Who is Shredder in the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? When Paramount began announcing the cast for this Michael Bay produced reboot, William Fichtner was revealed as the titular bad guy, a man known as Eric Sachs who would assume the identity of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' greatest adversary. This angered and upset fans. They were outraged that a white man was replacing an iconic Japanese character. But with the film in theaters this weekend, audiences are seeing a different kind of Shredder on the big screen. One that is played by Japanese actor Tohoru Masamune, whom you may remember from Christopher Nolan's Inception.
So William Fichtner is not Shredder after all? Why all the secrecy? There is no big reveal in the movie. Shredder is introduced right away, and there is no mystery surrounding his identity. Why didn't Paramount want us to know the real Shredder was in the movie? That's a question even Tohoru Masamune himself, a longtime fan of the franchise, can't answer. Was he brought in during reshoots to appease fans upset over William Fichtner's impending takeover of the series' most well-known antagonist? Possibly.
We recently caught up with Tohoru Masamune, and he shared his story with us. He was not allowed to tell friends and family he was playing Shredder all throughout production. He had to keep the entire thing secret until today. Which is strange in and of itself. Why not wait until after the weekend to reveal the real actor behind this new incarnation of Shredder? No one knows!
Tohoru Masamune is the exact opposite of his big screen alter ego. He's a thoughtful, nice, intelligent and extremely happy guy who is just excited to be in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles! And we're happy to have him as the villain. A real pleasure to talk to, here is our conversation about his role, and the secrecy that came with it.
So, it's official...You are Shredder! Not William Fichtner. Explain this whole scenario to me, because Paramount went out of their way to make Eric Sachs look like he was the main bad guy...
Tohoru Masamune: They told me that I couldn't say anything until it opens. It's been really weird not being able to tell my friends. Its like I was in the witness protection program or the CIA. But yeah, its something they wanted to keep a lid on. It's supposed to be a surprise for fans. It will be interesting to see what the reaction is. Hopefully it will be positive. I think it was a great move. I think that it will be fun for folks to realize that Shredder is indeed a rocky-socky Japanese dude, you know? Anybody who's a fan knows that he is. So, that was nice. It's interesting that they kept it secret. It's awkward for me in certain ways, because it's very weird for me to have a major role in a big feature, and not be able to tell people. I have one more day, so I'm all good!
Did Paramount express why they wanted to keep it a secret? More than anything, keeping this a secret built up a lot of distrust, anger and even hatred amongst the fans. 'Why is this white guy playing Shredder? This goes against everything the Ninja Turtles is about!' Why would Paramount court that kind of controversy amongst the people most eager to buy a ticket?
Tohoru Masamune: The truth is, I'm with you on that. On top of that, I'm an Asain American! Hollywood loves doing that, taking an Asian character and making him white. Also, the books go so far back, so it's always been part of the lore. I am with you on this. It's hard. I can't answer this. I wasn't part of the decision making process. I'm happy to be a part of the whole process and it's been an amazing experience. I wanted to be very respectful to what Paramount wants. They are the one's making this all possible. I told them from the beginning, I was on board. Just let me know what I should say. They held to it. They told me not to say anything until it opens. I said, 'All right.' I'm guessing...I don't know...Cause it did make people angry. At the end of the day, when I look at the 'why' or 'what', they obviously did the right thing. I'm happy that they used me. As a fan, I think they really did a good job remaining respectful. This isn't some hack job Japanese caricature. It wasn't classic Japanese theater. They wanted to make the character real, not some weird version of a Japanese dude.
The movie is coming from Paramount, where Iron Man 3 is housed, even though its now under the Disney and Marvel banner. They did a very similar thing with The Mandarin. They had this white guy playing an iconic Asian character...But then it was revealed not to really be the case. It's strange that there are two recent incidences of this happening.
Tohoru Masamune: They did do that, which was interesting. But even after the reveal, we didn't see the real Mandarin. I don't know, maybe that did have something to do with it. That's what I was thinking about at first. Cause its weird to join a movie, and the studio goes, 'Hey, you can't tell anybody.' At first I was on board. But it was weird. Hey, I'm an actor. I'm hired to come in and do my job. I'm one of these people, I go with the flow. That's my style. That's just me as an actor. So I don't know what's going on. But I've been given this role, and I'm in a major feature film. So I'm there just to play this out, and I try and stay out of the politics of it.
There's some interesting politics too. Its been speculated that Shredder was turned into a white guy for the Hong Kong movie market. Hong Kong is becoming a monster in terms of box office for Hollywood, and the thought is that they don't want to see a Japanese guy on screen. They're not going to pay for that. So Hollywood changed it...Or in this case, just didn't tell anyone until it was in theaters...I don't know if there is a sliver of truth to that...
Tohoru Masamune: Yeah. It could be. I'm sure politics are involved. I can't say from my end. My relationship sort of stopped at the hands-on producer and the director. I wasn't in the room with the studio executives. I can't speak to that with any authority. The immediates, the creative team, those guys on set...I definitely got the sense that they weren't trying to be political, in any sense, they just wanted a story that was working. That was my sense. That is what I've been told from them. In other words, there was never a sense that it was bending to any political pressure. But at the same time, there were a lot of times on set...And this is the reality of production...They're going, 'We've got to do this take, and we've got to do this take...This is for marketing...' We did everything entirely in Japanese and entirely in English. So, everything...They had the options on how to handle that. My sense, from where I was, on the set and in the ADR booth, everything that was happening was to make the story right, not because they were attempting to bend some political will. But it's also naive to say that element is not in play. The Hong Kong market! Yes! You are talking about big business. That's the thing I keep reminding myself about. I'm just an actor doing this story. At the end of the day, it is big business. Make no mistake. So there is definitely an element of what you said going on...But I don't know! I wish I could tell you a little more.
I don't mean to push the entire conversation in that direction, this is all just kind of weird to me. Now, this is a huge movie. You're going to work, you're coming home, maybe you're going out to have drinks, and you're socializing with your friends. They ask what you're up to...What do you tell them?
Tohoru Masamune: It was the weirdest experience. I might be a little emotional tomorrow because the movie is finally out, and I can let it out, 'Yes! I'm Shredder!' It's so crazy. Maybe they thought I was making stuff up. I don't know. It got kind of weird after a while. They thought, "Maybe he's lost it!" They were like, "We know you're in a major feature film but you can't tell us what it is...Right, right...We've heard it." The way I handled it was this. I obviously told my family and a few people that are very close to me. I didn't want to be totally isolated. (Laughs) Other people, I just didn't mention it to them. Or I would say, 'I'm doing this, but I can't tell you what it is.' Then I'd blame it on the studio. Whether they believed me or not, I don't know. It was weird. I actually went out a lot less. It was bizarre. I actually didn't go out last weekend. I didn't want to skirt around it. It's such a big thing for me, whether anyone thinks that's weird or not. That's how I handled it. I went out less, and I didn't talk to as many people. Or I just didn't bring it up. I said, 'None of your business, man!'
If you take all your friends out this weekend, and you show them the movie, and you go to Mann's Chinese or the Arc Light, and you say, 'There I am!' You have a bald head and these prosthetics on your face, and maybe they still won't recognize you...
Tohoru Masamune: That's rigtht! 'Oh, my god, he thinks he's that guy up there!' It's so funny. I'm just so relieved my name is up there. People won't think I'm crazy. (Laughs) It was more of a relief. I was at the premiere. It's always a relief when the actor's credit rolls. For me, it was all good. Finally. Now people won't think I'm crazy. But if I didn't get my credit...I don't think that would be possible...But if that somehow happened, I'd be like, 'Ah, man!' Though, some of the people I talk to, I think they will recognize me, even though my face is all messed up. It's funny. Oddly enough, people recognized me coming out of the theater. I don't know how they did it. I walked out of the premiere...And I think I kind of have it made, too, in a sense, because I get to do this and no one hassles me...But I walked out of the premiere, and this Asain dude goes, 'Excuse me, can I have a picture with you?" And I said, 'Yeah!' He took a little selfie. Then somehow, even after that, people have figured it out. I don't know how, with the movie not out yet. But get this. This morning at the Midas place, I took my car in to get the breaks fixed. We're just talking, I'm filling out the paper work. And he says to me, 'You're in the new Ninja Turtles movie. You're playing my favorite character.' I was like, 'What? How do you even know?' I guess he saw my name, which is now on IMDB. It is distinctive. It's all very bizarre. So on the one hand, it will be nice. It's all so good, anyway. It's been part of this whole weird journey. I'll be relieved tomorrow, that I don't have to be hiding this. I had a couple of friends that were freaking out. I put out an email to a bunch of close friends. I said, 'Hey, why don't we grab some pizza and go see Ninja Turtles on Sunday?' People were like, 'Nah, I got stuff going on that day. There's Sunday basketball. Maybe we'll watch some football." Then I got an email back in all caps: 'DUDE! YOU'RE PLAYING SHREDDER?' (Laughs) It was kind of funny. That part is fun. Its strange, but I did a good job.
I don't think I wanted to know Shredder takes his car to Midas...
Tohoru Masamune: I actually take it to the deep underworld. Yes! The devil soups it up. Yeah, maybe you don't need to mention that I got my brakes worked on! (Laughs)
Now what was the deal with you and the CGI Shredder? Where you on set for the Motion Capture stuff? I know the kids playing the turtles were all there. Did they have you in a suit on set? Did you do any of the fighting?
Tohoru Masamune: Here's the deal with that...The two scenes...The first scene I shot is where I'm circling around, and Eric Sachs comes in. And we reveal that we're in cahoots. That's the first scene I shot. The second scene I shot was where I'm reprimanding Karai. That was shot old school. It was all lights, camera, action! There wasn't any CGI or anything. Maybe something was added in post. But even the shading on me was not enhanced. It is all old school, and practical. I had three hours in make-up at KNB, the dudes that do The Walking Dead. They did an amazing job. I would sit for three hours in a chair, and then we would go out. It was all Hollywood making. But after that, I'm in the ADR booth. And it was more like an animation gig. The Shredder, god I wish I could fight like him. But I have to confess, we should leave this to the experts. They are kick ass, and this was all CGI. That was more me voicing an animated character. It was that kind of thing. I wish I could fight like that. I wish I could kick a giant turtle across an entire rooftop, but I can't. So, yeah, that's what those shooting days were like.
So wait a minute. I've heard there were massive reshoots on this movie. You have two scenes, and the rest is ADR? We're you part of the reshoots? Did they change their idea about having Eric Sachs be Shredder midway through shooting due to fan outrage?
Tohoru Masamune: Here's the deal with that...If we're talking about that...I don't have much more input into that then you do. As a fan, I came in after William Fichtner was announced as Shredder. That's why I was confused when I got the job. He was the first guy I worked with. It didn't seem weird on the set, or anything like that. So, I don't know. At the end of the day, I was dealing with the director and some of the hands on producers, but I was not privy at all to anything that was going on upstairs at Paramount... As far as I could tell...Everything was just to make the story work, and not the result of any backlash. As a fan, I couldn't speak to that any more than any true fan could, really. But as far as I could tell, I came in after I'd heard he was Shredder, and I thought, "Hmm. This is kind of weird." He was acting like it was normal. I don't know. I wish I could give you more details, but I'm really as much in the dark as you are. But I think, I didn't sense...These stories always evolve. Even as we were working, we kept changing this part. It would change as we went along, and that seems to be something that happens on these kinds of movies.
This is what the fans wanted, though, this change...
Tohoru Masamune: As I said before, I went in and did my job as an actor. I just wasn't privy to the whole picture. I knew these were kind of sensitive questions on set, so I didn't ask. I thought, you know what? It just doesn't matter.
When it comes down to it at the end of the day, they made the right choice, whether you were part of a reshoot, or it was just the intention to hide Shredder's true identity.
Tohoru Masamune: I wasn't going to go off on a row saying, "Hey, man, what's going on?"
There is obviously going to be a sequel. Something happens to Shredder that most people, obviously, wouldn't survive. But he's wearing this giant suit of armor....
Tohoru Masamune: As I say, if nothing else, Shredder is resilient.
Will you be back?
Tohoru Masamune: That's a question. They haven't brought it up to me. I know Megan Fox and a few of the other guys have three picture deals. I don't have that right now. Part of it is pull. I'm not Megan Fox. I don't have a three picture deal. But when I saw Shredder's hand dipping into the mutagen, I was like, 'Oh, yeah! Oh, yeah!' I was pretty happy. I think people are happy with what I did. The producers were saying, 'You're part of the family now!' At the same time, I'm just going to enjoy this thing. If it all ended here, I'd still be the happiest actor in Hollywood. I'm good. If I get a call for the sequel in a few months, I'll be jumping up and down. As of right now, I don't know. It all went well, so fingers crossed.
How do you like this for a quote: Tohoru Masamune is the Megan Fox of Shredders!
Tohoru Masamune: (Laughs} Well, she's pretty cool.
You're so good in the role, I don't want to see someone else come in and take over. I hated when that happened on the original live action movies.
Tohoru Masamune: Well, thanks. That's great to hear. That means a lot to me. I hope the fans respond. I did my best. That said, the thing that was really gratifying about the experience...It's a different world for actors right now, and what we have to do is so different, going back to the days hoping on the boards, and looking at the other actors, and doing your Shakespearian lines. It's so technical, and so collaborative. The thing that makes it more rewarding is that you actually feel like part of a team that put together this really great character. I did my part. I did what I could. I don't want to take credit for a lot of it. I was part of a team that created this character, and I was just a part of that. There were times where I was like, when Shredder drags Splinter into the cage, and all the Turtles are watching, I was thinking, 'God, what an asshole!' I think they did a wonderful job with creating that character. Thank you for your compliment, but I have to hand that off to all the other folks. It was a great team effort. And this was a great group of people. We worked well together, and maybe for that reason they bring me back. Even if things stop now, I'm happy. If I get that phone call, I'm a happier guy. When I saw those fingertips go into the mutagen, I was giddy. I was like everyone else. I think I had a slightly bigger smile on my face, though.