Interview: Anthony Laurent – NYPD Detective Smith In “Hotel Chelsea” – A Film By Hiro Masuda
“It is a memory that will stay with me all my life!” (Anthony Laurent on his first visit to Japan)
Back in October (2011), Diverse Japan was delighted to have been given the opportunity to interview Hiro Masuda, writer and producer of the suspense/horror film Hotel Chelsea (Read interview here). We are very honoured to follow this up with an equally enthralling interview with the film’s leading male actor Anthony Laurent who plays NYPD Detective Smith.
Laurent is an actor with a passion for his craft which is evident in the numerous roles he has played in theater, film and television, including several appearances in the hugely popular American TV series All My Children.
As a humanitarian, Laurent has deep compassion for those less fortunate than himself and has led to the creation of the non-profit foundation “Kelly’s Loving Hands” (KLH) whose mission is to provide financial literacy education for disadvantage youths (ages 11-15). He explains the genesis behind his charity and talks extensively with us about his zeal for performing and his time working on Hotel Chelsea as well as his first visit to Japan for the film’s premier.
How did you get the job of playing the role of Detective Smith in Hotel Chelsea, did you have to audition for the part?
I read about submissions for HC in “Backstage” magazine. I submitted myself for the role of Joshua (played by Dan Wilkerson in the movie). The audition consisted of reading lines followed by a monologue. I hadn’t heard from them in weeks so I assumed I didn’t get it, and I was right. Weeks later, Hiro-san sent me an email offering me the role of Detective Smith instead of Joshua. His email said that, after seeing my monologue, he felt I was better suited for Smith and the image he had of him in the opening scene.
You love to immerse yourself in the characters you portray. What kind of preparation or research did you do for the role of Detective Smith?
I had a very tight window to prepare for the role because I was closing an off-Broadway production two days prior to filming HC. Whenever I prep for a role, I go to a special location where it’s extremely quiet so I can escape (as much as I can) all the reminders of my own life. I tell my friends and family that I am “going under,” which means I will be unavailable until after filming. I created the character from the ground up–I went into his backstory and history. After surfing the internet for information about NYPD detectives, I created all the little things that probably went unnoticed by viewers, but most dramatic characters are three-dimensional. These factors make them the people they are. Next step was to try to get a feel for the character’s walk (does he have a limp?), his voice (does he stutter or is he monotone in speech?), all sorts of speech patterns and overall mannerisms. Then I got into the wardrobe, which is always the most enjoyable part of the process for me. That really informed me of what Smith is like–neat, clean-cut, and very mellow and not surprised by much he sees on the job anymore. He has become the jaded NYPD cop he hoped never to be, but he has a heart and is heavily impacted by the violent nature of this crime.
What did you think of the script when you first read it and did the ending surprise you?
I loved the script when I read it. I loved the pace of it in particular. As I read it, I would get information to make me think I had solved the mystery. Suddenly my idea was proven incorrect, so I had to go in a completely different direction. The audience is experiencing the movie from the perspective of Detective Smith. That’s good writing–keeping your audience actively engaged and guessing, wanting more and almost needing to solve the mystery themselves. I recognized my responsibility to the story and took the challenge very seriously.
Did you make any suggestions to the film’s writer and producer Hiro Masuda in regards to your character or to the script?
I made a few suggestions about what I felt my character needed. For example, I felt that my character, Smith, was a burnt-out NYPD detective who had become more disgusted by the cases he had seen throughout his career. Hiro-san was great to work with because he allowed me some degree of artistic freedom to allow Smith to live and breathe–to be a real, three-dimensional character. In the script there was no mention of establishing rapport between Smith and Mrs. Tanaka [Nao Nagasawa]. Prior to questioning her, I needed that to be in the scene to show the kind of Detective/person Smith was. I told Hiro that I would improvise a bit in the scene and establish the connection between the two. Smith on one hand is not surprised by this tragedy–it’s one more story in NYC. However, he feels empathetic toward this newlywed woman for the tragedy she’s just experienced.
What was it like working opposite actress and former model Nao Nagasawa, was it a happy working relationship?
Working with Nao was great. She was a little shy at first which was cool. I remember thinking, “She’s a beautiful, accomplished entertainer, and yet a down-to-earth person.” She’s approachable and easy-going. We spent hours filming the interrogation scene, which required lots of emotional focus. She was “there”, in the moment, take after take–fully committed to her character and engaged in that scene. That’s the sign of a professional. We didn’t get to talk much during her time in NYC because of her tight schedule and because she had to return to Tokyo for work immediately after filming was complete. When I saw her in Tokyo for the premier, it was comforting to see a familiar face. I would love to work with her again someday. (HC Part 2?)
Did you know much about the actual landmark Hotel Chelsea and its link with numerous celebrities – the most notorious being Sid and Nancy – before making the film?
That’s a special place and was pretty special to work there. The architecture is sweet and the artwork is off the chain–great sculptures, drawings and paintings. The banisters and the stairs in my last scene are beautiful; Lots of history in that place. The icing on the cake was that one of my favourite actors, Gary Oldman, shot a couple movies there–”The Professional” and “Sid and Nancy.” I got a real kick out of that. But man, I loved the artwork in that place!
What was the most enjoyable and challenging part of being in the film?
Most enjoyable was working in a quality project with a very professional cast and crew. The Japanese members were mad cool and easy going. Looking back, I think they seemed as eager to be in NYC as I was to be Tokyo.
The most challenging was preparing for the role, as I had an off-Broadway production that closed the weekend prior to the Tuesday I started filming HC. Switching the mind from one character to another had its challenges as well, but I did it and learned a bunch from the experience.
Have you remained in contact with anyone from the film?
I keep in contact with Ivan Cardona (Officer Lopez) and, of course, my dear friend and brother, Hiro Masuda. I had a great time meeting Sawa Suzuki (Tomoko Takagi), Justin Morck, Jeff Grossman (Officer Russo), Elise Rovinsky (Dawn Westwood), Ami Sheth (Monica Jain), Loria Vlies (Officer Vlies), and the entire crew.
You appeared at the premier for Hotel Chelsea in Tokyo, was that your first time in Japan, what was your first impression?
It was my first time in Japan and it is a memory that will stay with me all my life. Tokyo is rich with history, architecture, culture, good food… I only wish I had more time to see and learn more about it. The people were extremely helpful to me. If I asked someone who didn’t understand English, many times they would help me find someone who did. First impression: This is someplace I have to return to and become more familiar with.
One of my coolest memories of the premier was for me to introduce myself in Japanese and hearing the response from the people in the theater. Whenever I see the clips of it on YouTube I still get goose-bumps.
Hiro-san was your guide in Tokyo. Which places did he take you to see and what impressed you most about the city and its people?
Kamakura was absolutely AMAZING! Visited the Great Buddha and had an authentic traditional Japanese meal at a local restaurant.
Edo Castle was cool to see from an historical perspective and to see the stark difference in the architecture of other buildings in the area. It’s HUGE and an awesome sight.
I was treated to watch a sparring session with Takashi Uchiyama, the WBA Super Featherweight Champion of the world. Hiro knows I am a big boxing fan so he contacted Takashi’s camp and set it all up. (We originally asked to spar with him but his camp graciously refused. I am thankful they did. I like my nose as it is–attached to my face.) He signed his autograph, asked for mine and took some great pictures. He allowed me to hold his championship belt as well–another fantastic gentleman and cool guy in a great city. I’d love to attend one of his fights to see him defend his belt.
I did the Muscle Park Sasuke course…or as much of it as I could. Certain levels of the course I did just fine at, while at others I never stood a chance. I have a new appreciation for the athletes who can…and for ninja.
Other sights included the National Diet Building, several temples, sushi restaurants, TV Tokyo, Tenderpro…too many things to mention, but these are the highlights. I stayed at the Shinegawa Princess. Hiro-san was an incredible host and I am forever grateful for having him as my host in his wonderful country/city.
How long did you stay for and have you been back since?
My trip lasted 5 days and I have not been back since. Next time, I plan to spend at least a couple weeks. I am hoping for Hiro to write HC 2!!
Do you plan on working with Hiro-san again in the near future?
I do plan to work with Hiro-san again and SOON!! HC 2!!!!!
What are the main differences between working on a Japanese production and that of a Western one?
There was no difference at all. I was impressed by the cast and crew and how well everyone seemed to work together. This was a professional project and everyone performed their function beautifully. I like to play on teams that have people who take care of their own business yet help when they see a teammate who may need it. This team had an interesting twist though. The cast and crew were from several different countries. The movie included two different languages, which even two short years ago, I hardly ever saw in Western movies. Now I have seen several Western movies shot that way. Hiro-san was visionary in this regard and did a commendable job. He came with a plan and executed it well. I’m sure he learned several lessons that he’ll carry to his next project, which is how we learn the business.
Why did you want to become an actor?
It was completely by accident. I was struggling with a career on Wall Street as a equities trader. I had success but soon came nose bleeds and some other problems brought on by stress. I had to make a career change but had no idea what to do. I was considering staying in business but during a conversation with my parents, they recommended that I consider acting. At first I was shocked and thought they were nuts but I decided to give it a try. I asked an actor friend about schools and she recommended an inexpensive one to get my feet wet and see if I liked it. After the first day of the first class, I was fascinated and decided that I had found my calling.
What was your first paid acting job?
It was a voice over job as the character known as Mr. Computer in the Huffington Post’s animated web series created by David Rees called “Get Your War On”. There were some really cool and funny people associated with that project, one of whom was with writer/producer/actor/comedian Jon Glaser of the hysterical comedy television show, “Delocated”. Having worked with him led to a recurring role on that show during its second season. I’ve been fortunate to work with some great people.
Working within the entertainment business is very competitive, so how do you stay positive in between jobs?
It’s extremely challenging, but it’s a must. All I can do is work and focus on the things that are in my control–submitting for auditions, making new relationships, staying on top of my craft in classes and seminars. Everything else is out of my control, so I can’t dwell on them. It takes discipline, but it becomes natural after a while. I also try to learn as much about the behind the camera stuff as I can. I really need to focus on the business side because it is a business. As I heard a famous actor said, “It’s called ‘Show Business’, so no business, no show.”
What are the fundamental differences between acting in a film and acting in a TV show?
Acting for movies, in my experience, gives me plenty of time to prepare for auditions and actual filming. In TV, you’re notified hours prior to the audition. If you’re a series regular on daytime television, you have to learn a new script everyday and those scripts are continuously updated and changed so you have to be flexible and a “quick study.”
Who are your role models as an actor?
Idris Elba, Denzel Washington, Angela Bassett, Johnny Depp, Kristin Scott Thomas, Gary Oldman
Who has had the biggest influence on your life in general?
My father taught me how to be a responsible man. He overcame all sorts of setbacks and obstacles. “Pops” is THE man in my eyes. At the same time, Mom was the perfect compliment as well. She had his back in hard times. So the tandem was absolutely my biggest influence.
What is your favourite all-time film?
Which director would you most like to work with?
Martin Scorsese, Guy Ritchie, Quentin Tarantino, Antoine Fuqua, Spike Lee
You have skills in improvisational acting, how has this benefited you as an actor and have you been allowed to use these skills in any of the roles you have played?
Yes–nearly every project needs something done that’s not in the script. That’s where I can shine and really let Anthony come out. I have both a silly side and serious side, so depending on the situation, I love to let either show. That skill has allowed me to live in the moment and to be spontaneous and authentic at the same time. This has worked in voice overs, theater, film, television and commercials.
Having the ability to improvise can be very useful socially by way of interacting with new people. Have these skills helped you in other areas outside of acting?
My brain does well with music. I make songs up with my friends’/family’s names in them ALL the time. It makes some laugh while it gets on others nerves, but it’s a very strange thing I have with music. I can make the song up in seconds by changing the actual songs’ lyrics. They can be nasty and fun or silly and about what they do for a living.
You created the financial literacy charity Kelly’s Loving Hands (KLH), could you explain exactly what this charity is all about?
KLH is something I started in my grandmother’s memory to teach disadvantaged children about money and how to make, save and invest it. After my career on Wall Street, I realized that money was a language and that language must be understood for people to have a successful, long-lasting relationship with it. The whole goal is to teach kids how to not outlive their money. (www.kellyslovinghands.org)
You obviously take care of yourself physically and you enjoy many sports including boxing. Have you ever fought in competition?
I have never fought in organized boxing matches. I have been a sparring partner for amateurs in preparation for the Golden Gloves tournaments and for young professionals in the early stages of their careers. However, I did fight competitively in the martial arts. I studied Shotokan under Hanshi Shorty Mills (Chicago) during my childhood. I learned so much through martial arts and combat that I knew it would always be a part of me. There’s something about the contact that is almost addictive. Sounds strange, I know…
You’re also a keen traveller. Which of the places you have seen are among your favourite?
Tokyo (including Kamakura), Paris, Venice, Bali, Sydney, Kingston (Jamaica), Rio de Janeiro, London.
What personal goals have you set for yourself in 2012?
Personal goals are to travel much more!! I didn’t travel internationally in 2011. 2012 will hopefully take me back to Tokyo. I’m hoping to be picked up by a television show as a series regular and to shoot at least three feature films. There are a couple Broadway productions I am aiming for as well. I love to work!! I believe in the saying “How I do anything is the way I do everything.” I dig into my work with passion. In the meantime, I hope to spend as much time with good friends and family.
Thank you Mr. Laurent, it’s been a pleasure!
Anthony Laurent Official Website
IMDb (Internet Movie Database) profile
Laurent’s Facebook Page
Kelly’s Loving Hands (KLH)
Writer, director and actor Hiro Masuda has made Chelsea Hotel free to watch online in order to help raise money for the Ashinaga Education Fund to support orphans of the devastating earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan in March 2011.
To watch Hotel Chelsea, go to http://www.youtube.com/user/IchigoIchieFilmsLLC
“If there is any chance that I can contribute this film to the world in order to obtain help for my country, I want to believe the power of entertainment and give it try.” Hiro Masuda / Producer Ichigo Ichie Films LLC www.ichigoichiefilm.com