HBO Max‘s Tokyo Vice takes viewers into the splashy criminal world of the world’s largest metropolitan area in the late ’90s/early aughts.

It is loosely inspired by American journalist Jake Adelstein (Ansel Elgort)’s “non-fiction first-hand account of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police beat…where nothing and no one is truly what or who they seem.” Michael Mann directs the pilot episode, which sets the tone for the rest of the season.

The series also stars Ken Watanabe, Rachel Keller, Ella Rumpf, Rinko Kikuchi, Hideaki Itō, Show Kasamatsu and Tomohisa Yamashita.

Shadow and Act spoke to Elgort, Watanabe, showrunner/creator J.T. Rogers and executive producer Alan Poul on the series and what went into bringing it to life.

As it turns out, Rogers, the acclaimed playwright behind Oslo and more, has an extremely close personal relationship and history with Adelstein.

‘I’ve known [the] real Jake since we grew up together in high school in central Missouri,” he told us of why he wanted to create the series. “I was the theater nerd kid and he was my sidekick, so you can imagine how cool he was, let alone me [laughs]. So to watch him by will and interest, transform himself and become Jake Adelstein, crime reporter…the first person ever to write in a Japanese newspaper– what you look for as a storyteller is a character with a relentless drive.d You can’t beat that with the story I just told you. Couple that with the fact that I was one of the people closest to him who was threatened on the phone by the Japanese mob when they were trying to intimidate Jake when he uncovered some really terrible secrets a number of years ago. [Also] and my interest in telling stories set outside of the United States and cultures different than our own.”

Taking a cue from the real Adelstein, Elgort decided to strategically dive into the character to get a true feel for his state of mind during this time in his life.

He explained, “Jake has like a tremendous drive. He does everything with [a] tremendous spirit. He wants to reinvent himself in Japan and he really wants truth and justice. I just kind of threw myself into the character, studied Japanese four hours a day, taking Aikido classes, working with Michael Mann and learning how to be a journalist. There were so many aspects of this character putting it together and I just want to all the challenges and like left who I was in America, went to Japan the same way Jake did and said, ‘OK, who am I reinventing myself into now?’ His arc is interesting, because, he’s kind of pedal to the metal the whole time. But then, at a certain point in time, he almost goes too far because he’s a fish out of water there. He’s not following rules he’s pushing up against authority a little too much, and eventually, it gets him into trouble and it kind of backfires on him. But he doesn’t stop and he still keeps pushing for justice and truth. And he wants to write those great stories, and uncover the truth about the world of the Yakuza, which is the Japanese mob.”

New Tokyo Vice episodes drop weekly on HBO Max.

Watch the full interview below: