In her long career as an actress, Ryoko Hirosue has, for the first time, taken on the difficult task of playing a femme fatale who twists men around her finger in her latest TV drama, "Seijo" (Sacred woman), currently airing on NHK.
The protagonist, Motoko, leads men around her by the nose for money.
Though Hirosue initially felt a little puzzled on how to play the character, scriptwriter Mika Omori gave her tips, saying, "Motoko has her own philosophy and justice," which helped Hirosue overcome her perplexity.
"I came to think I wanted to play a villain whom other women can empathize with and support," she said.
The drama revolves around Motoko and a lawyer, Haruki, who received private lessons as a high school boy at home from Motoko, who masqueraded as a college student with a different name. Thanks to her lessons, Haruki becomes serious about studying, but she suddenly goes missing.
Successfully entering the university of his choice, Haruki becomes a lawyer. One day, the two unexpectedly reunite-she as a suspect in serial murders and he as her lawyer. Haruki is extremely shocked to find out that the woman in front of him is his former tutor.
Though Hirosue overcame the confusion she felt at first in playing the part, she was at a loss on how to act like a heroine in scenes where her character, lost in love, repeatedly makes remarks suggesting she has lost her senses.
"She honestly believes in what she is saying. This made me realise again how utter seriousness can be terrifying."
Asked about how she felt about Kento Nagayama, who played Haruki, she said he perfectly fits the role.
"He's a very serious person and has his own tempo. This perfectly matched Haruki's character. [Nagayama] played his role very delicately, without violently displaying the character's inner turmoil," Hirosue said.
"Motoko naturally feels gentle when she is with Haruki, and [Nagayama] acted in a way that made me feel like Motoko does," she said.
Born in Kochi Prefecture in 1980, Hirosue made her debut in 1994. Since then, she has been active in various fields, from films, TV dramas and stage productions to variety shows.
Hirosue says being an actress is an occupation you cannot deal with unless you are healthy-both mentally and physically. Therefore, it's important to completely switch yourself off from work once you go home, she says.
"On my days off, I play, eat and sleep a lot. Because I like cooking, I'm trying to eat seasonal ingredients," she said.
Hirosue says she has so many things she wants to try, such as pottery, calligraphy and flower arrangement. But she feels like her job is also a hobby because spending time with her family is also important.
"I wish there were 36 hours in a day," she said.
Nearly 20 years since her debut, Hirosue never loses the fresh feel that has always fascinated her fans.
But the great popularity she enjoyed as a teenager was stressful.
"I was always running at full speed, which made me feel like I had already done everything I could in life," Hirosue said. "Sometimes I felt like running away because of the gap between the public image and the real me."
Now, she believes acting is a mission she has to fulfil.
"Having turned 30, I began to be offered more difficult roles. The acting skills I'm now required to have are completely different from when I was a teenager," Hirosue said. "But I'm very grateful. In a sense, no occupation other than acting can be such a driving force and a source of encouragement for others."
Now, Hirosue no longer feels at a loss.
"Seijo" is airing on NHK General on Tuesdays from 10 p.m. For more information, please visit http://www.nhk.or.jp/drama10/seijo/
Hirosue is also starring in two films to be released later this year, "Zakurozaka no Adauchi," to be released on Sept. 20, and "Omoi Nokoshi," scheduled for release on Nov. 22.