'Babel' Star Talks of Playing Mute

Rinko Kikuchi, one of the stars of "Babel," was recently named to Variety's "10 Actors to Watch" list.

As one of the year's most talked about films was about to open in New York and Los Angeles, she sat down at New York's Asia Society for this interview.

How is it that you got the role for "Babel"? How did you hear about the film? And why did you choose to audition?

The audition process actually took about a year. I had seen "21 grams" and "Amores Perros," and I was very much aware of Alejandro [Gonzalez Inarritu] as a director. I respected him very much from these two movies, and I very much wanted to get involved.

I heard about the audition through my agent in Japan, and I immediately applied for it. They actually sent me a videotape of a deaf-mute person telling me that this was the kind of thing they were expecting.

Obviously, I felt watching a tape wasn't enough so I went to a deaf-mute school and spent time with the students, going out with them, interacting with them, going to movies, etc. That's how I got involved in the audition, and that's how the whole process began.

You say you had to learn sign language to play a deaf-mute character. Can you tell us a little bit about the character? Who is the character you play? What is her story? What was the most challenging part of playing this role for you?

Well, the character I play is Chieko. The two important things about her are that she's a deaf-mute and she's 16 years old. I think one of the driving motives for the character is that her mother committed suicide, and she resents her own father because her mother committed suicide with his rifle.

So to add to that, being a deaf-mute, she is also isolated from society around her. And being a teenager, she carries a certain anger and all these typical teenage emotions inside her. She's basically struggling with all this and trying very hard to sort of contain all these things within her.

But obviously when someone tries to hurt her or push her around in some way then this provokes some radical behavior on her part. In that way she's a very sensitive character, like a bomb waiting to explode.

So what was the most challenging part of the role?

I think pretty much the hardest part is the climax, the scene where my character tries to do everything to prevent this cop from leaving the house, trying whatever she can to get him interested in her.

This was the most difficult scene, and I knew it was going to be very, very hard to play, but this was also the scene that Alejandro [the director] used for the audition many, many times so I knew how difficult it was going to be.

It is the scene where she exposes her own animal instincts, by which I mean that she tries to do everything she can to hold on to this guy, this cop, whom she feels a little close to, or at least she feels that he might be able to help her in some way. So maintaining this kind of emotional edge in that scene the whole way through was very, very difficult.

Another aspect of the character that is striking is the way she expresses her sexuality. Could you talk about that particular aspect of your character?

Being sexual is certainly part of her character, but as far as that scene is concerned, yes she does strip herself naked, but it's more emotional longing, a basic human need, a desire to have someone by her side who understands her.

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