After starring in three Step Up movies already, Mari Koda is set to take on the big screen for the fourth time with her dancing co-stars in Step Up: All In. The Japanese beauty is in Norway right now pop-locking-and-dropping it for a dance festival, but took time out of her busy schedule to speak with me about the new movie. Koda is hilarious and a total sweetheart. It was hard not to love her in the movies, but believe me when I say I couldn’t help but smile listening to her talk about her beloved character Jenny Kido, her fascination for New York, and how much she loves to dance. Step Up: All In in theaters August 8, 2014.
KM: So tell me about the movie, it’s brand new, the trailers out.
MK: You’re really going to love the movie. It’s really like the title, it’s ‘all in.’ It’s a comedy, love story; just a fun movie to watch. I think this could be the best one compared to all the Step Up movies. It has different type of the characters from the previous ones. And we have many more types of dancing in the film.
KM: Describe what it’s like to be part of such a big franchise? I mean Step Up—every one knows Step Up.
MK: It was crazy that I went to an open call for this film. The first time, I didn’t know about Step Up movies. I didn’t see the first one. I went to an audition. It was just like a chain mail, and I was like, ‘Oh let me go in and find out what it is,’ then I booked it and they kept asking me to come back. I feel very lucky and I’m glad everybody likes Jenny Kido. I think a lot of Asian people really love that character because it’s very similar, everybody has accent.
KM: For Asians they are able to relate to you. What is it like to be a successful Japanese dancer? What’s it like for you as a Japanese woman?
MK: I never [seen] a Japanese actress being in Hollywood movies. So I’m really proud of it. I’m doing huge, successful movies, I’m really happy. As an Asian I think it’s kind of hard for us to work in a film because the characters are really limited. I’m glad I could get this and keep working. And at the end of the day, I’m really tan now. No one could tell I’m Japanese. People think I’m Filipino or Thai.
KM: What’s next for your character? What can we expect from Jenny Kido in this movie?
MK: Jenny Kido needs to have a love interest. It should be fun that she finds some good love in the movie. Because she always cares for the friends, but she never gets anybody and this one, everybody falls in love. I’m telling you, in All In everybody finds somebody…except Jenny Kido.
KM: Oh come on!
MK: I know, what happened to the Asian girl!
KM: Are you begging the director?
MK: Yea, I told the producer. ‘Hey, what happened to Jenny Kido? Does she like to be alone?’
KM: How long have you been dancing?
MK: I don’t know, professionally about ten years I’ve been dancing. But I quit many times, to be honest. Once people tell me what to do. ‘Oh you should do this, you should do that,’ I’m like you know what? I’ll stop for a while. I—Dancing is always part of my life as a hobby. I never force myself to do something I don’t like to. If you have a hobby, you don’t want to hate it and get tired of it. When you love shrimp so much and you eat shrimp everyday and then one day you get tired of it. It’s the same thing, you dance so much and you don’t want to even dance any more. I do something else until the feelings come back to me… Going to a club always, that’s my practice.
KM: Yea going to a club, trying out your moves.
MK: Yea, it’s part of meditation too. Of course I have to hide myself wearing a hat so these people don’t notice. They realize it’s me, and they try to battle with me. Like ‘Yo! I want to see you dance!’ I’m like, let me just be me!
KM: Who inspired you to dance?
MK: That’s a good question. I don’t know. So much music gives you so much energy to dance. I love the hip-hop music like New York MC’s. Like I don’t know if you know Big Daddy Kane, I love old school like 90’s hip-hop. I talk to them sometimes, but they give me so much energy to dance. Like wow, it brings my mind to ‘I gotta dance to this.’ I like to do freestyle a lot, like improv. I’m not very good at [choreography] to be honest. I’ve never been good. I always forget, and mess up and they yell ‘Cut! Mari!’ I’m like, ‘I’m sorry, I try, I’ll try again!’ I like improv because I like to surprise myself.
KM: This movie, is it the best one?
MK: I think it’s going to be the best one that everybody really enjoys. For fans that love the Step Ups, I think this fourth one is going to make all different kinds of fans happy… Everybody will be satisfied. All the characters everyone loves come back.
KM: Is Channing Tatum going to be there?
MK: Ahhh, he only came to rehearsal. Sorry!
KM: Did you at least get a picture with him?
MK: No! That’s everybody’s wish.