Masi Oka on Hollywood: “You can’t get Asians cast in leads yet”

Besides Hayden Panettiere and Zachary Quinto, perhaps the biggest breakout star of NBC’s fondly-remembered superhero series Heroes was Japanese-American actor Masi Oka, who starred as Hiro Nakamura.  Since the end of the series, Oka has had several roles but nothing on par with his major role on Heroes.  Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter while appearing at the Okinawa International Movie Festival, Oka opened up about his belief of Hollywood’s reluctance to cast Asian actors in lead roles.

Oka points out that Hollywood is obviously obsessed with success, and how the game would change if a movie or a television show starring an Asian actor took off.  He explains, “It’s changed in Hollywood, but only so much. You can’t get Asians cast in leads yet. Maybe as a second lead, but the lead is still going to be Caucasian or African-American.  But Hollywood is fickle, it follows trends. If a show or a film did well with an Asian lead, then it would take off.”

Naturally, he still hopes that he could break down the barriers.  He uses his childhood as an example of how he could appeal to both American and Asian audiences, saying, “I grew up bicultural, reading manga in America. I’m a product of that.  I want to act as a bridge between Japan and America.”

Of course, Oka believes he could land some strong roles in Japanese productions, though he is wary about the paycheck.  He says, “No offense, but the money is different, but I would consider something if it was a really meaty role.  But my agents know I’d be asking them a really big favor.”

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