Masi Oka

Masi Oka Headshot

Actor • Producer

Birth Name: Masayori Oka

Birth Date: December 27, 1974

Age: 49 years old

Birth Place: Tokyo, Japan

Japanese-American actor Masi Oka achieved international fame as the noble Hiro on the hit show "Heroes" (NBC, 2006-2010), years after enjoying industry success behind the scenes as a digital effects artist. Armed with an impressively high IQ and a degree in computer science from Brown University, Oka began working at the citadel of cinema special effects, director George Lucas' Industrial Light and Magic, in 1997. Early work with ILM included effects work on Lucas' "Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace" (1999) and director Wolfgang Peterson's "The Perfect Storm" (2000). Having long harbored a desire to perform as well as to program, Oka moved to Los Angeles where he began to pursue an acting career with appearances on such series as "Scrubs" (NBC, 2001-08/ABC, 2009-2010). Everything changed, however, when Oka became the breakout star of 2006's most talked-about new show, "Heroes," in which he portrayed a mild-mannered office worker in Tokyo who suddenly discovers his ability to manipulate time and space. Suddenly, Oka was TV's latest "It" boy, featured on magazine covers and stopped by adoring fans everywhere he went. Roles in feature films and on television followed, even well after "Heroes" had left the airwaves. Simultaneously maintaining dual lives as a special effects artist and a successful actor, Oka was truly living the dream of pop-culture geeks across the world.

Born Masiyori Oka in Tokyo, Japan on Dec. 27, 1974, Oka moved to Los Angeles at the age of six. A 1992 graduate of the city's exclusive Harvard-Westlake preparatory school, Oka displayed an early passion for computers and seemed destined for a career in computer sciences. A highly cerebral youngster growing up, Oka appeared on the cover of a 1987 issue of TIME magazine alongside a half-dozen other children for a feature entitled "Those Asian-American Whiz Kids." While this honor may have seemed an obvious portent of his future success, Oka later admitted that his inclusion was nothing more than the result of coincidence; as it turned out, the only reason Oka made the cover was because the photographer was a family friend. Indeed, Oka was not featured in the article. Still, considering his academic credentials and rumored 180 IQ, a fair argument could have been made for his inclusion just the same.

After earning his BS in computer science from Brown University in 1997, Oka found himself awash in job offers. Turning down a cushy programming position at Microsoft, Oka accepted an entry level job at George Lucas' famed visual effects company, Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) in Northern California's Marin County. After a grueling 18 months of training, Oka got his feet wet with some work on "Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace" (1999) and the effects-heavy, live-action/animated comedy, "The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle" (2000). But Oka's breakthrough came as a digital artist-programmer on Wolfgang Petersen's shipwreck thriller, "The Perfect Storm" (2000). It was on this project that Oka - under the supervision of ILM visual effects maestro, John Anderson - created the breathtaking, computer-generated water effects. Oka's superlative work on "Storm" dramatically boosted the young programmer's profile at ILM and led to further work on later films such as "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" (2006). But clearly Oka was just getting started. In 2001, after two years in the ILM trenches, Oka made a fateful decision to move to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career. After receiving his Screen Actors Guild card - which he earned by performing in a handful of industrial videos - Oka made the casting rounds. A string of successful auditions helped him land some early bit parts on such popular series as "Scrubs (NBC, 2001-08/ABC, 2009-2010), "Reba" (The WB, 2001-07) and "Without a Trace" (CBS, 2002-09), as well as film roles in "Legally Blonde 2: Red, White, and Blonde" (2003), "Along Came Polly"(2004) and "House of the Dead 2" (2005).

But it was not until 2006, when he won the role of Hiro Nakamura on the new and highly anticipated series "Heroes" (NBC, 2006-2010) that Oka's career went into overdrive. As the meek Japanese office drone who discovers one morning that he can teleport and alter the time-space continuum, Oka's Hiro won the hearts of viewers with his childlike awe and indefatigable sense of wonder. One of the first and only characters on "Heroes" to embrace his newfound powers, Oka tapped into his inner comic-book geek. While the majority of Hiro's lines were in Japanese, fans caught a glimpse of an older, cooler and sexier Hiro - who spoke fluent English and sported a ponytail (actually a future-version of the character) - in later episodes. A radical departure from his customary Asian "whiz kid" persona, this tough, future incarnation of Hiro allowed Oka to demonstrate greater range as an actor than audiences might have expected. Much like the overachieving employee that he played on television, Oka continued to hold down his programming job at ILM, even as he was becoming a star on "Heroes." Working remotely from Los Angeles, Oka remained active with movie effects, allocating one to two days a week between his "Heroes" production schedule. Said Oka in a 2006 interview with Wired magazine: "I love both acting and programming equally; I think it enriches me and enhances me as an artist." His love of acting may have received a bump up a notch over computer programming when Oka learned that he was nominated for his first-ever Emmy award in 2008, receiving the nod for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series.

With the success of "Heroes" came other offers, particularly in film. Oka enjoyed supporting turns in projects such as the competitive ping-pong farce "Balls of Fury" (2007) - a broad parody of Bruce Lee's classic "Enter the Dragon" (1973) - and the underappreciated white collar comedy "The Promotion" (2008), starring John C. Reilly and Seann William Scott. More prominent was his turn in the Steve Carell spy spoof "Get Smart" (2008), a big screen adaptation of the beloved television series. As Bruce, a low-level lab technician at CONTROL, he and co-worker Lloyd (Nate Torrence) were on the receiving end of constant hazing from belligerent veteran agents Larabee (David Koechner) and Agent 91 (Terry Crews). The pair proved popular enough to merit a spin-off film of their own; "Get Smart's Bruce and Lloyd: Out of Control" (2008), which was released on DVD immediately following the premiere of the feature film. Other roles included an appearance in the cheerleading camp comedy "Fired Up" (2009). Although "Heroes" had come to an end in 2010 - long before its time, many fans felt - Oka moved forward with work that included a recurring role on the tropical reboot of the famous TV series "Hawaii 5-0" (ABC, 2010- ), and a supporting role in the Justin Timberlake/Mila Kunis sex comedy "Friends with Benefits" (2011).

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