Portraying the dangerous and menacing henchman Jonathan in Twin Peaks, Mak Takano was responsible for one of the many mysterious layers of the second season. Aside from his appearances onscreen in feature films such as Black Rain and Contact, Mak has worked with fighters and athletes such as Oscar De La Hoya over the years as a professional physical trainer as well. I recently caught up with Mak and we talked all about his time on Twin Peaks!
BD: Thanks for your time Mak! I want to start off by asking, where you are from and what it was like growing up?
MT: Well I’m Japanese by birth and lived in Japan till I was eight and I went to boarding school in England from the age of 8 1/2, but my family still lived in Japan.
BD: How did you first get into acting?
MT: After I went to school in England where I did some theater. I moved to L.A. and my very first audition was for a very big movie which I got. I was very lucky. That was Black Rain with Michael Douglas.
BD: So how exactly did Twin Peaks come about?
MT: I knew Harley Peyton through a mutual friend. He was one of the writers and he said they might be looking for an Asian actor and I should audition for it. So Johanna Ray was the casting director for David Lynch and they contacted me. I read for her and after that I had a meeting with Mark Frost and I got the job. David was not there, he was actually in Cannes. I think for Wild at Heart, which won the Palme Award.
BD: What was the audition process like for your role?
MT: It wasn’t like a cattle call, Johanna’s great. She’s a great casting director because she makes you feel comfortable right away by trying to get to know a little about your background, and there’s not like twenty other people waiting with you to audition. There was no one there but me and she had me read several pages of the script and that was it, really. David really believed in her decisions I think.
above: Mak Takano up to no good as “Jonathan” on the set of the Great Northern Hotel in Episode 9
BD: Your first episode was actually the premiere of the second season. Were you a fan of Twin Peaks before you were cast?
MT: Oh yeah, big time. I thought the pilot for Twin Peaks was really some of the best t.v. material I had ever seen. Ever, to this day. That was brilliant. It was a masterpiece, so I was a big fan from that point on.
BD: Many of your scenes were with Joan Chen who was a real superstar at the time of the show. What was it like working with her?
MT: It was fun! She was a star at that time – all the girls – on Twin Peaks were highlighted in the media due to the fact the show was very popular and had a big cult following. They were on the cover of Rolling Stone, not Joan, but she was noted for being a sexy Asian woman and all that kind of stuff, but also a good actor too. It was stunning for me to work one on one with her and have some very serious scenes. When you have intense scenes like I did with her, you have to have a deep connection and you have to be generous with one another in the acting. From the get go I had that with her, so it was a very good experience for me. Also a very smooth time, with all of our scenes.
above: Mak with Joan Chen as “Josie Packard” in Twin Peaks
BD: So after you were cast did you have any idea what would happen with your character as time went on?
MT: No. They wrote the stories week by week as it was being shot, so no one knew anything! I didn’t know if I would be coming back the following week or what the situation was. I was hired by the week! (laughing)
above: Mak Takano as Jonathan, ready to lay the smack down on Hank Jennings (Chris Mulkey) in Episode 11
BD: One of your biggest scenes is a fight in the Double R Diner with Chris Mulkey’s character. What was it like filming that? Did you do your own stunts?
MT: Oh yeah, I did my own stunts on that. Chris had a stunt double and I got to throw the double around a lot. It was good. I don’t know who the stunt coordinator was, but he was really good because he asked me what kind of martial arts background I had, and he basically let me coordinate my own scene. The fighting was all mine, so that was good. Except for the last part where I smash the flashlight and do the blood brother thing – that was of course scripted.
BD: What was your experience like working with David Lynch as a director?
MT: A lot of people ask me about that actually and people expect me to say “he tells you weird things or gives you these weird ideas.” With me, anyhow he let me do whatever I felt comfortable doing. He gave me very simple directions, so I could bring out my own take on Jonathan as well, which was really nice of him. But to add to that story (laughing) when David came back from Cannes, I think he was back a day before we started shooting Season 2, and I guess he – because I was one of the main guests,and the fact he was not around when Mark Frost hired me. He only saw my headshot at the time and I guess he said something to the producers that he wasn’t too happy about them hiring me. But it was already too late because it was the day of the shoot and I was on set. One of the producers, I think it was Bob Engels came up to me and said something like “David isn’t sure about you”, or something of the effect, but when I met him for the first time I introduced myself and the first thing he said to me was “you look different from the picture” – which ended up being a good thing. So it worked out and I ended up getting more episodes than I expected after that (laughing). So it worked out!
BD: You’ve gotten to work with quite a few interesting directors in Twin Peaks as well as in other roles. Do any others stick out to you?
MT: Yes, Ridley Scott of course, because he’s one of the masters like David Lynch, and I was very fortunate to work with him on a huge production – probably the biggest that year for a movie, which was Black Rain. I got the job because they were planning to shoot everything in Japan but due to difficulty of getting permits for locations in Japan, and not being able to shoot certain scenes, they were left to come back to the States to finish up. So, I got that opportunity when they started auditioning Asian actors here. They obviously – by union rules – have to audition union actors first and I guess Ridley didn’t connect with the ones he saw and he opened it up to a casting call. I just got out of graduate school and a friend of mine who worked at an Talent Agency told me about the open casting. The second and final part of the casting was for Ridley, Sherry Lansing and Stanley Jaffe and it was pretty amazing. He gives very precise direction because he knows exactly what he wants. It was great, I learned a lot from the experience. The actors that were there were brilliant. My very first scene was with Michael Douglas and Andy Garcia, as well as a very famous Japanese actor – comparable to Clint Eastwood or Steve McQueen here, a legendary actor called Ken Takakura. He was in fact a very good friend and mentor of mine from Japan, so that was another coincidence too. He was a great influence for me to become an actor, so it’s a huge coincidental thing. Everything clicked together, much like Twin Peaks. Everything I do has to have meaning in my life and this certainly did!
BD: Who else did you enjoy working with on Twin Peaks?
MT: Jack Nance of course, he was great. He was a very cool guy and just a natural actor. Another man who was very generous with his acting. He would play “catch” with you, throwing it back and forth with you. That I really enjoyed. Also, just getting to meet some of the people I met on set was really nice, some of the old time actors. I’m really into film and watch everything, all foreign and U.S. films – so I knew who most of them were and it was great! Also, I have to mention that I did really enjoy working with director Lesli (Linka) Glatter, she was so passionate with her work and she gave me great guidance. The very episode I was in, which she directed was chosen for the Directors Guild Award.
BD: Oh yeah, what are some of your favorite films?
MT: I have to say that I just appreciate some of the classics. Seven Samurai directed by Akira Kurosawa, for me it is a classic. It has all the elements of epic film making which stands the test of time. Like everyone else, Raging Bull, The Godfather 1 and 2, those are classics for me. Of the recent films, I really enjoyed, The Prophet, a French film and City of God!, a Brazilian film.
BD: Did you get to keep any props from your time filming Twin Peaks?
MT: No, I wish I did! The suits! When I was filming, that classic suit I was wearing, which at the time I thought, “Why am I wearing this? It’s so old time!”. I wasn’t complaining, but it was just classic and dated looking, from the 70’s, but now I wish I had it. I guess David was just really into classic clothing stores and they would rent the suits. I wish I had them now, they were great looking.
BD: One of the things about the show is that it’s held up so well, aside from a few little things here and there it does not look very dated.
MT: Yes, anything that’s good whether its t.v. or whatever, if it’s good it stands the test of time, and I think its why Twin Peaks keeps reaching new audiences.
BD: I think being on Netflix has definitely helped it reach new audiences. The series wasn’t completely on dvd until 2007…
MT: Yes, also it was huge in Japan – huge! It was aired there after the U.S. and it kept on going, the momentum. A lot of people were buying the videos but no one knew that I was Japanese because I play a Hong Kong Chinese character. Also I don’t do acting in Japan, so no one knew! It’s kind of funny.
above: Oscar De La Hoya (right) and Mak (photo courtesy of Mak Takano)
BD: Tell me about what you’re currently up to as a Mixed Martial Arts trainer?
MT: It’s something I’ve done for a long time, it was a natural transition for me to train professional fighters, in Mixed Martial Arts. In the last 5-8 years it’s just become the new popular sport in America. For me it’s something I’ve always been doing. But it’s just booming here in the States right now, people are more familiar with it. Even kids follow MMA. As far as physical training is concerned, its something I’ve been doing for a long, long time and it’s my first job I ever got in my life when I was 18 and I’ve done it ever since. I went to undergraduate and graduate programs to study to be a better trainer. It’s just one of those things I’m passionate about and it formed my path. The acting is a passion for me too, to be honest. I don’t take one over the other, it’s just timing. You probably know a boxer called Oscar De La Hoya and when he was at his prime I was his physical trainer for 3 years, and that took 3 years of my life from not being able to do acting and it was just a choice I made at the time. It’s all timing. There were maybe one or two (acting) things I really wanted to do at the time, but everything happens for a reason.
Many big thanks to Mak Takano! Keep up with him for the latest at his official website!