The popularity of Star Trek Beyond has basically guaranteed mainstream fandom for a franchise that was once considered geeky and alternative — now, we can even wear our trekkie status on our nails! What’s also great is that the stars have used their larger platform to speak up about issues that are important to them, like Zoe Saldana’s struggle with an autoimmune disease.
For John Cho, who portrays Sulu, a universally beloved character, this has been a time to talk about diversity — or the lack thereof — in Hollywood. “I just didn’t see anyone on TV who looked like me, and then I saw George Takei being cool and piloting the spaceship on television,” Cho recently said on The View. “And I thought that, wow, there’s a beacon for me.”
While things are a little bit better now on TV concerning diversity (though if the bar was so low before, how can you go anywhere but up?), there are still many in Hollywood who tooootally should be getting more work. Lucy Liu and John Cho are well-known names now — here’s hoping that Hollywood gives the following Asian actors more face-time onscreen.
1. Constance Wu:
She is hilarious on Fresh Off the Boat and has been very vocal about the white-washing that happens in Hollywood. Wu is talented and beautiful — this should be a no-brainer.
2. Steven Yuen:
Yuen is notable not only for playing a main character for The Walking Dead, but for being one of the few onscreen love interests in Hollywood played by an Asian male. This may sound ridiculous, but since Asian men are often desexualized in mainstream American media, Yuen’s portrayal of Glenn as a total badass who is considered hot AF is actually groundbreaking. It shouldn’t be though. But first, we need to see him in more stuff.
3. Jake Choi:
This Queens native has a versatility that is showcased on his IMDB page — a stint on Broad City, an arc on Younger and a role in Wolves, the basketball drama starring Carla Gugino and Michael Shannon which opened earlier this year. Fingers crossed we see more of him.
4. Rahul Kohli:
Are we including South Asians on this list? Yes we are, because representation is important. Also, because Rahul Kohli from iZombie is a handsome human being who needs to be on TV more.
5. Anna Akana:
You might recognize her by her brief appearance at the end of Ant-Man, but many are more likely to know her from her YouTube fame. Akana is a real self-made star, and her witty and sometimes poignant videos have reached more than 1.5 million subscribers.
6. Priyanka Chopra:
This woman is goals when it comes to her red carpet style and her classic updos. But Chopra was already a huge star in India before Quanticogave her fame stateside.
7. Daniel Henney:
Another actor who is more appreciated outside the US, Henney will hopefully get more recognition now that he is a series regular of a Criminal Minds spin-off,Beyond Borders.
8. Sendhil Ramamurthy:
Luckily for us, this Heroesalum has been working steadily since the series ended in 2010, chalking up arcs in Covert Affairs and Beauty and the Beast.
We’re finally getting past all those geisha and ninja stereotypes.
Asian-American women, and women in general, have long faced the woes of horrible storylines or just plain missing from shows. This messy writing or lack of diversity on the small screen stems from the absence of minorities and women in the writers’ room.
But in 2014, we’ve seen some inspiring portrayals of Asian-American women on television that have brought dimension to ladies who are often turned into flat tropes. We still need more of these types of characters, but thankfully we’re inching toward better representation.
Lucy Liu proves that Asian-American women can be leading ladies without being a stereotype. Liu is one of the most recognizable Asian-American actresses in Hollywood, known for her roles on Charlie’s Angels and Kill Bill: Vol. 1, two movies that tokenized her race. But Liu currently co-stars as Dr. Joan Watson in Elementary, a modern take on Sherlock Holmes, alongside Jonny Lee Miller.
Watson is incredibly intelligent and capable, but not without flaws. She was once a surgeon, but accidentally killed a patient. Unable to trust herself, she let her medical license expire, and eventually becomes Holmes’ detective apprentice. She’s sexy, she’s smart, she makes mistakes — in short, she’s a human being.
She has her demons, but she doesn’t let anyone make her decisions for her. She’s an interesting main character who just so happens to be Asian.
More than just casting:
Television is also making progress with writing storylines centering around Asian culture. MTV’s Teen Wolf, a teenage-supernatural drama with a dark side, may be the best example. This year, the series introduced Kira Yukimura and her family.
Portrayed by Arden Cho, Kira shows that there are many ways to be Asian — in her case, Korean-Japanese. She’s also a kitsune, a mythical fox spirit with the ability to absorb electricity, plus some deadly skills with a katana.
Furthermore, Kira’s powers and one main storyline of Teen Wolf‘s third season are deeply rooted in the Japanese internment camps of the 1940s, a smear on America’s history that’s often overlooked. The mistreatment of Japanese people during World War II is a part of many Asian-Americans’ identity and experience in the United States. Integrating this part of the past into the show is an effort to bring underrepresented history to wider audiences.
Funny and flirty:
Asian-American women can be sexual and go on tons of dates. The Mindy Projectfeatures Mindy Kaling as Dr. Mindy Lahiri, a spunky OB-GYN who makes her way through a cavalcade of flings before settling down with fellow doctor Danny Castellano in the show’s latest season. While Kaling is Indian-American and might not have the same experiences as a Korean-American, she still falls under the Asian-American umbrella.
The Fox comedy is filled with sex and intimacy, showing that Asian-American women can be vocal when it comes to the bedroom. Mindy knows what she wants, when she wants it and if she doesn’t want it (as in the episode about anal sex).
The Mindy Project also flips the script on the typical dating storyline. Usually it’s a white protagonist who goes on dates with a pretty homogeneously white lineup, until bam, there’s one diverse hottie who “makes up” for being the only one (ahem, Girls). In Kaling’s show, we see her dating a crop of primarily white dudes, showing that she’s as much in control of her dating destiny as anyone else.
Room to grow:
The one-dimensional Asian-American character on television shows still exists — take a look at Awkward‘s Ming (Jessica Lu) or Scorpion‘s Happy Quinn (Jadyn Wong). Visibility is essential, but stereotyped writing can be dangerous. Fortunately, the Dr. Joan Watsons and Kira Yukimuras are making important progress toward more diverse actors getting multifaceted characters to play.
Other disenfranchised communities are also making their way to the small screen. For these minorities, including Asian-American women, increased visibility might seem slow. But while more, and more accurate, depictions should be a given, we can celebrate what we do have — and continue to fight for diverse inclusion in the shows we love.
On paper, it looked like a rough year for Asian-Pacific Islanders on network television: The Mindy Project was on the verge of cancellation. NBC axed Community, and confirmed the end of Parks and Recreation for 2015. Sandra Oh officially left Grey’s Anatomy. Glee edged closer and closer to the end of its run while slowly pushing its Asian characters out of the credits.
According to an annual report on television diversity released by GLAAD, the number of Asian-Pacific Islanders on network television had been on the rise.
In the 2013-2014 season, 6% of broadcast series regular characters were Asian-Pacific Islander, but in the upcoming year, only 4% of characters will be Asian–the only ethnic group to see a decrease in diversity from the previous year.
“Aside from the need for more representation despite the real progress we’ve made, I was disappointed that we lost some really great Asian-American representation this past year,” Philip Chung, co-founder and blogger at YOMYOMF, said, listing Oh and Community’s Danny Pudi and Ken Jeong as examples.
But while the number of Asian characters appears to be shrinking next season, the quality of roles, Chung points out, has noticeably changed. Asian-Pacific Islanders in 2014 were cast in more prominent roles than the previous year, giving actors like John Cho, Ming-Na Wen, and Nasim Pedrad (who previously made headlines as Saturday Night Live’s first west Asian cast member) opportunities to step beyond smaller supporting and guest appearances on TV.
The leaps forward in casting choices have not come without their setbacks. After months of anticipation among critics and bloggers about the casting of John Cho, an Asian male, to play the lead in a romantic sitcom, his show Selfie was canceled after just seven episodes.
“It’s rare to see an Asian-American male as a lead in a comedy, especially one that has romantic possibilities,” said 8Asians editor Joz Wang, who called Selfie’s cancellation the biggest disappointment for Asian Americans on TV in 2014. “While the show didn’t catch on as quickly as the network would have wanted, many Asian Americans watched the show specifically for John Cho.”
“Getting [a show] about an Asian American family on the air is a frickin’ miracle.”
Even though Cho never received top billing in Selfie, many felt ABC’s choice to cast him as the show’s male romantic lead was long overdue. His elevation to “leading man material” appeared to be the first step in seeing more Asian-Pacific Islanders as true television stars, not just supporting characters.
To date, few Asian actors have ever been cast in lead roles on a network level. The first to break through was Pat Morita, in the 1976 show “Mr. T and Tina” (it was considered a flop, and went off the air after five episodes).
Today, Lucy Liu plays a prominent character in Elementary, though not the lead, as does Kal Penn in the upcoming CBS drama Battle Creek. Even Hawaii Five-O, which Wang noted has been “great because it’s set in Hawaii and there are many opportunities for Asian-American actors,” stars two Caucasian leads. “All the Asian Americans still play second fiddle in terms of billing,” said Wang.
The last network show to cast an Asian male with top billing was CBS’ Martial Law starring Sammo Hung in 1998. Hung, who spoke little English, had just a few lines in each episode, and was reportedly paid half of what his co-star Arsenio Hall made.
Currently, the total number of Asian actors to receive top billing on a network primetime series is one: Mindy Kaling. Since the 2012 premiere of The Mindy Project, Kaling has received praise for being the first woman of color to write and star in her own show since Wanda Sykes in 2003.
But Kaling has come under fire for what some see as her failure to leverage her influence for push for more diversity on network television.
In a letter to Fox, Media Action Network for Asian Americans President Guy Aoki said the show lacked diversity–particularly when it came to romantic interests. “We are concerned that in the course of two seasons, [Kaling’s] character, Dr. Lahiri, has had a ‘white-only’ dating policy involving about a dozen men,” Aoki wrote. “And except for this season’s addition of African American Xosha Roquemore the cast continues to be all white…She’s creating the impression that by surrounding her character with mostly white people and dating only white men that Lahiri’s become more accepted by the white population.”
Kaling defended the show at a SXSW panel early in the year, saying, “I have four series regulars that are women on my show, and no one asks any of the shows I adore — and I won’t name them because they’re my friends — why no leads on their shows are women of color, and I’m the one that gets lobbied about these things.”
Despite any criticism and low ratings, Kaling herself saw a year filled with successes in her own career, from being named a Glamour Woman of the Year to the announcement of her second book, Why Not Me?, which will be released next year. In November, Fox also added six episodes of The Mindy Project, stretching the season from 15 episodes to 21, and fueling speculation that the show will be renewed for a fourth season.
Kaling won’t carry the mantle for Asian network primetime leads alone much longer. She will soon be joined by Korean-American actor Randall Park, who will star in ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat–the first network show to feature an all-Asian American cast since Margaret Cho‘s 1994 series All-American Girl, which was canceled after one season. Following a slate of recurring roles on television (including The Mindy Project), Park will receive top billing when the series premieres in 2015.
“Getting a television series on the air is an incredible feat,” Park wrote in a post for KoreAm Journal online in June. “Getting one with no bankable name stars in today’s television climate is damn near impossible. Getting one about an Asian American family on the air is a frickin’ miracle.”
The series, based on the memoir of celebrity chef Eddie Huang, has received its share of praise and criticism since ABC added it to its mid-season lineup. Park is one of the targets of the early backlash because his character is Taiwanese (not Korean like Park is) and speaks with an accent (which Park does not naturally have).
But in the same KoreAm post, Park acknowledged he raised that same issue himself, but was repeatedly assured he was the right actor for the role.
“Hopefully audiences and the network will give it a chance.”
“In an ideal world, I would never have to play a character with an accent,” he wrote. “But this is a character based on a real person. So it’s something that I have to honor and try to perfect as the series moves forward.”
Early viewers of the pilot have been defensive of the series, hoping to save it from suffering the same fate as All-American Girl and Selfie. “I thought it was very funny and despite some of the early backlash from people who haven’t yet seen the show,” YOMYOMF’s Chung said. “Hopefully audiences and the network will give it a chance.”
BBC Television’sSherlock is, without a doubt, one of the best TV shows of the decade–nearly anyone who’s seen the contemporary re-imagining of the legendary Sir Connan Doyle character is bound to agree. From the mysteries themselves to any of the numerous brilliant aspects of the show, it can be a bit difficult to pin down exactly why it works so well.
Well, unless one you’re one of the many Chinese women totally enthralled with the sexual tension between Sherlock and Watson!
Sherlock‘s popularity is definitively global at this point–we’d bet that the show has fans in every continent, probably even Antarctica! Well, what else are the penguins going to do all winter? And China has its fair share of fans as well–but one of the core groups driving the show’s popularity in the county is the women who revel in the homoerotic undertones between the two main characters, the eponymous Sherlock Holmes and his assistant Dr. John Watson.
While Japan has only just recently finished airing the second season, China has already finished the broadcast of the third, which isn’t set to be seen in Japan until May. The popularity of the show in China has been so intense that it’s even gained the attention of the BBC.
Like the “rumors” that have long circulated about Captain Kirk and Spock, many fans can’t help noticing the intensity of the relationship between Holmes and Watson, leading to a nearly unending supply of self-published slash fan fiction. “Slash,” for the more innocent of our readers, is fan fiction stories about two characters of the same sex romantically involved with each other–usually called BL, or Boys’ Love, in Japan.
In its native Britain, fans generally seem to love the show for the mysteries, [Spoilers]Sherlock’s apparent demise at the end of the second season enthralled fans as they tried to figure out he pulled it off. In China, however, many female fans welcomed the chance to see Watson’s expression of love for Holmes and delighted at the “couple’s” return in the third season.[/End spoilers]
▼This sums things up nicely…
Of course, this also means that China–and, indeed, the rest of the world–has an abundance of self-published slash fiction featuring Holmes and Watson, Watson and Holmes, and a female-version of Holmes paired with Watson–a reversal of the American Sherlock Holmes showElementary. Though we’re pretty sure the Elementary has never shown the characters as romantically or sexually involved–clearly they’re doing something wrong!
Of course, none of this has escaped the attention of the BBC or lead actor Benedict Cumberbatch, who discussed the prevalence of online slash fan fiction in the English-speaking world in an interview with MTV.
“[Martin Freeman said] ‘Hey, look at this Tumblr.’ And I said, ‘What? Tumblr? What?’ He knows more about it than I do and he was showing me some of them. Some of it is really racy, un-viewable even on MTV. It’s cool.”
We have to say that we really respect and admire his appreciation for the fans’ work. It seems like a very calm response to what could be a very awkward situation. After all, when was the least time legions of strangers drew pictures of you being intimate with…well, anyone? Probably never, unless you happen to be our Mr. Sato!
All of this, though, has led some Chinese Internet commenters to believe that the BBC isspecifically catering to fans interested in the romance between Sherlock and Watson.
“The slash-fic-loving women are like royalty!”
“I can’t help thinking that they’re trying to appeal to women who love the Holmes-and-Watson slash fic.”
“No matter how many thousands or tens of thousands of times Holmes picks on Watson, the doctor sticks with him like a love-struck puppy. We’ve waited two years for new episodes, and the third season is guaranteed not to disappoint!”
Naturally, there are many types of fans the world over–and that includes in China as well. After all, the show tries to stay faithful to the original stories while masterfully adding in modern embellishments and gadgets. It captures the imagination of mystery fans, adventure fans, and old-school Sherlock Holmes fans! It just so happens that a large number of fans are also captivated by the not-so-subtle romance between the two fetching young men.
So if you’re looking for a bit of fanfic to hold you over until the next season, it’s only a short google search away whether you’re searching in Chinese or English!
Actress Lucy Liu, 45, made her name playing a vicious lawyer in Ally McBeal. Now she’s Dr Watson to Jonny Lee Miller’s Sherlock Holmes in Elementary
You grew up in New York, where Elementary is filmed. How do you enjoy shooting on home turf? Even as a New Yorker and someone who grew up in Queens, there are so many neighbourhoods I had never spent any time in before. I don’t feel that I even really know the neighbourhood I grew up in all that well. People say to me all the time: ‘Oh my God, there are so many amazing restaurants in Jackson Heights. Which one would you recommend?’ And I’m like: ‘I have no idea. I went to the diner, once in a while, for a treat. We’d get a cheeseburger deluxe if we had extra money, and that was it.’ It’s great as an adult to actually spend time in different areas and really get familiar with New York.
You also shot some of this season in London. How was that? The makers of the show really wanted to highlight all the big sites, such as Big Ben, the London Eye, Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace – they were really billboarding London. But as Jonny was saying to me, in a scene where we were supposedly driving in from the airport, if we were really doing that, you would not have the backdrop of the Changing of the Guard and the Houses of Parliament. And we were shooting on rooftops all over the city with backdrops that made no sense geographically. I think the attitude for the show was: forget what’s real, we spent all this money so you are really going to see London. I just sat there, pretty complacent, just very pleased to be there. It was very funny watching the assistant director trying to herd the public around during shooting, shouting: ‘Quiet on set!’ Nobody cared.
Did you have any idea when you took on the role of Ling Woo how huge Ally McBeal would be? Not at all. I had auditioned for a more regular role on Ally McBeal and I didn’t get it but then they came back a few weeks later with this guest-star role and at the same time I was being offered a play. The TV role was only eight days’ work; the play was running for three months and I wanted to do the play because it was more artistic. But my manager insisted I take Ally McBeal – she told me I was going to pass on the play that time and I was going to do this show, and that was that. Then, of course, it became such a part of the zeitgeist and changed my career.
Were you a fan of action movies before you started making them yourself? I did not sign on to do action and I didn’t start out doing it – it just blossomed into an entire career for me. And I have enough scars and grazes now to show my career trajectory. It’s like the way kids have little lines on the wall to show how tall they are; I’ve got scars after surgeries from films.
Were you familiar with the Sherlock Holmes stories before you took on the role of Watson?Growing up in my family, reading Sherlock Holmes and Watson wasn’t something that was part of our lives, being from Asia. It’s not that we were learning about the Ming dynasty either but classic English literature was just not something we focused on. I read the books when I got the role, though.
Your parents moved to the US from China and met in New York. How strongly influenced by their Chinese heritage was your childhood? I was born in the US but I didn’t speak English until I went to school – I spoke Chinese with my parents. That sort of thing just changes the way you receive things and interpret and digest them. We did not grow up with a lot of money at all, and my parents definitely encouraged us to focus on our education and to work – we always had jobs. We didn’t grow up with silver spoons in our mouths – everything we had, we had to earn.
Were you a big fan of films and television growing up? We rarely went to the movies. We did watch television but becoming an actor wasn’t something that was even in the stratosphere as a career idea. What came after high school was college; what came after college was a job. Acting was never a job that was ever considered. It was completely out of the ballpark, completely alien to my family. And, I think, to a certain extent it still is.
You’re playing Watson as a woman – the first time anyone has done that. Would you like to try playing other men as women in the future? Oh, there are tons I’d like to do that with. When you go into acting you do these open calls and you have to go in with a monologue. I never went in with a female monologue, I always went in with a male one. I just thought they were more interesting, that they were closer to what I was trying to speak from my heart. There was a sense of spice and fire in them that I really enjoyed.
We were speaking in English and picking strawberries at a night market in Taipei last winter when the storekeeper curiously asked my friend where I was from (even though I had lived there for seven years). “She’s visiting from New York,” my friend informed him. After buying the strawberries, she said, “it’s funny how he just assumed I was Taiwanese. It must be because of my skirt.”
My friend had undergone a complete image overhaul after moving from Minnesota back to Taiwan to launch her singing career. While her story may seem bizarre, there are many stories like hers. Originally from California, Tiffany from the K-pop group Girls Generation mentioned in an interview that while she once craved pizza, she now eats dwenjang jigae (tofu stew) and has become “full Korean.”
Asian-Americans have been moving to Asia to break into the entertainment industry for a while now despite initially having a limited grasp of Mandarin, Cantonese or Korean. It’s been difficult for Asian-Americans to make it in Hollywood, since they are often type-casted into certain roles such as socially awkward geeks or kungfu masters. Mike Hale from the New York Times described how even famous actresses like Maggie Q and Lucy Liu are not entirely able to escape the mold of the “sexy nerd” or the “dragon lady.”
In the past, Asian-American actors and actresses like Russell Wong and Maggie Q (both of whom are mixed race) have used Asia as a launching pad to break into the industry and subsequently move back to the U.S. These days however, an increasing number are deciding to remain in Asia. The expanding entertainment industry there simply promises more opportunities for them. Asian-American actors and singers are finally getting a chance to pursue their American dreams, but ironically, it’s Asia that’s making it possible.
Maggie Q told Time Out magazine that she owes her success to Hong Kong. Originally from Hawaii, she moved there in 1997 with $20 in her pocket in a last-ditch effort after failed modeling stints in Japan and Taiwan. Whereas Taiwanese markets at the time were looking for either “tall blonds” or “100% Chinese girls,” Hong Kong consumers were craving something fresh. Maggie Q fit the bill. She was introduced to acting by Jackie Chan and learned martial arts (and Cantonese) from scratch. She starred in both English and Cantonese-speaking movies in Hong Kong, and was propelled to fame in 2002 acting alongside fellow Asian-American actor Daniel Wu in Naked Weapon.
Unlike Maggie Q , the Californian born-and-raised Daniel Wu decided to remain in Hong Kong. An established movie star now, Wu could barely speak Cantonese when he first arrived there in 1997. Both Maggie Q and Daniel Wu, being unable to read characters, wrote out their lines phonetically. Wu’s decision to remain in Hong Kong had much to do with representations of Asians in Hollywood. Whenever a Chinese film is screened in the U.S. it is repackaged such that American audiences can comprehend it, Wu told the University of Oregon’s Daily Emerald newspaper. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, he argued, was a blockbuster hit because it was a simple love story within an action movie.
Daniel Henney chose to make Korea his home for similar reasons. The Michigan-bred, half-Caucasian, half-Korean actor told CNN that he considers himself a “Korean actor until the day I die” because “Korea gave me my career.”
After working in Hong Kong and Taiwan for a few years, Henney decided to move to Seoul. He has created a niche for himself playing English-speaking roles in movies filmed in Korea and China. In Shanghai Calling for instance, he plays a Chinese American lawyer who relocates to Shanghai.
It’s not just Asian-American actors, but also singers who are making waves in Asia. Taiwanese American pop-stars Lee HomWang and Wilber Pan have redefined Mandopop (the Chinese/Taiwanese counterpart to K-pop). Growing up in Rochester, NY, Wang spoke mostly English at home. He was introduced to the Taiwanese music scene during his summer trips throughout high school and college. Pan on the other hand attended Taipei American School but is glad to have been “exposed to both kinds of cultures.” Both artists mix hip-hop and R&B with ballads and traditional Chinese instrumental sounds. Wang’s Shangri-la is an example of this.
Similarly, the Korean entertainment industry has helped Korean American singers Jessica and Tiffany from Girls Generation to launch their careers. In an interview with Soompi, the girls discussed adjusting to life in Korea, including having to tone down their “wild” behavior and acting more “ladylike.” Apparently, K-pop has given these girls the break that they needed, since Girls Generation is doing extremely well.
Despite the linguistic and cultural barriers that accompany moving to a new country, Asian-American actors and singers are choosing to remain in Asia. Furthermore, crossing over to Hollywood isn’t exactly a rite of passage for them anymore since many have found stardom in Asia. As Maggie Q stated, casting agencies are increasingly looking for “mixed girls.”
And as Jessica from Girls Generation explained, being fluent in English has been a plus. Whereas Asian-Americans are often times consigned to stereotypical roles in Hollywood, their biculturalism is an asset in Asia. As such, Asia has become the new Land of Opportunity for Asian-Americans trying to make it in the entertainment industry.
There are plenty of notable anime properties that are packed to the gills with A-list actors. Many of Disney‘s Studio Ghibli releases are a fine example of this, using household names like Patrick Stewart and Claire Danes as a means to draw audiences to the theaters who normally otherwise wouldn’t have given the property a second glance. Amongst them, Princess Mononoke (Billy Crudup, Claire Danes, Minnie Driver, Billy Bob Thornton, Gillian Anderson, Jada Pinkett Smith), Castle in the Sky (Anna Paquin, James Van Der Beek, Mandy Patinkin, Cloris Leachman, Andy Dick), Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (Alison Lohman, Shia LaBeouf,UmaThurman, Patrick Stewart), and Kiki’s Delivery Service (Kirsten Dunst, Phil Hartman, Janeane Garofalo) are some of the most star-studded.
But there are a lot more mainstream celebrities whom you might not have realized—or just plain forgotten— also starred in anime properties.
Do you remember the 1995 cyberpunk quadrilogy Armitage III? Back in ’97, all four OVAs were compiled into one release (called Armitage III: Poly-Matrix) by now-defunct Geneon, who was then called Pioneer. Fans may have forgotten this over the years, but it turns out that Armitage III: Poly-Matrix was full of celebs, including Keifer Sutherland, Elizabeth Berkley, and Bryan Cranston.
Before Keifer Sutherland blew up as Jack Bauer in 2001 on 24 (but after the incredible 1990 Flatliners, a movie about med students who experiment with visiting the afterlife that also starred Julia Roberts, Kevin Bacon, and William Baldwin), he played Ross Sylibus in Armitage III: Poly-Matrix.
Co-starring with him was Elizabeth Berkley (Saved by the Bell, Showgirls), who played Naomi Armitage.
Naomi Armitage has also been played by Juliette Lewis (Natural Born Killers, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape), who played the character in Armitage III: Dual Matrix.
And of course, the one that fans love to pull out the most to blow everyone’s minds is Bryan Cranston who is beloved for his roles in shows like Malcolm in the Middle and most recently, Breaking Bad. He has his fair share of anime credits, though, including Matti Tohn in Wings ofHonneamise, Eddie Borrows in Armitage III, and most famously, Isamu Dyson in Macross Plus.
Meanwhile, action fans might be surprised to learn that the 1986 Fist of the North Star movie showcased none other than James Avery, whom many might recognize as Uncle Phil from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Or, as Shredder in the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series.
But wait, there’s more.
Although these examples dip back into the Disney x Studio Ghibli pot, some of these actors and actresses hadn’t yet skyrocketed to fame when these films were released, while other roles just deserve a reminder.
For instance, only a short while after she first played Princess Mia Thermopolis in the 2001 The Princess Diaries, Anne Hathaway got to play another princess—this time, Haru, the bride-to-be for the Cat Prince in 2002 Studio Ghibli film The Cat Returns. Although she only had a couple roles under her belt at the time, she starred alongside a varied cast of noted film actors, amongst them Tim Curry [Rocky Horror Picture Show] (who played the Cat King), Elliot Gould [Ocean’s Eleven/Twelve/Thirteen] (Toto), and Cary Elwes [The Princess Bride] (Baron Humbert von Gikkingen).
Also on the cast list for The Cat Returns was Kristen Bell, who was still two years away from her breakout role as Veronica Mars. She plays Hiromi in The Cat Returns. She’s no stranger to voice acting, though; she’s also voiced a few video games, including Astro Boy: The Video Game and a handful of Assassin’s Creed games.
Spirited Away had some famous names as well, including Big Love and The Ring actress Daveigh Chase as Chihiro, and Bob Newhart Show co-star Suzanne Pleshette, but fans of Fantastic Four and The Shield might not realize that Michael Chiklis was also in the film, as Chichiro’s dad Akiichiro.
With Michael Keaton‘s long and storied career, one might forget that he also played title character Porco Rosso in Studio Ghibli‘s film of the same name. Cary Elwes was also in that film, as Donald Curtis.
IGPX: Immortal Grand Prix is less so “actors you forgot were in the series” as it might be, “series you forgot existed.” A co-production between Production I.G and Cartoon Network, it tried to get audiences to tune in by casting talents like Michelle Rodriguez [Avatar, The Fast and the Furious] and everyone’s favorite ex-child actor, Haley Joel Osment [The Sixth Sense, A.I.] (who of course is famous for also playing Sora in Kingdom Hearts, alongside a slew of celebs like Hayden Panettiere, Billy Zane, Mandy Moore, and Lance Bass, amongst others).
The IGPX dub also included Star Wars hero Mark Hamill as Yamma, who in addition to lending his voice to a billion American-animated series and video games, was also in Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles as Commander Taylor, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind as Mayor of Pejite, Dante’s Inferno: An Animated Epic as Alghiero, Castle in the Sky as Muska, and Afro Samurai: Resurrection.
Speaking of Afro Samurai, lest anyone forget, that title also made quite the effort to stuff its cast with A-listers, including Samuel L. Jackson as Afro and Ninja Ninja, Ron Perlman as Justice, Kelly Hu as Okiku, and producer RZA as DJ (and music composer). They reprised their roles for the sequel, Afro Samurai: Resurrection, which also added Lucy Liu to the cast as Sio. Jackson has since aligned himself with several live-action anime adaptations, including Kite and the probably-dead-forever Afro Samurai.