They say an army marches on its stomach, but in One Piece it is probably more accurate to say that the core pirate crew sails on Monkey D. Luffy's stomach. As such, it's of little surprise that a cook was high on the list of priorities when gathering his crew, and Netflix's live-action adaptation of One Piece found its chef in Taz Skylar, who plays Sanji in the new show.
If you're somehow not already aware, Netflix is set to release the One Piece series on August 31. The most recent trailer serves as a good introduction to the Straw Hats, led by Monkey D. Luffy as captain, and the stakes of the show more broadly.
Ahead of release, GamesRadar+ had the opportunity to chat with the show's Straw Hats, with each of them focusing on different aspects of the adaptation. For example, Jacob Romero Gibson (Usopp) really honed in on the heart at the core of the adaptation. Skylar, on the other hand, really wants people to know he did all his own kicks – and also that there's a lot of heart.
The following interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length. Additionally, it was conducted prior to the ongoing SAG-AFTRA strike, which you can read more about here.
GamesRadar+: One Piece, the manga, has been going forever. The anime has been going forever. But I feel like live-action anime or manga adaptations can be tough even for people who are usually into the things that are being adapted. How do you personally convince folks to give the show a go?
Taz Skylar: I just say watch it. In terms of the controversialness of it being a manga live-action and stuff like that, I kind of like that? I don't see that as a bad thing, because I think a lot of the things that we hold as big turning points in our opinions of things were controversial to start. So, I kind of like that.
And I remember one of the directors we worked with saying to us very early in the process, "The only way we can get it wrong is by trying our hardest to get it right." As in, just everybody doing their job to their best of their ability equates to hopefully what is going to be a good job. And if it's not, at the very least everybody was acting pure of heart. That's my opinion on it.
You're playing Sanji, one of the main Straw Hat crew members. What are the three words that most define Sanji and why?
Romantic, fierce, caring. Romantic, for the obvious reasons. I think he is a romantic. He romanticizes not just other people, but he romanticizes things. He romanticizes what he does, he romanticizes the world.
And he's fierce because he protects both his care and his romanticizing with what is a very adamant ability to protect him and others.
And caring, I think that's my main word. It's interesting that I put that one last, because if I get to define him in one word, my one word for him would be that he cares… deeply. And that is, again, whether it be things or people. It's different to romanticizing. Caring, I think, is more of… there is a genuine care that goes beyond his show of it. Even when it comes to someone like Zoro as a character, he may not speak his careness into truth, but he doesn't not care. If that makes sense.
He would risk everything to protect the things that he cares about. Even if that's a dish. [laughs] Even if that's the plating of a dish on its way to a table. If he cares, he will protect it. Those are my three words.
It's really interesting to hear that, because obviously you are intimately familiar with the character, but I think anyone who has maybe a glancing interest in One Piece, what they know about Sanji is probably like… he's obsessed with women and he kicks hard. I have to ask, are you a particularly strong kicker? Obviously, there's CGI and a stunt team for the show and all of that, but did you have to go through any training for that?
Yep! I did absolutely every single one of my own kicks in the show. There is no CGI on my leg, and my stunt double was my trainer, and was very enthusiastically cheering me from the side. He was with me throughout every step of it, and I had various other trainers.
Early in the process, I decided that it was going to be… I wanted to do everything. Like, it was very much one of those jobs that if I was in for a penny, I was in for a pound. And we started with two hours a day of training when I got to South Africa. I was already training with a friend of mine here who's a taekwondo black belt. And then when I got to South Africa, we started with like two hours a day of training. It was evident it wasn't going to be enough, because I didn't really have any sort of martial arts background. I had an athletic background, but not a martial arts.
And two hours wasn't going to be enough. We upped it to four, four hours wasn't going to be enough. We upped it to five, but then that got quite difficult, because there wasn't enough trainers to train me for five hours. So, I flew my original trainer over from London, who stayed with me for about four months in South Africa in a separate Airbnb. And he would just tag team, so the stunt trainers including my double would train for as many hours as they were available and could dedicate to me, and then Donnie, which was my other trainer's name, would tag team, he would continue training me literally until the place closed, and it was like that day in and day out.
And now when I look back on that journey, when I communicate it to people, sometimes when I say eight hours, people think I'm being figurative, or people think I'm exaggerating or – No, when I say eight hours, it's one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. As in every single day. I really want that to land because it hurts. [laughs] And it's not an approximation. Eight hours is, if anything, a round down because sometimes it'd be 10. And it was every single day, seven days a week – I had straps on every single joint on my body. It was the most ridiculous process I've ever been through in my life. But! I did do every single kick, and I'm proud of it.
We talked about the kicking; let's talk about that other one. I feel like Sanji's, let's call it, desire for women could easily skew into creepy or problematic, and plenty of folks have had adverse reactions to his reactions over the years. How do you as an actor balance that for the screen when this is something that is definitive to the character?
I think we had a lot of conversations about how everything's a translation. Like, I had a lot of images of Sanji on my wall that were from the anime. And everything is a translation, because it can't be frame-by-frame. But I can interpret everything that he does, everything that I see that he does, and put it into what I deem to be a translation into live action, because essentially, it's a different language. It's no longer 2D, it's 3D, so like innately there is a translation there.
And it was the same with the way that he reacts or the way that he interacts with women, there was a translation to be had. And I think at the root of it, the root of any reaction is why you're reacting like that. And I think for me, it came down to caring. As in, the background that he has with women in terms of the relationship he had with his mother, the relationship he had with his sister, the way that they interacted with him as opposed to the way that his brothers and his father used to interact with him. That to me, speaks volumes about why he may have a certain relationship with women in general and how we may react to it. In the sense that I don't have to question at all why he cares so much about women. And that's what I was hanging on to throughout it.
So as opposed to trying to really meter whether it comes off as creepy or whether it comes off as flirty, I would just imbue it with, "I really care about this person." And hopefully what came out was a good translation. I won't judge the result; I'll just tell you about the process.
I have to ask: who is the most powerful member of the Straw Hat crew in your opinion?
[long, deep laugh] Well, it's definitely not going to be who you know I'm not going to say, but I'll go with Luffy. I'll go with Luffy, because you know what? There is a real power in optimism, and he has that in buckets. Way more than whatever someone can do with a kick, a sword, a bo staff, or a slingshot.
The live-action adaptation series of One Piece is set to release on Netflix on August 31. While you wait, you can check out our list of the 50 best Netflix shows to watch right now.