Toru Uchikado is a new name to American television. He currently plays Ren on NBC’s Heroes Reborn. I had the pleasure of speaking to Toru and find him to be a genuinely lovable guy. Read on to find out why he should be your new favorite actor.
How would you describe your character, Ren?
Ren’s a young, Japanese guy who is known as a video game expert. He’s a very quirky and interesting guy. I think on the show, other than Henry Zebrowski (who plays Quentin Frady), I think he’s pretty much the only comedic character. He’s a little adventurous, and he’s open-hearted, has a good heart.
Did you get to help the writers develop the character? Is there any part of you that we see in Ren?
Oh yeah, I mean, when I got the audition there was a description. I thought it seemed very close to me. I think the only part that is different from me is that he’s more optimistic and more energetic. I’m more of a quiet person. Other than that I thought he’s very close to me.
What was your audition process like?
[Laughs]. I actually read your interview with Kiki and unlike Kiki I just had a regular audition process. It was just, I went in twice, maybe? Two or three times and I just got the part the regular way. It’s not a very interesting story.
If you had the ability to transport yourself into any video game, which one would you choose?
That’s a very interesting question! I would say Final Fantasy. Do you know it?
I love Final Fantasy.
Yeah it’s a Japanese huge RPG game. I would say Final Fantasy X. Also maybe Super Mario.
Super Mario’s so fun.
I haven’t played games in a while. Right now I only play soccer games, but I grew up playing Final Fantasy, Pokemon. I was really into Super Smash Brothers. So yeah, I guess one of them.
Before you were cast, had you seen the original Heroes?
Only a couple of episodes. Of course I knew about it because it was huge in Japan. When I was in high school it was a big deal in Japan, too. After I got the audition I started watching it and I got really into it. I just finished every single episode.
If you could play a comic book hero, who would you be?
Like, American comic hero?
I have to say Dragon Ball. Yeah, something happened yesterday. I met a resource from Dragon Ball. Kiki and I get to translate ourselves when we get the script in English, we get to translate it to English. And I sometimes try to put kinda like nerdy references from Japanese comic books, that kind of thing. I tried to put a reference from Dragon Ball in, but they cut it.
Yeah, it was kinda sad. [Laughs]. But I love Dragon Ball and if I had to name an American comic, I’m not sure. I love Japanese anime or Japanese comics but I’m not really familiar with a lot of American comics. Oh, actually, you said superhero right?
Yeah, like Batman or Superman or any of those.
Yeah, I like Batman. I’m not super into it.
So this is your first acting role, right?
Yeah, first major gig.
How did you prepare for it?
To get the part I tried to perform in front of my agency, my manager. I tend to get nervous, like even now when I go to set I tend to get nervous. So just a lot of practice I guess. I also did a little research on the gaming industry because I haven’t played recently. I didn’t know the gaming research had changed that much. And I did research on, have you heard of Twitch?
Yeah, I’ve heard of it but I’ve never done anything with it.
Amazon bought that company. It’s a huge company, people can live-stream their video games. Anybody can watch anyone else play video games. They can make a comment or donate money. Those gamers make a lot of money by getting sponsors and stuff. So I did research on that kind of stuff.
Oh, I also had to do research on Leroy Jenkins, too.
[Laughs]. Did you really?
I had to mention him in the first episode.
I remember that.
I didn’t know who he was so I had to research it.
Yeah, when I saw that I busted out laughing. That really made my day.
Did you always want to be an actor or is there something else you wanted to be growing up?
I was always interested in acting or creating stuff, but I was actually a business major in Japan. I went to college in Tokyo and my major was business. So I do have a business degree. The reason I got into acting was because when I was in Missouri to study English, probably five years ago? Back then my English was terrible, I couldn’t understand what my professor was saying. I had trouble in business classes and I was taking English classes but I really didn’t want to just take English class, so I took acting classes instead because it didn’t require a lot of reading. That was actually smart. [Laughs]. It was interesting, I went back to Japan, finished my degree, and decided to move to the States.
What’s it like filming in Toronto?
Toronto is a great city and the funny thing is, I went to Missouri but I also came to Toronto when I was 19 to study English for a summer program. So it was actually not my first time in Toronto, but I never expected to be back to this town to shoot a TV show back then (when I was 19 and studying English in college). I love Toronto. We didn’t shoot in winter winter, so it was great. Not so cold.
I have one last question. Our website is called Talk Nerdy With Us. Is there anything that makes you a nerd or anything you like to nerd out over?
I’m not super into Japanese anime, but I do love Japanese anime. I recently got into this comic called Attack on Titan. Have you heard about it?
I have heard about! I haven’t gotten to read it yet.
It’s so good! I watched 25 episodes in 2 days, maybe like 1 and a half day? Last night I was rewatching again and maybe I’ve already watched it three times in a month. So I do like Japanese comics.
Catch Toru on Heroes Reborn on NBC Thursday nights 8/7c.