Masi Oka may have been a time-hopping wonder on ‘Heroes’ but his new TV character has some super abilities too.
Oka joins the new CBS hit show ‘Hawaii Five-O‘ Monday night as the Honolulu County Medical Examiner who starts helping bad boys McGarrett (Alex O’Loughlin) and Danno (Scott Caan) solve some mysteries.
In the recurring role, Oka plays Dr. Max Bergman, a MENSA member and child piano prodigy, ie, your typical forensics type: a man with a brilliant mind — who’s inept at human interaction.
When I spoke with Masi Oka last week, he joked that Max has two super powers: “one is to analyze dead bodies, the other is playing the piano — those are the things he’s amazing at.”
Here’s more from my interview with Masi Oka, who talks about heading to ‘Hawaii’ and hanging up ‘Heroes.’
Tracy Phillips: How will you differentiate your take on the ‘socially awkward genius’ character type often seen on crime procedurals?
Masi Oka: “I think the best thing is to use a different hairstyle … that definitely helps.” [laughs]
And the trademark glasses, of course….
“Yeah, I’m still wearing glasses. I remember going to the warehouse, they had a thousand glasses, and they said, we want you to have glasses, but we don’t want you to have ‘Hiro’ glasses [his character from ‘Heroes’], so we tried on a lot of some really wacky styles, but ended up going with something pretty similar to Hiro’s character, actually.”
“And ironically, I still speak a foreign language in ‘Hawaii Five-O’ [like I did on ‘Heroes’] … yeah, all these medical terms, that’s definitely a foreign language. I hit up my old chemistry books, it was not fun. But once you get into the rhythm of it, and saying it many, many times, helps.”
What else can you tell us about your new role?
“Well, the background that Max has is kind of unique, he’s a Japanese American who got adopted by Jewish parents, so rarely do you see that, or an Asian named … Max Bergman.” [laughs]
“I think the biggest thing with any kind of character, everybody brings their own quality to it, and I’m hoping to bring my sense of humor and my quirkiness to the character and distinguish it in that aspect.”
Since Max is a child piano prodigy, will we see you play piano on the show?
“Yes, you will … right next to the morgue is Max’s office, where he has an upright piano.”
So at some point are we going to see you, McGarrett and Danno around the piano, kicking it karaoke style?
“That would be fun, when we get to the point where ‘Hawaii-Five O’ is ready to ‘Glee’-ify itself, maybe we’ll do a karaoke episode. Anytime you can do a musical episode, it’s always fun. But I’m not sure if ‘Five-O’ will get to that just yet.” [laughs]
Are you musically inclined?
“I played piano back in my elementary school days and I sang a cappella back in college. It’s great because in ‘Heroes’ I got to use my Kendo skills, which I learned as a kid, so that didn’t go to waste, and here my piano lessons didn’t go to waste either. Now I just need to play a chess player, I love chess.”
Did you enjoy shooting on location in beautiful Hawaii?
“Yeah, they shoot on location … except for my scenes.” [laughs]
So will Max get out of the morgue much?
“I think they will usually come to him, I don’t know about a portable morgue … when they try to deduce clues after they find a dead body, and have no idea where it came from, Max comes in to help: ‘Oh, here you go, I’m the Wizard of Oz, now you’re on your way….'” [laughs]
Who in the cast have you interacted with the most so far?
“I’ve work with Alex [O’Loughlin] and Scott [Caan] the most; in the first episode, it is just them. The second episode I worked with Grace Park [who plays Kono] … that was less comedy, a lot more consoling.”
Is there some love interest action brewing between Max and Kono?
“I think Max has a crush on Kono, yeah. But I don’t think that will be explored too much right away … maybe in like Season 3 or 4, but at this time, I think Max is happy in his morgue with his dead bodies.”
How was it working with O’Loughlin and Caan?
“It was a lot of fun. They are really good guys, really professional and talented. Basically, they’re just like themselves on TV [McGarrett and Danno]. A lot of banter, it’s like watching ‘The Odd Couple.'”
What are you feelings about the cancellation of ‘Heroes’?
“Actually, a lot of people say, ‘Hey, when is that coming back on?’ and it’s like, ‘uh, we sort of got canceled.'” [laughs]
“I think people [in the ‘Heroes’ cast] are mixed; some people are fine with it, some people are freaked about it. For me, it’s bittersweet. We had an amazing run, four years, I got to meet amazing people, got to work on a great show … it would have been nice to have quote-unquote closure, at least for the fans, but in some sense, there is a poetic ending, because it is forever ‘To Be Continued…'”
“It’s kind of cool that it’s ‘To Be Continued’ … but, to be continued … in your mind.”
What are the chances of filming a ‘Heroes’ reunion to wrap up the story?
“It would be very difficult. If there was a chance, there might be a ‘Heroes’ reunion movie in the future, but everyone is so busy … if it’s a big-screen thing, I think a lot of the cast would come back, but when it’s on TV, I think a couple people are kind of … done with it. You just move on. But there’s always a reunion somewhere down the line.”
‘Hawaii Five-O’ airs Monday nights at 10 p.m./EST on CBS.
Masi Oka debuts on tonight’s episode, when the gang gets an assist from the new medical examiner Max Bergman while they investigate a case involving the U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines, whose teenage daughter is found dead off the coast of Waikiki — with her sister still missing.
Watch a Preview of Masi Oka’s First Appearance on ‘Hawaii Five-O’ Below: