A chat with Masi Oka and Tim Kring

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Look for features on the DVD set (plus The Office, 30 Rock and Friday Night Lights) on this week's Coming Distractions and next week's paper. In the meantime, check out huge excerpts from the Oka/Kring conference call. Panettiere highlights later this week...

On Hiro's iconic time-traveling facial gesture... Oka: It’s become such an iconic -- gesture that we will - we continue to be doing it. And in fact I think we -- there’s more of it now. Kring: But Masi has now perfected it so that it’s a much smaller gesture than it used to be. So we can assume that the character has -- through use of this technique -- gotten better and better. So it’s now kind of a very simple, condensed version of the original one.

On Hiro's excitement, rather than reluctance, to be a hero... Kring: 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. 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.

On working with George Takei... 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.” Kring: The season premiere you will see George Takei, as well as the rest -- Masi and everybody else... 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.

On the power of TV on DVD to attract new fans... Kring: 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. 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.

On taking Hiro's character so far in the past... 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. Oka: 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. Kring: 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.

On surprises for Season 2... 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.

On Comic-Con... Oka: It was absolutely amazing. Just to go back -- it was a homecoming – it’s kind of like winning the Super Bowl and going back to your home city. And it was just a great parade and celebration of the phenomenon that we’ve all created together -- the fans, the writers, the cast. And for me it was like -- because of that, it was an homage back to the -- our first appearance there. I wore the ‘Hayden Is My Hero’ t-shirt, because that’s a throwback in appreciation -- a show of appreciation to the roots. It’s where Comic-Con -- that’s where it was started. And it was just so phenomenal. I was there from Thursday night. And I even got a chance to walk through the floor and interact with some of the fans. And it’s just great. There’s so much love and so much passion for our show. And just to be a part of that celebration -- it was phenomenal to be a part of that. Kring: We really looked at Comic-Con this year as a big giant thank you -- our trip to Comic-Con. We were very committed to the idea of bringing everybody that we could from the show down -- to show our appreciation to the fans -- who I am convinced were very instrumental in making the show a hit last year when we launched.

On getting scantily clad fan photos and marriage proposals... Oka: Various states of dress -- I’ve definitely gotten a couple pictures where they’re over-dressed with a lot of different costumes. I got to meet a lot of them at Comic-Con. But I have gotten a handful -- a number of marriage proposals over the mail. And I’m not quite sure how to react to them. I can understand -- I’m a big believer in love at first sight. But marriage at first sight might not be a wise thing to do.

On giving geeks street cred... 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. Kring: Well I did think that the character did represent a certain portion of the viewers out there. So I did feel the people would relate to him. But no -- you never expect this kind of reaction. I’ve worked on lots of things before. And this is a unique situation, where the show and Masi’s character have been embraced with such enthusiasm.

On playing Hiro and future Hiro concurrently... Oka: There’s definitely a lot of challenge in it. It’s actually a gift that the writers gave me -- to throw this future Hiro in when we first saw him on Episode 4 in the subway. And anytime when you play a character that’s so different -- it needs a lot of back story and preparation. And the writers just gave me just enough information to know what that character needs to go through. And I was just fortunate and so grateful that the writers trusted me by giving me this gift. And it was fun. It was definitely fun to play it. Although I have to say future Hiro in Episode 20 -- when he went five years into the future -- is kind of a pain to work with because he would never show up on set. Every time I work with him -- he wouldn’t even show up. He would say, like, “Here. Use a blue screen instead of me.” He wouldn’t even be there for our lines -- he would record his dialogue and then have it played. So I’ve never actually met future Hiro in person. I’m sure he’s a nice guy. But I don’t know -- I guess after five years, all that fame gets into his head.

On upcoming villains... 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.

On having a sci-fi background... Kring: I did not come from a comic book background... And I was not a ‘Star Trek’ fan either. I saw the original ‘Star Wars’, but none of the other ones after that. And so I have very little knowledge of the sci-fi world -- and almost none of the comic book world. So my influences were very much -- came from just the idea of basic storytelling and character development. I’ve been a writer in television for 22 years now. So my training was very much in character development. And I chose to approach this material almost entirely from the idea of who these characters were. I created the powers to reflect who the characters were -- and not the other way around. So I didn’t start off by saying I want a guy who can teleport. I started off by saying I wanted a guy who felt trapped in a life that was not his dream and what could be a power that would be most wish fulfilling for that character? And that was the ability to teleport out of that life. So that’s how I sort of approached it. Oka: I was definitely a genre fan growing up. I was a ‘Star Wars’ fan and -- I personally didn’t grow up on American comics, either. I saw the movies that portrayed them. But I grew up reading Japanese Manga. So most of my “heroes” -- or comic book heroes came from the Japanese Manga world.

On juggling so many characters... 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.