Disney’s action-packed animated film Big Hero 6 faired well at this year’s Oscars, bagging the best animated feature award. Inspired by the Marvel comics of the same name, the film is the story of Hiro Hamada, a teen robotics prodigy, who befriends a large robot created by his late brother, and forms a superhero team with his friends. Writer Samantha Tse catches up with actor Ryan Potter, who voices Hiro, to talk about the importance of being a part of an Oscar-winning film, how the film is opening up a new kind of cultural conversation, and what’s next for the Japanese-American actor.
ASIANCE: Ryan, congratulations on being part of an Oscar-winning film. How does it feel to be part of an Oscar-winning film?
Ryan Potter: Thank you so much. It’s been an absolute blast. I don’t think I’ve been in the industry long enough to actually understand the importance of an Oscar. For me, it hasn’t settled it. The fact that I’m a part of this film – I’m still trying to wrap my head around that. The fact that we won an Oscar – I’m over the moon. Right now I’m just taken back with how well received the film is and how people all over the world are reacting to Hiro. I’m just really grateful.
ASIANCE: What traits did you identify with in your character?
RP: The best way to describe Hiro is that he’s literally who I was at age 13 and 14. I wasn’t a genius like Hiro but we’re really similar in the way we act around people. I used to be a little socially awkward, a little shy. Also like Hiro, we both have a very strong resolve. When we put our mind to something, we get it done. Hiro is your average teenage. He gets into all this trouble but at his core, he’s just a really good kid. That’s who I was at age 13 and 14, and I think I still am Hero.
ASIANCE: This is the first Disney animated film with Asian American lead characters, which was a huge risk for Disney. What kind of cultural conversation is the film starting?
RP: It’s the same conversation that these actors, George Takei, Daniel Henney, Daniel Dae Kim, have been having, and it’s a conversation that I think now people are really starting to listen to. Sidney Poitier was for his community, what George Takei is for us. Samuel L. Jackson and Denzel Washington represent their community in big blockbuster films as the lead. And now I think the door is open for people like Daniel Day Kim and Daniel Henney to be a main star of a blockbuster film. I think now people in the entertainment industry will look at Big Hero 6 and see that we can true to the story and true to ethnicity.
ASIANCE: In the US, Asian Americans aren’t particularly well represented and are often typecast into stereotypical roles rather than leading men. How do you think this film will change the perception of Asian Americans and the media’s acceptance of them?
RP: We are heading in a direction where Daniel Henney can be the next Superman or Daniel Day Kim can be the next Robocop. There are more and more roles out there now that aren’t typecasts. There are shows on TV and the big screen that star Asian Americans, like Hawaii 5-0, that portray the Asian American ethnicity as a very color-blind race. There are more and more roles for our community every day.
ASIANCE: What’s next for you?
RP: I’m working on a few projects at the moment that I can’t really talk about. I am trying my hand in the fashion industry and my photography is kind of blowing up. I’ve had two shoots for a couple of clothing lines and I’m still going on auditions and looking for the next role.