Not many people become famous from making TV commercials, but American actor Dante Carver certainly has. For the past three years, Carver, 32, has become known to legions of Japanese fans as Aya Ueto’s brother and Kanako Higuchi’s son in the series of “White Family” commercials which feature a popular white dog as 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 great,” says Carver, sitting down for an interview in Meguro.
Born in Brooklyn, Carver spent half his early life in Europe and the U.S. with his father who was an interpreter at the time, and his mother, who is a government nurse. “I lived in Italy and Germany and traveled all over Europe,” Carver 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 visit, Carver says he was asked by four different modeling agencies at random to sign up. “Two of them approached me in Starbuck’s,” he says. However, he returned to the U.S. for a bit, before deciding 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 the main character would be changed to me and now I’ve been at it for more than three years. Aya Ueto and Kanako Higuchi are like my second family, and 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 on BS Fuji, called “Be Ponkiki,” 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 being in the military, 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 Oct 31. The movie follows 10 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 Carver 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?” In August, he launched a blog. “I enjoy it but it is difficult to write in Japanese. 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.”© Japan Today