Maki Horikita: Stage debut offers new challenge, new look

Maki Horikita: Stage debut offers new challenge, new look

Super Maki, the queen of Japanese endorsements, reinvents herself for a three-week stint as the sword-wielding, tough-talking Joan of Arc
maki horikita japanese actress joan of arc
Maki Horikita says she enjoys time off from her work to clear her thoughts.

Perched meekly on a sofa in an Omotesando lounge, a dainty Maki Horikita is revealed as a shy but determined character as she prepares for a new challenge in an already award-winning career. 

Dressed in vibrant blue, she looks sparkling compared to the intentionally scruffy images of her in the past. She is preparing for her upcoming role as Joan of Arc in a play of the same name at Akasaka Act theater, running from November 30 until December 19. 

It’ll be the first time Horikita, 22, steps into live performing, having established herself as one of Japan’s most dependable TV drama and film actresses.

“I love seeing live theater myself,” she says, “so I wanted to take on the challenge one day and I thought it was time.”

maki horikita japanese actress joan of arcHorikita will play Joan of Arc for a three-week stint.

A psychological challenge

Playing French heroine and Saint Joan of Arc is certainly a bold first move and Horikita admits getting in the right frame of mind is most of the work.

“I get really tired after the rehearsals because I’m constantly focusing on Joan of Arc’s psychological side and the way she fights with her enemies. I guess no one really know how she really was and what exactly she was thinking at that time. So I am focusing on the script for this play very carefully and starting from there.”

In a scene that depicts Joan of Arc’s intense dialog with the pope, the teenager is shown as ill equipped to verbally defend herself. But Horikita finds inspiration in her choice of words.

“She fights from her soul and with pure belief. This particular scene shows how powerful her words are and ultimately causes damage to her enemies. As the scene unfolds, we go through her emotional process of her execution. I personally like the scene very much and I’m looking forward to playing it.” 

Horikita also believes that the true story of Joan of Arc, though nearly six centuries old, holds lessons for people today.

“We all fight with something in our lives so it would be great if people who came to watch our play could sympathize with her spirit and feel positive about their own life after watching the play.” 

For Horikita, the play also gives her the chance to vary her roles, having tended to play lovelorn girls and objects of affection in various projects to date. She admits it’s an opportunity “to present another aspect of myself to the people who see me on TV and posters.”

They might also see her looking stronger than ever, as all the sword-play will feature real weapons and outfits with up to 100 soldiers on stage at a time. No sound effects will be used, only the natural sound of swords clashing.

“I’ve been working out!” she says, “I wear armor for most of the scenes and it is very tiring.”

maki horikita japanese actress joan of arcTraining has made her stronger in more ways than one.

Scouted at home

Horikta was scouted as a young teenager and began work at age 15. “They came to our house, I think they did some research on me,” she recalls.

“I couldn’t believe it at first and it didn’t seem real for me or my family until I started to show up on newspapers and TV shows. My father would go on trains and face my photo to the outside so that the people sitting across from him would see me!”

A shy character who struggles to open up, she says she has few friends, but when acting she finds a purpose and inner energy to work hard that her “normal self can’t imagine.”

Her most recognizable international role came in Hans Canosa’s “Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac” earlier this year, in which she played a girl suffering from memory loss and delivered many of her lines in English.

During filming she earned the nickname ‘Super Maki’ due to her busy schedule. “Whenever I would have a day off from shooting he’d ask 'What did you do yesterday?' and I would say 'Work' and he seemed very surprised coming from Hollywood. It’s pretty normal in Japanese show business though.”

Learning English proved tricky though and she admits it was a struggle to find where to stress to deliver her lines. “I struggled where to put emotion in the lines because most of the time the conclusion comes first,” she says. 

maki horikita japanese actress joan of arcReal armor and swords mean sound effects will not be used in the play.

Woman of the year

When she was named as one of Vogue Nippon’s “Women of the Year” in 2007, Horikita’s face could be seen across the country, advertising products by cosmetics giant Shiseido, food company Lotte and clothes company Konaka. 

She has since become the face of leading phone company NTT Docomo and products of Honda, Suntory and Fujifilm. 

As one of the leading endorsers in Japan she says she enjoys buying products with her name and face on them, but doesn’t quite a year’s supply of chocolate and drinks and a new car. 

But while those ads may project her as an untouchable figure in the public's eye, she makes sure she keeps close to her fans via her blog and private events.

“Last month was my birthday and we held a fan meeting with fan club members. When you are really busy you tend to get carried away but most of the times I can get through the tough shootings by knowing that they are out there looking for it to be finished. They are definitely my driving force,” she says. 

Escaping to England

Her hobby though is turning the camera in the opposite direction. “I like shooting scenery and I love to go to new places for that. But at the moment it’s for my personal use only,” she says.

One of the those new places was a homestay near Oxford, England, for three weeks which allowed her freedom to live a normal life for a least a short while.

“I’d spend most of my time with the host family especially with the mother,” she says. “We woke up, made breakfast together, walked outside, and had lunch together.”

“I left my family when I was 15 to join the show business and I haven’t had a normal life ever since. The regular life of getting up in the morning with the family, eating three times a day and going to bed at night was a very refreshing feeling. So to be able to experience not only life in England but also a life that people my age would usually spend was a very refreshing and heart-warming experience.”