You know Masi Oka from his role as the time-traveling ‘Hiro’ on Heroes. Well, he’s back on prime time in the new CBS hit show, Hawaii Five-O. He plays a Jewish, piano prodigy medical examiner named Max Bergman. It’s all in a days work for the popular actor.
This was a conference call so most of the questions weren’t mine but he talks about coming into a show as a guest star, if he did any research for the part, how he got the role and a whole lot more!
Did you go back and watch old episodes of Doc Bergman to get any idea of what Max would be like?
Masi: I actually didn’t. It’s kind of one of those things when we do a remake – ironically this was the same thing when I did Get Smart – the whole idea’s not to really look at the original too much cause there’s a reason for a remake. I trust the creators, and the writers and the staff to create that remake or that tone or whatever they want to do for the modernized version, and I feel it is for us actors not to really reenact what was portrayed but just give it our own flavor, just to give it a new slice. I think it’s that chemistry of us doing our new thing and then trusting the writers and the staff and the production team to maintain the Hawaii Five-O “brand”.
How much are we going to see of you and of Max over the course of the show? How many episodes are you doing?
Masi: So far I’ve done two right now, and I know they’re talking about writing me into a bunch more.
What’s it like going into a show as a guest star?
Masi: It’s fun…it’s a new environment. Fortunately, I know Daniel Day Kim from the Lost days and we’ve been chatting. It is kind of strange to go in as a guest where it’s not a family I was part of but everyone has been so welcoming and it feels like I’m already a part of the family. So, it’s a little bit different but at the same time it’s kind of an exciting. And new adventures are always exciting so…I’m happy to be a part of the CBS family.
How do you think your fans of Heroes are going to react to this role and just what response do you think you think you’re going to get?
Masi: It’s a different kind of character still comedic, somewhat socially awkward but it’s played in a very different way. Hiro is more naïve versus Max Bergman is not naïve, he’s a savant. And the great thing is he’s also the first Jewish guy I’ve gotten to play on TV.
When playing such a unique character, did you find any specific challenges, or how did you go about embracing the role?
Masi: Just having fun and seeing how I would do it and what’s necessary for the scene. Hawaii Five-O is so gritty in tone, yet they have these witty repartee. My character is supposed to bring that break and lightheartedness into the overall show. That’s what I kind of focus on, I try to see, ‘How can I maximize the humor while maintaining the grounding?’
How did you get the part?
Masi: I was very fortunate to be offered the part. I’m working on a movie with [writers]Kurtzman and Orci and I remember in a story session where they were saying, “Oh yeah, we want you to do a part on Hawaii Five-O.” It’s like, “Yeah, absolutely, I would love to do that. If it gets picked up let me know” and it got picked up. We were just talking about it and they thought it would be a great idea.
You’re going from playing a superhero on TV to playing more of an average joe. Is there a preference for you?
Masi: They’re both fun. The preference is definitely to do something more comedic, grounded in reality. I do enjoy trying to make people laugh and if that’s something I’ve accomplished in all my characters, I try to find the humor in any situation. In terms of preference….they’re both fun I think. Even Max has his own quirks. He’s this prodigy and he gets to play the piano, and knows everything about dead bodies so he’s a superhero in that way. And that’s the way I kind of define heroes anyway, anybody who has a unique trait – everybody has something that’s unique about them and when that’s exaggerated that’s what makes them a hero. So even if they’re an average Joe, if you play up their uniqueness they become a “superhero” in my mind.
Did you do any research or maybe shadow a medical examiner to learn the terminology or learn the basic processes?
Masi: No…no I haven’t unfortunately. I actually tried to look up in my old organic chem books and it made me kind of throw up… it just brought back bad memories, so I had to stay away from it.
I didn’t have the time as well cause they kinda offered it and then they’re like, “Go fly to Hawaii in 3 days.” Hopefully in the future. It’s always great to research and study people in other occupations cause you learn so much from watching them and hopefully I could pick up something.
Where are things at with the fame and recognition now?
Masi: I still can’t get used to it. I was in Hawaii and I was doing two episodes back to back and I had some free time in between. I was going to enjoy the beach and the pool the problem was that in Hawaii not only were the American tourists around but the Japanese tourists were around, so I really couldn’t go from place to place without privacy, which is kind of rough.
At the same time, I say ‘rough’ but it’s also a blessing because you get to meet a lot of people you would never meet. Hopefully one day I’ll get over it but it’s still a little bit surreal.