Most people would use the terms “weight” and “pressure” synonymously. It’s striking how Mackenyu does not. He separates the weight of doing his absolute best, personally, from pressure existing on a larger scale, globally. We talk about scale a lot - in his acting projects and in life - and as our conversation shifts between the micro and macro, Mackenyu’s mindset is unfaltering. There is something impressively measured about him. After all, he does tell me that his ideal version of Earth would be one that is level and uniform (minimal oceans and no heights, please.) It’s an imagined world that would house him well - or at least the version of himself that he considers “off.” Most naturally, he is a homebody who is happy with simplicity - sugar, family (dogs included), manga, and boba (which, I admit, can be put in the sugar category, but it deserves to stand on its own).
As we chat about his experiences growing up an actor and the dichotomies of acting in Japan and America, his crisp answers are ever insightful. Even though we have seen Mackenyu in intense and action-heavy roles, there’s a nuanced inner world to his portrayals. He shares advice his father gave him, “no one will help you in front of the camera. You’re alone. So digest your role, digest your dialogue and live that character.” This resolute inner drive that Mackenyu holds carefully is one of many reasons he is so interesting to watch in every shoe he steps into. And there is no shoe he can’t fill, and then walk unwaveringly on his own path.
One Piece is now streaming on Netflix.
If we were looking at a character summary about you personally, what would it say?
It would probably say, “dog lover.”
Oh, I love that! Do you have any dogs?
Yeah, I do, actually. I have a mixture of a chihuahua and a “hot dog” [Dachshund].
You’ve been acting since you were a child. How has your immersion in the industry from a young age shaped your view on acting?
As a child, I didn't really want to be an actor. Growing up, it just came to me. My father was an actor so it was natural for me to be in the business. But as I got older, I started to enjoy acting. As a child everything was new and seemed uncomfortable at first, but as I grew older, and started acting in Japan, I found the fun parts of acting and it just came naturally.
You’ve worked as an actor in Japan as well as America. How different have both experiences been for you?
They're completely different, you know, scale-wise, money-wise… Japan is so isolated in that they only compete in their country. They never go outside Japan. There’s great actors and great projects in Japan too but I feel they could have done more with those projects overseas, but they always just stay in Japan.
Hollywood has been great so far. Scale-wise, it's totally different from Japan. The productions are gigantic and things are new for me too.
Did that change in scale ever get overwhelming for you?
Not so overwhelming. It was actually fun. I enjoyed every moment of it.
How do you feel about the current reception of Japanese actors and stories in the West?
Well, there weren't a lot of Japanese actors in the West in the past and also now, to an extent. But Japanese projects, like anime, are loved by a lot of people all around the world and it’s a great time for us Japanese actors to be on that road together to show the world what we can do.
Do you feel pressure to represent Japan on a global scale with your roles?
I don’t feel any pressure. I just feel like I need to do my best because I feel like every Japanese person is watching me. I always want to be the best and I would love to show Japanese actors that us Japanese actors can go to Hollywood, and if you’ve learned English, what we’re doing is the same. Acting is the same all around the world.
You mentioned anime. Is there a particular anime that you personally love?
Oh yes! I love Hunter x Hunter. I love One Piece. There’s a Japanese manga called Hajime no Ippo that I love. I also like Bleach.
What gives you pure joy, apart from your dog?
Just to be with my family, enjoying the time off with no work. I personally give all my best at work and it’s really exhausting and very tiring. So at home it’s like I can turn off the switch and become the original me and enjoy the day without thinking about scripts or roles. Just being at home brings me joy.
I’m sure being on the job is exhausting with constantly being expressive with your actions and words. Do you feel you're an emotionally expressive person in your personal life as well?
Yes, I do. I express feelings quite a lot and my friends tell me it's easy to tell if I'm happy or upset. I express emotions easily, so it does help for roles and it just gives me that range of emotion for roles.
What do you do when life gets hard?
I play games and drink boba. I go to the gym. It may sound boring…
Boba’s never boring!
Yeah, I love boba.
What is one thing you cannot go a single day without?
Sugar. I'm very strict with my diet when it comes to roles where I have to take my shirt off and it could be months, you know? So during my offseason, meaning, when I'm not filming, I have a lot of sugar.
Who, would you say, has influenced you the most in life? Why?
Probably my dad. He was an actor before I was born and he’s a legend. He was the first Japanese actor to go to Hollywood. I’m following his footsteps.
With your dad’s impressive legacy, what legacy do you see yourself leaving behind?
You know what? Any legacy. If it’s going to be a legacy, that means it’s good. If I could be that role model for kids right now and actors 10 years from now, it would mean the world to me and also to my dad.
Is there any advice that he’s given you that’s really helped with your career?
Um, simple. He told me that no one will help you in front of the camera. You’re alone. So digest your role, digest your dialogue and live that character.
Is there any skill that you possess that you’d love to do on screen?
Let’s see, what have I not shown yet? My piano skills! I’ve never shown off my piano skills on screen. I’ve learned piano since I was little so that could be fun.
How do you feel about travelling?
I love it. But less than 30 hours, please!
If you could create an alternative version of Earth, what would it look like for you?
Well, I’m not an ocean person. I like the beach, though. So it would just be beaches and minimal oceans everywhere. And I don’t like heights so it’d probably be all flat.
What is your proudest accomplishment to date?
That I go to the gym everyday! Continually working out and damaging your muscles is quite tough and I’ve been consistent so that’s something I can be proud of, I guess.
What are you most excited about in your life right now?
Let’s just say future projects. It’s gonna get bigger, it’s gonna get more fun to watch. Everything’s exciting right now!