News Column

The Honolulu Star-Advertiser Outtakes column

November 17, 2013

YellowBrix

Nov. 17--He wound up with only a single day in front of the cameras, but it was enough to put Hawaii actor Joji Yoshida in the middle -- literally -- of one of this fall's most talked-about films -- and in a scene opposite the star of the movie.

Suffice to say, Yoshida is quite happy about his role on "Dallas Buyers Club," the true story that stars Matthew McConaughey. (The film, which got critics buzzing after premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, will open here Friday.)

Yoshida plays Dr. Hiroshi, a Japanese pharmaceutical company worker who helps McConaughey's character, rodeo star-turned-AIDS activist Ron Woodroof.

Set in the mid-1980s, "Dallas Buyers Club" is the story of the freewheeling Texas bull rider who is diagnosed with HIV and told he has a month to live. He winds up smuggling unapproved treatment drugs into the United States and selling them to patients who have grown impatient with the sluggish pace of the medical establishment.

"Dallas Buyers Club" also stars Jared Leto as a transgender character named Rayon who is also dying of AIDS.

The film was shot last November in New Orleans.

Yoshida's scene with McConaughey was a minimalist effort that felt in keeping with the filmmaking style of director Jean-Marc Vallee. For starters, there were no rehearsals, a common practice on the set, Yoshida said, and few directions from Vallee.

"He just pretty much let the cameras roll," Yoshida said. "It was just really fast. They didn't really have time to mess around. There was no lighting. It was natural light coming through a window."

There were just six people on the set during his scene, including the two actors, the director and a guy with a hand-held camera.

Yoshida's biggest role to date was in "Battleship," which shot in Hawaii in 2010. The 46-year-old actor played a Japanese sailor, Chief Engineer Hiroki. He was also cast for a part in a 2011 episode of "Hawaii Five-0," but the only scene that survived editing was of him dead on a mountain ledge.

When he got the part of Dr. Hiroshi about a year ago, it drew on his Japanese language skills. Yoshida, who was born and raised in Tokyo, had to translate the English lines into Japanese. He needed help, though, with the medical terminology and turned to his vet's assistant, who is from Japan.

But here's the catch: Although Yoshida's lines were in Japanese, he and McConaughey also shot several minutes of ad-libbed dialogue in English. And since Yoshida hasn't seen the film, he doesn't know what language he's acting in.

"It was total improv," he said. "The director just let the cameras roll, and me and Matthew just talked as the characters. We did several takes. I am hoping they are in the film because there are some scenes in there that are funny."

A lot has been said about McConaughey's performance in the film, particularly that he lost nearly 50 pounds to portray Woodroof at his sickest -- and McConaughey really looked sick, Yoshida said, "like he was going to keel over."

But for Yoshida, acting with McConaughey was memorable for what it wasn't: a close encounter with a movie star.

"I didn't get to meet Matthew," Yoshida said. "I met Ron Woodroof."

AND that's a wrap ...

Mike Gordon is the Star-Advertiser's film and television writer. Read his Outtakes Online blog at honolulupulse.com. Reach him at 529-4803 or email mgordon@staradvertiser.com.

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