Film

Actress Haruka Abe balances others’ expectations and her own dreams

by Matthew Hernon

Special To The Japan Times

It can be tough to catch a break in the world of acting, but Haruka Abe got a boost when cellist Grace Chatto of British dance-pop act Clean Bandit sent her a message over Facebook.

She was looking for a Japanese actress based in Britain to star in the group’s music video for the song “Rather Be,” which went on to win the Grammy for best dance recording in 2015.

“I’d never heard of Clean Bandit, but loved the song,” says the 29-year-old Abe, adding that being in the video (which has more than 440 million views on YouTube) has been great for her career. “I sometimes get stopped in London, especially when wearing headphones. It’s not my goal to be recognized … but it’s nice.”

Abe is likely one of the most prolific Japanese actresses currently based overseas.

She has landed roles in a slew of U.K. dramas and made her Hollywood debut in the 2013 Keanu Reeves film “47 Ronin.” Recently she appeared on U.S. television in Tarsem Singh’s modern interpretation of the “Wizard of Oz” book series, “Emerald City.” However, she’s mum on details.

“I think it would spoil things because there’s a twist and it turns out I’m not the person I appear to be,” she says in a distinctly British accent. “I heard they auditioned all kinds of girls from various ethnic groups, so getting the role was extra special as it meant they liked my take on the character.”

Winning roles based on such takes rather than simply fulfilling the requirements of being a Japanese woman is important. Abe says around 70 percent of the time she goes for parts that target Asians.

“My nationality and the fact that I speak English can be advantageous,” she says. “That said, I don’t want my ethnicity to limit me as an actress.”

One of Abe’s dreams is to land a major Hollywood role, but she is realistic about her current prospects. She says that being an Asian actor in a Western country can be “frustrating.”

“At times, it feels like filmmakers won’t even consider someone from Asia,” she says. “I wish I could have auditioned for the lead in ‘Ghost in the Shell’, but I’m aware Scarlett Johansson is an amazing actress and Hollywood wants big names. Generally speaking, I think the situation (regarding Asian actors abroad) has improved. Certainly in the U.K. there are more opportunities now than when I started.”

Abe grew up in Tokyo, London and New York, but got her first break 10 years ago, playing giggly guitarist Miko in the comedy series “Ideal” between 2007-11. Her strongest performance to date arguably came in the Bafta-nominated drama “Cyberbully,” in which she played opposite “Game of Thrones” actress Maisie Williams as a suicidal school girl suffering from online abuse.

“Maisie was phenomenal,” Abe says. “Being a ‘Game of Thrones’ fan, it was a treat watching her rehearse. She walked in as this easy-going teenager, but then started performing and it was like a switch had turned on. She has been the most impressive individual I’ve worked with, though there have been many — Freddie Fox, Hiroyuki Sanada … I could easily go on.”

Regarding her own acting skills Abe isn’t as effusive.

“I hate watching myself,” she says. “I always think it’s bad, but then again in this industry it isn’t necessarily about being good all the time. Some actors aren’t completely believable, but are still able to captivate audiences. Given the choice of being good or captivating I’d choose the latter.”

For more information on Haruka Abe, visit www.haruka4be.com.