While he was in Australia for the film’s world premiere, I had the pleasure of speaking with the Japanese-born Miyavi about his strong performance as The Bird. Here’s what he had to say…
Matt: You’ve been a successful singer-songwriter for some time now, have you always wanted to give acting a try?
Miyavi: It actually happened out of the blue. There was a casting director who came to my office in Tokyo and that was the first time I’d heard about the film. I was initially hesitant as I had no experience as an actor and the story was quite controversial.
When I first met Angie, she told me that she wanted to make something that could be a “bridge” between not just America and Japan but also countries that have been having similar conflicts. The message of Louis Zamperini and his life is all about forgiveness and maintaining an unbroken spirit. The allowed me to make a decision as I realised this wasn’t a typical war movie.
Matt: The character you play is known as The Bird. Did you know anything about the guy before you signed on to do the film?
Miyavi: No, I didn’t know about him. I didn’t even know about the book as it’s not translated in Japan because the story is so controversial. Of course I was able to learn a lot over the course of the film. I even got to see articles that The Bird wrote after the war about how much he wanted to see him mum while he was hiding in the mountains for 7 years. Angie and I also spoke a lot about the character and about how we believed he was unbalanced and suffering.
Matt: Did you get to spend much time with Louis Zamperini before he passed away earlier this year?
Miyavi: Yes, one time. He invited me and my family and it was a great time. He welcomed us, he played with my daughters, and he was cracking jokes. He also told some stories from the prison camp and I was able to see the strength in the man firsthand.
Matt: Did he give you any tips as to how to play your character?
Miyavi: Actually, I wasn’t able to meet him until after the film had finished shooting. It was still very meaningful though.
Matt: So many of us are familiar with Angelina Jolie as an actress but what’s she like as a director? How would you describe her approach to putting this together? What was she like on set?
Miyavi: Determined and passionate. This was her mission. Everyone wanted to dedicate themselves to achieving this movie and to deliver its message to the whole world. My family was also able to spend time with her family and we learned many things from each other about how to be a great parent.
Matt: There are many scenes in this film where you are beating Louis Zamperini, played by Jack O’Connell. How much time does that take to choreograph and rehearse so as to make it look as authentic as possible?
Miyavi: It’s all thanks to a talented crew. Before the film was shot, we had no actual rehearsal and so I learned how to behave, how to walk and how to use a bamboo stick from the experts brought onto the set.
Matt: A lot of people have been raving about Jack O’Connell and saying he could be one of the next big stars in Hollywood so what was he like to work with?
Miyavi: He was cool and very professional. The role was a huge challenge for him and I thought he did a great job.
Matt: It’s great for the Aussie film industry that a film of this magnitude was shot here in Australia. The scenes in which you appear – can you tell us where they were shot in particular?
Miyavi: The prison camp scenes were shot on Cockatoo Island but it felt like we were in Japan which really helped me to get into the character. It was also a beautiful location with all the seagulls and other birds. I enjoyed every moment of my time in this country.
Matt: The film had it is world premiere in Sydney. What was it like sitting in a huge theatre with a packed audience and watching it for first time?
Miyavi: I wasn’t able to watch the film last night sadly but I had already seen it before. It was my first time on the red carpet though as an actor and that was great. Everyone was so welcoming.
Matt: So now that you’ve had this taste for acting, is it something you’d like to continue?
Miyavi: Yeah, if there’s an opportunity I would love to. I learned so much about conveying emotions and also the similarities that exist between performing live on stage as a musician and acting on a set. I really did enjoy acting a lot.