James Kyson Lee talks about the upcoming season four finale and the fate of Heroes's fifth season
James Kyson Lee has portrayed Ando Masahashi on the popular NBC drama Heroes for four seasons and counting. He is currently working his way through Volume Five of the Series, known to fans as Redemtion. Lee got his start on the show as a recurring cast member and sidekick to Hiro Nakamura (Masi Oka). As the show evolved and moved forward, so did Ando. Once looked at as just another Yamagato Industries worker, and powerless friend of time traveling Hiro, Ando has since gained the ability to massively amplify the power of any post human he touches. Coming into this fourth season, Masahashi also learned that he could channel his energy into concussive blasts of lightening strong enough to knock back any oncoming targets.
Lee's Ando has become an important player throughout the course of Season 4, Volume Five: Redemtion. Things kicked off with Hiro and Ando opening their own for-hire business called "Dial-A-Hero". Their new job led them to a sinister carnival, where Hiro altered time and caused Masahashi and his life-long unrequited crush Kimiko Nakamura (Saemi Nakamura) to fall madly in love with each other and become engaged. All the while, Hiro has been dying from a terminal illness. In this addled state, Hiro is no longer able to use his powers or stop time. But that hasn't stopped Ando from checking his friend into an insane asylum to rescue Mohinder Suresh. There, Ando and Hiro tried to free their friend. All three were soon on the run from authority, with Hiro teleporting himself and his two buddies into Noah Bennett's apartment. That's where this week's episode S04E15: "Pass/Fail" picks back up. This new episode premiers tonight, Monday, January 18th, at 9/8 pm central. Only on NBC.
We recently met up with James to find out what's in store for Ando and his pals in the weeks to come, leading up to what is sure to be an explosive Season Four finale. Mr. Lee also hinted at the fate of the series, and what we should expect from season five. Here is our conversation:
What can you tell us about tonight's episode? How do Hiro, Ando, and Mohinder fare having just escaped from the insane asylum?
James Kyson Lee: We've got a big episode tonight. As you know, I have been playing Sherlock Holmes, trying to decode Hiro's messages. Because he is only talking to me in pop culture references. We were trying to get Suresh out of that mental institution. I was able to temporarily trigger Hiro's brain with my lightening power. I used shock therapy. Tonight, he is going to face some consequences from that. He is on trial for his crimes against humanity. The Gods weren't pleased that he was trying to bend the time-space continuum. He messed with fate. Now I am going to do my best impression of Atticus Finch and try to get him out of this jam.
One of the concerns, as addressed in that last episode, is that Ando eventually kills Hiro by using his powers on him. How does that play through this new episode and eventually throughout the rest of the season?
James Kyson Lee: That was part of the risk in trying to cure his brain with my powers. I may have temporarily healed him. But we don't know if I made his brain tumor better, or if I have made it worse. He did regain his ability to use his power, but we don't know if Hiro is going to make it out of this alive. Obviously, he is my best friend. I am marrying his sister. I want my best man around. We'll see. As far as me actually killing him in the future? We definitely want to avoid that. Tonight you will find out more about why Hiro's antics have caught up with him.
How much fun were the pop culture references for you? Did you get them all right off the bat, or was it a case of you discovering them along with Ando?
James Kyson Lee: I actually got most of them. It was a lot of fun. I felt it was a nice little homage to those hard-core sci-fi fans that have been watching us from the beginning. There was one reference that I missed. "There can be only one!" That's obviously from Highlander. I was like, "Wait a minute. What movie is this?" We also had "To Be Continued..." Which comes from Back to the Future. Those are fun references. It was a game you could play along with, to see if you got what movie it was from. I feel that people miss the fun that can be had with the show. Especially with Ando and Hiro. It's been nice to see them back in the past couple of episodes.
How does rescuing Mohinder help lead us to the conclusion of Redemption?
James Kyson Lee: I think that rescuing Suresh was part of Hiro's bucket list. You'll remember that at one point, he trapped Mohinder away in a place that was not conducive to himself. Maybe Hiro wanted to undo his wrongs before he leaves us. I think he wanted to get this one last thing off his checklist. He was trying to tell me this with those scrambled messages. That Mohinder was trapped in Florida, in Arkham Asylum. How is Suresh going to help us? I am not sure. Our goal is to fight Samuel. He's planning this thing with the Carnival. And you don't know if he is really trying to start a new home for his family and the carnies. Or if he is gathering a cult, and trying to amplify his powers. Trying to figure out Samuel's plan is our main goal at this point.
How do you feel Ando's powers are going to evolve by the end of the season? Or are we seeing him at the peak of his powers right now?
James Kyson Lee: I don't think you've seen him even begin to peak. I think he is just at the beginning stages of his powers. The fact that you haven't seen him use his powers every single episode is a sign that they want to save it for a greater purpose in the future. When you see stuff every week, it looks overused. The fact that we've seen Ando's powers only intermittently proves that he is just learning how to wield it into the lightening laser that he shoots out of his hands. What is cool about doing it is that we have these minor explosions. Like we did with the door. The actual laser blast is something we don't get to see until the show actually airs. Because they have to play with it in postproduction. It's all CGI. I thought it looked really cool last week. When I blast that door out. I think it would be cool to see Ando in more of a fighter mode next season. Maybe they will use him to do more damage.
It's interesting that you say "next season". There has been a lot of speculation that this season might be your last. But Entertainment Weekly stated this past week that Season Five is almost definitely going into production. Can you talk about the future of season five?
James Kyson Lee: We don't have the word for sure. It might be another month or so before NBC settles down and figures out their 2010 fall schedule. I will definitely agree and say that there's a pretty great chance that we'll be back. I feel that we have a couple of more seasons left. There are a lot of stories to explore. There are plenty of characters on the show, including Ando, who they haven't really used up. There are still a lot of storylines floating around, and it leaves a lot of room for more potential doors to be open. The way we wrap up the season definitely closes some storylines. But it also opens up new possibilities. I don't see it as a series finale. It's just a nice way to transition into the next volume.
There's been a lot in the news lately about the Late Night shake up that NBC is experiencing. Loosing Jay at 10pm once again opens up the schedule for new scripted dramas. Because of that, do you think Heroes will be around a little longer than people might have expected? And do you also think that it might open the doors to a spin-off featuring Hiro and Ando?
James Kyson Lee: That is an interesting question. If they ever did do a spin-off of any of these characters, it would probably be us. We have a comedic element that we get to add to the more dramatic storyline. It's attractive. Regardless of what happens at 10pm, I think we were always set to come back for a fifth season. Now that it is more opened up, it's good. They have most of those 10pm slots filled already. JJ Abram's new pilot is coming to NBC. I'm pretty sure that is going to get picked up at some point. Jerry Seinfeld is doing a new reality program. I don't know what the lifespan for Heroes is going to be. There was some talk about making a movie. I would love to see them explore this world on the big screen. Maybe go outside the box a little more. I liked the Carnival storyline from this past season. I felt the show presented something new that the audience hadn't seen before. We don't want to regurgitate the same material in a different light. We really want to come up with some original concepts that really surprise some people.
You talk about the show heading into different media outlets. Has there ever been any talk about making an animated version of the show? Maybe for the direct-to-DVD market?
James Kyson Lee: Wow. That is a fascinating concept. The show has already gone into the graphic novel world. I could see an animated program being an extension of that. I don't know how much the show has even explored that. With the advent of the technology we have now, an animated feature of some kind would be a great idea. The cool thing about this world that Tim Kring has created is that it can live on in many different fashions. As the characters get older, they could eventually have offspring. And those children could have powers. Perhaps in the future, we will see a show with the second generation of Heroes. There are a lot of possibilities. We'll have to wait for the future to see how many of them get explored.
Have you shot the season finale yet? What can you tell us about the lead up to the end of this particular volume of Heroes, and how do you feel it will affect and alter the next volume?
James Kyson Lee: We have shot the season finale, and it does wrap up some of the stories. It gives a good conclusion for this season and this volume. But definitely not for the series itself. A show like ours definitely deserves a very satisfactory conclusion, if they are going to have one. I would like to see them make an announcement saying, "So-and-so season is going to be our final season. And this is what we are going to aim towards." I don't see this year's conclusion as that. We still have a nice three or four episodes leading up to the Winter Olympics. They will wrap up this current volume. We are transitioning into a Brave New World, where the heroes will try and function, and co-exist with humanity out in the open. That gives birth to many storylines that could be explored next season.
What does fate have in store for Ando and Hiro at this point?
James Kyson Lee: Tonight's episode is big. You learn why Hiro is on trial for his behavior. That's all added up to this moment. It gives you more of an idea about the moral conflict. Are we allowed to mess around with history? Should we be making these changes in our favor. Do these things add up? And do they have consequences? Ando needs to see if he can get Hiro out of this jam. It's looking pretty serious right now. Hopefully, we will be able to join forces with some of these guys, and face off against Samuel. Another question is: Where's Sylar? That is a whole other question. We have Samuel, but we also have Sylar floating around somewhere. It's as though we are battling two different villains.
How do you see Ando and Kimiko's relationship evolving? Do you think they will make it to the wedding? Or is their union not entirely destined to be?
James Kyson Lee: I could see their wedding definitely happening. One of the things Hiro undid in the past showed that maybe Ando and Kimiko were destined to be together. It's because of Hiro's antics that they were so far apart. Until Hiro corrected his mistake. Maybe next season. Maybe in two seasons. Obviously, we're not in a hurry. Maybe we will get married and have babies with super powers. We'll have a super family, if you will. The wedding could be a very fun way to wrap up the show, too. We could have a lot of people from past seasons return. And it would be a nice reunion episode.
How do you feel about Season 4? Are you happy with the path both Ando and the show as a whole have been set on at this point in the game?
James Kyson Lee: I like season four. They went back to the original formula. They wanted to focus on the characters that started on the show. Instead of trying to tell everyone's stories in an episode, they really kept it down to three or four storylines. It worked in our favor. It was easier to follow. The plots went a lot deeper. Relationships got reestablished. It was better for the fans, and the show. Even though only half the cast might be on from week to week. I don't think fans had a problem with gathering the pieces this time around.
How do you think Hiro's illness will eventually alter his relationship with Ando? You're constantly hinting that he might not be around much longer.
James Kyson Lee: His brain tumor is a big concern for our characters. We're the only family he's got. That's actually going to be a big part of tonight's episode. We will learn the aftermath of it. If he is going to make it out. Who knows? The earlier diagnosis was that it wasn't curable. It might take some sort of miracle to help him back up.
There's not a chance that Masi Oka is going to leave the series?
James Kyson Lee: I don't think that. The storyline had nothing to do with the actors. This was the condition of utilizing our powers in a way that would help the world. Hiro's abilities finally caught up with him. He's going to have to learn how to deal with those consequences. You will see that played out in the next few episodes.
What can you tell us about season 5? Where does the next volume take our Heroes? Has anyone talked to you about that yet?
James Kyson Lee: There is a small preview coming up. It indicates that Volume 6 might be called "A Brave New World". Which opens up many different interpretations. As far as the arc, and all the plots, we just finished wrapping this season. I think the writers need to go and get some rest. They need to let their brains cool a little bit before they start figuring out what they want to do with these characters.
Will Ando and Hiro's Dial-A-Hero service continue to operate? Or is that a done deal?
James Kyson Lee: No, not necessarily. If Hiro makes it out alive, we definitely want to keep it going. Call it the Bat Phone for the Commissioner. Anyone that's in trouble and needs help, we are willing to go out there and solve the problem. I see these two guys developing a Sherlock Holmes and Watson relationship, where they are heroes for hire. They are working for the good of mankind.
We talked about a spin-off. That seems like a pretty great idea for a series of its own.
James Kyson Lee: We'll see. There have been successful spin-offs from shows. And there have not been. I don't think any of us want to jeopardize the integrity of the show just to keep the commercialism going. But who knows? The future is so unpredictable. We've only been into this year for seventeen days, and so much has already happened in the world of entertainment. I think we should just take it season by season. We need to take care of this series before we start thinking about new stuff.
Heroes is going back to its 9pm time slot. How important do you think that is to the show? Or does a time slot really even matter in this age of DVRs?
James Kyson Lee: I think it does matter. I believe that 9pm is the right slot for us. I consider that the magic hour. Especially with Chuck leading us in. A lot of people like that combination, for whatever reason. There is a certain synergy, with the Bond action and that certain sense of humor both shows have. They work well together. We started out on a Monday night. We feel that is our place. Even though how people watch the show has changed considerable, especially in the last couple of years. Media keeps changing and evolving. I just went to the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. It's amazing how many different platforms there are for certain media. People watch our show all kinds of different ways. They watch it on their phone, their Ipod. Netflix. Hulu. NBC. They get it from Amazon. You name it. It is available in many different forms. The Neilson Ratings just aren't applicable to a show like ours anymore. The audience is bigger than ever, but they are spread out across so many different platforms. We have to learn how to adjust to the times. I feel that our show has done that.
Having just been in Las Vegas, did you get a chance to see the new 3D televisions that are set to hit the market later this year? And are we going to see Heroes in 3D at some point in the very near future?
James Kyson Lee: I did get to demo the TVs. I sat in on some really cool presentations. They had 3D TVs that surrounded you with the technology. Then they had ones where you put on glasses, like you did when you went to watch Avatar. It was like that experience. They want to bring that into your living room. In terms of it being available to consumers? That is still a few years away. It would be awesome if we were able to present Heroes in 3D in just the next couple of years. What a great way to present the show. The way people watch TV and movies is changing so drastically right now. It's becoming more and more interactive. If you play video games, you'll see that they have movie clips between levels that are just as dramatic and action packed as any film. I definitely see Heroes embracing this realm in the future. It will be great to see us move in that direction.
Were you able to also check out the 3D video cameras that they had on display?
James Kyson Lee: I did. Panasonic had a really cool one. I believe that it comes out sometime later this year. The camera was cheaper than a lot of the High Definition packages they've had in stores recently. It's becoming more and more available. Now people can go out and create three-dimensional content on their own. I fell like Avatar really changed the way people watch movies. In the past, 3D meant that things were popping out at you. That was a novelty. Now it's about bringing you into that particular world. It envelops and surrounds you. Once people experience that, they aren't going to want to go backwards. I think 2010 is going to be an interesting benchmark for entertainment.
How do you think having only 19 episodes hurt or helped this season accomplish what it set out to accomplish?
James Kyson Lee: For serving the story, I think it worked out about right. Part of it was scheduling. You have to remember that part of the reason NBC did that was because they have the Winter Olympics this year. They didn't want to have the Olympics, and then have to come back to us. They wanted it to end, so that it would go right into the Olympics. There were a lot of factors at play. I could see us doing more next year. Maybe we'll do twenty-two or twenty-three. That is usually a good number for doing two volumes in a season.
Do you ever look to the graphic novels to inform yourself about this character? Or do you not pay attention to that side of the franchise?
James Kyson Lee: I remember when the writers wrote a two-parter with Ando and Kimiko. I was able to check it out. Because I was curious. I thought it was funny. One thing that has been really smart about the show is that they have really embraced the new media. And the huge community that is mostly on-line. For them, they have provided the graphic novels and the webisodes. They have several different websites that are connected to the show. When you do that, you are really connecting with the fans. You are giving them content, and filling out the back-stories that you can't get to on a one hour show. That's one of the reasons why the show is so strongly embraced. Not just here, but around the world. Its great to know there is a huge community out there devoted to the show. They are dissecting it week after week. These are people in Asia, and Europe, and Australia, and the U.S. We make that a theme in the show. That we are all connected in some sense. That we have a lot more commonalities than some people realize.
Do-Over is a project a lot of people are very excited about. What can you tell us about Mike Lee, the character you play in the film?
James Kyson Lee: That is still in development. I love the concept of it. It's about some guys going to their fifteen-year high school reunion. They have this urge to flashback and relive part of their history. I am a big fan of Back to the Future, so the concept really intrigued me. We are trying to put the cast together. It's interesting. Heroes has obviously been a fun day job. Going and doing these films during a break is like going away to summer camp. But the film world is an interesting one. Sometimes projects come together very quickly. Then some things take years to happen. I have something that recently finished called How to Make Love to A Woman with Krystin Ritter and Ian Somerhalder, and its going to come out later this year. But a movie I did over a year ago called Necrosis is coming out on DVD April 20th. That is about six friends that get trapped in a place where the Donner Party happened back in the 1800s. It's strange when you do a lot of stuff in the past couple of years, but then these things always come out at different times.
Your film White on Rice is quite popular with our readers. Do you have any plans on continuing with that? Are there any spin-off plans? Or will you be working with those guys again?
James Kyson Lee: I loved working with the creative team on that. Those guys were doing a slow rolling opening across the country. I believe that film is coming to the East Coast in March. They already covered the West Coast and the Mid-West this past year. Sometimes doing a smaller film like that is more rewarding. You get to see the whole process from beginning to end. It's nice to try out a different character. When you do the same character for a few years, you get a little too comfortable. You start to know it inside out. For White on Rice, I got to play a musician that was based on a real person. I hung out with the guy in Utah, and he gave me the 101 on how to be a rock star. A few days later, I was on stage playing a song. I'd always been into music, so I got to live out my fantasy for a few days. That is a lot of fun. I remember filming Necrosis in Lake Tahoe. We really had to rely on the weather. We went up there in January and literally got two hundred and fifty-three inches of snow. When you are in a surrounding like that, the environment begins playing another character in the movie.
S04E15: "Pass/Fail" airs this Monday, January 18th, only on NBC.