The promos for the current season of Heroes teased audiences with the suggestion that in every hero there could be a villain……..although eternally ebullient Hiro continues to teleport and travel through time with his idealism and enthusiasm more or less intact. Masi Oka recently fielded questions from the press, and explained how fan feedback helped to shape the development of Season 3; how this season’s stunt work has him channeling Mary Poppins; and why he believes his character is impervious to the temptations of the dark side….hopefully.
Following are the Q and A highlights:
Obviously there was some critical backlash for the premiere, and what I don’t understand — and maybe you can help me figure it out — 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, that’s exactly the same one that we aired on the broadcast. At Comic-Con there was this great buzz and everyone loved it. And I think people were – after not seeing it for nine months they were still excited to see something great.
I think Season 3 is some – the premiere was an answer to what kind of feedback we received from the fans. They wanted more story. They wanted faster pace, a lot more action and a lot of focus on the original characters. And that’s what we focused on. And 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 from Season 2. So I’m hoping that 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 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 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, 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 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 are very conscious of that. But that’s what makes Hiro great 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.
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 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 – it is a comic book or it’s a comic book style of storytelling. So we do want to be able to put in light moments where we can, when appropriate.
We may have lost it but – lost it a little bit, but at least as an actor and as the writers, we are conscious about throwing in those when we can – throw in little Easter eggs or little jokes here that lightens the mood. Especially there is humor 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? Is there more stunt work for you? 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. But I think the biggest issue is also kind of trying to like gauge where it’s appropriate in terms of putting in that humor, you know, and that’s where I kind of rely on the directors and the writers to kind of say, 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 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 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 servant to civilization; and sacrificing himself for the world.
So 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 Obi One and Anakin comes back in Return of the Jedi, you know.
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’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 are 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 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 had a caricature drawn of me at a bar mitzvah. And now to have these amazing legendary artists draw you, it’s – who would have thought it? It’s definitely – 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 have these action figures and now bobble heads. What more can a guy ask for? Maybe underoos.
[What’s] 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.
There might be a retelling of similar stories but because comic books are told in certain ways to like life storytelling. It’s open ended and it’s very fast in the way it moves.
Having someone like Jeph Loeb…………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 just having him fall for Yaeko right afterwards – because in Hiro’s biological timeline, it was literally two weeks after 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 think we want to compound on that too much. That being said, 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, 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.
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 die- hard fans come up to you on the streets?
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 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. They’ll be watching and it’s like oh, you know………it’s not like my urine stops time or anything. Like, can we please not – you know, can you can please not stare at me while……….you know.
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.
If you really could stop time, do you have something in particular that you’d want to stop? Like 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 [traffic] jam that’d be great, you know………to literally stop time. I mean, I don’t know. There are moments where you wish like this could last forever, you know, and hope.
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 what’s going on with the environment…..
Just to be able to appreciate that moment. So I think all of us would love to just kind of stop time and just take a moment, and breathe.
And then 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.
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 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? There’s always ways around it, unfortunately. But we’re kind of in a point that 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. 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.
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: Well, if you live in L.A., I’ll probably say teleportation because the traffic is awful here. It would be nice just to teleport to places in L.A.. And so that would probably be the most useful I guess.
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.
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 was 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. 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.
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 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: 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. There was actually a lot more to that based on what we had as an ending and stuff. But because of 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.
What can we expect from round two between Adam and Hiro?
Masi Oka: What can we expect from round two?
Or round three?
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.
Obviously Hiro has or will do battle at different times with Sylar, with Adam, with Peter. It looks like those three characters really can’t be killed. So do you see these battles taking shape, and have you sort of talked about a way where Hiro could ultimately be victorious against these characters?
Masi Oka: Well, I think the writers come up with some really ingenious ways of dealing with those kinds of battles. You know, when you make…………it’s kind of interesting, the particulars of having someone super powerful, so it feels like a really big threat and then being able to become victorious at the end as well. So it’s an interesting problem, and I think the writers come up with a very interesting solution later on.
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 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 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.
Is there any chance that really Ando is doing the right thing and Hiro is maybe in the wrong?
Masi Oka: I think it’s a little bit ambiguous. Originally when we shot it, as kind of a………..it got edited down to be a little bit more ambiguous. But the way it was written was it was supposed to be Ando was actually on the evil side. There was a whole Ando and (Knox) and Daphne versus, you know, Peter, Claire and Hiro. And that was the original vision of it. We kind of shortened it for, you know………time’s sake. And the way it was edited, the fight between those two got – between future Hiro and future Ando got edited as well.
The way it was kind of explained to me was Ando was being like a Lando Calrissian… that there was a betrayal. I guess he got money for something. It was the formula and stuff. So that was the back-story that was given to me for that. But the way it was edited, I think it was kind of like left up to interpretation.………but of course this is a future that we’re going to prevent from happening. And so you never know what’s going to happen. It could be reversed.
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 [with] 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 feel like we’re on different shows even though we see each other 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 your storyline. So it’s always a treat.
What [was] your most memorable moment filming this season – anything scary or funny – moments or stunts?
Masi Oka: 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 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 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…………….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: So sorry – I can’t say it. But that would probably be so far my most memorable moment.
Okay, we’ll have to look out for that. And I was just wondering what your favorite TV shows are? We love Heroes, but what’s your favorite TV show?
Masi Oka: I definitely love smart comedies and right now 30 Rock is absolutely brilliant and The Office – there’s these shows. I mean, honestly they’re both on NBC on Thursday nights, but they’re really smart. I love that. We need more of that. Comedy is kind of a dying breed right now. So whatever we can do to rescue it, you know, because we need more laughter in this world. So…
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.
Since 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 direct 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 is a – what’s called gang writing……. 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. So…
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: 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. 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 drama and 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.
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, the character actions sometimes get compromised because of that. So we are a slave to the plot. If the plot dictates we do something, sometimes we have to change what 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, defying your father’s orders and doing that. But, you know, we needed that for the plot so it made sense.
And are you planning on doing anymore feature work in films?
Masi Oka: Yes, absolutely.
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 ebullience.
And just the fact that one speaks Japanese and one doesn’t speak Japanese kind of already puts a different spin on things in some senses. So they’re all – they’re similar yet dissimilar. 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 take a future role where it does allow you to kind of try something different.
And do you have any other extracurricular stuff lined up?
Masi Oka: Yes, I do.
Can you say what it is?
Masi Oka: Well, it’ll come out in the trades in the next few months. We have to wait for certain things to be settled.
In Season 1 there was a lot of fun that it seemed like you had and a lot of the fans had with your – Hiro’s Blog. And that’s kind of disappeared. And we were wondering if you were going to be bringing that back any time soon?
Masi Oka: You know what? That’s actually all on me because the Heroes Blog is something I wrote – you know, it’s something at – like everything I wrote and then I would pass it on to a producer and just making sure it’s okay and stuff.
And to be honest, I’ll take the blame for that one because I dropped the ball in terms of doing Hiro’s Blog in this season. Last season we couldn’t do it because it didn’t make sense, because he was 400 years before in time. But…I mean, I talked to the NBC.com folks because I am actually interested in doing it again. So if we can make it work, I’ll find a way to start writing again because it was actually really fun.
It was fun writing in – from the characters perspective and throw all the geek references in there. So, you know, it’s a good, creative exercise.
Unfortunately I don’t have as much time as I had in Season 1. So it’s just a matter of a time balance. And I don’t want to farm it off to other people to write it for me and just put my name on it because I know a lot of other character blogs are done that way. And something like Hiro’s blog, you know, I’d feel like a disservice to the fans. So I want to take care of that by putting my own words and putting off my own creativity on it. So if I – if it was to be done, I want to make sure that I’m the one doing it rather than farming it off to someone else.
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 the people I get to meet whether it’s my real life heroes and my idols and my icons in terms of the creative folks like Steven Spielberg or Tom Hanks – 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, Africa, and to know that our show has touched their lives in a small way 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.
Watch your favorite Heroes – and villains – duke it out Monday nights at 8 p.m. on NBC.