence (Fishburne) and Adrien (Brody). This is my first studio film and I couldn’t imagine working under any better circumstances. Everybody is a good actor in this film. It’s incredible. And that’s unusual in an action film (laughs).”
The film doesn’t boast a large cast and Changchien believes that allowed for everyone to become really close. “During the beginning of filming when we were in Hawaii, we worked everyday on set together, we went to the gym together, and we went out for dinner together. It was fun hearing all the great stories Laurence had to share and Adrien as well because Adrien’s been doing this for a long time.”
On set, he and the cast liked to play practical jokes on each other
“We had a great makeup guy named Rom working on the gentlemen. Ali (Mahershalalhashbaz Ali), who’s an amazing actor, is kind of a deadpan jokester so you don’t always know if he’s joking or not. One day Topher (Grace) shows up on set after taking a walk on the beach. Ali tells him, ‘Topher, you know what? I’d be careful. Rom’s in a really bad mood today. He got into a fight with the costume department and requested his trailer be put down on the beach.’”
Predators will scare you
Changchien says audiences can expect to be awed by the film’s beautiful cinematography along with being scared and thrilled. “There are unbelievable stunts. We had some of the greatest stunt people working on this film doing the most unbelievable stunts. My guy just killed it. He makes me look amazing!”
Changchien also shared that are new predators to fear. “This movie is definitely paying tribute to the original in its movie style. We have very minimal CG in this movie. We have a bunch of guys in the jungle against predators. It’s scary.
Catch Changchien and Predators, out tomorrow, July 9, 2010.