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When a Japanese idol gets trapped in Antarctica – for HBO’s new thriller

Singer-actor Tomohisa Yamashita, aka Yamapi, shares what it was like being the only Asian cast on The Head and learning a bit of Spanish on the side.

When a Japanese idol gets trapped in Antarctica – for HBO’s new thriller

The 35-year-old singer-actor-tv host plays a microbiologist in The Head. HBO Asia’s brand-new thriller set in Antarctica. (Photo: HBO Asia)

He’s one of Japan’s biggest stars, with 4.9 million followers on Instagram and a bevy of acting awards for various films including Code Blue The Movie, the country’s highest-grossing film of 2018.

But Tomohisa Yamashita admitted being “a bit nervous at first” at the prospect of working with an international cast so far away from his native Japan on HBO Asia’s newest thriller The Head – and being the only Asian cast member.

Japanese idol Tomohisa Yamashita plays a microbiologist on an isolated Antarctic research base team where a killer is on the loose. (Photo: HBO Asia)

But the 35-year-old singer-actor-tv host – who’s affectionately known to his fan as Yamapi – soon set aside his anxieties.

“It didn’t matter if I’m the only Asian cast member of the series. That isn’t important at all," he said. 

“I soon realised that we all shared the same passion, and that was to make a great show. It was a great experience to work with a wonderful team.” 

Set in the Polaris VI international polar station in Antarctica during the dark six-month Antarctic winter, The Head is a suspense- and-snow-filled whodunit about a chosen group of climate change scientists from all over  the world, in charge of keeping the base operational during the long polar nights.

But suddenly, there is a loss of outside communication and team members start turning up dead,  all within the station’s claustrophobic interiors and endless Antarctic nights and a killer on the loose. 

Helmed by Spanish director Jorge Dorado, The Head’s global cast also includes actors hailing from the UK, Denmark, the US, Ireland and Spain – which made the experience a learning one for Yamashita, who was exposed to a different way of working.

“In Europe, the actors are always making discussions. There is, like, no compromising,” he said. 

“I was really surprised. And it was good for me and I’ve learned a lot of things from all the actors. And it’s kind of the same with the core crew, they all want to do a really good job.”

This was the very reason why he was immediately drawn to the series as he thought “the whole experience could be totally new to (him)”.

“Initially, I was a bit anxious if I could successfully adjust myself to a totally different environment,” he said.

And it was all worth the risk, he added, even if it was difficult to work in a language that wasn't his native Japanese.

“In the beginning, I was really anxious about how can I communicate with the cast and crew. English is my second language. But once the shooting started it was good because they are all really supportive and accommodating."

An added bonus to working with an international cast? He even got to learn a little Spanish.

“I can say ‘aqui’ which means ‘here’,” he said with a laugh. “And ‘un poquito’ when I’m asked if I’ve started learning Spanish.”

Tomohisa Yamashita (R) with co-star Katherine O’Donnelly O’Donnelly (L) in The Head (Photo: HBO Asia)

The Head was shot in a 2000 sq m studio in Tenerife, Spain, where the purpose-built set of the Polaris VI research station was erected.

The set was built to actual scale and based on information about the real layout and operation of arctic scientific facilities. The production crew also shot many of the show's exteriors in Iceland, although most of the story is set inside the polar station – giving the series the filmmakers' desired feeling of "encapsulation”.

Yamashita revealed he’s willing to live in Antartica for six months like his character, “because it isn’t every day that you get a chance to live in the farthest part of the world".

The current global pandemic drawing isolation parallels with the show notwithstanding, Yamashita thinks that The Head will resonate with viewers from all over the world.

“First of all, the script itself is very well-written. It’s a well-structured story covering three different timelines,” he shared. “And each character is unique, representing the diversity and depth of humanity.”

This story, he reiterates, shows the core of human emotions.

“It is one that easily transcends the culture and the language,” he said.

The Head premieres on Friday, Jun 12, at 9pm on HBO GO and HBO.

Source: CNA/gl