The popular portrayer of Hiro Nakamura talks about the third season of this hit NBC series
Masi Oka was a name not many had heard of until one September day in 2006 when the smash-hit series Heroes premiered on NBC. Now Oka is a widely-popular actor with a huge fanbase and he's even gotten the opportunity to star in this summer's comedy hit, Get Smart and he even did a spin-off DVD from his Bruce character in Get Smart's Bruce and Lloyd Out of Control, which hit DVD shelves this past July. I was in on call with Oka right after the third season premiere of Heroes hit the NBC airwaves on September 22. Here's what this colorful actor had to say.
The season premiere was shown at Comic-Con. Everything I remember hearing and reading was how fantastic the episode was, everyone loved it. So now it airs this week and all of a sudden the critics, they're bashing it. So is there really something that needs to be fixed or do you think the critics are just bashing it for the sake of bashing it at this point?
Masi Oka: Oh I don't know. It's - you know, every critic is different and it - people look for different things. When we did premiere at Comic-Con and that's exactly the same one that we aired on the broadcast. You know, at Comic-Con there was this great buzz and everyone loved it. And, you know, I think people were - after not - you know, after not seeing it for nine months they were, you know, still excited to see something great. And I think Season 3, you know, is some - the premiere was an answer to what, you know, kind of feedback we received from the fans. They wanted more story. They wanted faster pace, you know, a lot more action and a lot of focus on the original characters. And that's what we focused on. And, you know, the writers and the production staff, we all feel that we delivered based on what the fans wanted. So I don't know if the critics are bashing for the sake of bashing it, but maybe it's just like a continued - well continuing (stealing the hat) from Season 2. So I'm hoping that, you know, as the episodes progress that they could just go back to what made Heroes great with Season 1 and where Season 3 is headed towards, and then go back to seeing it as, you know, pure entertainment for the whole family.
Are you happy with the scripts you've seen for Season 3? And what can you tell us about the relationship between Hiro and Daphne which looks like it could be a big positive?
Masi Oka: Yeah, absolutely. I'm very excited. We're already shooting already into Episode 12 so we've gone pretty far. And there's a lot of great shocks and, you know, twists and turns. And the pacing is overall really fast and a lot more action. So it's a lot of fun. With Hiro and Daphne, you know, Daphne is kind of like the quintessential nemesis for Hiro. As Batman gets his Joker, Hiro gets Daphne. And it's like a joke I use all the time. But it's like, you know, I see more like a Wile E. Coyote and a Road Runner scenario except she said more than meep-meep and not as many Acme gadgets although you will see Hiro fall on his face a lot.
As Hiro sort of gets more information and experience is it hard to keep the balance of the sort of happy, naïve, enthusiastic person we met the beginning with the weight of the experience and the tragedy he's had, and make it seem like he's growing without making him grow too tragic?
Masi Oka: Oh absolutely. I think that's an important balance to have and the writers, you know, are very conscious of that. But that's what makes Hiro great, you know, is his enthusiasm. He's not - he's (only) discovered his power so it's a little bit different. One thing we know about Hiro is that he's always going to be very pure. No matter what it is, he's going to do what he feels is right in terms of saving the world. So his naiveté might have gone away because of all the tragedy he's experienced, but his purity and his sense of morality will always stay the same. So that's something we'll see and, you know, and his childlike sensibility. So he'll always be - there will always be some sort of wonderment. You know, we'll see him as he goes through various locations and he'll find some like wonderful discovery at - wherever he goes. Also, the writers have actually come up with a very creative way of finding that rediscovering of the power and we'll see that later on in the season. So I think - it's definitely a difficult balance. You know, you got (sight) - Hiro's storyline; Hiro and Ando have always been kind of like the comedic relief. And we want to makes sure we have some sort of that entertainment on the fun side, the light side of, you know, of saving the world to balance kind of the dark tones of the rest of the storyline.
Did you think that the fun side was maybe lost last season for your character?
Masi Oka: I don't know if it was completely lost. You know, we interjected it where we can. In Feudal Japan there was a lot more - a lot of fun to be had, you know, with Kensei's dynamic. When we got back, it was very grave and it just - when he found out about his father's death. And when you deal with, you know, your father's death it's kind of difficult to make light of that. We try to incorporate, you know, - it is a comic book or it's (unintelligible) of comic book, you know, style of storytelling. So we do want to be able to put in light moments where we can, when appropriate. So, you know, it's - we may have lost it but - lost it a little bit, but at least as an actor and, you know, as the writers, we are conscious about throwing in those when we can - throw in little, you know, Easter eggs or little jokes here that lightens the mood. Especially there is humor, you know, within tragedy - it's a way of release for - in terms of laughing at the tragic - laughing at ourselves to be able to celebrate life.
Can you talk about challenges that you're having this year as an actor? I mean, is there more stunt work for you? I mean, what's different this year?
Masi Oka: There's definitely a lot more stunt work. It's a lot of fun being, you know, kind of put in a harness and just walking in the air. I feel like Mary Poppins. That's not a (pun). But I think the biggest issue is also kind of trying to like gauge where it's appropriate in terms of, you know, throwing - putting in that humor, you know, and that's where I kind of rely on the directors and the writers to kind of say, you know, that's a little bit too much. That's seems - that's (grounded) but probably inappropriate here. And also kind of the level of English that Hiro has mastered because I don't want him to be completely masterful of English because you want room to grow to. But at the same time, time has progressed. And probably the last issue is just time. Hiro's timeline is so out of whack. You know, the series may have gone a couple times, but, you know, Hiro himself - his biological time hasn't moved as far even if he has gone to Feudal Japan and then back. For him it's still, you know, three weeks or a month versus the world might be moving in a - you know, a good 400 years. So just being able to keep that continuity has been difficult for us.
Can you talk a little bit about the importance of the family to Hiro? And are we going to see his sister again or will his mom be revealed?
Masi Oka: Yes. I mean, family is always important to Hiro. There's, you know, so many things - you know, the most important thing to Hiro is definitely his family and, you know, and his friendships; and of course, you know, being a hero saving the world. But that's what his family taught him. His father in particular and his mother, they taught him the values of being a good person, a good, you know, a good servant to civilization; and sacrificing himself for the world.So, you know, not having his father as - father figure in giving advice -- fortunately we saw this advice come through at DVD. But you might still see various fatherly advices from his father; kind of like how, you know, Obi One and Anakin comes back in Return of the Jedi, you know. We haven't - to be honest with you I don't know what Hiro's sister is doing. I would presume she's very busy running the company. Like Hiro is the CEO and I think Kimiko is kind of the President. So she actually is a day-to-day hands-on person. So we haven't seen her yet but we will see Hiro's mother.
I wanted to ask you - I know I've heard that you were a comic book fan and Sci-Fi fan before you were cast in the show. And I wanted to know what it's like for you as you enjoyed the online comics and graphic novels; and what it's like to have your image drawn by legendary comic artists like Alex Ross, Tim Sale and Mike Turner?
Masi Oka: Oh my god, it's such an honor and it's - first of all, the online comics on NBC.com is absolutely brilliant because even when we had the writer's strike, I know they had original content every week. And it's a great way to give the fans a continuity and some back-story to a lot of the things that we don't get to see on the air. It's a great way of filling in the gaps. And that's where a lot of the fans' imagination can grow. So, you know, so that's a great thing to see the comics and I love seeing it. And just to be drawn by these folks, it's such an honor just, you know - I got excited when I was - when I had a caricature drawn of me at a bar mitzvah. And now to have, you know, an - you know, these amazing legendary artists draw you, it's - who would have thought it? It's definitely - you know, as a comic book reader, it's something that you're very proud of and very happy about it - grateful also. And at the same time, you know, you have these action figures and now bobble heads. What more can a guy ask for? Maybe underoos.
I was wondering if I could ask about your feeling about the comic influences on the show, how comics like Watchmen or X-Men, or Harbinger have influenced the show and what it's like to have a comic luminary like Jeph Loeb kind of heading up the ship.
Masi Oka: I think it's really important because our series is based on that comic book storytelling. You know, a lot of the characters are comic book archetypes and the plot does come a lot from comic book universe. So, you know, I think there's going to be a lot of - there might be a retelling of similar stories but because comic books are told in certain ways to like (unintelligible) life storytelling. It's open ended and it's very fast in the way it moves. Having someone like Jeph Loeb and, you know, like (Aaron) and (Joe), and (Jesse) - having that kind of that sensibility works so greatly in our favor in terms of telling the kind of stories we want to tell on Heroes, and the pace we want to tell it in.
The last two seasons Hiro has had a love interest. He had Charlie and she died, and then Yaeko, but she - well he (lives) without her as well. So is he going to be having a love interest this season?
Masi Oka: Oh, we don't know yet. I mean, that's always up in the air. Personally, as a fan, I kind of like Hiro and Charlie's love story and just kind of leave it at that. In some senses, you know, I'm, you know, just having him fall for Yaeko right afterwards - because in Hiro's biological timeline it was literally two weeks after, you know, Charlie's death when Hiro had spent six months with Charlie. So I think that that love story is something that's pure and I don't, you know, I don't think we want to compound on that too much. That being said, you know, every - you never know what's going to happen, if Hiro is - there could be a love story up ahead for Hiro. We don't know. Everything is kind of up in the air.
Have you read the book about Charlie and Hiro called Saving Charlie?
Masi Oka: Yeah, I thought it was great. It was a great way to fill in that story. I mean, I learned a lot about my character through that, too. You know, Hiro actually gets pretty randy in that one. But, you know, ultimately if there is an end for Hiro, you know, my poetic ending for him would be like to live in an infinite time loop and living his life - and living his times with Charlie over and over, and over again. You know, so there's something - there's definitely something sweet about that love story. I think it's very hard for you to top that. So, you know, unless there's something that's great that comes by, I think it's great to have what we have.
I know that the Heroes fan base is extremely devoted to you guys. Have you ever had, you know, die hard fans come up to you on the streets and actually think that you have, you know, these real powers in real life?
Masi Oka: Yeah, sometimes they do. I mean, it is quite interesting. You know, the most awkward times are - I hate to be crass in the morning but, you know, when you're in the restroom. And I've had, you know, fans recognize me and like they'll come into the restroom with me. And then they'll watch me, you know, for lack of a better word, you know, take a leak. And they'll be watching and it's like oh, you know, it's not like my, you know, my urine stops time or anything. Like can we please not - you know, can you can please not stare at me while, you know. It is kind of interesting though. I mean sometimes, you know, it's - I don't think they believe I can teleport but, you know, people do ask me to do things. I personally think I can actually stop time because every time I go into a room and like I tell a bad joke, man time freezes. It feels like a long time.
Now if you really could stop time, do you have something in particular that you'd want to stop? Like would you want to stop, you know, right before you get in a traffic jam or an embarrassing moment, or something like that?
Masi Oka: I think all the time. I mean, if there is a way to get out of a jam that'd be great, you know, to literally stop time. I mean, I don't know. There are just - there are moments where you wish like this could last forever, you know, and hope, you know, I don't know. It - that's an interesting question. Like stopping time is something - especially when I go to a different location, it would be nice just to stop time and just like really absorb the surroundings. I mean I think we live in such a fast-paced society that it is important to "stop and smell the roses" at times. And it would be nice to just be able to - just stop time and kind of get away from it all for a second and just really appreciate where you are, and where we all are in life as a - you know, with the economic downturns and like what's going on with the environment. Just be, you know, just take life to (look forward) - to be able to appreciate that moment. So I think all of us would love to just kind of stop time (unintelligible) and just take a moment, and breathe.
Now, the promo for Volume 3, it said in every hero there could be a villain.
Masi Oka: Yes.
What would you do if we found out Hiro was a villain?
Masi Oka: I don't know. I would go and smack some sense into Hiro. I mean it's like what are you doing. But, you know, it's - Hiro is one of the - as I (saying). I think he's very pure. The naivety has gone away but he'll do what he believes is right and sometimes what he believes is - might not be the right thing. And I would think he's very susceptible to a lot of things, very gullible. But he would never do anything that's morally wrong in his mind because he follows a basic conduct of heroism. You know, he goes by the bible of the comic book. That being said, you know, we've seen what happens, you know, to various heroes that's gone to the dark side. So, you know, it's interesting because villain and hero, it's very relative. You know, what is good and what is evil? Because in the villain's mind what the good people do, that's considered evil in their mind. You know, so it's - you know, from - maybe from a society perspective, it's clear to see what's good and what's villain. But, you know, from a personal perspective - you know, from a villain's perspective it's very different of how they see the world. So it's an interesting moral question. But, you know, I have faith in Hiro that, you know, he's always in his heart going to be a good guy no matter what he does.
The last time you caught up with Adam Monroe Petrelli stopped you from killing him. I was just wondering how would you kill him if you got him alone since he's immortal?
Masi Oka: He is - I mean, the way Hiro kind of like encased him was pretty cold and - in retrospect. I mean, he just put him in the coffin. And actually, the way it was edited, it just made it a very dark decision. You know, there was actually a lot more to that based on, you know, what we had as an ending and stuff. But because of the, you know, the writer's strike and the way it was edited, it just seemed like a really harsh decision that was made. But how - I mean, we've seen that everything is kind of like related to the spinal cord in terms of immortality. And in Season 1 we saw Claire kind of going through a state of mortality in that sense. So maybe that's the way to kill, you know, Adam Monroe.
So in one of the flash forwards this week we saw Ando killing Hiro. So - and it seems like he obviously doesn't trust his best friend as much as he did in the past. Do you think that that was - that they will get back to where they were before? And do you think that they're kind of making all of the Heroes this year a little bit darker than in the past?
Masi Oka: I think so. I think we just - the writers wanted to introduce a little bit of a different dynamic between Hiro and Ando just to start things off. We will see them back to get their original selves, hopefully very soon. But I think everyone is kind of like - because this is a season called Villains, or the volume is called Villains, we wanted to kind of put in seeds of doubt in terms of every relationship we've had and kind of shake up the status quo. So I think that's definitional an intentional part by the writers to put that in.
If you could have any power besides the stopping time on the show, which one would you want?
Masi Oka: Any power besides the stopping time on the show? Can I cheat and say Peter's power? Because he has - he can do everything.
I know that you've done a lot of CGI in the past. Do you still have any time to do that on the side?
Masi Oka: Unfortunately it's been increasingly difficult to do some stuff. I'm technically still an ILM employee so I'm hoping to - I'm actually kind of involved in producing a couple of projects that involve CGI. So I'm hoping to use my employee discount when that comes around.
What can we expect from round two or three between Adam and Hiro?
Masi Oka: Round three? Well, we will - let's see. I think the promos kind of - did it come out on it for - I think like the episode descriptions kind of already gave away that Adam Monroe will be coming back. So we know he'll be coming back. How? Why? Well that we don't know yet. But that one I probably can't spill too much on. But there will be a Hiro/Adam Monroe round three.
A lot of the characters have gotten better handles on their powers as time has gone by. Are we going to see a leap in Hiro's powers or see him use them in a new or unique way?
Masi Oka: Possibly. The writers are definitely very creative about how Hiro uses his power. It's a very strong power, you know. So it's - theoretically, you know, Hiro could just go back in time and fix everything. You know, so it's very difficult in terms of plot (unintelligible) because like okay Daphne stole the paper. Why doesn't Hiro go back five minutes earlier, you know, and make sure he doesn't have it, you know? There's always ways around it unfortunately. But, you know, we're kind of in a point that, you know, Hiro doesn't go back in the past because he knows it's going to destroy the time/space continuum; something wrong will happen. In terms of powering up, let's see, I don't know how much more Hiro can really power up teleportation and time travel. I think he's more accurate with his time travel now. So that's definitely something and the teleportation maybe he could go further and - but I mean it's just having more control over them. But there - actually there might be a couple of things that are different in terms of how he uses his power. So maybe he could do a dimensional warp.
Do you get to use your sword again this year?
Masi Oka: Do I get to use my sword? To be honest, I haven't used my sword yet. But hopefully there will be more opportunity to use it. But as of now there is no sword play. And maybe we could have Hiro teleport to like Mars or something. You know, that will be Season 4, you know.
I just wondered what your most memorable moment filming this season - anything scary or funny - moments or stunts?
Masi Oka: Well this - well definitely the stunts. Like anytime you get put in a harness in mid air, I personally love it because you can do a lot of play and, you know, while we're in between takes, you know, I kind of goof around and pretend I'm like -- as I said -- like in Mary Poppins or in, you know, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. And just do all those fun moves in the air. But I can't - I'm trying to think. The most memorable moment is actually - I would just say actually last week we were shooting. I got to work with the - for the first time I got to work with someone I've wanted to work with since Season 1. So that was a very memorable moment.
Who is that? Can you tell us?
Masi Oka: I'll leave that up - can I say?
(At this point, one of the NBC people said to hold off in revealing who that person was. Drat.)
Masi Oka: So sorry, I feel like - I can't say it. But that would probably be so far my most memorable moment.
You're obviously such a multitalented guy, I was curious as to whether or not you had any aspirations to maybe write or direct an episode of Heroes or maybe provide them with some new visual effects?
Masi Oka: I'm actually doing a lot of that outside of Heroes. Within Heroes it would be great to actually possibly an episode. You know, we've actually been talking about that and I'm looking to shadow a couple episodes. Of course, our schedule is really tough so, you know, it could get a little bit difficult. But writing wise, you know, what the writers do on the show is absolutely amazing. And they're way ahead of the curve. They have a great team assembled. And the way they write, you know, is a - what's called gang writing and everybody writes on the episode and then the writer on record polishes it up. So I think it's really difficult for anybody to just "write" a Heroes episode. But fortunately I've had an opportunity to exercise my writing a little - like my behind the scenes skills on projects outside of Heroes.
Two part question for you: As an actor are you satisfied with the way in which Hiro is being developed or stretched this Season versus what you got to do in Season 1? And the second part of that question is: Is the door to the writers' room open for you and your fellow cast members? Do you have the opportunity, if you want to, to sit down with the writers and discuss concerns or ideas about your character's development?
Masi Oka: Yeah, part two is - absolutely. I think the writers are very collaborative. They're very open to, you know, discussing characters and they let you know where your characters are going. And, you know, they're - so, you know, they're very collaborative in that sense, they're very open to it. A lot of it also gets done in the editing as well. So you think you shoot something and then when you actually see it on screen it a little bit different. As an actor, you know, they're constantly challenging me about - having me do things left and right. I know someone leaked that Hiro is going to be ten years old, you know. So something like that is a challenge, you know, having balanced, you know, the dram and the rounded - you know, the heavy with the light stuff. So, you know, as an actor I think it's always challenging. As long as they keep challenging me, it's a great learning experience. The one thing, you know, it - for me I'm just - it's difficult to find the consistency of course, because you want the plot to - you need to drive the plot and move things forward. At the same time, you know, the character actions sometimes get compromised because of that. So we are a slave to the plot. So if the plot dictates we do something, sometimes we have to change what, you know, the characters do. And for me, I was watching the first three episodes. I'm like okay, Hiro you're so stupid. Why are you like, you know, defying your father's orders and doing that. But, you know, we needed that for the plot so it made sense.
You've got - really you could say you've got three powers couldn't you? You can stop time, slow it down, and teleport. Which of them do you think is like the most useful?
Masi Oka: Which - well if you live in LA I'll probably say teleportation because the traffic is awful here. (Unintelligible). It would be nice just to teleport to places in LA. And so that would probably be the most useful I guess.
And you're going to be working with the Haitian this season, aren't you?
Masi Oka: Yes, I will be working with the Haitian this season.
Is that good working - is the one who you haven't had the chance to before?
Masi Oka: Yeah, it's always great to be working with someone new. I mean, that's kind of the fun thing is in some senses we're all - we feel like we're on different shows even though we see each other all - you know, every week on TV. But we hang out with each other a lot outside yet we rarely get to work with each other. So it's always fun to be working with new people because it brings a new dynamic and it kind of reenergizes or reinvigorates, you know, your storyline. So it's always a treat.
I wanted to ask you a question about your relationship with Ando. Now you had mentioned earlier with Daphne that you felt kind of like Batman and the Joker. Or Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner.
Masi Oka: Yes.
With Ando do you feel more like Batman and Robin or more like C3PO and R2D2?
Masi Oka: I don't know. Hiro - it's kind of both. I mean Batman and Robin, they're still friends in some sense. You know, so it depends on the situation. You know, sometimes it's definitely a Batman and Robin. Sometimes, you know, it's a C3PO and R2D2. I think Hiro's mind he does see it as a Batman and Robin kind of situation. So from what Hiro thinks, you know, it's definitely that or more like a Don Quixote and Sancho Panza in some senses because he's so quixotic.
Your character in the Get Smart film and in the spin-off film is not completely dissimilar from Hiro because he's hero worshipping. He's a little bit pop culture savvy, a little self-effacing. I was wondering if you took pains to really differentiate him from Hiro because you had the opportunity to play somebody who was a little like Hiro but not Hiro?
Masi Oka: Yes, absolutely. I think, you know, that's something you look for when you're doing a feature film is an opportunity to show your range and do something different. Of course, that's always going to be a part of me and something that attracts me to the roles. You know, they're both kind of geeks in their own senses. But, you know, Bruce's point of view is a lot more drier and sarcastic versus Hiro's (ebullient). And just the fact that one speaks Japanese and one doesn't speak Japanese, you know, kind of already puts a different spin on things in some senses. So they're all - they're similar yet dissimilar. And there's - I think that's an important thing from an actor's perspective in terms of a career. You always try to show something different when taking on different projects because when you have a great opportunity like Heroes and when you're constantly challenging with it a - with what the writers give you, I think, you know, you take the - you take a future role where it does allow you to kind of try something different.
I was just wondering what is the best thing to you about being in Heroes and have you met any heroes of your own through the show?
Masi Oka: The best thing, without a doubt, is, you know, is the people I get to meet whether, you know, it's my real life heroes and like my idols and my icons in terms of the, you know, like the creative folks like, you know, Steven Spielberg or Tom Hanks (unintelligible) - those people you get to meet. And also like my brothers and sisters I meet on set, you know, my family and my crew members, my cast mates. And also just the fans all around the world - just being able to go halfway around the world and to meet people in Japan and Singapore, Hong Kong, you know, Africa and to know that our show has touched their lives, you know, in a small ways is absolutely unbelievable. If I wasn't doing Heroes I would never have an opportunity to meet so many people in my life. So I think that's definitely the biggest thing. And my hero is always going to be my mom.
What would be the one thing about your character that you would change if you could?
Masi Oka: If I could? One thing I would change? Maybe be a little bit less - I don't know. I don't know if I would change - I mean, I would say less gullible. But that's kind of like what makes Hiro good I mean in terms of the - and that's what leads him to trouble. If he wasn't gullible and smart all the time, he wouldn't get in trouble so much, so that's kind of the fun of seeing Hiro get into trouble and go climb up the wrong tree, you know, and having to get himself out of it or have Ando help him get out of it. So that's kind of the fun of that. So - if I were to change him? That's kind of a difficult question. I'm trying - because I do like Hiro how he is. I don't know. Sorry.
(Creator) Tim Kring said awhile back -- I'm not sure exactly when -- that he could understand why fans were a bit disappointed with Season 2 and how it all turned out. What have you seen so far that would turn Season 3 maybe to Season 1 in terms of tone and story? And what did you think about Season 2 overall?
Masi Oka: Well, Season 3 is definitely a lot more fast paced. You know, it's basically the writers' answers to what - the feedback we received from the fans. They wanted more - you know, there was fast storytelling, you know, a lot more action and a lot more of the original characters. And I think the writers, you know, took those words to heart and delivered something that the fans wanted. My reaction to Season 2 - you know, I thought the writers made a bold choice. There was a lot of expectations. And the writers decided to go a - kind of a different route than expected by the fans, you know, to kid of shake things up and to, you know, and basically make a bold choice. And it didn't - I don't think the fans reacted the way the writers hoped for. And, you know, we make the show for the fans and that's what's really important to us. So, you know, we took that to heart and the back half of Season 2 was back on pace to what we originally intended. What made Season 1 great was a back storytelling and a lot of the twists and turns. So Season 3, I think, is going back to what the fans wanted. And following still to Tim Kring's vision and what the writers - the stories the writers wanted to tell.
You can catch Masi Oka's Hiro Nakamura and the rest of NBC's Heroes on Monday nights at 9 PM ET/PT on NBC.