Clyde Kusatsu has appeared in such iconic television shows as All in the Family, M*A*S*H*, Hawaii Five -0, Kung Fu, Taxi, MacGuyver, and Family Matters, and such movies as Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay, Godzilla and In the Line of Fire (imdb Mr. Kusatsu, he’s been in just about everything). Today we have the pleasure of speaking with Mr. Kusatsu about his career, specifically his role on Star Trek: The Next Generation as Vice Admiral Nakamura.
BLANKMANinc: What initially drew you to acting?
Clyde Kusatsu: I always kind of wanted to act, growing up in Hawaii in the ’50s and everything. It looked fun and looked different. Growing up Asian-American back in the day, I grew up when there were still race distinctions. People don’t realize that Hawaii was pretty much still a plantation society; instead of cotton and rice, ours was pineapples and sugar cane. Probably at a young age I thought, “I don’t want to settle for this, there’s got to be some opportunity.” It was kind of a radical thought for an Asian-American kid growing up. If you went to school you wanted to be a doctor or a lawyer or teacher, and the very idea of having that secret dream of being in movies and television… it was kind of alien.
I got my first break in 1973 in an episode of Kung Fu with David Carradine. I got to wear a cowboy hat, boots and the only thing Asian was the vest I wore, and I carried one of those John Wayne Winchesters. It was a thrill to be on the lot of Warner Brothers going, “Oh my God, I’m working here.” Those were the days when, interestingly enough, if you had some ability you could be cast in different roles each season in the same TV show. It was kind of a great opportunity. I wound up doing about five of the Kung Fu’s in the course of their run.
BMi: You have played a wide spectrum of ethnicities among the Asian community, even though you are Japanese-American. Do you ever get any flack for playing non-Japanese roles?
CK: I take a look at it this way: It is the actor’s responsibility to do the research… cultural and historical, to even pattern their accents and familiarize so you do not harm or create a stereotype with the various ethnicities. If you take a look at who’s on the air these days, Damian Lewis from Homeland is from England. He did great on Band of Brothers where he played a guy from the Midwest. There’s a guy on Glades who is from Australia. They are able to absorb the culture and that is the acting. It’s gotten to the point where it has become hypersensitive because in a way, Asian actors wind up in a special box. The code word is we’re looking for “authentic.” If you don’t fit that box, you may offend that specific cultural authenticity and they don’t want to have the letters coming in. However at the same time, you’ve got Memoirs of a Geisha in which the studio said, “we’ll get the top Asian actresses that are box office, but they have to be Chinese,: which of course then blew a whole controversy in Japan, because there are just certain cultural ways of walking and wearing the costumes.