“I didn’t know who he was, but he had a beautiful face, perfect for the role,” said Ellen Lewis, who spoke by telephone on Wednesday of what might have been her best call as casting director for Martin Scorsese’s Silence.
Lewis, who has worked repeatedly with Scorsese since casting his portion of the New York Stories anthology in 1989, was referring to the Japanese cult filmmaker Shin’ya Tsukamoto. Seven years ago, when Lewis was rounding up actors for the long-planned Silence on spec, Tsukamoto — a sometime performer who is better known as the director of idiosyncratic masterpieces like his Tetsuo series — did something that few accomplished movie makers would dare: He simply showed up, like any workaday actor, to be considered for a role in Scorsese’s film about the travails of Jesuits and native Christians in 17th century Japan.
Lewis said she instantly saw him as Mokichi, a leader of hidden Christians in a Japanese village. “He’s so beautiful in the movie; he’s incredibly moving,” Lewis said of a performance that will be on display in Los Angeles on Sunday, when Paramount Pictures screens Silence at a Film Foundation benefit in the Westwood district.
But Tsukamoto, as far as Lewis knew, was just another actor when she pushed him on Scorsese during a meeting at a Tokyo hotel shortly after that first casting session. “Suddenly, he’s bowing to Marty, and Marty’s bowing to him,” as the two recognized each other as mutually admiring peers, she said.
“What are you talking about? The great director is coming to an audition?” Scorsese now recalls thinking, according to some just-compiled production notes for Silence.
For his part, Tsukamoto said it was an honor to be considered. “I would have been an extra for Mr. Scorsese,” he said, as described in those same notes.
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