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Feature: Heroes

Hiro of the Piece

Masi Oka From gifted child to special effects technician, Masi Oka had done it all, even before becoming one of the Heroes…

In 1987, the then 12-year-old Masayori Oka became a familiar face around the world when he and a handful of other youngsters were featured on the cover of Time magazine that called them ‘Those Asian-American Whiz Kids’. Twenty years on, Oka (who has an IQ of more than 180) is back in the limelight thanks to his portrayal of Hiro Nakamura in Heroes. At the top of this actor’s list of fans and supporters is his mother, who currently resides in their native Japan.

“My Mom visits America three months out of the year, and during her last time here she stockpiled videotapes of Heroes and brought them back home to show our relatives,” says Oka. “My family is really pleased and happy for me. They can’t speak a word of English, but they all love the Japanese subtitles, and I’m thrilled with the fact that they understand what I’m saying. The Hiro character is such a neat role and it’s written not with broad strokes but with refinement and depth. I knew it could be played in a number of different ways.

“I think our writers originally intended for Hiro to be a comedic character, or at least someone who enjoys his powers,” explains the actor. “Since I, Masi, come from a comedic background,” he says, referring to his improve work, “I might have made him naturally funnier from the beginning. I mean, the writers have told me, ‘Hiro wasn’t written that way, but you’ve managed to make the character lighter than how we first perceived him.’ So in some small way I guess I changed their minds in terms of how Hiro behaves.

“Most of all, though,” he continues, “I take pride in the fact that I am Japanese and want to make sure that Hiro is portrayed correctly as a Japanese person. I do a lot of research insofar as translating my own lines and using the correct colloquialisms or whatever else is appropriate at the time.”

The irony is that a character who’s pretty much become the face of the ensemble cast show wasn’t originally part of the concept. “Believe it or not, he was actually an afterthought,” Oka comments. “Hiro wasn’t in the original pilot, but then Tim Kring had a little guardian angel ‘say’ to him, ‘Everyone isn’t happy about having their powers. You need to have someone who’s actually ecstatic about being a superhero.’ So he added Hiro in the second draft of his script. Tim says there’s a reason why my character is named Hiro and that the series is called Heroes. I haven’t figured out why that is yet, but I’m sure all will be revealed in time.

“Right now, though, I really enjoy playing Hiro and I hope my enthusiasm and passion for the role comes across onscreen. Very often in drama, things are ‘heavy’ and people are walking around in pain and going, ‘Oh, woe is me.’ So it’s very refreshing to see a character like Hiro who is completely the opposite of that and is full of hope and joy.”

by Stephen Eramo

Read the full interview and more on Heroes in
Xposé #103

Photo © NBC
Feature © Visual Imagination 2007. Not for reproduction

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Xposé #103
May 2007
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