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August 2nd, 2002


A deep drum sounds slowly in the background... we hear a growling voice begin:

"Between the times when the oceans drank Atlantis and the rise of the Sons of Aries, there was an age undreamed of, and unto this, Conan, destined to bear the jeweled crown of Aquilonia upon a troubled brow. It is I, his chronicler, who alone can tell thee of his saga. Let me tell you of the days of high adventure..."

Mako, born Makoto Iwamatsu, delivered the unforgettably haunting narration for "Conan the Barbarian." In that film and in "Conan the Destroyer" he played the memorable character of the Wizard. To Arnold fans, he is an icon. He personifies the sorcery to match Arnold's sword.

Mako has had an illustrious film and television career. In 1966, when Arnold was competing in some of his first bodybuilding competitions, Mako received an Academy Award(R) nomination as Best Supporting Actor for his first film role, as the coolie Po-Han in "The Sand Pebbles." He has since starred in over 60 movies and made more than 50 television appearances.

In the early days of his film career, Mako formed a theater group in Los Angeles called the East/West Players (EWP). Since its founding, EWP has premiered over 100 plays and musicals about the Asian Pacific American experience and, through its many artistic and educational programs, has held over 1,000 readings and workshops. EWP is the only repertory theatre in Southern California that specifically implements its mission to develop an Asian Pacific American audience.

With all the buzz and excitement about the Conan 3 sequel, we wanted to get some background information on one of Conan's most integral sidekicks. We were extremely pleased when Mako agreed to a telephone interview with us. You were born in Kobe, Japan in 1933. Can you tell us a little about your life growing up?

Mako: Japan in those days was peaceful as I recall because the war hadn't started yet. Of course as a child, I didn't sense any of those political movements that had been going on in Japan. In other words, the militarism that was taking over Japanese politics. Of course, I didn't see it. I guess if anything, my parents tried to shield me from that type of atmosphere. So I was a very happy child, so to speak. But, since we didn't have video games or television, and very little radio, in terms of a form of entertainment, I used to read a lot and I would draw a lot, and those two things used to occupy my time, and I used to dream away of someday becoming a general. Arnold had to come to America to become an actor. Is that how it happened with you? Or were you an actor in Japan, as well?

Mako: No, I wasn't. I came to America to become an architect. And somewhere along the line while I was still in school, I was lured into theater, and that's how I became interested in theater. My first play was something called "A Banquet for the Moon." It was a weird play. When you first read the script for Conan the Barbarian, what were your thoughts?

Mako: I couldn't make heads or tails of it, because I wasn't familiar with the novels, or the cartoons. I had a younger friend, who is an actor as well, but he was a Conan freak, you know, a fanatic. So he loaned me stacks of novels, but I couldn't really get into it. Then he said, "I tell you what, maybe comic books might be of interest to you." So, again he brought me a whole stack of comic books. And, it's funny, you know, since I was not raised with comic books in this country, I had a hard time digesting it. So, I mentioned that to John Milius, and Milius said, " remember Kurosawa's Seven Samurai?" I said yes. "You remember cut number such-and-such?" I said, "I don't know the cut numbers, but I do remember the characters." He said, "Yeah, that's the kind of wizard I am looking for, and, also, another actor, in Seven Samurai in a different scene, do you remember him?" I said, "Yeah. I respect that old guy very much." He said, "That's the kind of composite of character that I'm looking for." So, then, it became easier for me to visualize, because instead of visualizing myself being in (Conan) I could clearly visualize those two characters being involved in a situation that wizards would be in. See that's the kind of direction that Milius gave me. He knew what he was after... even though he wasn't too verbal. Describe your first encounter with Arnold for us.

Mako: My first encounter with Arnold was in Almeria in Spain. John Milius had asked me to work with Sandahl Bergman and Gerry Lopez. Arnold must have heard of me, because there was a time he was contemplating coming with them to work in the scene and such. But that never materialized. So, when we first met Arnold then, finally, he was like (in Arnold accent) "Hello, Mako." (Laughs.) We weren't strangers. I didn't feel as if I were meeting a stranger, you know? He was very open and friendly. Besides the Conan adventures, you have worked on some amazing films in your career including "Pearl Harbor" and "The Sand Pebbles." What were some of your favorites?

Mako:My favorite would be... oh; I have to go back to "The Sand Pebbles." Unfortunately, "Pearl Harbor" is not one of my favorites. A Conan movie just isn't a Conan movie without your wizard character, Akiro, and your narration. Have you and John Milius talked about the 3rd Conan movie yet?

Mako: I have seen him once or twice since the first Conan film for a different picture. I guess John was troubleshooting or helping a director with a script or whatever, and I went in for a meeting, but that's about it, so we have never discussed the third. We shall see. You are an Artistic Director Emeritus for the East/West Players in Los Angeles, and you have worked with them for a long time, in fact, you co-founded the group. Can you tell us about your experiences with the group?

Mako: Our motivation for creating a theater company for ourselves is so that we can control what we do, and what we will be doing. We emphasize developing younger Asian-American actors as well as writers, directors and designers as well. So working with them was very difficult and yet rewarding for me. It was hard work, it was draining emotionally, as well as financially, but it was worth it. What directions would you like to see the East/West Players take in the future?

Mako: In the future I think I would like to see them developing more writers, playwrights. This is my preference, but it seems like they've been doing nothing but musicals or plays with music, which is fine, but I would like to see them devote half their time at least to developing drama. What are you currently working on?

Mako: I am waiting for John Milius to call me! (Laughs.)

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