Japanese model Rila Fukushima makes her feature film debut in Twentieth Century Fox's The Wolverine as the dangerous assassin Yukio. While on the Australian set of The Wolverine we had the opportunity to sit down and chat with Rila about working alongside Hugh Jackman and training for the physically demanding and action-oriented role.
Rila walked in fully dressed in Yukio's movie costume, colored hair and clothing, even sporting wounds from a recent onscreen battle. The Yukio poster, officially released stills and even her highlights in The Wolverine trailers make it clear Yukio is a skilled and confident warrior. To our surprise, her genuinely fun and kind personality - nearly the opposite of what we'd seen on screen - emphasized her natural born talent for acting. In our interview we discuss the training that went into preparing for the part and Yukio's relationships with the other characters.
I see you have a cut on your face. What’s that from?
Rila Fukushima: "Ah, yes. Well, I have to have this scar for that scene."
Oh, okay. So what can you tell us about the movie version of Yukio?
"What kind of things do you want to know about Yukio?"
What can you say? One thing I wanted to know was, in the comics your character has a very complicated relationship with Wolverine, can you describe your relationship with Wolverine in the film?
"I think I have the same thing from the comic and also what I’m filming and doing right now. I think Yukio and Logan have a lot in common. Yukio has trouble in trying to find Logan and bringing him to Japan, that’s the first mission for Yukio and I think Logan… They understand, because they are both soldiers, lonely soldiers. She’s an assassin, so they care about each other. It’s a funny pairing, but she has a lot of confidence, so sometimes they can annoy each other or they’ll hate each other. It’s really fun. It’s a little funny."
How would you describe their relationship? Is it romantic? Is it father-daughter? Brother-sister? How is it?
"You will see when you watch the film, but also they're buddies. They fight together."
This first mission you talk about. Can you talk a little bit more about that?
"First mission, yes. She travels outside of Japan trying to find Logan and bring Logan to Japan. So she was traveling for a long time trying to find Logan."
In the comics Yukio has a different look and black hair, but your character has a new style and unique hair color. How is that a reflection of her personality?
"I think her personality…. She’s very strong and independent and a fighter, but I think… The comic book was written in the seventies, right? Like eighties… So I guess they are trying to bring the character into the modern times. So I was actually surprised about it. Trust me, I had long black hair and I was ready, because I read the comics, you know? So I was like 'Really?' I think it works. It’s great."
You researched the comics?
"I don't think I read everything, but I think I read most of it, yes."
Yukio is an assassin in the film. Can you tell us about what kind of weapons we can see her use?
"She uses everything. So since I got here it's been an amazing and challenging journey, especially as Yukio's character is very physical, so I've done stunt training a lot and I like exercising, but I had never done any stunts before… I've practiced sword and bolster and I do everything, like fist fight… Of course my amazing stunt double helped me out a lot, but I'm trying to do as much as I can. So that’s something I'm also really excited to see for myself, how they’re going to end up… Yeah."
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How good is your sword fighting?
"And also like Shingens, like Hiro. He was an amazing teacher with the sword and he actually left from Australia already, but he helped me a lot. There are stunt people, but there are not that many Japanese, so he gave me advice with 'How you kill' fighting, not like classic Japanese sword fighting. He gave me a lot of feedback based on her character, because she's a really cool character. He gave me a lot of advice like 'If it's Yukio, maybe that could be cooler if you swing the sword like this.' So we were trying to figure out a different style. It's not classic sword fighting, it's more modern. It's more of Yukio's fighting style. He helped me a lot."
Can you talk a little bit about Yukio's relationship with his character and with Mariko in the film?
[She turns to a rep to see if she should answer the last question.]
"So Yukio was really close with the Yoshida Family, so Mariko and Yukio grew up together, so they are really close, like really good close friends."
In the "real" world, are the X-Men and Wolverine well known in Japan? And what did your friends and family think when they heard you were doing The Wolverine movie?
"Of course, yeah. Like when I got here… I got here in July and I started training. We started shooting at the end of July, but I couldn't talk about this for a while. Until the middle of August I was quiet, so when I told my parents, it was like [Makes surprised gasping noise]. It was like that. A lot of people know about Yukio's character and… we knew each other before working on this project, so we were really surprised. This is the first time for me being in a film, so people are really excited about how it’s going to be."
You mentioned you did a month of training. What kind of training did you do?
"First, muscle training, just your basics. It was also with the sword and weapons. I'm still running and trying to keep my energy up. They are really consistent. It's a whole really long shoot, right and so the way they are controlling body and mental is so amazing. They are really professional. Hugh is so professional. Even if he is shooting like every day, he will wake up a couple of hours for sure and eating like once every two hours. Can you believe that? Every time I look up, he's holding a plate. I'm like 'Oh my god…' Eating or exercising or… It's crazy, but I tried to follow him when I came here and I tried to eat like him, but now I eat like once every three hours, like a little bit and no Mars Bar, no Twix, no crazy sugar. Especially with night shoots, some times I feel like 'I think I need sugar,' but I try not, so I tell myself 'Eat healthy.' That’s what I'm doing now."
What's it like working with Hugh both behind the scenes and together on the screen?
"The crew people say it's a really fun chemistry with me and Hugh. Sometimes we keep going, even if we've finished the scene. It's funny. He gave me a lot of improv, so I physically hit back. It's funny. It's so much fun to work with him, it's amazing."
We heard about filming in Japan and how you were filming on the streets without it being blocked off. Can you talk a little bit about that?
"About the Japan shoot? People went crazy. Oh my god. Actually I didn't get to shoot on a street, like I didn't do it, but I heard from many people… Hugh gave autograph to everybody while waiting on the street. It was… I never worked with other people, like Hollywood stars like him, but I think it's not something… That doesn't happen, right? He was like 'Everybody line up' and just gave autographs. Like hundreds of people… it took like 45 minutes. He was so nice and everybody was like 'Thank you so much.' It was really great."
Cool. Thanks you!
"Thank you so much. Thank you."
The Wolverine is directed by James Mangold off of Mark Bomback and Christopher McQuarrie’s screenplay. It stars Hugh Jackman, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Will Yun Lee, Brian Tee, Hiroyuki Sanada, and Rila Fukushima.
The Wolverine hits theaters July 26, 2013. X-Men: Days of Future Past hits theaters on July 18th, 2014.
Let me know on Twitter @rob_keyes if you want Jackman to continue playing Wolverine for years to come.