Disney Pictures’ latest animated film, Big Hero 6, comes out this weekend on Nov. 7. The film is an homage to Japanese anime, and its main character, teenager Hiro Hamada, is mixed Japanese and white. The voice of Hiro is 19 year-old Ryan Potter, who is also part Japanese and part white. Potter starred in Nickelodeon’s Supah Ninjas with actor Randall Park as his father and George Takei as his grandfather (appearing via hologram!).
Born in the U.S. but raised in Japan for about six years, Potter is not unlike his character in Big Hero 6—a smart teenaged boy who wants to help others. The voiceover cast is an ensemble of diverse talent, including Daniel Henney, Jamie Chung, Maya Rudolph, Damon Wayans, Jr. and Genesis Rodriguez. Big Hero 6, a superhero action comedy, opens in theatres in the U.S. in 2D and 3D on Nov. 7.
I chatted with Ryan Potter about the new film.
Can you tell me a little bit about Big Hero 6 and about your character?
Big Hero 6 is a film that revolves around my character, Hiro Hamada, and one of his best friends is Baymax. Baymax, as I’m sure everyone at this point has seen, the big white puffy guy. The film takes place in San Fransokyo, a city of both Tokyo and San Francisco roots and they’re kind of blended together. Most of the characters already attend SanFransokyo Tech, it’s a school. In the beginning of the film, Hiro’s kind of on the wrong path. And his older brother Tadashi and Baymax basically help him get on the right path and find his purpose and he ends up at San Fransokyo Tech with these newfound friends, this newfound family. Hiro and these new friends form the Big Hero 6. Basically, there’s this dangerous plot in San Fransokyo, and Hiro needs the help of his friends to basically save the day. And obviously to see more, you’re going to have to watch the film (laughs).
So the main character, Hiro, is hapa, Japanese and white, similar to your own background. Could you relate to the character?
I mean, I could relate to the character, simply from the fact that we look similar. But then when you dive in deeper, we’re very similar, in the sense that when I set my mind to something, I get it done. Hiro’s very much the same way. We both get tunnel vision. Hiro’s much smarter than I am, but our intellect can get us into a little bit of trouble. Yeah, I mean, even when I walked into the audition the first time, I looked at the character design, and I thought, we kind of look similar!
Do you like anime? Do you have any favorite anime shows?
Yeah, I grew up watching anime. From newer stuff like the newer series of Hunter x Hunter, you go all the way back to like Inuyasha, Doraemon, One Piece. I mean, Pokemon is a classic, Yu-Gi-Oh! is a classic. New ones like Attack on Titans, Appleseed, man, I watch everything (laughs).
So the voiceover cast is pretty diverse. Did you all work together. How does it work?
It’s kind of hard to believe. When you hear the film, it sounds like we’re in the same room at the same time but it’s actually the opposite. We all record on our own, separately. And then the editors and sound engineers, they end up putting all the voiceover together. I mean, I worked with Maya Rudolph very briefly, maybe 20 minutes, max. But other than that, we all worked on our own.
How did you get into acting?
I basically just fell into it. I wasn’t pursuing it at all. I was playing baseball, I was doing martial arts, I was going to school. And I wanted to be a firefighter or baseball player. I wasn’t at all focused on acting. But one day, there was a flyer at my marital arts studio and my teacher handed it to me, I put it in my bag, I went home. You know, I didn’t really give it any second thought. My mom pulled it out and was like, “Hey, what’s this?” I was like, “I have no idea.” She read it over and she was like, “Well, they’re looking for a 13 to 14 year old Asian Ameircan who can do martial arts. That sounds like you!” And I was like, “Ehh, yeah.”
The next she was planning on throwing it out and she’s like, “Well, do you want to go do the Hollywood thing, go get lunch and see what it’s about” And I was like, “Yeah, that sounds kind of fun, actually.” And it was on a day of school, so it was great (laughs). I went to the audition. After the first one, I went on the second one, third one, fourth one. I got a phone call after the fourth one and they said, “Hey, you got it.” And I was like, “Uh, are you sure you got the right guy?” But I guess in the long run, they did. Basically, my acting class was Supah Ninjas. I didn’t do anything before that.
Wow. How old were you at the time?
I was 13 turning 14, I believe.
Randall Park played your father, George Takei played your grandfather. What was it like working with them and the other actors on Supah Ninjas?
The show was phenomenal. Everyday you go in and basically get to play around with family. Everyone got so close that it didn’t feel like work. We went in and got to play ourselves in different situations. It was of fun. Carlos [Knight] and Gracie [Dzienny], there two of my absolute lifelong friends now. Randall is basically my TV dad for life. He’s so funny, he’s just a phenomenal guy. George Takei, man, he taught me so much about this industry, how to conduct yourself. The simple things that I didn’t even think about. I was very grateful for George’s guidance.
What would be your ideal acting role?
Hmm. It would have to be something with marital arts. I was a big fan of doing all the stunts and the action scenes in Supah Ninjas. Being able to do a full length film, that would be phenomenal.
I wanted to ask you about Toy Box of Hope. Can you tell me a little bit about what it is and what made you want to start it?
At the moment it’s a startup organization. When I moved from Japan to Los Angeles, it was a huge culture shock to see how prevalent the homeless issue is in Los Angeles. Driving through downtown, driving through Hope Street, it was heartbreaking. I didn’t realize that that large of an issue even existed. In Japan, yeah, there are homeless but you don’t really see them as frequently as you do here. So when I moved here, it kind of blew my mind. Living here is hard for me to see that issue when I have a roof over my head and clothing and food everyday. So I was thinking about how I wanted to start an organization. Helping and solving homeless issue is a huge thing that I want to take on. The homeless issue is a tricky issue because a lot of people who are mentally unstable. They need the proper care. But where we can help eliminate homelessness is by eliminating it through the youth. Getting youth off the street, getting them in housing, getting them in foster care, getting them back in schools, whatever it is, if we can eradicate homeless youth, we would eradicate a huge homeless population in Los Angeles. But also, it would set an example for all the homeless youth, “I can get back on my feet this way.” So our organization basically, we collects coats, jackets, funds, toys during the holiday seasons and bring them to homeless shelters that come through. There are 17,000 homeless youth in Los Angeles because they disguise themselves very well. They shower, they buy new clothes, at nighttime they don’t sleep where the older homeless people do. That’s who we want to help.
And you were also involved in the NoH8 campaign. What made you want to be involved in that?
I was bullied in middle school. Basically, what’s going on in the United States right now, is equal rights. It’s still a form of bullying. You’re basically just not giving certain people the rights. It’s as simple as that. If you think of the United States as a high school or middle school, you know, it’s basically saying, you can’t sit with us, you can’t be on this team, you can’t be a part of our group. It’s kind of a silly metaphor, but the fact of the matter is, it translates very well. You know, I was bullied. I understand how that feels. If a minority faces discrimination in the United States, that’s still bullying. So I want to use my voice and do whatever I can to help the NoH8 campaign. The fact of the matter is, everyone deserves equal rights.
Is there anything else you want to add about Big Hero 6?
It comes out Nov. 7. It’s going to be everywhere for quite a while, make sure you go see it a couple times. I suggest seeing it in 2D first. (It’s) two completely different experiences.
That’s great. Thanks Ryan, it was nice chatting with you.
Yeah, absolutely. Thank you.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.