Altered Carbon interview: Hiro Kanagawa details Netflix’s extraordinary new series

On Friday, February 2 the first season of Altered Carbon is going to start streaming on Netflix. With that, you’re going to have an opportunity to see a high-concept thriller like no other. This is set in a future in which humans are no longer limited to just one body — there is an element of mystery and drama, and to go along with that plenty of imagination. (The teaser at the bottom of this interview gives you a little more of a sense of that).

One of the interesting players in this series is Hiro Kanagawa, a long-accomplished actor who is stepping into a role he describes as one of the most interesting of his career in Captain Tanaka. In our CarterMatt interview below Kanagawa (whose other credits include The Man in the High Castle, Heroes: Reborn, and iZombie) describes his character, the appeal of the show, and the sense of humanity he finds in characters even within the most fantastic of worlds.

CarterMatt – How did you end up becoming a part of Altered Carbon? How did you first end up learning about the role?

Hiro Kanagawa – I auditioned for it, as I do with most other characters. I do get offers for some projects, but this was a situation where I auditioned for it and it was a fairly simple process. I didn’t have multiple auditions. It was just the one and I was cast. I hadn’t read the book previously, so as soon as I was cast I went out, got the book, and read it. I was really looking forward it.

How similar did you find the show was to the book?

What’s great about the show is that it’s the same universe. Fans of the first book will definitely recognize that it’s the first book. The first book is written in first-person and has a very hard-boiled film noir voice. The show takes that and blows it up and expands the universe. It’s the same universe, but it’s a much more detailed one that is created on-screen. I absolutely love that about the series.

When you had the audition, did they tell you a lot about the role at the time?

I knew from the audition sides that this was a very conflicted, compromised character. The scenes that I read had that subtext in the content.

One of the interesting things about the character is that despite being named Captain Tanaka, he originally was scripted as having an Irish accent. That’s something that went away before I took on the role. It was an aspect of it that I found interesting and if they had asked me to do it, I was gung-ho and prepared to go there.

What was the experience like being on set for this show? It’s such a big-budget, high-concept idea, and Netflix has been really going all out with its different series.

My experience was that almost everything was like a feature film — the budget, the actors, the directors who were brought in, the writing, the attention to detail … It was shot like a feature film, and not just a run-of-the-mill feature film. Everything about it was such a pleasure to work on. There was so much creative input. The writers, producers, and directors were so generous in allowing the actors to come to the table with whatever creativity they had to bring.

It was a career highlight for me and there was a lot of collaborative energy.

What can you say about Captain Tanaka leading up to the show? How would you describe him?

He’s a commanding officer of Kristin Ortega, who is played by Martha Higareda. He’s a very conflicted and compromised character because although he runs the police department, this universe is not run by the police. It’s run by a super-wealthy and corrupt elite. He’s a good man but he’s in a bad world, and I think over the years he’s allowed himself to become corrupted by the Meths, which is the short for the Methuselahs. They are the rich immortals who run the world.

Ultimately, he’s going to have a decision to make — whether he’s going to do the Meths bidding or do the right thing.

How do you try to find the humanity in some of the characters you play, especially when you are put into these sort of environments that are so different from reality?

It really comes down to being in relationships, finding something in the environment or the other characters or the situation that you can relate to. I’ve done a lot of science fiction, but just because it’s fantasy doesn’t mean that there is no humanity in there. I’ve done a lot of realistic medical shows, as well. Sometimes there’s less humanity in that writing than in a quality science fiction show that are based on relationships and human emotion. No matter the technology around these characters, if the central relationships are human and people can relate to them, that makes quality science fiction.

That’s what I look for as an actor. I try to find a way to be in relationship with my fellow actors and in the environment around me.

And is there also something enjoyable about being able to test your imagination? I think one of the reasons many people love this sort of show is because it can find that humanity, but also take you to a different place.

Absolutely. One of the joys for me of being on a show like Altered Carbon is seeing new scripts come out. We as actors want to know what happens next! That’s one of the great pleasures — seeing what the writers come up with.

Also, being on set is like you’re a kid again. I grew up on Star Wars, and I would think back to being a kid and fantasize about being in that universe. Being on a show like this, you’re taken back to your childhood because you’re seeing the details that the people in [set decoration] have come up with. It’s a trip.

If the show gets renewed, would you love an opportunity to come back?

If there was an opportunity to do a second season and if these characters carried on, sign me up. I’d be all over that. I would absolutely be on board.

Beyond Altered Carbon, Kanagawa has filmed the pilot for TNT’s Snowpiercer and he has some other projects potentially in the works. Also, go back and check out some of the other work mentioned previously is this article; Hiro is one of those great actors who can shine in just about any role.

For now, be sure to check out Altered Carbon streaming Friday, February 2 on Netflix.

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