Holding Out for Hiro: Masi Oka Previews His Guest Stint on ‘Heroes Reborn’
Masi Oka is back in the role that made him a worldwide fan fave on Heroes—time bender Hiro Nakamura. This time, we’ll see the sword-swinging character on Heroes Reborn (Thursday, Oct. 22, 8/7c, NBC) where it’s been strongly hinted that Hiro has fallen victim to villain Erica Kravid (Rya Kihlstedt). In fact, since the June 13, 2014 terrorist attack in Odessa, Texas, no one has seen Hiro and more than 600 of his fellow EVOs (evolved humans) have also mysteriously vanished. We spoke with Oka, now a regular on Hawaii Five-0, to find out what it’s like to save the world…one more time.
Are you surprised you’re once again in Hiro mode?
Yes, because any talk of a revival died down a long time ago. The cancellation of Heroes was emotionally devastating and unexpected, leaving us all in state of confusion. Greg Grunberg (Matt), Jack Coleman (Noah), Sendhil Ramamurthy (Suresh)—we’re all so happy to be back but it’s not really about us. This is our chance to pass the torch to a new generation.
Word is, you actors first heard about Heroes Reborn right along with the rest of the world.
It was crazy when NBC suddenly aired an announcement during the  Winter Olympics that Heroes was returning. We had no idea it was happening. The cast was texting each other going, “What? What? What is this?” Maybe 10 minutes later, [creator-executive producer] Tim Kring sent me an email saying, “Want to talk?” Of course, I had to say yes. This show started my career. I wanted to give back to Tim, to NBC, to the fans. CBS has me under contract for Hawaii Five-0, so I was only able to do three episodes of Heroes Reborn, but I had to be there!
Superheroes were rare on TV when Heroes hit the air in 2006. Now they’re everywhere. How does it feel to return to the franchise in such a vastly different landscape?
It’s a whole new world! There’s a lot more saturation in the superhero market and we’re proud we had a hand in bringing that to TV and helping make geek culture cool. We helped start that momentum. Now there are so many superheroes that you really need to stand out from the rest. But we have brand recognition, and so does Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Arrow and Supergirl. A completely new original superhero concept right now might have a tough time finding a TV audience. There are also so many more distractions now and, as viewers, we no longer have patience. A show must deliver immediately, and keep delivering. Back when we started Heroes, we were compared to Lost but Lost never really gave answers. They kept stringing people along.
In a way, you guys had the opposite problem.
Our problem was that we gave answers so quickly that we ran out of them sometimes. It’s like we used up our theme. But we told amazing story. That first season of Heroes is something I will forever be proud of. Everyone can agree it was one of the best seasons of television ever. It probably shouldn’t have gone on, season after season. This limited, 13-episode format for Heroes Reborn is perfect for what Heroes was supposed to be, for what Tim Kring intended it to be before it became this monster hit.
Thanks to some time travel, we’ll get to see what Hiro’s life was like before the June 13 attack. What can you spill about that?
Hiro was in Tokyo running his late father’s corporation, Yamagato Industries. He has a real sense of responsibility and all these employees looking up to him. He’s a little bit worn down. We don’t see him as truly innocent as he was [on Heroes]. The years have affected him greatly. He’s still solo. Charlie will probably always be the love of his life, but she’s gone.
And his best friend Ando?
I haven’t seen Ando around. My hope is nothing bad happened to him. [Laughs] Maybe he’s just down the hall working as Hiro’s vice president. There’s no sense that Hiro has been in touch with anybody from the original series. When you think about it, it’s not like any of the characters knew each other that well. I doubt they exchanged phone numbers or went to lunch. Hiro never even met Claire, the famous cheerleader, until Season 3. In people’s memories, those characters were a lot closer than they really were.
Is Hiro still using his powers?
He’s very reluctant to do that. He realizes that every time he uses them a bigger change happens in the world, not always for the better. And he needs to be grounded for his company and the people who work under him. Trying to save the world puts a lot of lives at risk. That’s not who he wants to be anymore.
He feels no affinity or compassion for other EVOs?
He does, but he does not want to be their leader. Also, the problem is, when the EVOs first became hunted and persecuted, there was no clear antagonist villain, just all this terrorism. Hiro’s not afraid to stand up. He would absolutely go there, but this is a problem between the humans and the Evos that you can’t quite put your finger on—not until Noah Bennet comes to Hiro and asks him to help him out against Erica Kravid, and Hiro jumps into it without hesitation. As always, you can count on Hiro and his sword. When there’s a call to duty, he responds!