INTERVIEW: Brittany Ishibashi and James Yaegashi of Marvel’s Runaways

Enjoying the start of Hulu’s new series, Marvel’s Runaways? Brittany Ishibashi (Tina Minoru) and James Yaegashi (Robert Minoru) discuss breaking norms with their new show.

Ishibashi plays Tina Minoru – Doctor Strange fans might recognize the name. She wasn’t willing to tell us too much but that “the staff of one is prominent” is good to know. Ishibashi did research on the staff from the Doctor Strange movie. After watching the movie, she “searched online for all stuff that was edited, cut out, pictures of the staff.” A great Easter egg to keep an eye on!

For both Yaegashi and Ishibashi, joining the Marvel show meant an exciting opportunity to see Asian actors playing more than just comic relief or martial arts action.

After working in theatre, playing layered and complex roles, James Yaegashi was delighted to see his Marvel’s Runaways role be an “incredibly satisfying experience both in terms of the complexity of the characters, but also I’m not familiar with an Asian leading man who is quite simply a leading man. Simply going through life dealing with family stuff without the action slant or the nerd slant or the comic relief. Someone to be taken dramatically seriously. But there’s no commenting on that. It just is. At least what my comic book geek friends tell me was so striking and wonderful about The Runaways, the comic when it came out. It really pushed the envelope and broke norms in a very subversive way without commenting on it. So that’s really cool. So I’m really happy to be a part of it.”

Ishibashi is glad to see all sorts of families represented. “…It’s so wonderful to see on television a Japanese man married to a Japanese woman with a Japanese daughter. A black man married to a black woman. It’s always interracial. There’s always a balance. It’s really nice to see that. That dynamic.”

Yaegashi added, “It’s a reflection of LA. As it should be. It’s sad that something so normal is breaking the norms.”

Marvel’s Runaways is filled with strong female characters, include Tina Minoru, who assumes a more “masculine” stance. “It’s fun because the roles I’ve played to this point have been, have had that extra little ‘well, she’s Asian so… maybe you’re fluent in a bunch of languages or you’re a concert pianist or maybe you were a doctor but you really discovered your passion.’ Always something extra that made people more comfortable. It’s nice to step into this role and come into someone who is so clearly and unapologetically a strong woman. And it’s really cool.”

“I was looking around thinking there are some really powerful women that don’t mess around. And it’s so great,” enthused Yaegashi.

Beyond the cast, both actors feel that Marvel’s selection of directors, including many women and minorities, supports this dynamic on the set.

The Minoru family has suffered a tragedy as Marvel’s Runaways begins, with Tina and Robert dealing with it in different ways, and both having trouble connecting with their daughter Nico.

“I feel like for me, for Tina, I feel like any sign of emotion is weakness. And if I keep moving forward none of that will catch me. And having gone through a family tragedy I kinda feel like my way of dealing with that, if anyone picks at that scab I’ll bleed to death. I have no choice. I have to lean in, just keep going. What’s so beautiful is that you start to see the wear of that, and I’m realizing all the rules I’ve put on myself are actually making me really brittle and I have a breaking point. And how I am losing Nico.”

As for Robert? Yaegashi says, “Because he’s dealt with it or attempted to deal with it, he’s now in a place where he can try reach out to Nico. And try to sort of work with Tina, however successful or unsuccessful he is. It makes a difference. Because I think the whole thing with Niko and the goth stuff, it’s her way of dealing with the tragedy. But it’s also completely taken her away from the family unit. She’s isolated and into this world of spirits and death and like uninterested in the living and uninterested in relationships. How do you bridge that? You see your daughter drifting away. We are not on the same page. How do we get on the same page?”

A common echo of the cast members is revealed in his last comment: “It just makes for really interesting storytelling. Because it’s real.”

The first four episodes of Marvel’s Runaways are available now through Hulu’s streaming service.