Born Takamasa Ishihara, the Japanese rocker is better known by his stage name Miyavi. The 33-year-old was once a football player until an injury put out his dreams of going pro. When he was 15, Miyavi found solace in music and learnt to play the guitar, which led to him pioneering a kind of slap-style playing, earning him the nickname The Samurai Guitarist.
Miyavi did not consider acting until his "favourite actress", Hollywood superstar Angelina Jolie, requested to meet with him in 2013. She convinced him to play one of Japan's most notorious World War II criminals, Mutsuhiro "The Bird" Watanabe, in the biopic Unbroken she was planning to direct.
Miyavi told The Wrap: "I only started learning English eight years ago, so I never expected to be in a Hollywood film speaking English and hitting people. That was totally beyond my imagination."
What sealed the deal, said Miyavi, was Jolie's "passionate and determined words".
It helped that Jolie's actor-husband Brad Pitt was present. The star-struck Miyavi was further surprised when Pitt sang his song What's My Name? "I was like, is this Brad Pitt singing my track in a hotel suite in Tokyo?"
Opening here tomorrow, Unbroken tells the graphic tale of Olympian athlete Louis Zamperini's (Jack O'Connell) two-year ordeal at a Japanese POW camp, where he was brutally tortured by The Bird.
Miyavi was reluctant to take on the role. He told Interview magazine: "Talking about World War II is still a sensitive issue in Japan, and I didn't want to represent a negative side of the country where I was born and raised."
Playing a sadistic prison guard was extremely challenging for Miyavi, particularly in a scene in the climax of the movie. It got so intense that he threw up.
Miyavi told Vanity Fair that it was "torture" for him to get into the character's merciless mindset, so much so that he wept after filming scenes.
In an interview with Toronto Star, Miyavi said he tried to get into the "evilness" by imagining his family in danger."I tried to imagine (the prisoners) killed my family, my daughters... I would do anything to protect my family," said the father of two young daughters. He is married to Japanese-American singer-turned-designer Melody Ishikawa.
Miyavi is open to more acting gigs, now that he has relocated to Los Angeles. "I would love to (do more acting), because I learnt many things from this experience," he told New York Times. "It's all about passion, emotion and the message. It's also beyond language barriers, like music."
This article was first published on February 4, 2015.
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