Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on October 2009
Not many foreigners become famous by making TV commercials in Japan, but American actor Dante Carver certainly has. For the past three years, Carver, 32, has been known to legions of Japanese fans as Aya Ueto’s brother and Kanako Higuchi’s son in the series of “White Family” Softbank Mobile commercials, which feature a talking dog as the head of the household.
“I really wasn’t sure what the concept was—and I’m still not sure—but everyone seems to like it, and that’s been great for my career,” says Carver, sitting down for an interview and photo shoot with Metropolis at a studio in Meguro.
Born in Brooklyn, Carver spent half his early life in Europe and the US with his father, who was an interpreter, and his mother, a government nurse.
“I lived in Italy and Germany and traveled all over Europe,” he recalls. “Then I went back to the States to study international business at a university in Virginia. In my third year, I worked for a health insurance company and did acting at night. In 2004, I took a break and came over to Japan for a month or so to visit my friends from university. That was my first time here.”
During that trip, Carver says he was scouted by four different modeling agencies while out on the street. “Two of them approached me in Starbucks,” he says.
After returning to the US for a few months, Carver decided to try his luck in Japan permanently in 2005. “My plan was to find a serious agency so I could work as an actor first and a model second. I ran into a lot of potholes. For the first few months, I was teaching English privately in Kyoto. I did some modeling and TV commercial jobs, but nothing steady.”
Then came his big break. “I was an extra on a Vodafone commercial [before it became Softbank Mobile], when the director heard me speaking Kansai dialect and took a liking to me. He then said they’d make me the main character. Now I’ve been at it for more than three years. Aya Ueto and Kanako Higuchi are like my second family.”
Carver also has nothing but praise for his canine costars. “The dog is one of the easier talents to work with—no complaining. His name is Kai. We also use his sister Nene for walking and running scenes. Sometimes, the commercials can take anywhere from 16 hours to 2-3 days to shoot.”
Besides TV commercials, Carver has been doing a Sesame Street-type TV show called Be Ponkiki on BS Fuji since last April. He is very careful about which projects he chooses.
“If it is the stupid foreign character, I won’t do it because I don’t want to get typecast,” he explains. “For those foreigners who really don’t care and just want to do it for the money, more power to them. For myself, I am an artist, and if it is anything that I couldn’t show my parents, I wouldn’t do it.”
Stereotyping can be a perennial problem in Japan, where most African-Americans are typecast as soldiers, basketball players, musicians or drug dealers. “That often happens,” says Carver. “They want me to play this really bad guy, but I can do so much more than that.”
Carver will next be seen in the movie Kaze ga Tsuyoku Fuiteiru (“A Strong Wind Is Blowing”), which opens on October 31. The film follows a group of college students with completely different personalities and backgrounds, who go through rigorous physical training with the goal of securing a spot in the Hakone Ekiden, a famous annual university street relay. “My character is an exchange student from Africa who reluctantly joins the team. There is a lot of running in it. Fortunately, I am in good condition,” says the actor, who practices kung-fu.
In his spare time, Carver likes to draw and writes music (“a bit of R&B or house,” he says). Earlier this year, he published a book in Japanese titled Who Is That Guy? and in August he launched a bilingual blog.
“I enjoy it, but it is difficult to write in Japanese,” he says. “It has made me aware of my Japanese fans, who range in age from 5-6 years old to one who is 82. That’s really nice.”
Dante Carver’s blog is at http://ameblo.jp/dantecarver.
Chris Betros is the editor of Japan Today (www.japantoday.com).