Interview: Masi Oka and Tim Kring from Heroes

Ordinary people with extraordinary abilities link a group of complete strangers that may determine the future of the world when Heroes: Season 1 comes to DVD and HD DVD August 28, 2007 from Universal Studios Home Entertainment. The most acclaimed and addictive new series of the 2006-2007 television season.

We were able to interview Tim Kring (Heroes creator) and Masi Oka (Hiro Nakamura) from the very successful series — which will be starting again September 24. But before that time, there are many, many Emmy nominations — eight for the show, for ‘Heroes’, one for Masi and one for Tim — and six more.

What seems to make the character unique is that all these reluctant heroes we have — Masi plays the world’s one not reluctant hero. He really enjoys it. Tim, I wanted to ask you a little bit of how you thought of that concept — of having one hero who just plain enjoyed being a hero. And Masi, what you thought of when you first read that concept.

Tim Kring: Well it really — you sort of landed exactly on it. When I read the first draft of the script — and the character actually didn’t exist. And it was sort of a preponderance of characters who felt that these powers were an affliction. And the accumulative effect of it — at the end of reading this first draft — was that it was kind of a downer. Nobody seemed to have any fun with it.

And so the character was really created to lighten up the initial script. Now you have to understand, it wasn’t a pilot at the time. It hadn’t been green-lit to be made as a pilot. So it’s still trying to sell the script. And that’s kind of where it came from. I felt I needed one character who embraced it in a very enthusiastic way.

Masi, when you saw that character what did you think of it?

Masi Oka: I thought it was phenomenal — because it wasn’t one note. Tim Kring created — an amazing, beautiful world with such rich characters. Hiro embodied the sense of the everyman, in many ways — and how we all dreamed as a kid of wanting to be a superhero. And he’s someone who kept his dream. He believed in it, believed in it, believed in it — and finally his dreams came true.

And to be able to live that — live vicariously of his dreams — of my dreams of becoming a superhero through his dreams, it’s just fantastic. And I’m just very fortunate to have been part — and having Tim entrust me with the character.

I understand that NBC-Universal is going to be taking ‘Heroes’ on the road, so to speak — in an unusual or rare overseas promotional tour or junket. And I wonder if you could talk about that — and how is it ‘Heroes’ has been selected to do this — and how unusual or if it is unusual for TV shows to do that kind of promotion overseas.

Tim Kring: Well it really — I didn’t have any awareness of whether it was ever done or not. The idea was sort of hatched by — when we took the cast to the NAFTI convention in Las Vegas — and met many of the overseas buyers, who all said — who all asked the same question, “Could you guys — is there ever a chance that you could come visit us?” And we just sort of politely nodded our head and made small talk for a while.

But the truth was that we started to hatch this idea of wouldn’t it be great to — since the show is rolling out all around the world and premiering everywhere it would be really terrific to be able to take this show on a — to some of these countries — or take the cast to some of these countries, and sort of play up the idea that the theme of the show has this big universal, global quality to it – it’s sort of an embodiment of what the show is — the message of the show.

So that’s where it came about. And it happens to coincide with the release of the DVD on August 28th. And it’s really to sort of talk about that — and to bring the show to these other countries — just as the show is rolling out in all these various territories.

We are going — I can’t remember how many cities it is offhand — but I think I can name them all. (Unintelligible). We’re going to New York, London, Paris, Munich, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Singapore — and then, I’m sorry — and Toronto as well, I believe. So there’ll be three separate groups that are dividing up and going to — one to Toronto and New York, the other to London, Paris, Munich, and the other to Tokyo, Hong Kong and Singapore.

Masi Oka: And Tim and I will be on the Asia trip. And when our show goes on the road — when we come to your city, we put on a full show. We’re going to be a musical on ice skates.

A musical version of the show?

Masi Oka: The ‘Heroes’ Ice Capades is what’s going to happen.

I can’t wait! Masi, I was wondering — how much fun have you had working with George Takei — and how much more of that will we see this season?

Masi Oka: Oh, George Takei was phenomenal to work with. He’s just such a generous — not only a generous actor, but a generous person. He’s an icon in every aspect of Asian-American TV and American cinema. You have your ‘Star Trek’, everything — you learn so much from him.

And if you were to ask George Takei he would say, “Well I found working with Masi to be quite an experience. He’s quite a young and talented individual. And it’s nice to see the sci-fi generation get passed on from the older to the younger — and the legacy being kept alive. Ha ha ha.”

Not bad. And will we see more of him this season?

Tim Kring: Yes. The season premiere you will see George Takei, as well as the rest — Masi and everybody else.

Tim, what other kind of sharp, brilliant casting of that ilk in Malcolm MacDowell will we see in Season 2 of the show?

Tim Kring: Well, yes. The audience can expect some interesting casting. I cannot spoil it because it’s going to be too much fun. But I would look for another face that will have a very similar impact to George Takei — for the real genre fans.

The DVD release I guess is going to come out at the same time as a lunar eclipse. And do you hope this DVD does bring some new people to the table for the American audience?

Tim Kring: Well it is amazing to work for a big company like GE that can actually manipulate these huge astronomical events like that — so what an amazing coincidence. And as far as the second part of that question — yes.

Clearly with a show like this, there are so many people, I think, that felt that they couldn’t jump on to the show mid-season — because they felt that they would have missed too much. Or people that just wait now for the DVD to come out in order to catch up with what’s on television.

And it’s those viewers that we’re really hoping to attract and gain a new fan base for the opening of the second season — which is three weeks — about three weeks later. So it could work out very nicely for us.

Masi Oka: And Season 2’s about new storylines – that, the whole idea – it’s a new beginning for everyone, so that people who haven’t watched the Season 1 — can also catch up through the DVD, but you also just jump in to Season 2 and watch it from there as well.

What do you think of your Emmy chances, and what could a few wins do for the show?

Tim Kring: I was just thrilled, obviously, to be nominated. I had talked myself out of any chances of getting a nomination before it was announced. So I came at it very thrilled and surprised by it. Clearly in the category of Best Show, we’re up against very stiff competition of a show like ‘Sopranos’, that was crowned this year with so many accolades. And it feels like that’s the one to beat.

But obviously winning a few Emmys really helps with a show like this. Because this is a show that many people I think — many viewers dismissed early on as a fantasy show or a genre show or sci-fi show. And those kinds of shows are not always associated with critical acclaim or with awards. And so I think for a show like ours, it’s very important. Because it stamps the show with a certain mark of quality that will attract new viewers, I think.

Masi Oka: Well I’m just definitely floored and humbled. And I’m definitely proud of our nomination. Personally, it’s definitely an honor — to have Tim entrust us with his characters, and be able to work hard — to make sure I now portray the character in the best way possible, that kind of enables him to be approachable — and kind of the average everyman that viewers can imagine themselves being.

And to be just part of this ensemble is just absolutely amazing and a gift. And to have an Emmy — just like an Emmy nom is definitely a cherry on top. So the nomination is fantastic. And we’re all proud of it. And just really proud to have our Emmy nom kind of like reflect the hard work that we’ve all put in on the show.

Were you expecting the Emmy nominations at all? I mean, Tim, did you think Masi would be nominated? And Masi, did you think maybe the show would be nominated? Or were you just really completely stunned?

Tim Kring: I was not expecting the Best Show nomination. As I said, I’d just sort of talked myself out of it. When I realized that we were on kind of a — the initial short list, I looked at the other shows and kind of put my list together, and who canceled who out. And we were on the outs after I figured it out. So I was definitely surprised by that.

But I must admit I was really rooting for one for Masi — and I was expecting one for Masi — as well as a few of the technical Emmys. I would have been very disappointed had we not — a few of our technical people not been nominated, because I really felt that we had been pushing boundaries of quality in TV all year long — and was just hoping that it would be recognized.

Masi Oka: Well, I guess a big thank you to Tim — for actually everything. I was pretty confident the show would get nominated, actually. We were so confident that I was hanging out with Zachary Quinto that night. And we were going to stay up all night and watch the announcement — so we could definitely kind of share the glory together. And unfortunately we fell asleep. But we had a very nice wakeup call — let’s put it that way.

‘Heroes’ was the breakout hit of last season. Tim, do you feel any pressure to top that success with the second season — as well as the spinoff series ‘Heroes Origins’?

Tim Kring: Well yes. It’s not pressure to top it, it’s pressure to keep it going. So a show like this has — or this particular show — has become a show that has been defined by its ability to defy your expectations. And people want that experience of watching the show — and not knowing where it’s going to take them.

And that’s the difficult part — is constantly trying to stay one step ahead of everybody’s expectations. But we have a really extraordinary staff here — an extraordinary cast — and we’re kind of on a big roll right now. And so it’s feeling like we’re really poised to repeat the creativity of the first season. Obviously we hope that the audience comes along for the ride.

On the TCA tour of the set of ‘Heroes’, the special effects guy said that you help them out on occasion with several technical issues. Can you talk about how nice it is to go back and forth — between your creative side of acting and your technical side?

Masi Oka: Well definitely it’s really nice to be able go back. I have a lot of respect for what goes — not only in front of the camera, but what goes on behind the camera. I remember like spending months and months just to get about 200 frames out. And what it takes — a show is as good as its weakest link.

And whether it’s from the caterers, the effects folks — we have fantastic people all around. And our effects folks is doing a bang up job. And it’s great to be able to just talk to them on set and just say, “Hey, why don’t we try to — how do we (hot) archive this matte process?” or “Where do we need to put — particles to work?” or “Where’s the 3-D virtual”¦” You know, it’s really cool to be able to talk that on the set — and have kind of a camaraderie there.

Can you recollect your very first job in the TV business?

Masi Oka: Recalling my first TV job in Los Angeles — was actually for a pilot called ‘Straight White Male’. It was for the FX Channel. And it was a pilot that didn’t get picked up. But I recall it pretty well, because that actually — getting that job allowed me to fulfill the contract I had with ILM at that time — and allow them to agree to — for me to stay in Los Angeles and continue working for ILM in a telecommuting capacity, while pursuing acting down in Los Angeles. So that was definitely a memorable role for me.

Now the way that Season 1 ended was just such a cliffhanger, and it sort of preps us for Season 2. Now Tim, I was wondering where the inspiration came to go so far into the past. And Masi, what it’s been like to film Hiro’s storyline for this season?

Tim Kring: Let’s see — well we had started to lay in the groundwork for going to the past by building this character of this legendary samurai character that Hiro was — Hiro’s character was so attracted to, a character named Takezo Kensei. But I guess the idea literally came from one day when I was out for a run. I had this thought of — or just this image of Hiro’s character in feudal Japan. So that’s sort of where it came from.

Masi Oka: Oh we’re — deep into production. We’re moving at a really fast pace. We’re almost starting Episode 5, I believe — or we may have started. The filming has been fantastic. The location looks phenomenal. It looks great.

It looks like feudal Japan. You wouldn’t have guessed that it’s Ventura County. But it looks like feudal Japan. And the scout people found an amazing place. And it’s been so fun working with David Anders and Eriko Tamura. They are the main focus in my — in Hiro’s feudal Japan storyline.

And we’ve been having a great — lots of fun — lots of action and drama. So it’s been great. And I know I’ll be in feudal Japan for — Hiro will be in feudal Japan for a handful of episodes.

Tim Kring: This is Tim. We chose to depict feudal Japan in a very rural way — so that we could actually shoot it in Southern California. But we were relying very heavily on production design — of costumes and props. We built a few structures that are very authentic. And it’s really been amazing what — to see it come to life.

Was there anything in the second season concerning your character or anyone else’s — or even an event — that surprised even you about anything new in the future?

Masi Oka: Oh gosh. So many things. Every week’s always a surprise. The writers have — before actors, we’re big fans of the show. And we just can’t wait to read the scripts. And that is even more so in Season 2. They keep — you think, “Oh, how can they really top”¦?”

Well we’re now trying to top, I guess, last season. How can they top, like, the week before? It’s just amazing because the writers always find a way to like surprise us — and put smiles on everyone’s faces. And it just puts us on the edge of our seats, just wanting to know what happens next. I’m going to leave you wanting to know what happens next.

Masi, your character over the last year or so has kind of become the quintessential coolest geek around. So how have you felt kind of building this character? Do you feel like you’re giving geeks out there some street cred for the masses?

Masi Oka: Oh yeah, if I can represent the geeks — I’m very fortunate to be able to do that. For me, the notion of a geek has always been someone who’s passionate about something — whether it’s computers, ant farms or musicals, or storytelling or paperweights — whatever it is.

Anything you’re passionate about something — and that’s what makes us human. It defines us as individuals. It gives us our uniqueness. And I think it’s more human — it’s more us. It’s more commendable to be a geek — and be passionate about something — that be apathetic about everything.

Was Masi’s character a reflection of his Brown University background in math and computer science? Or was that just a coincidence at the casting department?

Tim Kring: It was a complete coincidence.

Masi Oka: Yes.

Tim Kring: When I met Masi — he came in for an audition. And you do the requisite, “Hello. How are you?” And you watch them audition. And so who they are outside of the — often when you cast, who somebody is outside of the moment of coming in to audition them is kind of irrelevant. It’s what they show up with in the audition that counts.

What can you tell us about the new villain? Anything like gender, ethnicity, initials of the person playing him or her?

Tim Kring: Well there’s a couple new villains. So I’m not sure which one you’re referring to.

Well why don’t you just dish?

Tim Kring: Well the show — last year we had a couple of villains.

Right — like Sylar.

Tim Kring: We had Sylar. And we had Linderman. At the end of last season, we gave — in the season finale — gave a premonition of someone who was a very scary villain out there — who had invaded the dreams and nightmares of this character on our show named Molly Walker — who can locate people in her — by just by thinking about them.

So we teased the idea that there was another villain out there. And the audience can expect to see him somewhere in the first run of episodes. They’re doing 11 episodes in a row that start on September 24th. And somewhere in that run of episodes we’re going to introduce a very scary villain.

Ah. But okay. So it’s a him?

Tim Kring: Again, I’m just going to hold off on all of that for now.

Alright. I guess we’ll just have to wait to see!

Tim Kring: Yes. We have literally not cast the actor as of now.

What is on the DVD set that fans will really be looking forward to?

Tim Kring: I think a couple of the big items are the original uncut version of the pilot. As many people know, the pilot was originally designed to air as a two-hour pilot — then re-cut and taken down to an hour. And a couple of storylines were taken out of it that were never seen by anybody, other than the Comic-Con audience last year.

And I think it gives tremendous insight into where the original — what some of the original impetus of the story was really about — that I think the fans are going to really find fascinating. And obviously the commentary is always a really fun and interesting way to watch the show.

There are also the 50 deleted and extended scenes, which will give people a tremendous amount of new information. There is a — again, I can’t stress how cool — enough how cool the HD-DVD is, that allows the viewers to — through a device called U Control — allows them to follow various threads in the show.

As you know, the show has a symbol that is found frequently in many of the scenes. And it highlights that and shows it to you — even in the most kind of hidden places in the scenes. There is even an extension — that allows you to look closer at all of the artwork that Tim Sale did for our show — all of the paintings and all of the various artwork. So there’s just a tremendous amount of extra stuff for the fans to watch.

Masi Oka: And if that’s not enough — there’s also the making of documentary, the special effects documentary, the stunts documentary”¦

Tim Kring: Right.

Masi Oka: The profile of artist Tim Sale documentary, and the score documentary. All in a huge seven box DVD set. Available to you at — on August 28th. The same day as the Lunar eclipse.

Tim Kring: Unbelievable.

Obviously this show is very much based on the ensemble. And with such a large cast, even from Season 1 — moving into Season 2, with all the cast additions that you’ve already mentioned — and I’m sure that there are more you haven’t but you’re leaning towards — Tim, how does that kind of help you balance — or does it make it even harder — to kind of juggle all the characters? And Masi, with your character how are the new characters informing Hiro?

Tim Kring: Well it’s a constant challenge — on a show with this large a cast — to balance things. I think last year when the show was starting — and for the first part of the season — it was very important for us to have every character in every single episode — because people were getting to know them.

Now that people know some of these characters — or most of these characters, and are used to the storytelling of bouncing around from one story to another I think we can expect to spend a little more time this year on fewer storylines per episode that allow us to heighten certain – or highlight certain characters each week. And by extension, some characters will be left out of episodes each week. So that’s kind of the way that we’re going to juggle it this year.

Masi Oka: And I guess with regards — well right now in Season 2, I’m in feudal Japan — Hiro’s doing a lot of stuff in feudal Japan. So the characters he interacts are going to be in feudal Japan. So we don’t know how that affects – unless, I guess — Hiro could theoretically take people back into present day. I don’t know the storyline unfortunately. But as far as I know I’m in feudal Japan.

Do you think there is a possibility of a ‘Heroes’ feature film with ‘Heroes’ branching out into so many different mediums?

Tim Kring: There’s been no real serious discussion about it. And I think mainly because the show is doing — sort of doing everything that a movie would do. I’m not sure what story we would tell. And I think it’s also very dangerous to spread the brand of a show too wide too quickly. And so we’re trying constantly to sort of manage just how big the brand actually gets.

Masi Oka: Well, with what the ‘Simpsons’ movie did, Universal might get some ideas.

After 14 years.

Tim Kring: Yes.

Masi Oka: There you go. If you want a ‘Heroes’ movie, please keep us afloat for another 14 seasons.

Interview By: Emma Loggins

Heroes Official Site


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