Hiro Kanagawa interview: Who is Captain Tanaka in Altered Carbon?

Photo credit: Kristine Cofsky, via M Public Relations
Photo credit: Kristine Cofsky, via M Public Relations /

Hiro Kanagawa is known for roles in iZombie, Legends of Tomorrow, and more, but what about his latest role in Netflix’s Altered Carbon?

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You’ll recognize Hiro Kanagawa the moment he appears on screen. If he isn’t playing the zombie police chief in iZombie, he’s in an alternate reality in The Man in the High Castle. You’ll also recognize him as Director Bennett in DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, Hachiro Otomo in Heroes and even as the comical game show host when the Winchesters were trapped in TV land in Supernatural. This is an actor who is always on the go but puts his all into each role he does.

His latest role is Captain Tanaka in Netflix’s Altered Carbon. All 10 episodes of the first season drop on Feb. 2 and while it’s based on the novel of the same name, there have been multiple changes. One of the biggest is with Hiro’s character! In an exclusive interview with Hidden Remote, Hiro discussed his character and how he manages to handle so many projects in one go.

Hidden Remote: What can you tell us about Captain Tanaka?

Hiro Kanagawa: Tanaka is Captain of the Bay City Police and a superior officer to Kristin Ortega. He is loyal to her and to his other officers, but he is unfortunately owned and paid for by the ultra-rich “meths” who rule the world. He is at heart a good man, but for too long he has made compromises for all the wrong reasons. It remains to be seen if he will ultimately do the right thing or if he will continue to obey his wealthy and powerful masters.

Photo credit: Kristine Cofsky, via M Public Relations
Photo credit: Kristine Cofsky, via M Public Relations /

HR: Could you describe the character in three words?

HK: Compromised. Complicit. Conflicted.

HR: Had you read the novel before getting the part? If not, have you read it since to get an idea of the character?

HK: I read the novel to prepare for my audition only to discover that Captain Tanaka is not in the book. That’s the great thing about the Netflix series. It’s the same universe as the novel and generally follows the same main plot, but in many ways, it’s a more detailed expansion of the universe.

HR: What drew you to the character and made you want the part?

HK: There was actually an interesting detail in the audition breakdown that got dropped before the audition: Tanaka was described as having an Irish accent.  Believe me, I was ready to go for it and I certainly created for myself a subtext of how the character was at one time, Irish. None of that made it to the screen of course, but, hey, who knows, could be a backstory to explore in a future season of the show.

Honestly though, as actors, we love characters who have inner turmoil. Tanaka is very conflicted, and he has a complex and combative relationship with Martha Higareda’s character Ortega, which has some intriguing backstory and subtext regarding her father who was also a cop.  These are the main qualities I found most compelling and which drew me to the character.

Photo credit: Kristine Cofsky, via M Public Relations
Photo credit: Kristine Cofsky, via M Public Relations /

HR: You have a lot of projects going on at the same time. How do you find time for them all and manage your schedule?

HK: That’s what agents are for! It mostly works out. I’ve had occasions where I’ve been with one production during the day, another production for a night shoot, and then had to head straight to the airport in the morning for another.  Some of my own projects get put on the back burner for a while, but luckily I’ve never had to pass on something I really wanted to do.

HR: What tips would you give to aspiring actors?

HK: When I was in acting school, I didn’t think I was acting unless I was showing emotion.  But human beings actually spend most of their psychological energy hiding their emotions from others.  As a student, I also didn’t think I was doing my job unless I was feeling it.  But the audience doesn’t care if you’re feeling it.  They want you to make them feel it.  Understanding these differences was a big leap forward for me.  Having said that, everybody has to find their own path and their own voice as an actor.

HR: What would your dream role, if you could do anything at all?

HK: I should be a Jedi–and not just any Jedi–but the baddest, most kick-ass Jedi of all.  It’s well known that Star Wars was originally inspired by Kurosawa’s samurai epics, especially The Hidden Fortress.  The Jedi are clearly inspired by samurai.  Darth Vader’s helmet is clearly inspired by samurai helmets.  Given the above, there ought to be a whole planet in the Star Wars universe inhabited by Asian Jedi.  I would be their leader.

Next: 9 Netflix Originals coming in February that you must watch

Are you excited to see Hiro in another TV series? Will you catch Altered Carbon when it drops on Netflix? Did you read the book? Keep the conversation going in the comments below.

Altered Carbon Season 1 is released on Netflix in full on Feb. 2.