Things are heating up on the hit NBC series "Heroes" as we approach the season finale. Will our favorite heroes save the world, or will the grim future presented in the episode "Five Years Gone" become a reality? Monday night, NBC will broadcast the penultimate episode of "Heroes" titled "Landslide." Back in March, CBR News visited the set of Heroes in Los Angeles while they filmed a scene from this episode, and spoke with series star Masi Oka and guest star George Takei.
As the assembled press entered the studio, we made our way to a corner of the large where house like stage they were filming in. As we made our way over to video village – where the directors and producers sit while filming – we passed by possibly the most important part of any set – craft services! I helped myself to a soda and followed my publicist over to the set and took a seat. Sitting directly in front of me was Director Greg Beeman, with writer/producer Jessee Alexander sitting in front and to the left of me. They were just setting up for a scene, with much final preparation going on.
The set was a very crowded sword store in New York City. Cramped and small, the place was filled with swords and cutlery of all sorts. As make-up applied finishing touches to the actors and the directors worked with the camera guys to set the shot up, things started to get rather hurried as the shot was about to be filmed. Director Greg Beeman called out for Mr. Takei to give him a last minute instruction and as Takei approached in a Japanese gi, Beeman double checked on the pronunciation of his last name.
"Is it Ta-Kay or Ta-keye," Beeman inquired.
"Ta-Kay," sad Takei in that familiar, deep voice. "Takei is OK." Which elicited laughes from the crew.
They exchanged some notes and Takei returned to his place off to the right of the sword store. I was impressed that everyone on the set called him Mr. Takei, never referring to the actor by first name. It was clear everyone in the production was excited to have him on the set.
As the scene began, I quickly learned why they had us watch this scene of all scenes – it was primarily in Japanese! That creative subtitling you see on the show was curiously absent from the real world, making it a tad difficult to figure out exactly what was being said and making it even more difficult to reveal any spoilers to you the reader, but I got the jist of the scene.
The scene began with Masi Oka in a full gi, entering the sword store from a connected room on the right. As he enters the room, he shouts out, "Ando?"
From the left hand portion of the store, a tall, older white gentleman with a scraggly beard walks in. Hiro asks in that innocent voice, "Where is my friend-o?"
"He bought one of my Nagamachi's and left," responded the sword store owner.
"Bought a sword?" Hiro responded.
At this point, Takei as Mr. Nakamura entered in behind Hiro from the room on the right, where we later learned was where Mr. Nakamura was training Hiro in the art of sword fighting.
The store owner responded, "He said if you wouldn't save the world [pause], he would."
At that point the store owner walked off to the right, from where Hiro and Mr. Nakamura entered. Hiro and Mr. Nakamura exchanged some lines, but while I couldn't understand what they were saying, the context was clear – Hiro told his father that Sylar was going after Sylar and things weren't good. And scene.
It was the first of many takes for the scene and the first chance Masi Oka had a chance to speak with us. The energetic Oka was clearly having fun that day, enjoying his outfit and the chance to talk about the show. We made our way towards the back of the stage for the interview, so as to be out of the way of the crew as they reset the scene.
Masi, what can you tell us about the episode or the scene you're shooting today?
[Masi asks the set publicist] Am I allowed to talk about it?
[The publicist says from across the way he can discuss the episode as the assembled press is under an embargo.]
[Masi asks the publicist again] Can I talk about what sets up this episode?
No! [shouts the publicist, which elicits laughter from everyone. Oka begins.]
Hiro has had a couple of failures and has lost his confidence and was ready to give up when he faces his father and its revealed that his father has been tracking his progress. So, what you see here is kind of the end of the 'Karate Kid' training montage you'll see. Hiro gets his ass whooped, but at the end you see him come back. So, we might actually have a song in the background like, "He's the best…" [a reference to the training song from "Karate Kid," which had us all cracking up.] I tried pitching that idea, but I don't think they're going to go for it.
So, your father has been tracking Hiro since he had the confrontation with him or the whole time?
Not sure. In the scene before this Hiro says to his father, "I thought you went home?" He says, "No, I've been tracking your progress." We know that Hiro's gone to the future, so there's a safe assumption that he's come back and is going to try to save the world.
In this episode, is it primarily focused on your storyline, or will we see some other characters?
Oh, you'll see other characters - it's a pretty even episode. Episode #20 ["Five Years Gone"] is a very heavy Hiro episode. #21, #22 and #23 are very evenly distributed.
How was that grind on episode 20, Five Years Gone, where it was primarily focused on you? Was that harder on you? More challenging?
It was so much fun, but I gotta tell you when I was doing scenes with future Hiro, it was awful because he wouldn't give me anything! [laughs] He tape recorded his dialogue – unbelievable! Just because future Hiro's been acting for five years he thinks he doesn't need to show up. [laughs]
Have you ever done that kind of work before, playing against yourself?
Actually, no. I had to do a lot of research. I went to see "Norbit." [laughs] "Big Mama's House." "Coming To America." I even dipped into "Multiplicity."
It actually does. When I was acting against myself, once again the co-worker who doesn't show up, it was kind of cool. They would simply tell me what they would be doing with the special effects and I could visualize that. When I do see CG stuff, I would create virtual 3D worlds. So, I was able to visualize everything – where future Hiro would be, where the CG elements would be, stuff like that – so, understanding that process helped. I was able to speak their language.
Speaking of special effects, are you still splitting your time between the show and ILM?
I wish I could say I am, but it's gotten progressively difficult. At most I work a day consulting for them. One of the joys of working for ILM was helping to develop new software and new techniques, but unfortunately with "Heroes," this production schedule is very hectic and of course this is my primary focus.
Are they fans of the show?
Yeah, they are.
They better be! Are you familiar at all with the "Days of Future Past" storyline from the X-Men?
Yes! What was that? "X-Men" #143? #146? We actually got it wrong in the pilot! We never got the chance to fix that. But I know Jesse [Alexander], Joe [Pokaski] and Aron [Coleite] and those guys, that story was the model for it. Originally episode #20 was supposed to come much earlier, maybe as episode #9 or #10, but the network said no. So, they saved it and it's coming at a very cool point. Episode# 20 is freaking awesome.
Not just because you're in it, of course?
No, no, every one is amazing!
Well, that helps! Really, everybody is absolutely amazing and in that episode you get to see a possible future.
Will we be seeing any other big cameos before the season is over?
Well, you'll see George again. You'll see Malcolm. There's a big cameo that's big in my world in terms of being a musical theatre geek – although it probably won't mean that much to you.
Is it David Hasselhoff?
Yes, it's the Hasselhoff! [laughs] You know Tim used to work on "Knight Rider," right? Yeah, we have a little appearance with KITT and Hasselhoff!
Can you say who the guest star is?
She's a…[A this point Oka asks the publicist if he can mention who it is.]
No! [responded that pesky publicst.]
Well, she means a lot to me if I'm a musical theater geek. So, there you go. And it's a she!
[Viewers would later discover it was Ellen Greene who played Sylar's mother, Virginia Gray, in episode #21, "The Hard Part."]
Since we're getting close to the end of the season, do you already know which direction it will go in for the second season?
We have an idea. I just got the script for the finale. Un-Be-Lieve-Able. It's fascinating. And Tim's already talked to a couple of us about how season two will go, which is a good sign – it means some of us are still alive, which is a good thing.
Are you signed for season 2?
The scene was shot numerous times, sometimes just with different angles, or other times when lines would get flubbed. "Nagamachi" turned out to be a surprisingly hard word to say for the sword store owner.
The mood on the set was very loose, almost goofy at times. In one take, the camera and Oka weren't exactly where Beeman wanted them to be and he asked him to step out and do it again, which elicited the following jab from one of the members of the crew, "Now you're getting into Aaron Sorkin territory," a reference to the perfectionist creator of "The West Wing" and the highly touted "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" which used to follow "Heroes."
Beeman responded, "It's the difference between sexy and just OK," which elicited quite some laughter.
It was time to begin shooting again and in between takes I got a chance to talk with Jesse Alexander a bit as I pulled him away from the TPB of "The Exterminators" he was reading. We discussed the previous weekend's Wizard World LA "Heroes" panel and the Haley Festival panel and how much he enjoyed both. I told him I had a great photo of him and his son from WWLA, which he asked me to send. I now realize I never did that. Bad Jonah. Must rectify that.
We spoke about the amazing artwork Alex Maleev produced for "Heroes" as he took on the role of ghost artist for Sylar after he kills Isaac Mendez. He also revealed some surprising news, the possibility of a "Heroes" video game, one that possibly takes place sometime in the future. Alexander noted this was very, very early in the planning stages and nothing is set in stone, but the idea of a "Heroes" video game that furthers the larger mythology behind the show is a compelling one.
Ahh, it was time to get back to Oka, who was available again for some interview time. I said goodbye to Alexander and made my way to the back of the stage once again.
Recently? Not as much. I don't read too much in the way of American comics. I still read a lot of Japanese Manga.
What do you like Manga wise?
I love “One Piece,” Eyeshield 21, “Kochikame” (The Police Station) – All this great stuff. I still read “Shonen Jump” and “Shonen Sunday.” My favorite author is Naoki Urasawa – he wrote “Monster, “20th Century Boys,” and now he’s writing a thing called “Pluto” which is an homage to what you call Astro Boy. So, he’s got this whole utopian society, but with a different perspective. It’s very cool.
Getting back to your CGI work, because you've dabbled with the below the line work, is there any chance we might see you cross-over and do some directing yourself?
That's absolutely something I would love to do. I always loved using the left and right side of the brain. I like that need to approach a problem and think outside the box. I have a lot of respect for what goes on in front of the camera as well as behind the camera now. A show is only as strong as its weakest link. From the caterers, the props people, wardrobe, etc., they make the show. They don't get the limelight much, but they're the ones who make the show. It's everyone working together. And I think now that I know all this stuff it will enrich me as a director.
Is there one genre you'd like to do yourself?
I love comedy. I grew up with that. Love and laughter are universal. Romantic comedies are my specialty, because they transcend the beliefs you have, your religion, you're ethnicity, your cultural background. That's a direction I would love to go. Sci-fi is great, too, because I grew up on that.
There was some talk a few months ago that they were going to try to get you back on "Scrubs." Did that work out?
It almost did, but unfortunately their hiatus matched our hiatus. When I took a week off, they took a week off. Everything kind of fell through. It looks like there'll be another season, so hopefully we'll be able to make it happen. That was just purely scheduling. We both wanted to do it. NBC was on board. "Heroes" was on board. "Scrubs" was on board. Timing wise it just didn't work out.
"Sarah Silverman" I did before "Heroes," actually. They wanted to bring me back as a series regular, but I told them I couldn't because of "Heroes." Sarah had this great joke she mentioned on "The Tonight Show" about me saying, [sarcastically] "Pfffft, he's got a show called 'Heroes.' What a stupid show! Who's going to watch that? Come on, this is the Sarah Silverman Show!" [laughs] I would love to do more comedy. Laughter is kind of a symbolism of peace. It's easy to cry, but it's so hard to laugh.
This coming from someone who played Japanese Pedestrian in "Austin Power's Goldmember!"
[laughs] Yes! Wow, you remember that?
What's the next movie you've got coming up – "Balls of Fury?"
That's something I did between the Pilot and the shoot. It's just a cameo. I know those guys Tom Lennon and Gen Garant from the "Reno 911" days. I get my ass beat by George Lopez! It's my dream come true!
You know, a lot of the genre shows like "Star Trek" would have a lot of the actors go in and direct some of their episodes. Has there been any talk of having some of the cast members direct episodes of "Heroes?"
This is such a wonderful and challenging show to direct. This is one of those shows where the director has a lot of say and can put their creative vision in, unlike procedural shows where its very static and you know exactly the shot make up. With "Heroes," every director can bring in their own style. I know some of the cast would like to do it and I've pitched myself and they've said, "Yeah, absolutely, come shadow us." If we're fortunate enough to get to season three or four, hopefully I'll get a chance. And I tell them, with my ILM connection I can say, [affects something of a "gangster" personae] "I could hook us up with some employee discount, boy! Buy two effects, get one free! Hallah!" [laughs] Luckily this is an ensemble show where we share a lot of screen time so it would be a possibility for me to direct an episode where I wouldn't be in every scene – I know I'm a difficult actor to work with, so I'd hate to direct myself. [laughs]
The writers really are amazing and this is the best of the best. They are just itching to tell more stories. Really, the biggest mystery of this show is how the writers keep topping themselves week after week. They keep on surprising me. And that's why I say #19, #20, #21, #22 and #23 are off the charts.
Which stories have fascinated you the most?
Hrmm, well, I can say I love Jack Coleman [who plays Claire's father, AKA HRG]. I think he's brilliant. I love the way he delivers the lines and the conflict he has between being a father and trying to save the world. I think everyone on the show is fantastic, but Jack has had some of the greatest lines.
Who have you not had a scene with that you'd like to?
I've not worked with Hayden, actually, which is probably kind of a spoiler! [laughs]
Is she the only one you haven't worked with?
[silence] [laughs] I'll leave it at that. Don't tell, Kristy [the publicist]!
Thank you for saying that, but I think we're all the face of the show. Everyone is attracted to different characters. I am surprised about how generous America was to embrace a foreign character, one who doesn't speak any English and it's all subtitled. I never would have guessed that. And I have to thank Yunjin Kim and Daniel Dae Kim [from ABC's "Lost"] for opening that door. Without them, NBC wouldn't have taken a chance on a character like this.
[At this point the publicist walked over and motioned that he's needed on the set again.]
We watched them film the scene a couple times more, then made our way over to the loft apartment of Isaac Mendez, whom at that point we weren't aware was already dead. The loft has changed quite dramatically from my first set visit in August of 2006. A lot had changed in that time, the place was now a lot messier, more cluttered with loads of new paintings that weren't there previously, plus more comics thrown around the room. I took a look at some of those comics and most were from the '80s and well worn – clearly unwanted items from someone's personal collection had been pulled out to doll up the loft.
Following this walk around, we made our way outside to talk at length with George Takei, which we'll bring you tomorrow on CBR.
During my previous set visit, we weren't in a studio, rather we were on location at a home in Hollywood and it was early on in the production. It's a bit tough to compare the two experiences as the settings were very different, but it's clear that things have evolved considerably since those early days, as one might expect. The attitude was very relaxed on the set, which is not something I can't say about every set visit I've made. So often in episodic television I've heard how the crew and actors end up very close, becoming something of a second family. It's clear the "Heroes" family is a solid and friendly one, which bodes well for the future of the series.
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