By Stephanie DuBois
"To Be Continued..."
In less than a month NBC's unexpected runaway hit, "Heroes" made those three little words the most hated in the country, notes Masi Oka, who plays the inordinately exuberant superhero, Hiro Nakamura, on the show that ends each episode on a nail-biting cliff-hanger.
"On the street people tell me every time they see the last three minutes they're like, 'Aaaagghhh! I have to wait seven days!'" says Oka.
"We know what's going to happen in the next episode, but we're also fans of the show so when we get the script, it's like, 'Aaaagghhh! We've got to wait ten more days (the time it takes to shoot each episode) 'til the next script!"
The comedic actor, best known for his recurring roles on "Scrubs" and "The Jamie Kennedy Experiment," says the whole "Heroes" troupe is overwhelmed at the overriding success of the show that got a full season pickup after the second episode aired.
"We knew we had something special," he says, adding that the show's creator, "Tim Kring wrote an amazing script with an amazing world. But we really didn't think it would be this big of a hit. We're just so happy the audience is catching on to it."
He continues, "We have all these brilliant writers from 'Smallville,' 'Everwood,' 'Wonderfalls,' 'Lost' and 'Alias.' They've given me so many gifts. Yesterday we had a 15-hour day and we had some really great scenes. We laughed. We cried...it was better than 'Cats!' We think the real mystery of the show is how these writers keep on topping themselves."
Though born in Japan, Oka's family came to the States when he was just six. He credits his mom with the fact he actually has a command of his native language, which his character Hiro speaks for the most part in the show.
"I attended Japanese school," recalls Oka. "It was like a sixth day of school and it was all in Japanese. They would cram a week's worth of Japanese education -- history, science, society, math -- into one day.
"And I got teased by my peers," he continues. "They were like, 'Aha, you have to go to school six days.' I'd be like, 'Mom, I just want to stay home and watch cartoons.'" Now, however, he says, "I'm so thankful she forced me to go through the school. I retained the language and I'm still in touch with my Japanese culture. It takes so long and so much to build something -- whether its culture, or even the environment. Yet it's so easy to take it for granted and once you lose it, it's hard to get back."
He's not suggesting it's necessary for every one to embrace every one else's culture. "You don't have to agree with the politics or religion of a culture but if everyone was at least open-minded that those are gifts and respect those gifts we'd be in such a better place."
Oka's given name is Masayori, but was shortened to Masi in elementary school.
"Every time I'd have a new grade the teacher would try to say my name and couldn't," he recalls. "It got to the point one day my teacher said 'Oh, your handwriting is messy. We're going to call you 'Messy Masi.' At the time I thought 'Okay, I'll just be Masi.'"
Now, he says with a laugh, "When I hear the name, Masayori, it's not a good sign because it usually comes from either my Mom or my ex-girlfriend and I know I'm in trouble."
It may mean trouble when he hears it, but that's not the true meaning of his name.
"Masa stands for 'politics' and Yori stands for 'a legendary figure,'" he explains.
Perhaps his mother was privy to that Old Wise Tale - or Old Wives Tale, depending on who's talking - that one should "Watch what you name your child" because it can turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Certainly, since "Heroes" hit the airwaves, it's becoming at least partially true for Oka.
His delightfully ingenuous Hiro Nakamura has already been elevated to legendary figure status by "Heroes'" avid audience. But it's not just Hiro's abilities to manipulate the time/space continuum and teleport hither and yon that make him larger than life. It is the character's total willingness to drop kick his geek/Clark Kent persona and despite all nay sayers embrace the inner-Superhero he always knew was there with child-like abandon.
One might say it's subliminal vindication for all of us who knew - in the face of all-prevailing adult skepticism - that when we were running around as kids with that towel tied around our necks we really could fly if we believed hard enough.
Hiro shows us all that the only one who needs to believe you're a superhero is you.