Reading into Rinko

Rinko Kikuchi trained for two months at a boot camp.

Rinko Kikuchi doesn't do PR well.

She may have been perfectly togged up in designer wear - having modelled for Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent and Tom Ford - but beneath the immaculate make-up and killer cheekbones was an awkwardness that makes you think she'd rather not be talking to a journalist, thank you very much.

The 32-year-old's reticence with the Hollywood press may be why her star never quite took off after she exploded onto the scene with an Oscar-nominated performance in Babel (2006).

That, or her insistence on taking smaller, nuanced roles in arthouse films such as Haruki Murakami's Norwegian Wood (2010) and returning to her native country, Japan, to star in flops like Assault Girls (2009).

Before the interview, I had been warned by other journalists about her long pauses between questions and her sometimes meandering answers in Japanese-accented English.

But in person, there is a little-girl charm to her awkwardness. Her hands are constantly moving - tapping her chin while thinking; fluttering in the air while enthusing about how amazing director

Guillermo Del Toro is; or playing with her ever-present bottle of Diet Coke.

If Pacific Rim turns out to be a hit and catapults Kikuchi into A-lister stardom, her honest awkwardness may well give way to the more polished smoothness of a quintessential Hollywood star.

Which would be a shame, really.

Many of your previous roles were more dramatic and nuanced. How do you prevent your character Mako Mori from being just a stock character in a Hollywood summer blockbuster?

I spent a lot of time getting to know Mako. I read the script over and over again. Guillermo also gave me a five-page bio on her. My co-stars Charlie (Hunnam) and Idris (Elba) also helped me a lot by trying different ways of drawing out my emotions.

How did you deal with being the only girl in an all-guy movie?

She's the only girl, but Mako's totally a badass. She's brave, tough and she fights her demons. Also, she wants revenge (for her parents, who were killed in a monster attack).

Growing up, what anime were you into?

I was a big fan of Mamoru Oshii's Ghost In The Shell (1995). I also loved (anime series Neon Genesis) Evangelion.

What was it like working with Charlie Hunnam?

It was great. We trained together for two months - boot camp, stick fighting - before shooting started, so we had a good relationship by the time the cameras rolled.

Also, he had to speak Japanese in the movie, so I got to tutor him!

Speaking of the stick fight scene, it was pretty intense. Have you ever been in such a physical role before?

This is the most physical performance I've had in my career (laughs). I grew up with a lot of monster and robot movies, and I watched a lot of samurai shows... even Jackie Chan movies! So I really wanted to do an action movie. That's why I studied a lot of Japanese kendo, which I incorporated into the stick fight.

You're in Pacific Rim and we're going to see you next in 47 Ronin with Keanu Reeves. Is this the start of action star Rinko Kikuchi?

(Laughs) No, I want to keep a good balance, from indie and arthouse movies to bigger summer blockbusters.

In Pacific Rim, two pilots have to "drift" together to control a giant robot Jaeger. While "drifting", there are no secrets between pilots. If you had a chance to "drift" with anyone in the world, who would it be?

(Long pause) Guillermo. Because he has amazing ideas and he's a true artist. I want to see where his ideas come from.

But then he'd get to see your darkest secrets too.

(Laughs) Oh no! Actually, I ate a lot of chocolate during the shoot, but I wasn't supposed to because we were still training. Everyone knew that if Rinko was having a bad day, they could just feed me some chocolate and I would be okay. But I wouldn't want Guillermo to know that!