James Kyson Lee may not be a household name yet, but as Ando in NBC's hit TV show "Heroes," he has instantly gained a huge fan following alongside everyone's favorite time traveler, Hiro Nakamura. But before "Heroes" exploded on to television screens everywhere, he was finishing up an independent short film called "Akira's HipHopShop." "It's a romantic comedy about a young Japanese guy who owns a record store," Lee told CBR News. "He gets into a relationship with an African American girl. It's a coming from two different cultures kind of thing. There is something really unique about it and I loved working with my co star."
The film is now currently in post production, "He [Joe Doughrity, writer and director of 'Akira's HipHopShop'] is finishing up the short version of it. He sent me a rough cut and I really like it. I think he's already fielding offers to make it a feature, and he wants to make it a feature, and he wants to do it soon. I think he's shooting it within the next year."
Just because shooting is currently wrapping up on the end of the first season of "Heroes," that doesn't mean Lee will get much time off. "I wrap season one in mid-April. I am going to New York to do a cameo for a film that is filming there right now and then the end of April I go to Orlando for a four day convention. Then in May I am doing a 20 th Century Fox feature called 'Shutter' with Joshua Jackson and Rachel Taylor. It's a supernatural thriller we'll be filming in Tokyo, Japan. [I am] real excited! It's going to be my first time in Tokyo. Soon as I finish that, I have an offer for another feature film in San Diego and we're working on a deal right now for another feature film in September, shooting in Arizona."
As for "Shutter," "I play a guy named Ritsuo. He works for a ghost magazine in Japan and I basically talk about the phenomenon of spirit photography. He is the assistant to Joshua Jackson, who plays the lead photographer, that's how we connect. I end up talking about why spirit photography is important and where it came from. I am really looking forward to it and an American movie shooting in Tokyo, I think it's such a great idea. It will be interesting."
Even though his character of Ando calls Japan home, this was someplace James had never been before. "I've been wanting to go there for a long time, this is like the perfect opportunity and I'm really just looking forward to going to places like Osaka, Kyoto, and Nara. I'm really, really happy about it."
Working in both sci-fi and the superhero genre with "Heroes," and his upcoming work in the realm of the supernatural with "Shutter," it leads one to wonder if Lee is a genre fan himself. "You know, when I was young I did grow up reading comic books; I had a really active imagination. I remember growing up and reading Spider-Man, Superman and Batman. I was also a fan of certain Japanese mangas like 'DragonBall' and 'Slam Dunk.' So yeah, this genre is exciting. It's my first time, really learning the whole sub-culture behind it, and the cult following, there is such a huge, huge sub culture that's associated with it so it's really fun and exciting. 'Shutter' happened to be a supernatural film, but I think a lot of good stuff that is coming up for me is very diverse and varied."
While Ando may seem to be fluent in Japanese, James' experience with the language hasn't gone much farther than a course in college. "I have done some minor work in it before, I've had to basically study it for part, that kind of deal. This is obviously the most that I've been intensively studying for a project, I am learning it as I go."
For those that have surmised that he has been learning his lines for "Heroes" phonetically, he quickly shoots that notion down. "I need to really know and have a connection to everything that is going on and what I'm saying, so I'm actually learning everything I am saying for the dialogue. You know, we get the script in English and I have a coach that I work with and she does a rough translation. I basically break down every single word and learn the roots of the word. It's like studying English and Latin, and learn all the different conjugations, the past, present, future forms and then we work our way up from there."
When it comes to the differences between the Japanese and the English language, Lee noted that the structure of American and Japanese grammar are pretty much opposite one another, requiring you to learn to flip sentences when you speak. Plus, the way you say things is of great import in Japanese. "The Japanese intonations, that is different from any other language," said Lee. "For example, you can have the same word, but depending on where you put the accent it means two different things. It's a skill that I will be able to hold on to for a long time."
On "Heroes," most of his screen time is with Masi Oka, sharing a chemistry that's part Batman and Robin, part Laurel and Hardy. "Our stuff on camera has just worked really well." When probed further as to what the magic ingredient is that has allowed the pairing to catch lightning in a bottle, he could only hazard a guess. "I am a fan of improv and comedy and I know that he has some improv and comedy background as well. I don't know if that's the reason why things have meshed so well. We hardly ever rehearse together just because it's just such a fast paced show. We don't have time to get together and do table readings and what not." But that background they both share has helped them in "finding little moments in between, those that kind of elevate the whole process.
"I remember when we had the Vegas episodes early on in the season; I think it was episodes four and five. We were at the roulette table and I told Hiro to stop time so we could make some money." Both getting caught up in the moment, the two actors began shouting such things as "Big Money!" and "No Whammies!" "Then he started shouting some weird random stuff like 'Go, Go, Gadget, Go' and I was like 'What?' It's great for the show, cause it adds that kind of balance because we already have so much action and drama and intensity. I think it's the reason why people say there is nothing really like our show on television."
With such a large cast and so many diverse stories, James Kyson Lee has yet to appear on screen with about half the cast. Who would he like to get the chance to act with the most? "I think Sylar, hoping to work with everyone in the cast really. I haven't worked with Hayden yet, so at some point if we cross paths I think it would be fun."
James did get to attend his first convention with him though. This past March, at Wizard World: Los Angeles, he was signing autographs and taking pictures alongside fellow "Heroes" cast member Zachary Quinto. How was his first convention? "It's fun, I don't' mind it. I am going to one in Orlando and I'm doing another one in London in October." And will he be making an appearance at this year's Comic-Con International in San Diego? "If they ask me, and I am available, why not?"
While Ando may not have any super powers on "Heroes" (that we know of), fans have wondered if his knack for getting the right uniform at the right time might be Ando's secret super power. He jokingly agreed, "I've changed uniforms like every 3 episodes!" Ando's fashion sense is definitely not a super power, especially when it came to the Members Only jackets he was sporting at the beginning of the season. "Where do you get those? Ando was like the lone remaining member. He had those jackets in like five different colors, it was hilarious."
He recently did have a conversation about Ando having powers and he would prefer "something random, y'know? Maybe, like make cheese out of mid air [shouting] 'Mozeralla!' Or maybe I am a Karaoke Hulk like when I get mad I turn blue and start singing '80s rock songs like Journey. It would be like [sings] 'Doooonnnn't stop' and then glass shattering, explosions."
But in all honesty, he had to admit, "I really don't know what the plan for Ando is in terms of powers. I think it would be fun to get a power at some point, y'know who wouldn't want that? But that is really up to the writers and producers. I have no idea."
Though just because Ando doesn't have a power, doesn't mean he's not a hero himself. In fact, maybe even more so as he doesn't have the abilities to fall back on. "I think a lot of times Ando plays the perspective of the audience member and he represents the viewer himself. I think [because of] the contrast, because everyone has all of these supernatural abilities, Ando is definitely more relatable."
As for himself, when asked what super power he would like to have James took a page from X-Factor's own Jamie Madrox with the ability to multiply one's self. "[I remember reading] 'Calvin and Hobbes,' he had this little box where he would go in and duplicates of himself would come out. That would be the best. I used to daydream about that when I was a kid. I'd send one off to school and send one to do the chores while I go off and play. [laughs] It would be awesome."
With so many rumors of death swirling around the final episodes of "Heroes," and our time almost up, we had to ask if our favorite non-powered hero would be returning next season or if Hiro had made the right choice by trying to send Ando home. Lee remained tight lipped about it, replying with nothing more than a, "We will see."
"Heroes" returns April 23rd with the first of five final episodes. Check out CBR's spoiler free review of the first episode, ".07%," and get a sneak peak of the episode with six video previews right here on CBR.
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