HOLLYWOOD Anna Sawai on Cate’s Backstory Revelation – The Hollywood...

Anna Sawai on Cate’s Backstory Revelation – The Hollywood Reporter

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[This story contains spoilers for Monarch: Legacy of Monsters’ fifth episode, “The Way Out.”]

Monarch: Legacy of Monsters star Anna Sawai has top billing on Apple TV+’s MonsterVerse spinoff series that also includes Kurt and Wyatt Russell. Her starring role is bookended by lead roles on the streamer’s critically acclaimed drama series, Pachinko, and FX/Hulu’s highly anticipated miniseries, Shōgun. Oddly enough, despite Shōgun’s February 2024 release date, Sawai shot Shōgun in Vancouver before Monarch’s own Vancouver shoot, and within 24 hours of wrapping Shōgun, she was already recreating Godzilla’s Golden Gate Bridge sequence from Gareth Edwards’ MonsterVerse starter, Godzilla (2014). 

Sawai plays a San Francisco-based teacher named Cate Randa, who’s the granddaughter of John Goodman’s Kong: Skull Island character, Bill Randa. (Outside of Goodman’s flashback in the premiere, Anders Holm plays young Bill on the series.) And with Monarch taking a Rashomon-type approach to Edwards’ 2014 film, Cate and her students ended up being on one of at least a dozen school buses that were caught in the crossfire of Godzilla’s Golden Gate Bridge attack. Unfortunately, she could only save herself and a few of her students. 

To portray Cate’s PTSD from “G-Day” in the series’ 2015 storyline, Sawai channeled her own experience with Japan’s Tōhoku region earthquake in 2011.

“With her encounter with Godzilla and losing her students, I reflected on my memory from the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake,” Sawai tells The Hollywood Reporter. “I didn’t lose family, but so many Japanese people lost important people to them. I also couldn’t live in my neighborhood, because the water had stopped and we had no food coming in.”

On top of the tragic loss of most of her students, Cate’s father, Hiroshi Randa (Takehiro Hira), abandoned Cate and her mother in the immediate aftermath of G-Day, only for them to later learn that he went missing in Alaska and was presumably dead. Thus, Cate flew to Japan to put her father’s affairs in order since he supposedly spent half his time doing business in Japan. That’s when Cate unearthed two bombshells: Her father had another nuclear family in Japan, and he worked for the Godzilla-version of the CIA, Monarch.

In episode five, “The Way Out,” Cate then proves that the apple really doesn’t fall far from the tree, as it turns out that she once had her own version of a secret life. Shortly before G-Day, her girlfriend, Dani (Courtney Dietz), gave her a key to move into her place, and it’s soon revealed that Cate was actively cheating on Dani with another woman. For Sawai, Cate’s behavior is a byproduct of the distance her father put between her and her mother (Tamlyn Tomita).

“Her girlfriend sees that she has commitment issues, and that comes from her dad not being there enough and then eventually leaving her,” Sawai says. “Anyone who’s experienced something like that will hold onto those family issues. So, if you see that, then you’re going to do that to the person that’s coming to you. It’s not necessarily because you want to do that, but it’s because that’s almost your safe place.”

Below, during a recent midseason chat with THR, Sawai also discusses how a real-life ailment benefited the traumatic Golden Gate Bridge sequence, before addressing her future in the Fast franchise.

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So how does one end up on three consecutive high-profile shows (Pachinko, Monarch, Shōgun)?

I have a great team. (Laughs.) I’ve also been very lucky, and my team is so supportive of what I want to do. The timing was right, as well. I’m really lucky in the sense that I finished my second TV show in Vancouver and Monarch was also going to shoot in Vancouver, so I literally wrapped on [Shōgun] and then I went on to Monarch the next day. So everything just fell into position in the perfect way.

Anna Sawai in Monarch: Legacy of Monsters

Apple TV+

Each character is probably rewarding in their own way, so what makes Cate Randa unique from the other two you’ve played recently?

After wrapping Shōgun, I was like, “I need to do something fun because this has been so heavy.” It was rewarding, but I just wanted to laugh on set. And then they were like, “Let’s do Godzilla!” And I was like, “Yeah, that sounds like so much fun.” And then I read the character and I was like, “Oh my God, she feels so real. I actually see a little bit of myself in her.” But I was also worried that she was going to feel a little bit one-dimensional. She’s a victim of G-Day, her father abandoned her and she now figures out that she has a half-brother. So we’re all like, “Oh my God, poor Cate,” but through episode five, we see that she has her own shortcomings. She’s frustrated with herself and that is why she’s unable to move forward. She hasn’t forgiven herself for her past mistakes and choices, and it becomes really interesting when we see that she’s coming to terms with that. She has so much baggage, and throughout the series, with the help of Kentaro [Ren Watabe] and May [Kiersey Clemons], we see her become a little bit easier on herself.

Yeah, she’s suffered at least three huge traumas: Losing her students on G-Day, the presumed death of her father (Takehiro Hira) and discovering that he had another nuclear family in Japan. How did you wrap your head around playing all of those wounds simultaneously?

I just had to see what that meant to me. With her encounter with Godzilla and losing her students, I reflected on my memory from the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake. I didn’t lose family, but so many Japanese people lost important people to them. I also couldn’t live in my neighborhood, because the water had stopped and we had no food coming in. And with the relationship to her father, I have personal relationships that really feel similar to what she has, but I’ve never experienced anything close to a half-brother. So I just imagined how devastating it would be if my parents had another family, and how I’d deal with that. Would I want to be a part of that story, or would I just want to run away from it? Moviemaking is all about imagination, because we’re never really playing ourselves completely. So I just dove into personal experiences and used my imagination.

Monarch: Legacy of Monsters

Monarch: Legacy of Monsters

Apple TV+

The most popular promotional image for the show is the one where Cate’s back is to the camera and she’s looking up at Godzilla on the Golden Gate Bridge. Could you sense on the day that this was going to be the central image of the show?

Not at all. I had no idea. We did that during the first few days that I started this whole experience with Monarch, and because I was freshly off of [Shōgun], my body was like, “Oh, we’re done!” So I got sick, and when we were shooting it, I wasn’t feeling the best. But I think it really helped, because Cate is going through so much, and without that, it might’ve ended up looking a little differently. So it all came into play. I then learned how to jump off a bus, but the actual scene that we see is my lovely stunt double. So I did not know at all that [that image] was going to be used in such a huge way, and it was to my benefit that I didn’t know. Otherwise, I would’ve been so tense and worried about how I was going to look.

In episode three, Cate and Lee (Kurt Russell) argue the distinction between a secret and a lie. She says there’s no difference, so who do you think had the better case? 

I can see both ways, but if someone is keeping a secret because they don’t want to tell me something, I would consider it the same as lying. You’re not exactly being honest, and you’re hiding something. But I absolutely see that there was a distinction there. It’s a hard one.

Monarch: Legacy of Monsters

Anna Sawai in Monarch: Legacy of Monsters

Apple TV+

In episode five, we learned that Cate, like her dad, had her own version of a double life. Prior to G-Day, she had a girlfriend named Dani (Courtney Dietz), and she was unfaithful to her. What’d you make of that reveal? 

I loved this episode for her because no one’s perfect. Everyone has their own flaws, and up until then, we don’t really see that. We just feel sorry for her, but then we’re like, “Oh my God, she’s a real human being. She did this stuff and now she’s feeling guilty about it.” So I thought it was very interesting that they wanted to show that, mid-season, because some people might not understand that about her. Maybe she’s kind of unlikeable because she can’t see the positive side of things, but I liked the choice that they made in showing this part of her right now, because it gives so much more depth to her. It all makes more sense, and it’s like, “Oh, this was the missing piece. I’m starting to understand this character, and now she feels like a real human being.”

As Cate gets onto the school bus that will lead her to the Golden Gate Bridge on G-Day, Dani says, “I didn’t learn my lesson. We were good. You just don’t want good.” Is that supposed to imply that Cate sabotaged their relationship once already?

Yes, that’s the way I see it. Her girlfriend sees that she has commitment issues, and that comes from her dad not being there enough and then eventually leaving her. Anyone who’s experienced something like that will hold onto those family issues. So, if you see that, then you’re going to do that to the person that’s coming to you. It’s not necessarily because you want to do that, but it’s because that’s almost your safe place.

I don’t know if Dani survived G-Day, but in episode one’s 2015 timeline, we see Cate clutching the key that Dani gave her, so that’s potentially a fourth trauma to add on to everything else.

Yes, she has been through a lot, and she feels guilty about Dani. Had she chosen to go with Dani, maybe they would’ve ended up together down the bridge, or they’d be together and alive right now. I’m so glad that you picked up on the key, because we did have more about [Dani]. I think they kind of got rid of it, so maybe I’m not allowed to talk about it. But yes, Dani is supposedly gone and Cate feels tremendously guilty. It’s almost like, “Why am I alive? Why did I survive when I’m the one that left her? If I hadn’t left her, maybe she’d be alive.”

Monarch: Legacy of Monsters

Ren Watabe as Kentaro Randa and Anna Sawai as Cate Randa in Monarch: Legacy of Monsters

Apple TV+

Why do you think Cate was almost encouraging her mom to go off on Kentaro? Kentaro didn’t do anything wrong, and his mom was pretty comforting to Cate during her panic attack in Japan.

I don’t even think that she wanted her to get mad at Kentaro. I don’t think it had anything to do with Kentaro. It was more about her mom. She was concerned about her mom because her mom was acting like everything was fine, and that’s such a Japanese mom thing to do. They can be upset, but they control their feelings, and that’s something that I’m dealing with, too. I have a hard time expressing my anger when I’m upset; I am a little bit of a people pleaser. So I think that Cate was like, “If you’re not okay, say you’re not okay, because you’re doing this to yourself. You’re really suffering inside right now, and I want to help you out right now. So just be honest with those emotions.” But it’s really hard when your mom is closed up like that, and they’re only doing it to protect you and themselves as well. So I think she was just worried for her mom.

Jordana Brewster Anna Sawai and Sung Kang in F9

Jordana Brewster, Anna Sawai and Sung Kang in F9.

Universal Pictures

You and Kurt Russell both have the Fast franchise in common. While we do see Elle’s photo in Fast X, did your commitment to one of your three shows prevent you from coming back for the tenth movie? 

I don’t think so. I was shooting Monarch already when they were doing Fast X, but I also heard that there was a mention of my character that didn’t make the final cut. So I don’t think she’s completely gone, but they have so many amazing characters that I don’t know if they’ll have room [in the future]. But if there is, I’d be totally interested in going back and reuniting with the cast.

Lastly, with Shōgun coming in February, what’s your best elevator pitch for that story and character? 

Oh my gosh, I have not talked about Shōgun, and I’m not really ready for it yet, because it means so much to me. (Sawai gets visibly emotional.) I don’t know why I’m getting emotional. I’m crying, and I’m so sorry.

Don’t be. I’m sorry that I struck a chord.

It was a really tough shoot, but we put our all into it. So I’m really proud of it and excited. I am so sorry that I’m crying right now, but I hope that when it comes out, people are excited and feel that it really is making history for the Japanese community.

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Monarch: Legacy of Monsters is now streaming on Apple TV+

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