ASIAN AMERICAN PERSONALITIES
THE 130 MOST INSPIRING ASIAN AMERICANS
OF ALL TIME
LEADING MAN EMERITUS
PAGE 4 OF 4
Q: What are you doing to project that image?
A: As much as I, as an actor, can. As one individual, in meeting with producers, casting directors and so forth, if I don't think something is right, I voice my views. Sometimes they are sympathetic, sometimes they agree to change, sometimes not. It's a small stance but to preserve my own feeling of self-respect, I feel I have to say these things.
Q: What is that image now?
A: It's a hit and miss. There've been attempts where people see Asians as they see others. then again there's lots of backsliding into the stereotypical images. Hopefully and I'm an eternal optimist, it will all even out to the same point as in the White market where the Asian actor will be offered a variety of roles.
Q: What is the missing element?
A: There are many factors. It begins with the writing. I have been fortunate. I have had a variety of roles, some of that were not written originally as Asian roles.
Q: How do you feel about advocacy work?
A: I underscore my feelings on that point by making it a one-to-one and on a personal basis expressed by my work.
Q: The Asian actor faces this dilemma because there are so few roles out there --
A: Oh, it's a dilemma because if you want to make a living at acting, there are few roles.
Q: What do you do in a situation like this? Is making a living more important, or is making a statement more important?
A: Both. But when you consider that what you put on film is more or less permanent, you'd like to think and reflect your own gut feelings about something more closely. Either you do it and do a good job, or if you feel it is wrong, delcine it. I say it's a dilemma because we've all got to eat.
Q: The argument is, if you don't take a role, someone else will. And if someone else takes the role, it's not going to change things. If you do take a role, you can at least try to effect a change.
A: Yes, that's true. But it's not easy to do that. The written word is there. Obviously there are ways to interpret the lines but it's something that's pretty much cast in stone. Actors are not allowed much freedom to doctor the script. It's hard unless you're the star of the show. It's generally difficult to make an attempt to change the written word.
If it's a role that can be interpreted freely, that's a whole different ballgame. I'm not the only one, I'm sure there've been others who've gone in feeling We don't talk like this. And these people have made their stand. Who can say how much good is done in the long run by those who take a stand?
Q: You've done a number of interracial roles, romantic, and it seems like that's very rare.
A: Yes, we used to be more open to interracial casting. More than presently. I was presented with projects that involved interracial romance.
Q: Were there many?
A: There was A Bridge to the Sun with Carol Baker. Now that was a true story, so it was all there. We've no quarrel with that. It happened. It was a lovely story. Prior to that there was Sam Fuller's Crimson Kimono with Victorial Shaw, who did the Eddy Duchin Story.
Q: Are you anything like the characters you portray? Are you romantic?
A: In a sense, yes. As one who is imaginative, fanciful, sentimental, loving, caring.
Q: What's the most important thing in your life apart from acting?
A: Friends and family. A deeply religious faith. A love to travel. At one time I fantasized about being in the diplomatic corps. I had fluency in languages.
A: Japanese, French, Italian. I traveled to almost every continent, many countries.
Q: What is this indelible mark that you hope to leave?
A: I don't necessarily mean an indelible mark. Not public history but my own personal accounting for having been here.
Q: Okay, in your own personal accounting, what is that?
A: I don't know if I have yet attained it. I like to feel that in some small measure I was here for some particular reason. And that I did contribute toward a better life. An ambitious answer but maybe it's because I haven't yet attained or found out what it is.
Q: Is James Shigeta a difficult person to get to know?
A: No, not really. I have some truly wonderful and loyal friends.
Q: How does one become a friend of James Shigeta?
A: The person has to have great tolerance and patience. But it's the way I am. I think an actor's life is necessarily self-involved. And that's what I would like to get away from. The ambiance -- or being around that theatrical ambience constantly. There's more out there. But to promote your own career as an actor, it a self-involving obsession. It's like being a soldier. You've got to be prepared to do battle. You've got to be prepared when the opportunity presents itself. It is a selfish profession. I think we will all concede that. There's so much self-involvement.
Q: If you had to start all over again, would you choose acting?
A: I've often wondered that. If I were given a choice, a constant frustration for me is that I never seriously pursued my writing career, I never went into teaching. And I'll always wonder if I would be better at those things than what I am doing now.
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