Fans of sci-fi and action are already eagerly awaiting Netflix’s newest original series, Altered Carbon. The show is based on the novel by Richard K. Morgan and follows Takeshi Kovacs, a prisoner who finds himself in the body of a disgraced police officer. In the world of Altered Carbon, humans can escape physical death by transferring their consciousness into other bodies, a benefit of storing all memories and personalities in implants located in the spine. Kovacs must utilize his new body to solve a murder and survive in this terrifying futuristic world.
We got the chance to talk to Hiro Kanagawa, who plays Captain Tanaka, a commanding officer in the police force Kovacs finds himself a part of. The show, which begins streaming on February 2nd, is shaping up to be a treat for sci-fi fans. While they eagerly await the show’s release, let’s gain some insight from Hiro Kanagawa and effectively ramp up our hype levels to 11.
Firstly, let me thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to speak with me! Trailers for the Netflix original Altered Carbon have been releasing, and fans are excited to watch. In Altered Carbon, you play Captain Tanaka, the commanding officer who leads the in-world police force. Tell me a little bit about your character; is a good guy, bad guy, or will we have to wait for the show to see his true intentions?
Tanaka is a good man in a bad world. He is tasked with keeping law and order in a world which is actually run by an ultra-powerful elite. He can either keep his head down and do as he’s told, or he can make a stand and do the right thing. Beyond that, you’ll have to watch and find out!
Altered Carbon evokes many sci-fi classics in its visuals, namely Blade Runner. I really like the sci-fi genre, because it offers endless possibilities for world setting, lore, and characters. You seem to work within the sci-fi genre quite a bit, with parts in shows like The X-Files, Legends of Tomorrow, and Heroes: Reborn. Would you consider sci-fi to be one of your favorite genres? If so, what’s one of your favorite sci-fi flicks?
I’ve been lucky in that a lot of great sci-fi projects are filmed in Vancouver where I live. In addition to Altered Carbon, I also shot the pilot for Snowpiercer last year—another highly anticipated sci-fi series. I do tend to favor the more dystopian side of the genre: Blade Runner and Alien are definitely two iconic favorites. I’d also put District 9, Children of Men, and Clockwork Orange on the list.
The show is also based on the novel by Richard K. Morgan. I haven’t had a chance to read it myself, but I know that it has a pretty big fanbase. Had you read or heard of Altered Carbon before working on the show?
I’d heard of it but hadn’t read it until I was cast. One of the joys of working on the show was seeing how the series is the same universe as the book but expands upon the first-person narrative. I guarantee fans of the book are in for a great ride.
Netflix has obviously spent a lot of money on the production of Altered Carbon, with great looking visuals and a cinematic style. I imagine working on a Netflix show, especially one with such a high budget, can be an exceptionally rewarding experience. What was it like to work on the set of Altered Carbon?
Honestly, it was a career highlight. From the word “go,” it was apparent that everybody involved from the top down was interested in making something great. The attention to detail, the willingness to allow actors to explore and give input…it was great to be around that creative energy. I’ll give you an example: Tamara Taylor and I were having trouble understanding a scene we had—we felt it was a little underwritten and we could not connect all the subtext that needed to be there. We phoned Laeta (Kalogridis), our showrunner, who was on her way out the door to celebrate her husband’s birthday. On a lot of shows, that would be the end of the conversation, and rightfully so. But Laeta worked with us for 30 or 40 minutes to get it right. When the showrunner shows the actors that kind of generosity and leadership, of course, we’re gonna do everything we can to make the words and characters come alive. And thanks to her husband for his patience!
The show deals with the idea of transferring human consciousness and memory. In Altered Carbon, mortal death is seemingly just the beginning, thanks to the ability to “re-sleeved” into new bodies. If you had the option to “re-sleeve” into any fictional character, who would it be?
Hmm, so many to choose from, but I’ll go with either Tiresias from Greek mythology, or Virginia Woolf’s Orlando because they experienced life as both a man and a woman. (As do some characters in Altered Carbon.)
You have an extensive list of acting credits, but I noticed that the majority are television series. Many people may assume that filming a movie and a television show is exactly the same, but I know that there can be key differences. You’ve worked on big blockbuster movies like Godzilla, but also some short films. Your work has been regarded highly, earning you award nominations and the like. With such a vast amount of experience in both television and film, do you find that you prefer one over the other?
In the past, there was certainly more attention to detail and all-around higher production values on films, but that has changed. We are in the golden age of the serial narrative now. Altered Carbon and Snowpiercer were both shot like feature films. The directors, the A-list stars, the production values—everything about them was what used to happen typically only on big budget films. In that context, I don’t know that I have a preference, although actors certainly have a greater opportunity in a series now to really explore and develop a character over a longer period of time.
In addition to your time in front of the cameras, you have spent plenty of time on the stage. You have written highly regarded plays, and acted to equally high praise from your peers. I also spent some time on the stage, appearing in shows like Les Miserables and Lend Me a Tenor. In the theater business, I found that many actors have an ideal show or role. For me, that role is Sweeney Todd in Stephen Sondhiem’s classic musical. What’s your dream show/role?
I would love to do Macbeth set in samurai-era Japan, a la Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood. A director friend of mine pitched the idea to a theatre here in Vancouver about 15 years ago, but the producers wouldn’t go for it. Maybe they will now!
You’ve also done some voice work for anime and video games. Do you think you’ll ever return to anime or video games as a character voice again?
I am certainly open to the possibility. A fan recently suggested Splinter in Teenage Ninja Turtles. I think that would be in my wheelhouse.
Finally, I want to thank you again for taking the time to talk. I truly hope that everyone tunes in when Altered Carbon starts streaming on February 2nd, 2018. The show has already been renewed for a second season, so I’m going to go in with pretty high expectations. I look forward to seeing your role on the show and eagerly await the sci-fi mystery you all have in store for us. Before we wrap up, is there anything else you’d like to make my readership aware of; any other projects we should anticipate?
Thanks for the interest and opportunity to share a little about myself. As I mentioned, I also shot the pilot of “Snowpiercer” last year and that has also been greenlit to go to series. I think both Altered Carbon and Snowpiercer are going to be big hits, so I feel very fortunate to have significant roles in both. Back here in the nonsci-fi world, watch for my guest spot on Designated Survivor coming up in February.
Altered Carbon | Official Trailer [HD] | Netflix
Altered Carbon launches on Netflix Friday, February 2.
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Featured Image Credit: Photography by Kristine Cofsky
I'm a life long gamer and an overall media junkie. In addition to writing great articles like this, I host a gaming/comedy podcast called "Super Gamecast 64" available on iTunes and Stitcher. I also watch an unhealthy amount of movies, and try to spread as much love into the world as I can. Hope you enjoyed the content!