You might not know it, but you’ve probably already seen Yuriri Naka. In 2013 she starred in a popular advert for the Sony Xperia phone, alternatively you may have seen her in The Fattest Man in Britain alongside Timothy Spall. She also had small parts in 47 Ronin and Speed Racer, as well as a major part in the short movie Konnichiwa Brick Lane and soon you will be able to see her in the British production All That Remains. This powerful story is centred on a survivor of the Nagasaki nuclear bomb, Takashi Nagai.
Originally from Japan, Yuriri Naka studied in Kent and lives in London. Gorilla sat down with her to talk about moving to the UK, and challenges that come with making short and feature films.
Can you tell us about your background and your studies at the Rose Bruford College?
I was born and raised in Tokyo, Japan. After graduating from high school I moved to the UK to study drama at Rose Bruford College. The course focused on 20th century European theatre practitioners and their work. Students were encouraged to create performances by devising and utilising theories and practice learned from those practitioners. The experience was such an eye opener. It made me realise that theatre could be anything, and that idea was fundamental to exploring different ways to challenge my creativity. I remember the very first theatre visit that the college organised for us. It was a site specific promenade style performance and had no linear narrative. I came out feeling quite confused and dizzy as I’d never seen anything like it before, but I also found it very refreshing. It seems this type of experimental and site-specific performance is getting popular in London at the moment, which I find very exciting!
What was the trigger for your decision to become an actor?
I don’t think there is a particular event or a person that triggered my decision, it was more like a natural progression with my interest in performing. I used to be in a local chorus group where we did a lot of musicals, and I was also in a drama club at school. I always enjoyed performing in those plays and musicals and (I thought) I was good at it. When I finished high school, I made my decision to give acting a shot knowing that my other keen interest, Japanese history, could be something I could satisfy later on in life.
You have had a few roles in theatre, what was this like? What kind of experience did you get from this?
I like theatre for the rehearsal process as much as the performances. In rehearsals you spend a lot of time exploring characters, space and relationships, and often great moments happen when playing around without planning and just having fun. On the night of a theatre performance I get nervous but I am really excited, I especially enjoy the buzz I get from a live audience. I love the moment when the lights go down and it goes quiet, and at that moment the whole theatre transforms into something magical and fantastic!
I don’t think this is exclusively for short films, but as an actor, I find it’s always important to build a background, backstory and some relevant ideas for the character outside of the film, regardless of the length of the film or the screen time of the character. From an actor’s point of view, it’s always helpful when a director provides a detailed breakdown of the character and even better when they suggest some unscripted ideas that help with the character’s development. This is also a good way to provide something for the actor to play with and build upon. It’s nice to have as much information about the role as possible but also have the freedom to put some of yourself into it as well.
You were the lead in the short film Konnichwa Brick Lane, which was written and directed by Saera Jin – can you tell us about any challenges you faced? How much time did you have to prepare? How much time did you have to prepare? What was a typical day like on set?
My biggest challenge was to show the range of emotions and thoughts within a few small scenes, and to make them dramatic and distinguished enough, yet still be part of the journey. Of course the scenes were not shot in the order of the story so I made sure I knew where I came from and where I was going at the end of each scene. As for preparation, I worked on the character breakdown that Saera gave me, I also created a few backstory ideas for the character by myself and then performed them so that I would have some memory that I could base my performance on. We shot the film over five days in different locations each day, so there wasn’t really a typical day. The schedule was tight and we had limited time on each location so there was little time for actual filming and decisions had to be made very quickly. I think the team worked really well within this limited time everyone was very focused and helped each other, and I enjoyed working with them all!
This year we will be able to see you in the movie All That Remains, how does this experience compare to your previous work?
The film is about a life story of Takeshi Nagai who was a doctor and devoted his life to save others especially after the atomic bomb attack in Nagasaki. As I grew up in Japan, I knew well that the subject is still sensitive. So I felt very honoured but responsible at the same time to take part in such a great but ambitious project. The directors were fantastic. They spent a lot of time researching the moments in and around the bombing, and the subsequent tragic aftermath. They were very sympathetic with how they told the story and were open to hearing suggestions. In addition to that, they have amazing skills with special effects: the visuals in this film are absolutely mind-blowing! I was really pleased and grateful that I was given such a wonderful opportunity.
Yes, very much. It’s always fun to be involved in big projects. What I find most impressive about those films was the sets and costumes, especially 47 Ronin. They built massive sets that were fantastic and super detailed and very realistic. The costumes were also extravagant and beautiful. I love wearing costumes that I’d never get to wear otherwise. They give me a kind of surreal feeling that gets me excited and into character.
What has been your most challenging role so far?
I would say Tatsue in All That Remains because of the sensitive nature of the subject of both the film and the character. In one of the scenes, Tatsue talks about her horrific experience of the attack and her feeling of guilt for not being able to save her mother. The directors told me that her speech in this scene was actually taken from an interview of a real victim in the bombing. It was a bit scary because I felt responsible for conveying genuine conviction and sensitivity in my performance. Even though I had read and seen pictures of the incident, I knew I would never be able to wholly understand what it must have actually been like. I decided to focus on how my individual character coped, her point of view and the regrets she had.
What would be your dream role?
I’d love to do a period drama. Combining my passions of acting and Japanese history would be an absolute dream! As for a fictional character, I’d love to play Aomame in Haruki Murakami’s book, 1Q84. I love the book and although it’s a very strange story, I’d love to portray that tough, cool, yet compassionate character.
Do you have any other projects coming up this year?
More new episodes of the audio drama, The Pathfinder Legend, in which I play Ameiko is coming up later this year. And hopefully there will a few more exciting film projects coming up very soon!
Photos courtesy of Diana Stainton (1), Steam Motion and Sound Ltd. (2), Major Oak Entertainment Ltd. and Pixel Revolution Films (3).
Fint out more about Yuriri’s work here.