Paul Nakauchi (The Great Raid), currently appearing in Guthrie’s production of Sunday in the Park with George through August 20th, attended the New York premiere of the NetFlix original film “Death Note” at AMC Loews Lincoln Square 13 theater on August 17, 2017 in New York City.
Nakauchi, who plays Watari in the film, was joined on the black carpet by cast members Nat Wolff (Paper Towns) as Light Turner, Margaret Qualley (The Leftovers) as Mia Sutton, Scott Stuber, Shea Whigham (American Hustle) as James Turner, LaKeith Stanfield (Get Out) as L, Willem Dafoe (Spider-Man) as the voice of Ryuk, director Adam Wingard (Blair Witch, You’re Next); producers Masi Oka, Roy Lee, Dan Lin and Jason Hoffs, and executive producers Miri Yoon and Jonathan Eirich.
Based on the famous Japanese manga written by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata, Death Note follows a high school student who comes across a supernatural notebook, realizing it holds within it a great power; if the owner inscribes someone’s name into it while picturing their face, he or she will die. Intoxicated with his new godlike abilities, the young man begins to kill those he deems unworthy of life.
“Death Note” launches globally on NetFlix on August 25th and will screen in select theaters in New York and LA.
Nakauchi’s film credits include The Great Raid and Dark Metropolis. He has been seen on television in “Deadbeat,” “ER,” “The Young and the Restless,” “General Hospital,” “Saturday Night Live,” “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,” and “Knots Landing.” He is a sought after veteran voice over artist and his voice inhabits characters in the animated features The Invincible Iron Man, Doctor Strange, Legend of Korra, Star Wars the Clone Wars and Alpha and Omega; the television cartoons “Avatar: The Last Airbender” and “Batman: The Brave and the Bold,” as well as numerous video games including Cars 2, Call of Duty: World at War and Lost Planet 3 and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, to name a few. Click here for clips of Nakauchi’s voice work.
Nakauchi played the Kralahome and understudied The King in Lincoln Center Theater’s Tony Award- winning production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s The King and I at the Vivian Beaumont Theater, directed by Bartlett Sher.
In 2012, Nakauchi performed the role of Tatsuo Kimura in the world premiere production of Allegiance at The Old Globe in San Diego, opposite George Takei, Telly Leung, Lea Salonga and Michael K. Lee.
Nakauchi began his theater career in the National Tour of The King and I with Yul Brynner. He understudied and performed the role of The King of Siam on Broadway in the 1996 revival opposite Donna Murphy. He also played The King on London’s West End with Elaine Paige, and has toured Asia in the Broadway Asia production of The King and I, recreating the same role. He toured the U.S. in the First National Tour of Miss Saigon understudying and playing the role of The Engineer. Other Broadway credits include Chu Chem.
I caught up with Paul and his husband David Mateo over lunch at La Bonne Soupe. The interview below is edited for clarity.
Lia: Who is Watari?
Paul: I would describe him as a character similar to Alfred in Batman, he’s a bit enigmatic, a fatherly caretaker, but with a mysterious edge. Adam had given me a book to read which was about several people who claimed they had been subjects of government sponsored mind control, and the techniques that were used to turn them into Manchurian Candidates of a sort for various covert activities. Often these subjects were trained from a very early age, and familiar childhood tunes were used in the process as a trigger to place them into a hypnotic state, so they would then carry out their assigned task. That’s how the Wizard of Oz song I sing to L plays into the story, and then when I’m in a trance like state, driving in the car, going to look for L’s actual name in the orphanage, I sing the same tune.
Lia: Where did you shoot the film?
Paul: I was in Vancouver for a month. I shot about 5 weeks. I had a nice trailer with a fireplace.
Lia: How did you land the job?
Paul: I auditioned for it when I was in The King and I in New York. I put myself on tape and did a Skype session with Adam the director. In the audition they wanted me to sing a song. I sang the Sounds of Silence. I thought it fit with the theme.
Lia: Were you familiar with “Death Note” before?
Paul: No, but Anime is so interesting. Prior to our film, the versions of “Death Note” included Manga, a cartoon, a live action-tv show, a musical and several films.
Lia: You are finishing your run in a non-traditionally cast production of Sunday in the Park with George at the Guthrie. What has it been like?
Paul: All of the theater that I have done has always been Asian musicals- The King and I, Miss Saigon, Allegiance. I never thought I would play a 19th century French artist. Joe Haj the new artistic director at the Guthrie is a big champion of diversity and the plays he chooses and as well as the casts and creative staff he hires reflect that vision. With the huge success of Hamilton, I think theaters across the country are realizing that diversity onstage can bring into the theater a whole new audience and be profitable as well. In our production we have four people of color, Christine Toy Johnson, Mychael T Rambo, Justin Lee Miller and myself, and the audiences have been very enthusiastic!
The Guthrie is one of the best theater complexes in the country and I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work there. It’s a lovely community of extremely talented artists, truly the jewel of the Midwest. Next year’s musical is West Side Story, and under Joe Haj’s direction it is sure to be wonderfully innovative. He plans to use a more modern dance vocabulary so it should be exciting.
Lia: What was your experience at Lincoln Center in The King and I?
Paul: Every actor dreams of working at Lincoln Center, and doing the The King & I there was a dream come true. Bartlett Sher is a brilliant director, who does everything from straight plays, musicals and opera, and everyone and everything there is top notch, as well as having the best dressing rooms of any theater I’ve ever worked in!
Lia: In 2012, you appeared in the world premiere of George Takei’s legacy project Allegiance at The Old Globe. What are your remembrances of working with George?
Paul: George Takei is an amazing man. I had a wonderful time working with on Allegiance. He’s been involved in Civil Rights activism for a long time. He actually ran for City Council is LA. He’s been a tireless advocate for LGTB rights. I admire him greatly. The Legacy project of Allegiance is something he is still doing, in fact he is going to do it in Los Angeles (2018). I feel fortunate to have worked with and to have met him. He’s the last generation of interment camp survivors. He’s really keeping that remembrance alive in terms of how it references today.
Lia: How long have you been doing voice work for animation?
Paul: I’m the voice of Hanzo in the Blizzard Overwatch Games and recently attended Bliz Con- the Comic Con for Blizzard. It amazed me what a huge audience it has. It’s enormous. They had people from all over the world coming to that Bliz Con event in Anaheim. Gamers playing the games, panels, talking about new characters. Blizzard is a huge game and Overwatch recently won the 2017 Young People’s Choice Award for Favorite Game. I started doing that about 10 years ago.
I started doing voiceover for animation beginning with Marvel with Ironman and Dr. Strange. I actually did the animated version for Dr. Strange. I’m also doing a new NetFlix animated series – “Carmen Sandiego”. I play Shadowsan who is one of Carmen Sandiego’s teachers at the Spy Academy. That will be coming out in 2018. I’ve recorded about 6 episodes for that.
Gaming and “Death Note” tie in really well because it is a similar audience and similar age range.
Lia: What are the challenges of doing voice work?
Paul: It takes an enormous amount of imagination, because you record the voice first and they design the animation around your VO tracks, plus keeping the scripts secret is big priority, so you only see the dialogue when you get to the studio on the day of your session, so you have to have the character fully emotionally realized in a cold reading. It’s daunting, challenging, fun and rewarding all at the same time!
Lia Chang is an award-winning filmmaker, a Best Actress nominee, a photographer, and an award-winning multi-platform journalist. Lia has appeared in the films Wolf, New Jack City, A Kiss Before Dying, King of New York, Big Trouble in Little China, The Last Dragon, Taxman and Hide and Seek, which will screen at Asians on Film on March 10th, The Women’s Film Festival in Philadelphia on March 13th and the Disorient Film Festival in Eugene Oregon in April. She is profiled in Jade Magazine and Playbill.com.
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