ENTERTAINMENT: TV & FILM
Breaking barriers in Hollywood - Louis Ozawa Changchien
Louis Ozawa Changchien stars as the sword-wielding Japanese enforcer Hanzo in PREDATORS, about a group of elite warriors who are hunted by members of a merciless alien race known as Predators. It’s written and produced by Robert Rodriguez and Changchien appears opposite Adrien Brody, Topher Grace and Laurence Fishburne. He will then appear opposite Sean Penn and Naomi Watts in the Doug Liman film FAIR GAME, about CIA agent (Victoria Plame) who was revealed by White House officials allegedly out to discredit her husband after he wrote a 2003 New York Times op-ed piece saying that the Bush administration had manipulated intelligence about weapons of mass destruction to justify the invasion of Iraq. Fair Game premiered at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival.
His previous film credits include GIGANTIC with Zooey Deschanel and Paul Dano, the independent film PRETTY TO THINK SO, the BBC TV film HEROES AND VILLAINS: SHOGUN and the Tribeca Film Festival short film finalist, PLEASE FORGET I EXIST.
On the stage, Changchien recently starred in the 2nd Stage Theater production of Year Zero, written by Michael Golamco and directed by Will Frears. Year Zero is a comedic drama about a young Cambodian-American and his sister who struggle with the aftermath of their mother’s untimely death. Changchien played Han, a recently-released-from-prison childhood friend and neighbor of the siblings who cares for them as if they were his own family. He has also previously worked at Tony award-winning theaters such as the Williamstown Theater Festival, the Guthrie Theater and Trinity Rep performing in shows such as Hamlet, A Midsummer Nights Dream, and Eurydice.
Television appearances include shows such as “Law and Order” and “3LBS”. Additionally, in the latest installment of the hit video game Midnight Club (Rockstar Games), Changchien plays the hyperactive Andrew, a street car racer with a bad attitude, whose turf is Mulholland Drive in Los Angeles.
Born in Queens and raised in Manhattan and Japan, Changchien he is the son of a Japanese mother and Taiwanese father and speaks Japanese fluently. First appearing as a child actor in a Jello Pudding commercial with Bill Cosby, he has appeared in numerous national campaigns such as AT&T, Coca Cola, Microsoft and Subway. A second-dan practitioner of Kendo, he is an accomplished swordsman, as well as a photographer, contributing numerous times to Los Angeles' Metromix. Changchien attended Stuyvesant High School and holds an MFA in Acting from Brown University.
Changchien continues to reside in New York City.
ASIANCE: Hi Louis, it is nice to speak with you. I hope it is not disturbing you!
Changchien: I’m in Connecticut at a retreat right now, just here for two days, work-shopping and some plays. It’s really nice up here; we just got here half an hour ago.
ASIANCE: It is summertime and Predators is such a summer blockbuster -can you talk about your role in the film?
Changchien: Sure. Well I play an enforcer in the Yakuza in Japan. Like everyone else in the film he is abducted and dropped onto this mysterious alien planet. No one knows how they got there, but they are forced to band together and play nice with each other. Essentially, they land on this planet and there is a ragtag group of thugs, prison mercenaries, Yakuza killers. They realize pretty quickly they are being chased by a mysterious creature, which you don’t see for the rest of the movie, and then you realize it’s the Predator. It’s classic, classic. And so, basically Hanzo is not only an enforcer who is proficient with a pistol but he is a master swordsman, which you find out later in the movie. And I can’t go into too much detail with that because it will ruin or reveal a bit too much of the movie. But that should be a really fun scene. And I have been practicing Kendo since I was five years old. It was a really cool experience to be able to actually do that onscreen. It’s kind of been a dream of mine since I was a little kid.
ASIANCE: Is this a remake of the original film, a sequel, or its own unique version?
Changchien: Technically it is a little bit of everything. It is definitely a reboot. It is the fifth of the series but we’re kind of going back in time and ignoring Predators 2 and all the others so it would be a sequel essentially. But it is following the original formula and we take it a bit further. There is a bit more character development and a little more variety in the actors. But we definitely have human beings in the creature suites and there is very little CG in our movie, which is kind of old school and cool.
there are far more opportunities for Asians and far more opportunities to have roles and a career in the movies.
ASIANCE: So how did you land the part in such an iconic action film?
Changchien: It was pretty interesting. I put myself on tape, actually. Well it was not on actual tape it was digital. I just recorded myself and emailed my audition to my manager who in turn emailed it to the casting director and I kind of forgot about the audition til my manager called and said it was down to me and another person.
Then, I probably forgot about it again and a week later I was told they wanted me to meet the casting director and that was it. I was hired and on a plane a few days later for a costume fitting. Four days later, I was on a plane to Hawaii, having never met Robert Rodriguez or Nimród Antal, our director. It was a big leap of faith on their part. I don’t know how the stars aligned but I guess they did.
ASIANCE: What was it like to film in Hawaii?
Changchien: Well all the daytime scenes are shot in Hawaii, all the jungle scenes. I’ve been to Oahu and Maui and I love those islands as well and took to the culture immediately. It’s considered the United States but really feels more like Asia when you get there. It’s a great mix of cultures. And we shot on the big island, which is a really special place. It is rugged and I think it is like 11 of 13 climate zones in the world exist on this one island. It’s a magical island, the newest island of the Hawaiian Islands. There’s volcanic rock and magma everywhere and it just feels like life is springing from the earth. I had an amazing time and the people there were so welcoming. The locals were very welcoming to us and I had the privilege of meeting some people there, and they took us around the local spots. I went to the nice watering holes, swam with sea turtles and all that stuff. It was great. And our local crew was phenomenal, all very friendly and great to work with.
ASIANCE: And do you speak Japanese, like your character in Predators?
Changchien: I do. I’m half Taiwanese and half Japanese. I was born in Flushing Queens, raised in Manhattan, and I grew up speaking Japanese in the house. And because my father, who is Taiwanese, is fluent we just spoke it in the house. I went to Japanese school on the weekends. I got into acting when I did my first commercial in first grade, a Jello Pudding commercial with Bill Cosby. Then I quit acting and was kind of a jock until I got to college. I was lost in school and not knowing what to major in, I came across an Intro to Acting class. It was taught by a young cool grad student who talked me into auditioning for the plays and get involved, and that’s how I got into it. But it wasn’t until I went to grad school that I decided to dedicate my life to it. I went to Brown University and I have been out of school four years, working pretty much ever since.
ASIANCE: What is this retreat that you are on now, for exercising your acting skills, and do you do this sort of thing often?
Changchien: Well I’m a New York actor so my roots are theatre. That’s what I studied in school, so it’s always there as part of me. It’s just in Predators I had to leave town for four months and get into shape for an action movie, do the whole movie set thing. But most of the year when I’m in New York my day to day life is doing readings, going to see plays, auditioning for plays and film and TV and commercials. Part of my life is that I am part of this theater company called Partial Comfort. It’s a group of great playwrights and writers, and directors. We have an annual retreat during the summer and this year we’re in Chester, Connecticut. It’s a great time to reconnect with some really talented artists and look at new plays and workshop them. As an actor it’s a really amazing thing to do.
ASIANCE: Amazing! And can we talk about your other film roles? You have another movie coming out soon right?
Changchien: Yes, I have another film coming out in the fall. It’s called Fair Game, a Doug Liman film starring Sean Penn and Naomi Watts. It premiered at Cannes last month and we will have distribution. It will be one of those Oscar-time movies in the fall. It’s a great film, totally different from Predators. It is about Valerie Plame and her husband Joseph Wilson. It’s the scandal that took place during the Bush Administration. And so I think it is going to be a really great film. To make a long story short there are far more opportunities for Asians and far more opportunities to have roles and a career in the movies. Now that I have that going on, I would like to continue. That said, I just finished an Off-Broadway play in New York and I would like to do continue to do plays during less busy times. But I’m kind of a gypsy you know, in different places, so I will probably spend a lot of time in LA too.
ASIANCE: It sounds like you have been so busy with some intense filming! So can we talk about the process behind this film then?
Changchien: I play a supporting role in Fair Game, it is not as big a role as in Predators. But it was phenomenal. Being on set with Naomi Watts and Doug Liman, and the rest of the supporting cast like the group of CIA people that surround Valerie Plame, was fascinating. It was really fascinating to dive into the research about that whole time, and know what the CIA was doing at the time and doing research on Uranium. It was really fortunate that Valerie Plame and Joseph Wilson were onset every day. We could really kind of pick their brains about everything, except the very confidential stuff. But it helped with the realism and authenticity having that within the whole environment at Langley.
ASIANCE: But you did not attend the premiere at Cannes? Do you see yourself attending the festival in the future?
Changchien: I was not at Cannes. I was working on an Off-Broadway play called Year Zero at Second Stage uptown and we were in the middle of tech week so it was impossible for me to fly there. I would have loved to. I hear it is a great time but maybe someday there will be another movie that I can go to Cannes with.
ASIANCE: Of course you will! Well thank you so much for the interview!
Changchien: Thank you so much, and I am sorry I have to begin rehearsal for the workshop but it was great to speak with you.
ASIANCE: Thanks again and break a leg!