“Shogun”'s Hiroyuki Sanada Says “John Wick ”Costar Keanu Reeves Is 'Hard on Himself' but 'Very Kind to Others' (Exclusive)

The Japanese actor reflects on his experience working with Reeves as well as his own journey to stardom

<p>Alberto Rodriguez/Variety via Getty; Dave Benett/Getty Images for House of Suntory</p> Hiroyuki Sanada and Keanu Reeves.

Alberto Rodriguez/Variety via Getty; Dave Benett/Getty Images for House of Suntory

Hiroyuki Sanada and Keanu Reeves.

If Hiroyuki Sanada has learned anything from former costar Keanu Reeves, it’s to work hard and stay humble.

In an interview with PEOPLE, the Shōgun star, 63, reflected on his experience working alongside Reeves in the samurai fantasy drama 47 Ronin and John Wick: Chapter 4. Despite the 59-year-old actor’s successful, decades-long career, Sanada discovered Reeves remained modest and unpretentious.

“He was so humble, very kind to others but very hard on himself,” Sanada tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue. “Ten years later, when I met him again for John Wick [Chapter 4], he hadn’t changed. He was even more of a success, but his humbleness and kindness to others hadn’t changed. That's why he became that big, I thought. … He's always trying to do his best: aim higher, move forward. It’s a great energy.”

Related: Kristi Yamaguchi and Daughter Keara, 20, Enjoy Celebration of Japanese Culture as They Attend SHOGUN Premiere

<p>Frank Connor/Universal Pictures/Courtesy Everett</p> Keanu Reeves and Hiroyuki Sanada.

Frank Connor/Universal Pictures/Courtesy Everett

Keanu Reeves and Hiroyuki Sanada.

The Tokyo-born actor, who started acting at age 5 and has appeared in more than 100 films and TV shows, appears to have embraced that same kind of positive energy in his work and life. He's quick to point out that he's always learning, not just from his famous costars but also from various projects, which have taken him around the world.

To play the Fool in the Royal Shakespeare Company's production of King Lear, which he performed from 1999 to 2000, Sanada dove into Shakespearean English — something he knew nothing about.

"I was so scared. I couldn't say anything at that time," he admits, calling the experience "the biggest challenge of my life."

Pushing himself as an actor outside his comfort zone, however, inspired Sanada to challenge himself in other ways, seeking more film and TV projects outside his home country. After landing on Americans’ radars in The Last Samurai with Tom Cruise, he moved to Los Angeles in 2005. In the years that followed, he appeared in projects like Bullet Train with Brad Pitt, The Wolverine with Hugh Jackman and HBO’s Westworld.

Related: Anna Sawai Admits to 'Tearing Up' When She Talks About Her 'Shōgun' Character Long After Filming (Exclusive)

<p>Lionsgate/Entertainment Pictures</p> Rina Sawayama and Hiroyuki Sanada in 'John Wick: Chapter 4.'

Lionsgate/Entertainment Pictures

Rina Sawayama and Hiroyuki Sanada in 'John Wick: Chapter 4.'

For more on Hiroyuki Sanada, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday, or subscribe here

The actor, however, is particularly proud of his work on Shōgun, where he stars as Yoshii Toranaga, an embattled Japanese lord and savvy military strategist working to conquer his plotting enemies.

This year’s FX adaptation isn’t a retread of the 1980 original, starring Richard Chamberlain and Toshiro Mifune, which introduced some Americans to Japanese culture. It’s a bold new take on James Clavell’s novel about 17th-century feudal Japan.

“That [the original] was a great step for the Japanese people, but with this, we are going our own original way,” Sanada explains.

As a first-time producer, he insisted on total authenticity, weighing in on the smallest details — from the styling of a wig’s top knot to the width and material of a belt to the way a character bows or pours sake — while relying on Japanese and Western crew members to uphold the same standards.

Related: The Shipwreck of 'Shogun'

<p>Paul Morigi/Getty</p> Hiroyuki Sanada in Washington, DC in April 2024.

Paul Morigi/Getty

Hiroyuki Sanada in Washington, DC in April 2024.

"Those kinds of things are important for our culture,” he says. “Each detail I checked, and then [we] discussed. They respected the culture. It was a great collaboration.”

Sanada hopes the painstaking detail of Shōgun sends a positive message to Hollywood and the show’s global audience.

"Eastern crew meets Western crew. All working to make this miracle together,” he adds. “I think this is a good model for the world, especially now.”

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Season 1 of Shōgun is available to stream on Hulu.

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