A Conversation with Peter Kosaka
by David Fujino
When film and TV productions are looking for an actor who can speak English words with a proper Japanese accent, there´s a high probability that Toronto actor, Peter Kosaka, will get the role. Born Iwao (rock) Kosaka in Tokyo, Japan, in 1959 — and raised as a Roman Catholic — his Canadian name, Peter (the Rock), brings a smile to one’s face, for it typifies the adaptive and re-adaptive personality of this skilful Japanese-born actor. While Peter has spent close to 30 years in Canada trying to lose his accent, the irony is that in the last 10 to 12 years, he´s now being asked to `keep,` rather than `lose the accent` in many of his actor roles.
True story. In late November 2012, Peter and I showed up at the same corporate video audition. The speaking part was for a Japanese businessman. After chatting briefly with Peter, I wished him luck, and left. On the way home, I actually said to myself, the Director really needs a combination of Peter and me. (You see, the Director had just told me I was what they were looking for in the audition room, and do I have November 29, 30, and December 1st, free? The Director had also asked me, before my second take, to please put a Japanese `accent` on my lines.) And then Peter walked in. Five days later, my Agent phoned me with good but ´strange news´ that I had auditioned for a speaking Japanese businessman role, but I’d booked a non-speaking Japanese businessman role. As it turns out, I was right about Peter booking the part of the speaking Japanese businessman. It was while working together on set that I asked Peter whether he’d meet me some time off set for this following Q&A.
You once told me you changed Agents because your Agent said she didn’t think you were a serious actor — all because you have a day job in finance. Do YOU think you´re serious and committed to acting?
Yes, I am. (Laughter) It depends on what means being ‘committed’ — because everyone has a different answer. I’m committed to the art of acting but perhaps not necessarily to the profession of acting. Here’s the interesting part — around the same time, I got engaged. I was offered a full-time job where I was working as a ‘temp.’ Considering I was about to be married, I decided to take the job. Fortunately, the work is flexible enough for me to go to auditions, take a day off here and there for acting, whenever required.
If you don´t mind my asking — perhaps it`s obvious—what made you turn to banking?
When I came to Toronto, there was a ‘temp’ agency that handled artists, so I got a job ‘temping’ at a brokerage firm and through them—believe it or not—I was working with quite a few actors at the same company. As for the previous question, I took a full-time job out of necessity when it was offered. It’s been a great learning experience—financially, socially, and about life in general.
You first immigrated to Canada as a dancer who became interested in acting—do I have this right?
I actually came to Canada to study theatre. But because I could also dance, I joined a professional modern dance company after graduating from my theatre school (University of Windsor) in order to get my Work Permit, which led to my Landed Immigrant Status.
For about 30 years, you`ve been working and living here? What do you think about this part of the world, Canada?
Do you mean Toronto, or Canada? I think Canada/Toronto is very unique. Compared with the rest of the world, the Canadian government—believe it or not—is very stable. The Canadian economy is very much on the safe side compared with the rest of the world, and Canada is a safe place to live. But then, again, everything is up to chance. Anyone can come here, be serious and work hard, and get nowhere—whereas others, with a little bit of luck, can gain a fortune.
Do you have any brothers and sisters?
I have one younger brother still in Japan. He just survived two cancers and is doing well. He’s settled, has a sixteen year old son, and a pretty good job.
What do you feel when a production demands or requests a Japanese accent for roles? Do you see this as a negative in any way?
No … I like to think that it is my subtle but natural authentic Japanese accent that got me the job.
What does your wife think about your being an actor?
Oh, she loves it—her family loves it—they just love the idea that one of their family members is an actor.
You stay so slim. Is this because you cycle to auditions, like Frank Nakashima?
Yes, I cycle a lot. All my life, I’ve been physically active, and the last 12 years I’ve been practising yoga, which really helps me—not only to stay in shape, but also stay focused, especially at auditions.
You’ve spoken about Naomi`s Road. It`s important, isn`t it? in the history of Asian Canadian theatre? Weren`t you in Naomi`s Road along with Dawn Obokata (Naomi) and Brenda Kamino?
I wasn’t in the initial Toronto production of Naomi’s Road. I was in the Winnipeg production in 1995. The fact that I performed in front of the NAJC head office members, for me, it was a very emotional experience. It’s always been an interesting issue for me—being more of an outsider (and being an Issei); but being an artist, and being Japanese, I always felt compelled to tell that story.
When’s the last time you acted on stage? Do you plan to do theatre again?
Naomi’s Road was the last time I was on stage, 1995. I guess I’d love to be on stage again, if I get a chance. Theatre is my first love.
Is it unusual to be Roman Catholic and Japanese?
I was immersed in Roman Catholicism. I went to Sunday school, I grew up in Catholic Boys School. So, for me, I didn’t feel strange at all.
What are your mother and father like?
(Big laughter). I think my mother’s crazy, but everyone says that. I’d like to believe I am what I am because of my parents. Like any family, we’re not a normal and perfect family.
Who are you?
I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently. I am a husband to my dear wife, and currently I am a devoted son wanting to take care of my aging parents. I want to believe that I am an artist full of dreams to help make this world a better place a little bit at a time.
To learn more about Peter Kosaka, connect to the internet: www.IMDB.com/name/nm04669051