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Tuesday, May 20, 2003

Foreign actors play it niche and simple

Robert Scott may be one of the hardest-working Westerners in Japanese show business. The native Southern Californian appears in a host of Japanese TV dramas and variety shows as well as radio programs. He's even acted in a Godzilla flick.

News photo
Robert Scott

"The Japanese like a good-looking face, and I guess that's what I have to work on," he laughs.

It's a face that stands out on any Japanese stage or set. Scott is a strapping, blond-haired, blue-eyed Southern Californian, who also happens to be a fluent speaker of Osaka-ben, the unofficial dialect of Japan's entertainment industry. "I played the android in the Godzilla movie and they wanted buffy foreigners. That's the big thing right now."

Watch enough Japanese TV and you'll see Scott and other Western actors popping up from time to time. Nearly always, however, they'll be playing small and limited roles, maybe as English teachers, athletes or Occupation-era soldiers.

It's a situation that suits the Japanese producers fine. Rarely do productions call for depth or versatility from foreign actors.

NHK, it should be pointed out, is the exception. In recent years, the public broadcaster has aired several productions featuring Western actors in relatively large and positive roles.

In commercial TV, by contrast, Western actors would do well to find a niche.

So advises James Ross-Nutt, who heads Rich Associates, a Kobe agency that finds foreign talent for TV commercials and dramas. "Versatility is not always good. For foreigners, (productions) are looking for a specific look."

And all too often, Westerners are cast as shysters and other such unsavory types.

That was clearly the case with "Hotel," a 1998 TV drama from TBS that called for an especially high number of gaijin roles. The series revolved around the Planton Hotel, a fictitious five-star establishment in Tokyo. Yet most of the foreign guests who checked into the Planton were whingeing and dishonest troublemakers, out to disrupt the "wa."

Scott has been offered some offensive roles, including one of a mafia hood who sells narcotics in Japan.

He turned it down.

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