How U.S. Stars Are Cashing In Overseas

47 REP Lou Ferrigno H
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Lou Ferrigno is happy to don the green makeup and appear as the Incredible Hulk in Japanese commercials.


Japollywood, an upstart management company, seeks to give actors' fame a boost in Asia -- and they don't have to be on Hollywood's A-list.

Lou Ferrigno is happy to don the green makeup and appear as the Incredible Hulk. Alison Arngrim of Little House on the Prairie is willing to send up her character, Nellie Oleson. And Dirk Benedict, star of TV's The A-Team, says he's "open to do anything."

For years, such U.S. movie stars as George Clooney and Arnold Schwarzenegger have made big money hawking products in Japan and other Asian countries. But actors don't have to be on Hollywood's A-list to take home big paydays from Japan. A new Tokyo-based management company is ramping up the effort to place American and British talent in Japanese TV shows, films and commercials.

Japollywood Artists, co-founded by veteran Japanese producer Takanori Oya and Los Angeles-based producer William Winckler, opened Nov. 14 with a stable of more than 50 clients including the aforementioned trio, Richard Hatch (Capt. Apollo from the original Battlestar Galactica series), Wesley Eure (Will Marshall from TV's Land of the Lost) and Butch Patrick (Eddie Munster from The Munsters). The founders say that many of those programs were and remain popular in Japan, making the stars marketable. And in a down economy, the work often is welcome. "There are so many talented actors in America who haven't gotten the chance to prove themselves," says Oya. "I want to get them the chance to work in Japan."

Winckler, who along with Oya heads live-action and anime production company Winckler-Oya Inc., says that over the years he has gotten requests from other producers for Western talent to appear in Japanese projects and realized there wasn't an easy way to locate or hire such actors. "There were always difficulties with trying to do deals with agencies in [Los Angeles], and the agencies in Japan who specialize in non-Japanese actors are very small," says Winckler, whose credits include such B-movies as The Double-D Avenger (2001) and Frankenstein vs. The Creature From Blood Cove (2005). "We felt there was a need and an opportunity."

Of course, Japollywood faces competition at home as well as from major U.S. talent agencies, many of which have staff in Japan. But Winckler believes Japollywood has an advantage because his presence in L.A. gives the company direct access to American actors, while Oya understands the nuances and complexities of negotiating deals in Japan.

The partners are betting that the recent syndication on Japanese TV of some shows that have long been off the air in the U.S. will make their clients appealing. For example, all 98 episodes of The A-Team, which ran from 1983-87 in the U.S., were recently rerun on Super Drama TV, a Japanese cable and satellite channel specializing in imported dramas.

And Wowow Inc., Japan’s biggest satellite and cable pay channel, is looking at acquiring rights to broadcast additional U.S. television programs that have long been off the air stateside, says Junko Miyazaki, who works in the company’s programming department. “Our main customer base is the 40s-to-60s age group and we do get requests from viewers for series they watched many years ago,” Miyazaki says. “We’ve recently had subscribers asking for Dallas and Bewitched to be run on Wowow.”

Winckler says U.S. actors can make as much as $50,000 for a single Japanese TV episode. On the film side, acting gigs for Western talent can command as much as $100,000, while work on commercials can top out at $200,000. Other sources pegged those numbers as high, noting, for example, that Western actors are more likely to paid in the range of $10,000 to $25,000 for film work. 

Of course, top-level American stars can collect big paydays for work in Japan. Tommy Lee Jones, for example, has for years starred in a series of advertisement for Suntory Boss Coffee, and he takes in as much as $1 million for a six-month run of the commercials, according to a source who works in the Japanese television production business.

Arngrim, now a touring comedienne, says she has long gotten fan mail from Japan and would relish the opportunity to appear in commercials and do personal appearances there, or even perform her stand-up comedy show. “Learning Japanese might be more than I can handle, though I wouldn’t rule it out.”

Ferrigno says that while he long has had a following in Japan, he hopes Japollywood will help him make a better connection with audiences there: "I think it's a great venue to explore."

Gavin Blair contributed to this report.


Twitter: @DanielNMiller