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The Man in the High Castle

Wingman Wednesday

Giles Panton

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Photo By: Liz Rosa

Giles Panton is perched higher than a stone tower after joining up with Season 3 of “The Man in the High Castle,” which premiered on Amazon Prime earlier this month. Portraying Billy Turner, the newly-appointed minister of Propaganda for the American Reich, the Vancouver native reveled in the multi-layered role and is prepared for Billy’s journey to turn heads.

Well, our heads are turned.

We recently sat down with Panton to discuss his “Supernatural” roots, Bronies, and the totally “freaking” awesome things he has tucked away in his closet.

TrunkSpace: First we have to clear the air. We’re big “Supernatural” fans around here, and being a Vancouver native, naturally you have appeared on the long-running series. Is it a bit of a rite of passage for Vancouver-based actors to make a stop in the “Supernatural” universe?
Panton: Absolutely. It’s like “The X-Files” of this generation. It totally felt like a stamp of approval.

TrunkSpace: “Supernatural” has a massive fan base, one that has kept it chugging for well over a decade. Another brand you’ve worked on that has a big fan base, one that still surprises us to this day, is “My Little Pony.” Having worked on the series as a voice actor, do you have any inside insight into the world of the Bronies? What has made that world and its characters build a fan base that no one anticipated?
Panton: It truly is such a unique phenomenon. I don’t know if anyone predicted that “My Little Pony” would pop like that – anyone who could make those predictions would have the golden ticket in this industry! It was a bit surprising that so many adults connected with the show, but at the same time it makes sense. Everyone is looking for a community, and the world can be a pretty mean place – just look at how people interact online sometimes. At its core, “My Little Pony” is just a wholesome and fun show with a message about acceptance and friendship that is surely needed in today’s age. I think a lot of people resonated with that and came together. My not-so-secret goal is to get myself into a “My Little Pony” convention as a guest so that I can see it all firsthand. I think the whole thing is pretty amazing!

TrunkSpace: We mentioned your voiceover work, but “My Little Pony” only scratches the surface. Was voice acting always part of the plan or has it become a pleasant surprise of your performance career?
Panton: It was 100 percent a pleasant surprise. But looking back it’s a perfect fit. I’ve always been quite hyper in general and have been making crazy voices for years. So now instead of intentionally annoying my friends or making them laugh… I get to do the same thing to a group of strangers and call it a job!

TrunkSpace: As an actor, when inhabiting a character, do you approach the process the same in animation as you do with on-screen work? If not, where do the differences lie?
Panton: There are a lot of similarities, and I’m realizing that more and more as I continue to grow as an actor. Both on-screen and animation work require the same ability to accept an imagined world as being real. I tend to use a lot more body work in animation as I’m discovering a character, but that is mainly because playing animals or monsters can be so wildly different than playing a person! But on the same note, there are similarities. I mean, the movements of people can tell you a lot about their character or personality, and this is just the same as an animal or cartoon character. Overall I’d say that doing voice acting and film acting complement each other and have helped me improve in both fields.

TrunkSpace: Joining this newest season of “The Man in the High Castle,” your role is certain to turn some heads. Is it hard not to view this particular job as a possible career game changer?
Panton: I am very excited about High Castle. It is such an amazing project to be a part of. It is definitely impacting my career positively, and the feedback I’ve received so far has been fantastic. When it comes to the idea of being a ‘game changer’… I have a very good feeling about it but this industry is unpredictable, so it’s hard to say anything definitively. At the end of the day a person’s drive, determination and attitude is what plays the biggest part in their career path, and every new role is a step forward. But this job will absolutely turn heads, and I’m grateful for that.

TrunkSpace: In the series you’re playing Billy Turner, the newly-appointed minister of Propaganda for the American Reich. Just in description alone it sounds like a meaty, multi-layered part to play. What were you most excited about when you first learned you were cast as Billy, and what did you go on to love about him the further into his development that you traveled?
Panton: I was excited about being on High Castle. I was creating so many waves and it meant so much to be a part of a project that is tackling such heavy subjects. And Billy was a great surprise. He is very multi-layered and complex, but simple at the same time. He’s a career-focused guy who wants to climb as high as he can while still keeping his head on his shoulders… literally. High Castle is a very cut-throat world. I guess, in a weird way, what I loved most about him was how much of a mirror he is to how complacent we can be as a society… his character has highlighted how easy it is for people to turn a blind eye to things so long as they don’t feel they’re directly affected. In a lot of ways, Billy represents one of the worst tendencies that people have… out of sight, out of mind.

TrunkSpace: What sort of emotions were you juggling in the weeks prior to the premiere of this new season of “The Man in the High Castle?”
Panton: I was nervous and excited. Mainly excited. I knew the show was something special, and I was hoping to add to that. You never know how things will turn out but now that it’s premiered I’m really proud of what we made.

TrunkSpace: As you look back over your career, what job do you think you learned the most from – the one you’ve applied continuously to your career moving forward?
Panton: “Flash Gordon” was my first big job. It was a Syfy show. I learned so much on that set by studying the leads, producers… everyone really. What really stuck with me was how much work this takes – the dedication, the insane hours. At the end of the day everyone is working together to build the best project they can. I was so honored by that and grateful for the opportunity to be a part of it.

TrunkSpace: You’ve played a LEGO character, a character who has been forever preserved in plastic glory as a toy. Be honest with us… is there anything greater than holding a plastic poseable version of yourself?
Panton: I have a closet filled with my different LEGO characters’ toys. And I will admit… nothing has felt quite like being immortalized in plastic toy form. It’s freaking awesome.

TrunkSpace: Time machine question. Here goes. If you had a chance to jump ahead 20 years and see exactly how your career played out, would you take that opportunity, and if not, why?
Panton: Nope. That would take the fun out of it. I think life is more exciting when you don’t know what is going to happen next.

The Man in the High Castle” is available on Amazon Prime.

Tarzan and Jane” is available on Netflix.

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Wingman Wednesday

Hiro Kanagawa

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Photo By: Kristine Cofsky

While we used to look forward to “tentpole” films rolling into our local cineplexes every summer, now we can see the same production quality, marque names, and multi-layered world building appearing on our televisions every night, holding up the pop culture tent with poles steeped in rich, complex storytelling. In fact, it’s starting to feel like a new, highly-anticipated series premieres every week, and for those of us addicted to the binge, it’s a great time to consume.

The new Netflix sci-fi thrillfest “Altered Carbon” is the kind of show that not only has us excited, but it could very well usher in a new dawn of big-budgeted event series. Adapting a project like this, based on the 2002 novel by Richard Morgan, for anywhere other than a movie theater would have been completely unheard of even a decade ago. The cost alone to bring the futuristic, effects-filled story to life would have scared off every executive from network to cable, but now it seems, much like the technology that makes a show like this possible, the sky is the limit.

We recently sat down with “Altered Carbon” star and one of our favorite character actors Hiro Kanagawa to discuss how he brings his memorable characters to life, why the series could be a game changer for the industry, and the rock ‘n’ roll dream that still pecks away at him.

TrunkSpace: First thing’s first…we love us some you! Your work is always so rich in character and the choices you make with those characters are extremely memorable. What is your approach to tapping into a new character and making him your own?
Kanagawa: Thanks for the kind words. Acting is an ephemeral activity, even when captured on film, so it’s great to know that some of what I do is memorable. Creating these characters really depends on the circumstance, the style and content of the script, the people around you, the specifics of the character. When I was starting out I was coming from a bit of an arty physical theater background, so I tended to work outside-in: find the voice, find the walk, find the way this guy carries himself. But in film and TV, less is more – you really have to internalize things and work inside-out because something as small as a sideways glance or an arched eyebrow can be a big, big move. Also, everybody you’re working with is coming at things from different methods and training techniques and traditions, so I’ve found the most reliable thing to do as an actor is BE IN RELATIONSHIP with your other actors and your environment. I hope audiences appreciate my work as Captain Tanaka on “Altered Carbon.” I’m proud of it, and a lot of it comes out of being in relationship with Martha Higareda’s character, Ortega.

TrunkSpace: As you mentioned, you’re set to star as Captain Tanaka in the new Netflix series “Altered Carbon.” By any standards it seems like an extremely ambitious project, but by television/streaming standards, it feels like it could be the kind of project that forces others to rethink the way that they’re doing things. As you were working on the series, did it have the feel of something that could be groundbreaking within the industry itself?
Kanagawa: Absolutely. And it’s more than blind ambition, there’s a desire, an aspiration to make something really good. I could tell everybody on this project from the top down were dedicated to getting things right. I go into my first wardrobe fitting and a few days later I have another one because they’ve re-thought things. And then another one. I walk on set on my first day and my first reaction is, “Wow.” Same thing the next day when I see another set. And so on. I get called in to rehearse on a Saturday and with input from all of us actors, the scene gets rewritten. There’s creative energy. Everybody’s involved and engaged. Nobody was mailing it in on this one.

TrunkSpace: At this point, millions of people have already viewed the trailer online and the buzz continues to build around the series. As an actor performing within a show that is generating that kind of pop culture interest, does it place you in a position to put expectations on how it will be received and accepted, and in a way, alter your life/career in the process?
Kanagawa: I do have expectations that it will be well-received. I’ve seen bits and pieces and everything I’ve seen excites me. I’ve read the scripts, of course, and being a writer myself, I have nothing but admiration for the writing. I am aware that my work here as Captain Tanaka will probably get a lot of eyeballs and I’m happy about that because I feel good about it. If this creates more opportunities for me in the future, I’m ready. Bring it on.

TrunkSpace: For those who have never read the Richard Morgan novel, can you tell us a bit about Captain Tanaka and what his journey is throughout the course of the series? What did he offer you from a performance standpoint that you have yet to tackle in a project before?
Kanagawa: The series is in the same universe and follows the same general trajectory as the first book, but it’s a major expansion of that universe. Captain Tanaka, in fact, does not appear in the novel. What I can tell you is that Tanaka is a deeply-conflicted and compromised police captain tasked with keeping law and order in a world run by an ultra-powerful elite. He’s a good man in a bad world and he can either keep his head down and do as he’s told, or he can do the right thing. As an actor, you live for characters who are conflicted in this way.

TrunkSpace: From one talked about project to the next, you’re also working on “Snowpiercer” for TNT, a series based on Bong Joon Ho’s popular 2013 film. Both “Altered Carbon” and “Snowpiercer” come with a bit of their own built-in audiences seeing that they had established fan bases in other mediums already. Is that a gift for an actor, working on something that you know people will already be lining up to see, or does it also come with its own set of pitfalls knowing that some viewers might go in with expectations already in place?
Kanagawa: I think there are instances where the fans of a known, iconic story do not want what they know and love to be messed with. I don’t think “Altered Carbon” or “Snowpiercer” will suffer from that given both projects are re-interpreting the original for a different medium. If anything, I feel an audience expectation and excitement to see what new directions both series will go in.

TrunkSpace: You’ve performed in dozens of series and films over the course of your career. Looking back, are there any characters that you wished you had more time to spend with and explore further, and if so, why?
Kanagawa: Lt. Suzuki on “iZombie”, and the Yakuza boss Okamura on “The Man in the High Castle” both met untimely ends. There was a lot more to explore with those characters.

TrunkSpace: You’ve had some great runs on fan favorite shows adored by the Comic Con crowds like those two you just mentioned, and most recently, “Legends of Tomorrow.” But one thing a lot of people might not know about you is that you also played father of the first family of comics, Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four. What was that experience like, giving voice to such an iconic character?
Kanagawa: I don’t do a lot of animation, so it was a tremendous pleasure being in the room with artists who are the creme de la creme of that industry. And as an Asian actor, I thought it was fantastic that I had the opportunity to voice such an iconic non-Asian character. Reed, of course, is kind of the “straight man” in the family, so I didn’t have to move far from my natural speaking voice, but I had a great time with a couple of episodes where Reed switched bodies with Ben/The Thing as well as with Dr. Doom.

Kanagawa with Joel de la Fuente “The Man in the High Castle”

TrunkSpace: You also did an episode of “Supernatural,” which many in the fandom consider to be one of the most memorable in the series’ 13 year run. (“Changing Channels”) That got us to thinking… can you imagine yourself working on one character for such an extended period of time, in this case, 13 seasons, and is that something you would welcome?
Kanagawa: It really depends on the character I guess. I’ve been lucky to have a sustained career without being attached to a single character or show for longer than two seasons. But this is the golden age of the serial narrative and there is so much good writing out there in this medium that I would welcome the opportunity to explore a character over multiple seasons.

TrunkSpace: We read that you started your creative journey as a musician, composer, and writer. Are those areas that are still a big part of your life even as your acting career has continued to propel you forward in ways that you probably never thought possible?
Kanagawa: I am a playwright as well as an actor and I am very proud of the fact that I recently received the Governor-General’s Literary Award for Drama, one of Canada’s most prestigious literary awards. As for music, as anyone who ever played in a high school rock band will attest, I still dream of getting the band back together, taking my shirt off, and kicking some ass!

TrunkSpace: A lot of times our loves and creative outlets can end up feeling like “work” when those outlets become careers. Do you still love acting as much today as you did the first time you stepped foot on a set and began your career?
Kanagawa: I actually love it more now than ever. I feel I’m just starting to get really interesting opportunities, and that’s coming at a time when I’m starting to do my best work. All of that is extremely exciting. I’m chomping at the bit here.

TrunkSpace: Do you view the craft differently now than you did when you first began your pursuit of it?
Kanagawa: Completely. I’m always learning about myself as I journey through life. And acting is a craft you can learn so much about from watching people you’ve never met. You can watch actors who died decades ago and learn from them. You can learn from watching people at the food court at the mall. It’s endlessly, endlessly fascinating.

TrunkSpace: If someone came to you tomorrow with a blank check and said, “Hiro, go make the kind of projects that you want to make,” what would that look like? What kind of project would you develop for yourself knowing that money was not an option?
Kanagawa: Being a writer and having a couple of screenplays and series concepts, I’d use the money to get those things made. I don’t really write roles for myself, but if I had a blank check maybe I’d be tempted to write myself something. Might be tempted to write myself a part where I cross the desert, climb the mountain, and make it to the promised land.

Altered Carbon” premieres Friday on Netflix.

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