Ando may be Sancho Panza to Hiro's Don Quixote, but James Kyson Lee, the Korean-American actor who plays Ando, the Japanese salaryman turned apprentice world-saver on Heroes (Mondays at 9 pm/ET, NBC), couldn't be happier. Lee, who visited New York for the Asian American Arts Alliance awards and a charity poker tournament, chatted about learning Japanese, his upcoming movies and the key to Ando's happiness.
TVGuide.com: Congrats on becoming a regular cast member.
James Kyson Lee: Most people thought I was a regular last season, because I was in all but one of the episodes, more than anyone but Masi [Oka, who plays Hiro] and maybe Milo [Ventimiglia, who plays Peter]. But I was a guest star. It doesn't mean anything really but a pay raise. You could still go at any moment.
TVGuide.com: The way Hiro is able to communicate with Ando through the scrolls in his ancient sword is really cool. There's no way for Ando to write back, is there?
Lee: No, because Hiro put the letters in there 400 years ago — even though it's kind of simultaneously. Last week I recruited some help to decode the secret scrolls; that's how I found out what exactly is taking place with my friend. I found someone who is an expert at decoding ancient writing. It has an Indiana Jones feel to it. It's almost like discovering the Dead Sea Scrolls — a major, major artifact.
TVGuide.com: Any chance Ando is going to find another pretty woman to ogle?
Lee: [Laughs] You might see one coming into Ando's life pretty soon. It's the second half of the season that gets really interesting for Ando.
TVGuide.com: Is she in Japan or back in the States?
Lee: In Japan. I don't want to give too much away, but I don't think Ando's life will be complete without a love interest.
TVGuide.com: In the Heroes comic book, Ando's love was Hiro's sister. Is Kimiko (Saemi Nakamura) your romantic interest on the show?
Lee: I don't know. [Giggles] We will see her at one point. Maybe she's the best candidate to run the Yamagato company.
TVGuide.com: C'mon, could it be her?
Lee: Maybe. I'll let you guess. That graphic novel was hilarious, by the way. I didn't really know anything about those, but when they told me it was a two-parter about Ando and I read through it, it was the funniest thing.
TVGuide.com: Ando's looking a little more chickworthy, isn't he? A little less Members Only jackets.
Lee: I like his new look. He's upgraded a little. He looks more professional.
TVGuide.com: Did you beg them to ditch those jackets?
Lee: It was their idea. I gladly accepted. I don't mind expensive suits.
TVGuide.com: Ando seems to be moving up the food chain at Yamagato, isn't he?
Lee: Yeah! He's got his own office, too, even though it's kind of small.
TVGuide.com: But he still has a mean boss. Will that guy show up again?
Lee: Who knows. That guy always seems to be lurking around. Here's a bit of trivia: He was in the pilot for a second. When me and Hiro are jabbering, he comes out of nowhere and grabs Hiro's ears.
TVGuide.com: We can expect Hiro and Ando to reunite sometime this season, can't we?
Lee: That's our destiny. There are more villains to tackle — Molly's bogeyman, the whole so-called Dirty Dozen — and we have to go after them. And that will be dangerous.
TVGuide.com: That relationship is so fun; you don't see that many guy friendships so tight on TV, do you?
Lee: What's great about these characters is that through their friendship, they're able to overcome obstacles together. I see them as Luke Skywalker and Han Solo. Like Luke, Hiro is burdened with his mission. Ando is more the happy-go-lucky guy looking for the next adventure, sort of like Han Solo. Put them together and it's magical. And there's room for a lot of humor.
TVGuide.com: Do you hope Ando gets rewarded with some superpower?
Lee: I fully embrace him as an ordinary mortal, but if they write me one, great. Hopefully it will be something cool. I do want to get in the mix a little bit. To get in there and do some action — sword fighting, martial arts.
TVGuide.com: How are you at martial arts?
Lee: I'm an athletic guy. I did some tae kwon do when I was young. I can look good.
TVGuide.com: How do you think Ando has changed?
Lee: He's in a completely different place. He's a self-inspired warrior. After all, he decided to kill Sylar even though he doesn't have powers. You have to give him credit. He's naive, yet somehow heroic.
TVGuide.com: Since you're Korean, you had to learn Japanese. Does it pass muster with Japanese viewers?
Lee: Yeah, we moved from Seoul when I was 10. I didn't speak English. But it's funny, my father had worked as an electrician in Tokyo, so we learned some words here and there. And I studied Japanese in college. Ninety-eight percent of my feedback has been positive.
TVGuide.com: You just attended the Asian American Arts Alliance awards; do you think there are enough Asian faces on TV?
Lee: We are seeing more, especially on top shows. There's me and Masi and Sendhil [Ramamurthy, who plays Mohinder] on Heroes, the Korean couple [Daniel Dae Kim and Yunjin Kim] on Lost, Sandra Oh on Grey's Anatomy. But we still make up a very, very small piece of the pie on TV, less than two percent, which is not a correct representation of the population. It gets a little better each year. My job is to go out there and do the best work that I can do and hopefully open doors for other people as well.
TVGuide.com: What else are you working on? You didn't get the Sulu role in the new Star Trek movie — John Cho did.
Lee: When my name came up at Paramount, there were too many obstacles. They had Zach [Quinto, who plays Sylar] from the show to play Spock and they had to write him off Heroes for about three months. To do that with two characters would be impossible. It would have been cool to be part of it. I actually was in San Diego a few weeks ago and I gave a Lifetime Achievement Award to George Takei at an Asian-American film festival. He and I have developed a good friendship on and off the set. I wouldn't be surprised if that wasn't the last of George on the show. There are always flashbacks and trips back in time.
TVGuide.com: Any movies upcoming?
Lee: Yeah. Shutter comes out in March. It's like The Sixth Sense meets The Grudge. It stars me, Joshua Jackson and Rachael Taylor. I'm filming a romantic dramedy called Doesn't Texas Ever End next month. I play Ben Savage's best friend; he's involved with Haylie Duff. Then in February, I'm filming Then There's the Afterlife. I play a rebellious musician who connects with an older mentor who's just out of prison. There are three other projects I have for next year. We just have to work out the schedules!
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