Will Sharpe is a multi-BAFTA nominated and BAFTA Award-winning English Japanese writer, director, and actor. Set to star in the latest season of The White Lotus, Sharpe’s acclaimed writing and directing for both the big and small screen includes Landscapers, The Electrical Life of Louis Wain and Flowers, among others. Commissioned for Port, the following letter is addressed to writing. The solace, pain and belonging it has brought Sharpe from childhood to the present day; a tool and prism through which to understand himself and the vibrantly chaotic world around him
I can’t actually remember exactly when we first met. It would have been somewhere in Japan, or at least those would be the first encounters I can remember. There were Spot the Dog books and Bangers and Mash books and I remember finding Not Now, Bernard unreasonably funny. A story about being ignored I guess resonated with a needy two year old. Reading it now to my own children, I find the story almost laughably dark. A child who cannot get his parents’ attention is eaten by a monster. The monster then takes the child’s place but cannot get the parents’ attention either. In fact, the parents don’t even notice that Bernard is gone.
I also remember my dad trying to explain a little how you work, what a metaphor is. There was a book he tried to read to me and in one of the early chapters there was this phrase about “feet kissing the cobbles” in the rain. I remember him trying to explain that obviously the feet aren’t literally kissing the cobbles – feet can’t kiss anything really – but that it sort of helped you to imagine it better. I don’t think I got it and also he gave up on reading me the book because I was so easily distracted, but I have always liked that about you, that you can say one thing and mean another. There’s something oddly pretty about that.
The first time I wrote a poem it was by mistake and in Japanese. I was six or so. I’d drawn a pencil picture of a hawk and a cliff and had written next to it:
sora wo tobu
which translates as
flying in the sky
The phrases were short and uncomplicated because I was a small child and because I was better at English than I was at Japanese, but I can see in retrospect how there’s a formal simplicity to it. My Mum was very excited and uncharacteristically moved. The only other time she was like that was when I asked from the back of the car what the sun rays were and if it meant that the sun loved me. I could see her crying in the rear view mirror. Perhaps that was the first time I started to get a sense of how powerful you can be, how you can affect people. I got a sense of how I enjoyed the feeling of expressing myself through you and seeing how it touched other people. I started to write other poems. I wrote one about “Hachikō”, the dog who would accompany his master to the train station every morning and then, when his master died, continued to do it for another nine years until he himself passed away. Hollywood also saw the potential in this story and turned it into a movie called Hachi: A Dog’s Tale (pun presumably not intended) starring Richard Gere. I haven’t seen it.
When we moved from Tokyo to England, my first creative assignment in English class was to write a story about a chair. I was laughed at because I drew a picture of a chair next to the story. That was what we used to do at the International School in Tokyo, but evidently not what you did here. It was one of many ways in which I felt out of place. In Japan, we spent weekends at the Tokyo American Club, eating clam chowder soup or hot dogs and fries, going bowling. And the sports I played were basketball and tee-ball. The first time I played cricket, I held the bat up like it was a baseball bat and honestly it was like this was the funniest thing that had ever happened in the school’s history. Even the teacher was in tears laughing.
But you often helped me to make sense of situations like this. You even helped me to fit in at times, or to feel more at home somehow. I actually got a good grade for the story about the chair and so the teacher kind of defended me in the end. I also remember feeling how, even if I looked different to most of the other kids, I could still write and speak English just as well as anyone else, if not better. And that made me feel safer somehow, even if I did have a weird International pseudo-American accent at first (“basketball” and “tomato” were the last words to go British).
You followed me into my teenage years and helped me to navigate the hurricane of emotions that come with adolescence. You helped me to articulate romantic feelings, though admittedly this would often backfire. I struggled to get parts in school plays, sometimes because of how I looked. I remember being told once that the only part I would be right for was Pip and that they wouldn’t be able to find a Young Pip who looked like me. In my embarrassingly Rushmore indignation I said I wanted to stage my own play. The only slot available at the theatre was during A-Levels. So while everyone else was revising I wrote a 90-minute meta-drama and put it on with some friends who were up for it – basically the small circle of us who smoked roll-up cigarettes and listened to Wilco. I hung a toilet from a ceiling. I stayed up till 5am painting the floor different colours, fanning out towards the audience for perspective. I filled a bath with water and got drowned in it. People seemed to like it and, by the end of the week, they had to break fire regulations to bring in extra seating so the rest of the students, teachers, parents and kids from town could come see it. In retrospect, it’s a slightly mortifying story but at the time I felt like Sam fucking Beckett.
I was 17 then. The weekend the play finished I tried to break into a club by climbing up a drainpipe and sneaking in through a window. That window did not lead to the club. It led to the manager’s flat, who was eating an Indian takeaway with his mates and playing computer games. They roughed me up, threw me down some stairs and called the police who arrested me for breaking and entering. I said the window was open so I didn’t break anything, I just entered. They didn’t like that. They put me in cuffs and in the car. They let me go eventually, basically once they’d frightened me enough to feel I’d learned a lesson. On my way home, I laughed hysterically and couldn’t stop crying. I felt high. I felt every feeling. I felt like this was your doing somehow and I wanted to feel like this all the time.
At university, I started to struggle with my mental health. I didn’t really know what was going on. Sometimes I felt super-human. Other times I couldn’t move or speak. Some of my essays stopped making any sense. I’d hand in 12 pages of stream of consciousness lunacy about an infinite conical funnel at the base of which sits absolute art, instead of answering a simple question about the themes of a play. My supervisor called me in to ask if I was okay. I didn’t know the answer then. I just thought I was weird.
I’m not sure if hanging around with you made it better or worse but I know that we spent a lot of time together. This was also when I was starting to become obsessed with comedy and most of my life was spent trying to work out how to make big rooms full of people laugh. It was intoxicating and addictive. The rest of the time I mostly just smoked weed and felt like a piece of shit. One time we did mushrooms and I befriended a cow who was evidently the best cow, the most polite and noble, far nobler than her friends. I was actually surrounded by quite a lot of cows who were getting stressed out by how loudly I was congratulating the best cow and warning her that a priest might want to sacrifice her. People fishing nearby were shouting at me to be careful. Later I crossed seven bridges and I saw a couple having sex in a field. I asked them if they were embarrassed about how long my left arm was. They thought it was hilarious. My friend had made aubergine and egg sandwiches (genuinely – in hindsight, what the hell) and the eggs had gone a bio-luminescent blue, like those images of plankton on google.
I left university and we started trying to make a living together. We did open mic stand up and played music and I worked in a pub where the landlord listened to Amy Winehouse really loud. My agents didn’t want me to go by my Japanese name ‘Tomomori Fukuda’ because they didn’t want to “ethnicise” me. So I go by Will Sharpe. I’d audition to play maths nerds and people called Michael Cheung and techies sat at dashboards on spaceships warning heroes about incoming danger. I’d be asked if I could do martial arts. I could never pass as a white actor, but I could pass as a white writer. So, once again, it was down to us to make things happen.
By now, you knew everything about me. It was you who defined me. You helped me to say things that I didn’t know I needed to say. We did some beautiful things together. It was also, at times, really hard. And when I was down, it felt even harder. Also, we were spending time together now because we had to, not because we wanted to, which everyone knows is a buzzkill.
I started to hate you. I hated that you wanted so much from me, that every time I sat down at the computer you were asking me to cut out pieces of my heart and to haemorrhage you pints of my blood. And to make you laugh while I was doing it. It was like you were reaching a fist down my gullet and yanking at my organs, trying to shake out little shivers of my soul. You kicked the shit out of me day after day and expected me to show up again the next morning like everything was fine. In the end it was just like – fuck you. I didn’t want to do it anymore.
But then you’d show up in the dawn, or in the mist, or on the top deck of a bus. You’d scoop me up and fly me around the city. We’d skim the clouds and I’d watch as you showered the Earth with colours and secrets and feelings and ideas. And I’d remember that I love you. And that I need you. And that these were the only times, maybe, that I feel properly alive. And I’d forget all the other weeks, when I just wanted someone to run over my skull with a truck so I wouldn’t have to think any fucking thoughts anymore. I guess that’s why I felt like we could use a little break.
So anyway, it’s been a while. I’m sorry I’ve been absent. Stuff’s happened. The world is irredeemably changed. I’m firmly in my thirties. My wife is a superhero. I have actual children. I caught one in our living room. Nothing feels real. How are you? Shall we do this? Can I trust you? Will you dance with me to the edge of this cliff? Am I the hawk? Are you the hawk?
Shall we jump? xx
Will Sharpe stars in season 2 of The White Lotus, out October 2022
Photography Arno Frugier
Styling Mitchell Belk
Photography assistant Ella Pavlides
Grooming Hiroshi Matsushita using Oribe hair care & Kheils
With thanks to The Production Factory, London
Special thanks to Chan Photographic Imaging
This article is taken from Port issue 31. To continue reading, buy the issue or subscribe here