Lee Shorten – The Man in the High Castle
By: Jenny Vintzileos
Q) I was reading that you graduated with a law degree and you worked for a few years as a lawyer. What was it that drew you to acting?
A) Yeah, I guess it is a roundabout way to get into the biz. So, I did film studies for my liberal arts and major undergrad, and I’ve always just loved everything about film. Everything, not particularly just acting, and I kind of put that on hold because my parents and a lot of friends and teachers really thought that that wasn’t a safe career choice, so to speak. So, I had gone to law school and doing all that. But after practicing for a few years it was really creatively unfulfilling. I just thought that—I kept thinking “What could I do with my life to kind of fill this void?” And I just kept going back to much I loved the movies and television and the stories and I thought, “That’s it! That’s what I’ve been missing and I have to give this a shot.”
Q) Well, we’re certainly glad that you decided to go that route! Now I know you’re on “The Man In The High Castle.” Aside from doing that show, do you have any new projects that you’re currently working on or anything that fans can look forward to?
A) Well, I just did a short stint on The Romeo Section, which is a Canadian drama in its second season by creator Chris Haddock. He did shows like Da Vinci’s Inquest and he wrote on Boardwalk Empire for a while. And then I just did a pilot, but I’m not sure—that you probably won’t see, power of the pilot. I’m not sure anyone will be able to see that. But hopefully.
Q) When you did audition for “The Man In The High Castle,” what was it about Yoshida’s character that made you want to take the role?
A) It’s a bit of an interesting story too because Yoshida…Originally when I auditioned and read for it, it was just supposed to be a one-episode deal. I think they’d imagined it originally as…Because Yoshida ends up being the right-hand man of Inspector Kido, I think they imagined a little like “Supernatural” was. So, a little like Crowley (Mark Sheppard) just having a rotating cast of a kind of minions, just coming in and doing that kind of role. After my audition and working with them on set, I think they liked what I was bringing to the role and they realized that by expanding it and creating more for Yoshida to do, you could see a more human side of the Japanese. Because inevitably, by developing an actual relationship of a season or two seasons, you can delve a lot deeper than you could than on the “Supernatural” format or other similar where you just have the boss and you have these faceless minions coming in. But in terms what drew me, he’s one of the few Japanese American characters on the show so he’s in that wonderful position of being kind of caught between the new and the old world and trying to find his place. So, I think he’s an interesting kind of in for the viewer as well, an intellect more alien-Japanese side.
Q) Was there anything you feel that you added to the role that wasn’t originally scripted?
A) Again, I think the beautiful thing about this was because they didn’t have a clear picture from the beginning; it’s been a very collaborative back-and-forth between production, the writers and myself. So, they would write a scene and then I would interpret the scene and that would give them ideas. Then, they’d write a different scene and that would give me different ideas and we would grow it together, a really collaborative endeavor over the years. I think—the biggest thing that I think I brought to the role was this sense of…He’s definitely a guy who wants to do right and he’d lived through the internment and he’d seen kind of the ugly side of America at that period. So I think he’s driven by the sense of wanting to stop that from happening ever again. He’s definitely a “want to preserve the peace and keep order” kind of guy. But at the same time, because he grew up as an American, a lot of his values and world view was so American. So, he’s struggling but he wants to embrace this new world. He wants to hold the Japanese up on this idealistic pedestal, but a lot of the times because he hasn’t lived it and he has this American world view that brings him a little bit of conflict – which I always think is interesting and I always try to find ways to bring that to the front.
Q) In that role, what are the things you find challenging playing Yoshida?
A) Well, I’m not sure if you’ve seen the first season, but he does do a lot of not very nice things. I mean, part of the research that I did on him…He’s Kempeitai. I’m a big history buff myself so I know that the Kempeitai were capable of and did a lot of atrocious acts throughout history. So, knowing what you had to imagine that Yoshida had done and then in season one would continue to do things that from an outside standpoint would be and would rightfully be horrified by. But to do justice to the character, you can’t judge that and every character is the hero of their own story so part of the challenge has been looking at the things that he has to do and being like “How can I connect to that? How can I make him a human who believes he’s right and is justified in committing these absolute horrifying things?”
Q) What can fans look forward to in season two of the show?
A) I think one of the big things is finally getting to meet the titular man in the high castle. That’s going to be a big reveal and there are so many theories I saw floating around the net after season one concluded. So, I think people are really excited about that. The beautiful thing is now that we have had a whole season to build the world, which was quite a challenge to build this complete alternate reality and introduce all these characters. The audience knows them so well so now we can start really challenging them and start really pushing them. It was almost like season one was getting the audience to question their world view. Season Two was about questioning the world view of the characters. So, we see towards the end of season one Yoshida and Kido, who had been in their minds these honorable people engage in a little bit of deceit and do things they wouldn’t normally do and so they have to live with that. Then in season two Yoshida has earned a bit of trust from Kido (Joel de la Fuente) so he’s get to go out on his own a little bit more and I think his world view on what it means to be right and preserve peace and justice and what lengths he would go to preserve those ideals continues to be challenged throughout the season in interesting ways.
Q) Is there someone in the series that you haven’t worked with or been in scenes with that you’d like to work with in the future?
A) Yeah, absolutely. We’ve got such a wonderful, wonderful cast and I don’t think is spoilery because he’s on the other coast, but I would love to work with Rufus Sewell at some point. His work on this show as Obergruppenführer John Smith has been so compelling. He’s just managed to craft this complex, scary, chilling but charismatic character and I would love to see what would happen if Yoshida got to meet him. Either if he came over to the west coast or we went over to the east coast, I’m not sure which would be more interesting. But I would love to work with Rufus.
Q) What has been some of your most memorable moments from filming?
A) There was one day in Season One where it was the Crown Prince’s speech and we had like 300 background performers on set. We had almost the entire full cast and we shot over three days. So, just to be on set for something of that magnitude and scale was, it was amazing. It’s the kind of thing you dream of. It was breathtaking and it just felt so real just due to the scale. And on the flip-side of that, there’s a scene in season two between myself and Inspector Kido, played by Joel de la Fuente, and Joel and I have become great friends over the course of the two years. In many ways, the relationship between Yoshida and Kido kind of mirrors myself and Joel. I look up to him and respect him as an actor, as a person, as a friend. We have this really small and quick intimate scene, but in some ways it was Yoshida and Kido expressing a lot of the things I think I’d like to express to Joel in real life. So it’s quite a moving scene, which you don’t normally say about the villains.
Q) What do you think it is about the show that has made it such a fan favorite?
A) Well, I think everyone in life always wonders “what if?” I think we all have regrets or moments in our life where we’ve thought “What if I did that?” or “What if it went the other way?” You’ve seen it time and time again in history, even with something like Sliding Doors. People love the “What if?” scenario and I think “The Man In The High Castle” is the ultimate “What if?” World War II was such a huge, dominating part of the last century and it really set the stage for where we are now. It really established America as a world power and it was the triumph of freedom over these dark forces. So to watch a show where that’s inverted—it’s kind of like horror movies, right? We like to be scared, we want to watch this distorted mirror and like “Oh, what would I do if I lived under a fascist regime?” or “Wow, that’s what music would look like.” I think everyone’s just drawn to that concept.
Q) If you were given the opportunity, if you could play anything, what would be the ultimate role for you?
A) Wow, the ultimate role. I gotta say I’m a fan of playing villains. I just think it’s such a challenge to justify their motivations and trying to really humanize them. Obviously, there’s a huge comic book thing going on right now so I’m going to have to go with that and I’m going to have to say Magneto. He’s such an interesting character because he’s a villain for sure, but I think when you look at his circumstances and the history that shaped him and made him who he is, sometimes you find yourself sympathetic to him and sometimes you think “Maybe he’s right.” Maybe peace isn’t an option. Or maybe we can’t always be passive, so I just think he’s just a wonderfully rich and complex character. He’s still best friends with Professor Xavier, even though they’re on opposite sides of the conflict. I just think there’s so much you can do and so many levels you can play with there. It would be wonderful.
Q) I also read that you were in several cover bands while you were in school and are very musically inclined. When it comes to music, what is your musical guilty pleasure and what are you currently listening to now?
A) Oh, my guilty pleasure? Hmmm, you know I did really enjoy Justin Timberlake. I just watched the “Tennessee Kids” concert on Netflix so that’s kind of been my guilty pleasure at the moment. He’s such a fantastic performer. I must admit I didn’t get on the JT bandwagon until FutureSexLoveSounds and I just remember “What Comes Around” was such a phenomenal song and I’m like, “Wow, where has this been my whole life?” But what am I listening to now? I’m actually on the Spotify bandwagon, too. Love it and there’s a playlist called “Punk Goes Pop” and it’s just all punk and metal covers of pop songs.
Q) Is there anything else you’d like to let our fans know about “The Man in the High Castle” or Season Two?
A) I can’t wait for everyone’s thoughts so please once you’ve watched the show or if you are watching the show, please tweet me. I always remember growing up and even these days, as much as I love going to the movies and watching shows, I love talking about it. And every time we go to a movie we’ll go to a bar afterwards and grab a drink and just talk about the movie. I think telling stories is such a social thing so please I want to hear your thoughts and theories and I want to chat for sure for you. Please tweet when you’re watching or have watched. And for Season Two, I’d love for you to put yourself in the character’s shoes, how you would live under those circumstances. I’d also love for you to think about the ways in which this alternate reality is and isn’t like our current reality. Kind of remind yourself that just like with the characters in the show, even though you think there’s so much circumstance bearing down on you, you’re in control of your own destiny. And I think that’s the one positive message that the show is about: the future is ours and we can definitely make a difference.