interview by JANA LETONJA

Japanese actress, born in New Zealand, singer and dancer Anna Sawai is known from her roles in Apple TV’s award-winning adaptation of ‘Pachinko’ and their current #1 hit series ‘Monarch: Legacy of Monsters’. Currently, she is also starring in FX’s limited series ‘Shōgun’, which premiered on 27th February.

Anna, you recently starred in Apple Tv’s number one series, ‘Monarch: Legacy of Monsters’, members of the Monarch organization as they encounter Godzilla and other monsters called Titans, across a half century. How did you get cast on this series as the leading star?
I had a lovely initial meeting with Chris Black, Matt Shakman and their team in early 2022. I’m guessing they saw similarities in me and the character, and next thing you know I was on set playing Cate Randa.

In the series, you portrayed Cate Randa, a San Francisco schoolteacher coping with PTSD. How was it portraying her and how did you prepare to portray someone with PTSD?
I started my preparation by rewatching the previous films and learning about those with similar conditions. My experience in the Tohoku earthquake in 2011 was something I often recalled in order to channel her trauma in scenes where she is triggered by the alarms or visuals.

Currently, you’re also starring in FX’s limited series ‘Shōgun’, based on the best-selling novel, that is an is an epic story set in feudal Japan at the dawn of a century-defining civil war. Tell us more about this series and its story. 
‘Shōgun’ is set in 1600, following an English pilot who washes ashore amidst a political battle between 5 lords. It is probably the most authentic portrayal of our culture and people that I’ve seen in western media.

What can the viewers expect from the remaining episodes?
People can expect more conflict, bloodshed and beautiful connections. It’s going to take you on a ride. That’s all I can say.

As mentioned, the series is set during the civil war. How did you experience these times through your role in this series?
The costumes and breathtaking sets truly transported me to the Sengoku period. With the help of our many supervisors, I physically found Mariko, in her walk, talk and the way she just carries herself.

What was your favourite scene to film in this series and why?
It’s so hard to choose one scene, but in episode nine, she comes face to face with a character we haven’t properly seen her with. It’s beautiful and heartbreaking, and I hope viewers are able to see the history that these two share.

You’ve made your international debut in 2021 with a role in ‘F9’, the ninth film in the ‘Fast & Furious’ franchise. How exciting was working on a ‘Fast & Furious’ project and how did this role impact your career?
I was extremely excited to partake in a franchise that has a massive fan base globally. It was my first big project and I feel I was so green then, though it was only 5 years ago that we filmed it. It really opened doors for me and I’m so incredibly grateful for the ‘F9’ team for giving me such a great opportunity.

Besides acting, you’ve also been one of the lead vocalists of the Japenese girl group Faky from 2013 to 2018. What made you decide to focus more on acting, instead of continuing your musical career?
I had been wanting to act since a fairly young age and my then team had shown support before I got involved in the group. However, it turned out that I wouldn’t have the freedom to even audition on rare occasions that something came around, so I knew I had to quit and start fresh if I wanted to pursue my goals in the film industry.

Your mom taught you to play the piano at the young age of 3. What are your passions and hobbies today, besides of course acting and music?
I’ve been doing yoga for maybe 5 years now. I always try to find a studio nearby when I’m on location as well because it helps me reset on my days off. I love crocheting too. It’s a new hobby I started while filming ‘Shōgun’.

photography MEKHI TURNER
styling MARC ERAM at A-Frame Agency
hair JENNY CHO at A-Frame Agency
editorial director and interview JANA LETONJA