"Life" star Hiroyuki Sanada doesn't like being offered Chinese roles

Hiroyuki Sanada attends the “Life” premiere at SXSW on March 18, 2017 in Austin, Texas.

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Over the course of his career -- which began at age 5 -- Japanese actor Hiroyuki Sanada has developed a few rules by which to live -- and doing so has resulted in him often turning down roles. One role he had no trouble saying yes to was playing astronaut Sho Murakami in director Daniel Espinosa’s thriller “Life” -- part of an international cast that includes Jake Gyllenhaal, Ryan Reynolds and Rebecca Ferguson. 

Sanada explained to CBS News that, much like his character, he has plenty of prior experience on which to draw.

This isn’t your first time doing a film that takes place in space.

Actually, this is my fourth space movie. It’s funny. When I was 17, I did a space movie called “Message from Space.” It was my first time doing a spacewalk on wires. After that, I did one TV series in space and 10 years ago I did “Sunshine” with Danny Boyle, which was set in space as well. So just like Murakami, this is my fourth mission to space. So I could use all of my past experience as an actor to inform my character. I’ve done wire work so very many times, so it was comfortable for me.

How was the atmosphere on set with your co-stars?

We had great teamwork. Jake is very talented and a very creative person, always finding the best way for each scene. In rehearsal he was always questioning and trying a lot of different ways to perform. Every day, we had a rehearsal before we started shooting. It was like a workshop for the theater. And Ryan, he’d worked with Daniel before, so it was easy to feel how well they worked together. That created a good atmosphere on set, which was helpful for us. Ryan is friendly and of course professional but also a humble person. He was great. He’s also an ad-lib pro. The improvisation was great, so I could laugh naturally during the funny scenes. Every take, he’d change the lines to something new. And Rebecca is a hard worker and a very kind person, very supportive of others. She created a bond between the cast and crew.

What are your thoughts about the issues pertaining to roles for Asian actors in Hollywood?

I think Asian roles are getting a little bigger than 10 years ago, but if somebody has an Asian face they’re offered parts for every nationality. Sometimes I’ll get an offer for a Chinese role, or you’ll see a Korean actor playing Japanese -- and they don’t care. It’s so hard to get the right role for myself. It’s harder than before for survival. And also the Chinese market is getting bigger, so for a Japanese actor it’s a kind of hard time. Hopefully in the future it will be better for younger actors from Japan. I have to keep fighting and create a better market here and in Japan as well. That’s my hope.

What would you like to see change?

It’s hard to say, but one thing would be understanding the cultural differences. Every Asian country has its own, different culture. So sometimes it can be insulting to other cultures or countries. I want to make sure that people understand that. I want to keep my rule of only playing Japanese characters, and hopefully the casting people will understand. 

LIFE - Official Trailer #2 (HD) by Sony Pictures Entertainment on YouTube

“Life” is in theaters starting Friday.