Rick Yune started out as a Wall Street trader, went into a successful modeling career working with Versace and Ralph Lauren, becoming the first Asian-American model for either design house, and then transitioned into acting, winning a Kid’s Choice Award for Best Villain for his role as Johnny Tran in The Fast and the Furious.
He’s trying for his second ‘best villain’ statuette with his role as Takeshi, a deadly assassin from the Ozunu clan in Ninja Assassin. When another member, Raizo (Rain) leaves the clan, with revenge in his heart, his biggest opponent is Takeshi, who is an expert in martial arts.
I spoke with Rick Yune at the Yamashiro Restaurant about the movie.
I did research on you and you used to be on Wall Street and a hedge fund trader – you must be so glad to be an actor right now?
What I’ve always been attracted to is risk, the ability to look at it and take a chance in life and then grow from it, and there’s so much more risk that you take in this business than any other, and I think I still fulfill that goal, especially trying to play a ninja, that’s a pretty big risk.
What attracted you to this movie?
I did a film called The Fifth Commandment where I wrote it and financed it, but I’ve also done other films like James Bond (Die Another Day) and The Fast and the Furious.
What I realized after doing my own film is that there are so many different aspects of filmmaking that I didn’t really know, and although the character is amazing in Ninja Assassin it’s about being in the same environment as producers like Joel Silver, and James McTeigue who did one of my favorite films, V for Vendetta, so that’s why I was attracted to it.
You’ve been involved with martial arts since you were a teenager. When you’re working with somebody like Rain, who I think did an amazing job, but six months of training doesn’t give him the background that you have, so do you have to tailor what you do to his level of experience?
I think you’re only as good as the people you are surrounded by, and we had the best of the best here, Joel Silver who’s done Lethal Weapon, Die Hard, all these films that inspired me as a kid, the Wachowski brothers, of The Matrix, the fact that Joel is making a ninja movie was amazing to me. Being with that level of expertise allows for you to raise your own game up, regardless of your experience.
We had the stunt team from the movie 300, I know a lot of actors from that film that never had picked up a sword in their life, and they looked pretty amazing. What we do in real life in martial arts is one thing, but what we do for film is completely different. It’s all about working for the camera.
Is it fun to play a bad guy?
What I learned when I first got into the business is to pay attention to the character and do not judge. So I can’t judge whether a person is bad or good, you’ve got to love them all, and for me Takeshi was somebody who was just being loyal to the people that brought him up, staying true to the clan. And every action has to stem from that.
Can you talk a little about your father who came here from Korea to start a new life?
My father came to this country with nothing in his pockets and had no high school education, he was from the military. So the fact that he can make a life for himself and also provide an opportunity for somebody like me to come up is an amazing thing.
It’s the American dream, and though it might not be implemented perfectly it’s the only place that this exists, that any man can be whatever he wants to be, with just a dream and some heart.