TV Squad on the set of Heroes, plus Masi Oka interview
by Kevin Kelly, posted Apr 30th 2007 1:01PM
Warning! There be some mild spoilers ahead. Proceed at your own risk, because Hiro ain't here to turn back time. Plus you can click the images for larger versions.
TV Squad was invited to visit the set of Heroes last month, and it's just about time for the episode we saw them filming to hit the airwaves. Tonight's episode is the much talked-about Episode 20 'String Theory', where Hiro and Ando have journeyed five years into the future, and encounter "Super Hiro" -- who is basically normal Hiro with a ponytail, soul patch, Matrix-esque clothes, a flawless English accent, and much more control over his powers. However, something has gone wrong ... right? Because if he had total mastery of those time-bending and teleporting abilities, he could've stopped New York from going boom.
As we saw in the last episode, Hiro and Ando find some sort of mish-mash network of strings, photos, and more in Isaac's old loft, where Future Hiro has clearly set up shop and appears to be working out some problems with the timestream in a sort of A Beautiful Mind fashion. It looks like he's been charting connections between people and events, and I'm sure we'll see more of that. During our visit, we caught up with Hiro Nakamura (Masi Oka), Ando (James Kyson Lee), and Kaito Nakamura (Hiro's father, and Trek legend George Takei) while they were filming Episode 21 'The Hard Part', and we got to watch them at work and talk with them about their characters, the show, and what lies ahead.
The scene we watched was in a dark and mysterious sword shop, literally packed with swords, knives, and cutlery of every kind. Hiro breathlessly runs in, wearing a hakama, and calls for Ando. An older, grizzled man wearing a scarred leather apron comes out, polishing a knife. He tells Hiro that his friend bought one of his swords and left. "He said, 'If you weren't going to save the world. He would.'"
Hiro looks shocked and the man walks off. Kaito comes in, dressed similarly to Hiro, and pulls a headband off. They speak to each other in Japanese (curses to you, American education system for not teaching me a second language!), but you can make out one word clearly. "Sylar."
Although our faithful NBC press rep Kristy Chan remained mum, we were able to figure out through context that Hiro and his father have apparently been going through some sword training, and Ando has rushed off to battle Sylar on his own. That's one thing we've really liked about Ando, he hasn't been afraid to grab the bull by the horns, as misguided as he might be.
During a break in the filming, a group of us cornered Masi Oka and asked him everything we could before they rushed him back to to work.
What are you shooting today?
Masi: Well, Hiro has had a couple of failures and he's lost his confidence. He was ready to give up when he faces his father, and it's revealed his father has been tracking his progress. So what you see here is kind of the "Karate Kid" training montage. Before this you would've seen Hiro get his ass whipped, but at the end he comes back. So we actually might have the song in background.
(He belts out "You're the Best!" from the Karate Kid soundtrack while punching air. He ain't bad, folks!) Nah. I tried to pitch that idea, but it didn't go.
So Hiro's father has been tracking him since the confrontation with him or the whole time?
Masi: I don't know. Supposedly it's the whole time. In the scene before this Hiro says, "I thought you went back to Japan." His father says, "No, I've been tracking your progress."
Where is this scene supposed to be?
Masi: This is supposed to be in New York. We know Hiro's gone to and seen the future, so it's a safe assumption he's come back, and now he's going to try and save the world.
In this episode, is your storyline really heavy or what other characters are we going to see?
Masi: Well, you'll see all the characters. Episode 20 is a very heavy Hiro episode, because I'm sure from the teasers you've seen present Hiro meeting future Hiro.
How was that grind on Episode 20, where it was primarily focused on you? Is that hard for you as an actor?
Masi: Oh, it was so much fun, but I have to tell you, when I was doing scenes with future Hiro it was awful. Because he wouldn't give me anything! It's like, what is this? He has a blue screen to be his stand-in. You would think that he'd give me something, and I was like "Come on, give me something." But I guess he recorded his dialogue or something. So I had to go off a tape recorder. Unbelievable, man. Future Hiro, just because he's been acting for five years now in the future and so he thinks he doesn't have to be there. That was the only tough part.
Have you ever done that kind of work before, playing against yourself?
Masi: Actually ... no! So I had to do a lot of research. I went to see Norbit and it's a good story. Coming to America, that was a good movie. I've even seen Multiplicity a couple of times, too.
Does your special effects background working with Industrial Light and Magic help you out at all when you're working with blue screen?
Masi: It actually does, I was kind of surprised. When I was acting against myself, once again, the co-worker who doesn't show up, it was kind of cool because they were basically able to just explain to me that, "We're comping this and we're going to interpose this." I was like, "Oh, okay. That makes sense." Understanding the process meant they didn't have to explain it to me. I was able to speak the same language. That definitely helped in terms of the communication. Otherwise, not so much.
Are you still working at ILM between your shifts on the show?
Masi: I wish I could say I am, but it's gotten progressively more difficult. At most I'll work a day consulting for them. One of the joys working for ILM was to develop new software and new techniques, but unfortunately with Hiro and this production schedule, it's very hectic. This, of course, is my primary focus. So it's becoming a lot more difficult.
Are you familiar at all with the "Days of Future Past" X-Men storyline that Episode 20 is based on?
Masi: Yeah, I am. What was it, Uncanny X-Men #143 or #146? We actually got it wrong in the pilot. We said in the pilot that it was #143 and that Kitty Pryde goes back in time, but it was actually #144 or #145 or something. We never got a chance to fix that. But I know Jesse and Aron (Jesse Alexander and Aron Coleite, the writers for this episode; Jesse also serves as co-executive producer) those guys, that was the model for it. Originally though, Episode 20 was supposed to come up much earlier. They were talking about doing that in Episode 9 or 10 and the network was like "Oooooh!" They saved it and now it's become a very cool plot. 20 is fucking awesome, by the way, I have to say.
Not just because you're in it?
Masi: No, no. Everyone is amazing.
Not just because you have a soul patch and a ponytail?
Masi: Well, yeah. No, no, but everyone is actually amazing. You get to see a possible future.
We're getting close to the end of the season. Do you already know which direction the second season is headed?
Masi: We have an idea. We just got the script for the finale. Unbelievable. It's fascinating, and Tim has already talked to a couple of us about how Season 2 is going to go, which is a good sign. That means that some of us are still alive, which is a good thing.
Are you signed for Season 2?
Masi: We're pretty much signed for Season 2. So that's a good thing, I hope.
Have you had a chance to read any comics yourself lately?
Masi: Recently, not as much. I mean, I was going to say that I don't read too many American comics. I read a lot of the Japanese manga. I still read that.
What are you into right now?
Masi: Right now I love 'One Piece'. 'The Police Station'. There is all this great stuff in there. My favorite author is Naoki Urasawa. He wrote 'Monster', '20th Century Boys' and now he's writing a thing called 'Pluto', which is an homage to the old manga...I don't know what you guys call it ... 'Astro Boy'! So he's doing that and there's this whole utopian society based on a different perspective of things, which is very cool.
Because you dabble in the below-the-line stuff with special effects and all of that, are we going to see you do some directing yourself?
Masi: Oh, absolutely. That's something I would love to do. I mean, I've always loved using the left side and the right side of the brain. I think there is something great about approaching a problem and seeing outside the box, approach everything in a great way. I have a lot of respect for the things that happen in front of the camera now as well as behind the camera because a show is as good as its weakest link, even with the caterers.
We're so fortunate to have great props people, great wardrobe, great caterers, great makeup people, because they make the show. They don't get to be in the limelight a lot, but they are the ones who make the show. It's not just us. It's everyone working together. So I have a lot of appreciation for that. I think that enriches me as a director as well, being able to communicate for and appreciate what goes on behind and in front of the camera.
Is there one genre that you would really like to do yourself? Science fiction or comedy or something like that?
Masi: I love comedy. I've always grown up with that because I feel that laughter is such a universal language. Love and laughter. So romantic comedies are my specialty. That transcends the beliefs you have, your religious beliefs, your ethnicity, your cultural background, your class, whatever it is. That's what I really love about that. That's something that transcends. Also, sci-fi is great and I grew up on that, too.
There was some talk a few months ago that they were going to get you to pop back in on Scrubs. Did that work out?
Masi: That was almost going to work out and then unfortunately at the last moment, their hiatus matched our hiatus and things fell through, but it looks like there's going to be another season and so, knock on wood, hopefully we'll be able to work it out and make it happen. That was just purely scheduling. We both wanted to do this. NBC was on board, Heroes was on board, Scrubs was on board, but timing wise it didn't work out.
Was your love for comedy the reason you made cameos in Studio 60 and The Sarah Silverman Show?
Masi: Well, Silverman I did before Heroes. They wanted to bring me back as a series regular and I said I couldn't do it because I was working on this. Sarah has this great joke, and I guess she mentioned it on The Tonight Show, too. She said, "Yeah, he's on some show called Heroes? What a stupid-sounding show. Who's going to watch that? We're doing The Sarah Silverman Show. Come on." I definitely love comedy because laughter is just so universal, and it brings us together and it's a symbolism for peace. It's easy to cry, but it's so hard to laugh and I think it's so much more therapeutic to laugh and share that with everyone.
A lot of genre shows have cast members direct shows. Would you ever be interested in directing an episode of Heroes?
Masi: Yeah, absolutely. This is such a very challenging show to direct, without a doubt, because this is one of those shows where the director has a lot of say and can put in their own creative vision. Procedural shows are very static and they know exactly the shot makeup and it's very predictable. With Heroes, every director can bring their own style. So if we're fortunate enough to get to Season 3 or 4, I'll look to direct an episode because hopefully with ILM, which is why I still work there, I can hook them up with some employee discounts! "Buy two, get one free! If worse comes to worst, I can do all the CG for ya!" So that's what I can bring. That would be cool, and luckily this is an ensemble show where we share a lot of screen time, and so it is a possibility where I don't have to be in every scene and I can direct myself. I know I'm a difficult actor to work with and I would hate to direct myself.
Does the writing on this show continually surprise you?
Masi: The writers are amazing here. This is the best of the best, too. They have so many more ideas. They're itching to tell even more stories and they have so many more questions and answers that they want to keep telling. The biggest mystery of this show is how the writers keep on topping themselves week after week. These last five are off the charts. Off the charts.
Is there anything in particular where you were reading through the script you had to do and you went, "Oh, yeah!"?
Masi: Every day is like that. Every time we get a script, it's like that. When I read Episode 23 I got chills. When I saw 20 for the first time I got chills. When we were doing the pilot and I read Episode 2 I was like, "Oh, my God. This is awesome." This just builds and builds.
What other stories on the show are you most invested in?
Masi: I love Jack Coleman. I think he's brilliant and I really love the way he delivers his lines and the pathos there, the conflict between being a father and trying to save the world. I love that. I think everyone on the show is fantastic, but Jack Coleman, I love some of his stuff. He has some of the greatest lines.
Who have you not had a scene with on the show?
Masi: I haven't worked with Hayden Panettiere actually, which is probably kind of a spoiler. Let's put it that way.
Is she the only one you haven't worked with?
Masi: I'll leave it at that. That's all I'll say.
Did you ever imagine Hiro would become this pop culture phenomenon? You're the face of the show right now.
Masi: Well, thank you for saying that. I think we're all the face of the show. I think everyone is attracted to very different characters, but I am surprised America was generous enough to embrace a foreign character. I can't believe that. He doesn't speak any English and it's all subtitles and you would've never guess that would happen.
I thank Yunjin Kim and Daniel Dae Kim for opening up the doors for that. Without them, NBC wouldn't have even taken a chance on a character like this. I'm very grateful to the American audience for being open-minded and embracing us.
Stay tuned for interviews with James Kyson Lee and George Takei.