Masi Oka on Heroes, Star Wars and sitcoms

Have you spotted adverts for the DVD and Blu-ray release of Heroes, season 3 (compare prices for the DVD here) yet? For the uninitiated, this epic series is about ordinary people with extraordinary gifts; their destiny is to save the world. In season 3, some of those breath-taking abilities are in the hands of the wrong people. In the run-up to the DVD release, I got an exclusive one-on-one with Heroes’ Masi Oka, who plays geeky Hiro on the show…

Season 3 of Heroes is out on DVD here in the UK, and you’re into the fourth season in the US. What’s your favourite season so far and why?
I’ve always thought the first season was the magical one. We were truly the underdog; no one expected us to be the hit that year. Everything was new and exciting, we didn’t know each other and we realised we had struck lightning in a bottle.

We still love to work but there is something exciting about when it aired the first day and the buzz that it had and how excited everybody was about the show. I think that’s the most memorable season, and for me because it was my first series I think you always remember your first time.

As you said the first season was a massive phenomenon, but not just in the US either. How surprised were you all by how quickly the world took to it?
Absolutely surprised. But even when we were making the pilot, we had a sense that we were making something special because the writers had created this extraordinary world and all these fantastic characters.

I never would’ve guessed it would reach this far beyond the US mainstream but the characters are very international so we were definitely targeting the international audience, but we are very lucky to have the support – and grateful.

You’re a Japanese American; how diverse are available roles for actors from certain ethnic backgrounds in Hollywood?
It’s very difficult because other ethnic roles tend to be scarce, and it begins with the writers; they have to write it. I think things have definitely changed. In Asian American roles, we are the only minority group where there are less male roles so already we’re fighting an uphill battle just because of our ethnicity. I have found that in many ways you have to try and create roles for yourself.

I think that times are changing – people are open to a more diverse casting and once you’ve actually established yourself as an actor, people see as you outside of ‘oh, he’s just an Asian actor or an American actor or an African American actor’. They see you as just an actor or a human being.

Fans love Hiro’s relationship with Ando; what’s your take on their friendship?
It’s definitely constantly evolving. It’s a typical Japanese comic book scenario where you have friends that are very loyal, and it’s a balance, I think they definitely make each other a better person. They’re like yin and yang; you have the dreamer and then you have the realist. You have the optimist and you have the pessimist grounding each other.

And by helping each other, they overcome many obstacles so it’s a great lesson in friendship and loyalty and hopefully that can be carried over to the personal lives of everybody watching it.

Your character Hiro is such an ironic role; as an actor are you worried about being typecast?
No. I don’t think you ever need to worry about that – you just take each role because if it’s not in the front of people’s minds, then you probably didn’t give your character that 110%. So it’s a compliment to have people think of it as an iconic role or a memorable role because it’s a tribute to what the writers have done in creating an amazing character.

As for typecasting, that’s something you can’t worry about as an actor, as an artist. That’s why you have people around you that kind of, like, guide your career to take care of that.

You worked for George Lucas’s Industrial Light and Magic Company, What did you do there? What films were you working on?
I worked on over 20 films; Star Wars, Perfect Storm, Mission to Mars… I would come up with techniques and write programmes to show specific effects. In Perfect Storm, it needed water effects so another programmer and I worked on that. And in Star Wars I, we had to create an asteroid that had to be destroyed into a million pieces, but we didn’t have the software to do it so they said, ‘hey Masi, we need to do this sequence – can you help us out?’

So I had to do the research and then write the software to craft the simulation and then the artists would use that programme to create the images. So I didn’t really create images, I created tools and did programmes to allow the artists to come up with something great.

I know that you’re a bit of a sci-fi geek yourself so I’m going to pin you down and ask you what you thought of the Star Wars prequels?
I thought they were great; I grew up on Star Wars so I definitely love them. I thought there was some really innovative technology, without a doubt, and there were some really great moments.

We were very proud of the work we did for the film; the technology, the man hours, the innovation. The world that George created is such a great world, a fantastic world which expands the imagination of the child in all of us.

There’s a great deal of really fantastic drama coming out of the US at the moment, what shows do you like to watch?

Unfortunately, these days I don’t have much time to watch TV. I used to be an avid TV watcher but time is scarce and rare, I kind of like my comedies to be honest with you. I love 30 Rock and The Office, Flight of the Concords and, Entourage, that kind of stuff.
Finally, regarding the fourth season of Heroes, what can fans in the UK look forward to?
The fourth one is another great series and has a great story for each one of us. If you haven’t seen the season 3 DVD, I don’t want to give too much away. Right now its about keeping it simple in many ways.

Due to the economic decline, the budgets have been turned a little bit which forced everyone to be creative and scale back. But for our show, we still managed to maintain action and effect but also to focus more on intimate storylines about the characters. Ironically, that’s what made season one great; we did focus on the characters and not purely on the action. We’ve got lots of character moments, lots of comedy, lots of drama; we are really enjoying the season so far.

* Visit here for a world exclusive interview from Heroes
Get re-acquainted with Heroes; all the time-bending action, the shocking twists and the mind-blowing special effects.
Season 1 was Programme of the Year at the US Television Critics Association Awards and Best International Programme at the 2008 Baftas.
Select the picture or this link to compare prices for the season 3 DVD.
Today I am mostly lovin’ – David Attenborough’s Life. I watched this programme in complete and utter awe on Monday night – the sequence with the Capuchin monkeys using rocks to smash open nuts – wow. Whenever you begin to doubt British television, just dig out any Attenborough show.

Today I am mostly hatin’ – The fact that Coronation Street’s Maggie Jones is ill. Please get well soon Maggie – the show really needs you.

MSN Editor Coops
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