Karen Fukuhara, who plays the invincible Kimiko on “The Boys,” has been carving out a space for herself in the action genre. The actress first broke out at Katana in 2016’s “Suicide Squad,” an apt debut for a martial arts champion who has training in both Karate and sword-fighting.
But Fukuhara is also adamant about pushing boundaries, as both an “advocate” for her characters and a performer who is looking to venture into new worlds — such as with the single-player horror video game “The Callisto Protocol,” which she spoke about for the first time in an interview with TheWrap.
“Working on a video game is such a different muscle than anything I had ever done before,” the Japanese American actress said, adding that the project has nearly concluded the production process.
As for “The Boys,” Fukuhara is thrilled to continue her journey with the character, who had a close call this season with losing her super-strength powers and healing capabilities thanks to Soldier Boy (Jensen Ackles). Upon her Season 1 introduction as The Female, Kimiko has fought to overcome her oppressive past, where she and her brother were indoctrinated by the Shining Light Liberation Army, a terrorist organization, which trafficked them to the U.S. in order to undergo Vought’s secret Compound V testing.
“She reclaims her powers [this season] because she wants to protect the people she loves,” Fukuhara explained. “And now she’s found her own agency and reason to keep the powers. I loved the arc of Kimiko this season, it comes very full circle. It’s about rebirth and regrowth and looking within.”
Season 3 of the Prime Video hit is also significant for Kimiko’s other half, Frenchie (Tomer Capone), the character that’s been by her side through it all. Audiences have long speculated if their relationship leans more toward the platonic or romantic — the two even share a kiss before sh–, inevitably, hits the fan — and Fukuhara is reluctant to put a label on things.
“I just hope that whatever relationship that the two characters have, they’re in each other’s lives forever in some kind of capacity because they’re soulmates, they’re twin flames, they have this sort of pull towards one another,” she said. “Whatever shape that may come in, I support that.”
Read on to see why “The Boys” Season 3 is her “favorite” thus far, what she hopes is next for Kimiko in Season 4 and her previews on “Bullet Train” and “The Callisto Protocol.”
Kimiko is reckoning with her past darkness, her subjugation and the grief that she’s feeling over her brother, but this season shows her propensity for light — she wants to sing and dance and her relationship with Frenchie blossoms a bit more. What was that transformation like to portray?
Oh, it was such a joy to be able to genuinely smile on the show. I feel like Kimiko hasn’t had the chance to truly enjoy life the way a normal human girl or woman is able to do, in the past. In the previous seasons, it was more about her struggling throughout life and going through all of these unfortunate circumstances that are forced upon her, and Season 3 starts off in a really great place for her and Frenchie — she’s trying out new hobbies and she has interests now, so it was it was a joy to be able to explore that and see the character from a new perspective.
Eric Kripke spoke a bit about how he wished the show had done justice to your character, and you had said that you were grateful for her expanded role this year and still felt she wasn’t forgotten in earlier seasons. I wanted to give you space here to talk more about that and making sure the show didn’t fall into stereotypes about Asian women.
Yeah, of course. I love that question. Thank you so much. I read and heard about Eric’s comments about him feeling like he could have done a little bit more for Kimiko in previous seasons, and sure enough, the season after he said that he gave Kimiko so much to work with. I mean, in Season 3, I got to sing, dance, fight, and on top of all of the physical aspects of filming, I got to explore all of the vulnerable emotional sides of her as well. So I think Eric really kept his promise in that.
I think it’s important as an advocate for the character to really push boundaries and see if there’s anything more that we can explore. You’re the biggest spokesman for the character and so if there is something that can be done — that can expand the world of the character, the backstory, anything like that — I strongly believe that we should speak up for it when possible. But I’m super grateful this season. It’s been so fun getting to do everything. Every single episode there was something new for Kimiko, and not every actor can say that about their work. I was beyond stoked to welcome in all these new traits of hers. It’s my favorite season so far.
Shifting gears, I have to ask you about the dildo fighting scene in Episode 4. It was definitely one of my favorites, up there with the musical number. You come from a martial arts background and are skilled in karate, so was there any training involved, and what was that filming experience like?
The dildo fight — surprisingly enough — had so much training involved. As a viewer, as an audience member, you just take it in for the ridiculousness of it and the fun of the fight, but when you’re actually doing it, it is actually very technical. And it’s a long fight that results in maybe a minute or two on screen, but when you’re going through the fight sequence — I think we did two whole days of filming and we were running out of time. The actual art is called Kali and it’s traditionally with two sticks, and we switched it out for dildos in our sequence.
I think that was my favorite fight of the season, just because I had so much lead up to it, maybe a full month or two of rehearsal leading up to that day, and I got to know the new stunt team really well through that. We kind of became a little bit of a family and there’s no better feeling than getting to work on something that everyone is so passionate about, and not only passionate, but they’re the best in the world at what they do and they were just so generous with their knowledge on the craft. And so patient with me and I just really, really loved having that kind of experience with the stunt team. Then on the day, we were all cheering because it was going so well, and I wouldn’t have been able to do that without them training me for, like, weeks.
I thought it was so interesting and important for Kimiko to have that agency to choose to be back on V again because, previously, that decision was made for her. What was your reaction to reading that in the script?
My genuine first reaction to losing my powers was pure shock and worry because I love having my powers. I love being able to rip heads off and have the power to do all the action scenes. Not only that, but we are all forgetting Kimiko’s best superpower, which is that she can heal, she’s invincible. Losing that was a bit of a disappointment for a second. I kind of had a small heart attack reading the script initially. But I think for the overall arc of the character, it was brilliant because these powers, the V, everything that revolves around her Supe power in the show has been forced upon her.
It was never her choice to be injected in the first place. It was never her choice to live this violent life. Eric and I spoke in the beginning of Season 1 about The Female and what direction he wanted to take her, and he really made it clear that he did not want a psychopath, he did not want a sociopath. He just wanted a normal girl who is put in these awful circumstances, so she does have good intentions, but she has to do what she has to do in order to survive.
And this season especially she has to take a hard look at herself in the mirror, and the beginning of it comes in the amusement park scene in Voughtland when she sees the little boy and little girl and then the next second they are exposed to the horrors of Supe life. And Kimiko feels a bit of responsibility because she caused that whole scene. She feels like if she wasn’t there, that would have never happened and now the two kids are scarred forever. In the same way, the dildo fight — it’s all fun and games — she thinks she’s doing the heroic thing by saving these women and then she realizes that they are just as scared of her as Kimiko was of Shining Light in her past, and she realizes that she has become the monster that she was trying to avenge.
She’s become the person that she just never wanted to become, and so that leads up into her losing her powers and she’s ecstatic about it because she thinks that if she loses her powers, she can be good. She is blaming her powers for making her a violent monster. And this is a common theme for a lot of the characters on “The Boys” about what you do with the powers. What does one do with the immense amount of power that we are given? And it’s a choice. I think that’s the biggest lesson that Kimiko learns this season. She doesn’t have to do any of this even if she has the power to do so.
Later on, she reclaims her powers because she wants to protect the people she loves. And now she’s found her own agency and reason to keep the powers. I loved the arc of Kimiko this season, it comes very full circle. It’s about rebirth and regrowth and looking within.
Sorry, that was really long.
Oh my God, are you kidding? I loved that. It was great. I talked to Tomer a bit ago, and I asked how he would characterize the relationship between Kimiko and Frenchie. He was reticent about giving an answer, but I wanted to ask you — are they romantic soulmates in your eyes, or as Kimiko says, something more like family?
Like Tomer, I have a hard time answering this question because I think it really could go both ways. It’s very 50/50 for me. What I do know is that they have this sort of unconditional love for one another. They support each other to the end of this earth. What I loved about Season 3 is [that it’s] kind of the first time you see Kimiko supporting Frenchie, and now it’s a two-way street, they’re on even ground. In the comics, I find — because of the age difference — it was a little bit more like a fatherly love, but in the end of the comics, if you’ve read it, it’s a really beautiful ending. (Writer’s note: In Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson’s “The Boys,” Frenchie confesses his love to Kimiko right before they are both killed by Butcher.)
So I don’t know. I like to be excited about reading the new script, and so I don’t really want to put a label on anything because a lot of times the writers have this secret that we are not told because we would tell everyone, and so I just want the writers to take it to where they want to take it, and I’m in for the ride either way. I just hope that whatever relationship that the two characters have, they’re in each other’s lives forever in some kind of capacity because they’re soulmates, they’re twin flames, they have this sort of pull towards one another. Whatever shape that may come in, I support that.
Regardless of their relationship status, it’s one of the show’s only sources of hope in a sea of a lot of hurt and anger. There’s also so many touching moments between them this season, telling each other they’re not defined by their pasts. What do you hope is next for Kimiko in Season 4, in terms of continuing to heal and find herself?
Oh, hmmm, good question. Honestly, Season 3 was full of surprises for me. I want to be surprised. I hope that she is finding even more joy in life. Maybe she’s into ceramics, I don’t know.
I could see that!
Yeah, maybe she’s now taking dance lessons. I mean, of course, it’s “The Boys” so not everything is going to be flowery and colorful and happy all the time. But I hope that in Season 4, we get to see more of what she enjoys in life with Frenchie. I just really liked the roll with the punches. Again, like I said, I think the writers always have the secret sauce and anything that they come up with has been brilliant.
You’re also going to be in “Bullet Train” come August. How did you get involved in that project and what was that production process like?
I got the audition and, of course, it’s a huge, huge movie, and I immediately got to work on it. The original book that it is based off of, it is a Japanese book by Kōtarō Isaka. It is literally one of the best pieces of literature I have ever read in my entire life. I believe there is an English version out now; at the time, it was only in Japanese. So I bought the book immediately, started reading it — it’s brilliant. I mean, it’s a page turner. I read it so fast, in like a day or two. It’s about five assassins that happen to be on the same bullet train in Japan, and there are so many gut-wrenching, heart-wrenching stories within each of the five assassin’s stories. And they all kind of intertwine together and you get invested in all of the characters’ arcs and motives, and it’s just great. And it’s a trilogy — there’s a prequel and a sequel to this book, but I was just really, really excited to be a part of it.
Moving on to another project, you’re also working on “The Callisto Protocol” with Josh Duhamel—
[Exclaims] Oh my God, thank you! This is the first question I’m getting about “Callisto Protocol.”
Oh, great! Yeah, it’s a video game — which I know you’ve done voice acting before — but was this different in any way, and what can you reveal about it?
Working on a video game is such a different muscle than anything I had ever done before. This is the video game that is run by the production company Striking Distance. It’s with Glen Schofield and Chris Stone. Specifically, I’m working closely with Chris and the team at Striking Distance is just wonderful. They are so kind, so funny and so cool.
To be honest, I have never really played video games before. You know, I played Nintendo 64 growing up — this is really aging me — like Mario Kart, Mario Party, Super Smash. I am from that era, but I have never played PC games or PS4, PS5 or anything like that before. And so everything is pretty new to me. I don’t know if you’ve seen the trailer, but it looks incredibly scary. They also created Dead Space, which is kind of a cult game that was created years ago. And I think when they were creating Dead Space, they wanted to create one of the scariest games that there ever was. And I can say the same thing about “Callisto Protocol.” They are nailing it with the horror and the gore — the monsters are so scary.
But, of course, in the motion capture room, everything is imagined. And so I think on my first day, I kept running into what was supposed to be the wall. I normally just don’t have much, like, spatial awareness in life as Karen, and so my first day on set, I was trying to figure everything out. I was imagining this big planet that I was on and the prison that I was in and it’s a completely different muscle that I had to use, but it’s been so fun. I’ve been working on it for maybe two to three years now, and I’m so excited that it’s finally been announced. I can’t say enough good things about it.
And it’s crazy — the technology nowadays, I’ve seen some mock-ups of our characters and because it’s motion capture, and we’ve already done the scans for our facial expressions and everything, it looks exactly like me. I’m just as excited as the gamers out there that are excited about this game because I haven’t seen the finished product. I actually went in yesterday [July 14] to do some of my final sessions, and I can’t wait to see what it turns out to be.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.