Next Big Thing: 'Suicide Squad's' Karen Fukuhara Explains Her Tattoo From Margot Robbie

The UCLA grad talks about her most memorable day on set and expresses her thoughts on Asian actresses being represented in Hollywood.

Karen Fukuhara has no idea how many Suicide Squad spinoffs or sequels she is signed on for to play sword-wielding superheroine Katana. But there's no question about her commitment to the franchise. After all, she opted for a permanent SKWAD tattoo on her ankle during production, just like co-star Margot Robbie and director David Ayer. Fukuhara's enthusiasm is understandable given the film marks her very first acting role. Still, the 24-year-old native Angeleno isn’t a total stranger to on-camera work. As a first-generation bilingual teen, she landed a gig as a TV reporter on Disney’s Movie Surfers, a show that aired in Japan and featured interviews with Disney film talent. That led to a similar job on a Japanese-language sports show, where she went one on one with the likes of Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier of the Dodgers. After graduating from UCLA with a major in sociology and a minor in theater, she decided to pursue acting and signed with manager Sally Hinata, who set up the Suicide Squad audition. Her years of karate and kendo training gave her an edge during the first read and led to a literally smashing callback. Fukuhara talked to THR about the Squad audition, the SKWAD tattoo and why the opportunities for Asian actresses are limited.

Were you a fan of the comics?

No. I've seen all the Batman movies, but I had never read the comics. My first time was when I booked the movie.

How did you land the Katana role?

My manager got me the first audition, which was a little bit of sports fighting, martial arts and acting. It was taped. With the second audition, David was in the room. They were very secretive with the script so I didn’t read anything that was from the original script. I don’t know what it was from. I remember the room wasn’t very big, and they had big photo lights on either side of me. During my sword-fighting portion of the audition, I tried to calculate my arm’s length and the sword’s length so I wouldn’t hit those things. But it was cutting it really close, and when you’re in the zone, you can’t really be careful because you’re going all out. I hit one of the lights, and I remember hearing the casting director and David gasp. But I just kept going with it, and I think that’s what David liked, that I didn’t stop in the middle.

What was your most memorable day on set?

Getting my tattoo from [co-star] Margot Robbie. We were hanging out one night at dinner, and we said, "We should all get matching tattoos." And she was like, "Yeah, let's do it." She came in on one of the shooting days and brought her tattoo gun in her trailer, and we all filed in and gave each other tattoos. Will [Smith] didn’t [get one], but he was definitely down with it. Mine is on my ankle. It says SKWAD.

As a TV reporter, who was the coolest star you interviewed?

One of my first interviews was Keira Knightley, Orlando Bloom and Johnny Depp for Pirates of the Caribbean. I was in eighth grade at the time, little teenybopper. I was so, so nervous. I just remember Johnny had an aura around him. He looked like a pirate even without his costume, with the hat and the really cool thick-framed glasses and lots of bracelets. He was the nicest person and very patient with me when I couldn’t get the interview questions out. He said, “It’s all right. Take your time.”

“I had never been on a private jet before. It was the craziest experience, jetting into Comic-Con last year with the cast. None of the rules apply,” says Fukuhara, photographed May 18 at Houdini Estate in Los Angeles.

Asian actresses are not well represented in Hollywood. Is that concerning?

Yeah. The main issue when it comes to hiring someone from Asia is the language barrier. It's difficult to book someone when they don't speak the language and they can't deliver the lines or even speak to the director. But in terms of Asian-American actresses, we all speak it fluently! Viola Davis said during her Emmy speech that the only thing that separates colored actresses or colored people from reaching success is opportunity.

Who was your best on-set mentor?

Joel Kinnaman. He’s someone who comes onto set and just knows what he has to do. His homework is done at home, and he’s very confident with his choices. His advice was to take a risk with everything.

What’s the best perk that comes with being an actress?

I had never been on a private jet before. It was the craziest experience, jetting into Comic-Con last year with the cast. I don’t come from a well-off family. We’re very middle-class, lower-middle-class, so that’s something I cherish. None of the rules apply. You don’t have to go through customs. It’s very relaxed.

Who is your dream director?

Christopher Nolan. He would be on my bucket list.

Did you have any classmates at UCLA now working in the film industry?

Yes. I came back from shooting Suicide Squad in Toronto, and I hear that someone that used to be in my a cappella group booked Star Wars. So, I hit her up; her name is Kelly Marie Tran. She’s over there [in London] shooting Episode VIII right now. We both got very lucky. It’s just mind-boggling.

Vital Stats

Age: 24
Born: Los Angeles
Big break: Playing Katana in Suicide Squad
Reps: UTA, Energy Entertainment

A version of this story first appeared in the Aug. 5 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.