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Hawaii Five-0: Masi Oka Reveals Why Now Was the Right Time for Max to Leave

And whether we'll see him again

Liz Raftery

The Hawaii Five-0team is down a member after Friday's episode.

Medical examiner Dr. Max Bergman (Masi Oka) bid his colleagues a final farewell at the end of the hour, heading off to live a life of domestic bliss in Africa with his new wife Sabrina (Rumer Willis).

TVGuide.com chatted with Oka about the reasons behind his decision to leave the show after six and a half seasons, why he feels Max's story came to a natural conclusion and whether this is the last we'll see of his character.

Max got a really satisfying, albeit bittersweet, sendoff. It was unusual to see so much emotion from him.
Masi Oka:
You see him kind of open up. I think this is the first and the last time you'll see Max really open up and speak from his heart. ... We learn what he really thinks about [his colleagues], things that he's never really been able to say. Max is really not the emotional type per se. He thinks out everything logically. So this is kind of the first time he lets his heart do the talking instead of his brain. And we do learn that he actually enjoyed a lot of the banter with Danny and really looked up to McGarrett. It's a nice reveal.

Jerry (Jorge Garcia) discovers that Max has kept a journal every day. Whose decision was it to incorporate flashbacks in that way?
I actually don't know. I think Matt Wheeler was writing the episode. ... [Showrunner Peter Lenkov] is always the creative guru behind all of this. Peter's great about that. I have a great relationship with Peter, and he always comes up with something great. I think he definitely came up with all the decisions in terms of how to do it. That writing staff is amazing. They had to come up with something really, truly interesting every week for a procedural, and they've been doing it for seven years. My hat's off to them.

Did you have any input in Max's exit storyline?
I actually told Peter, I was like, "Look, if it helps the ratings, feel free to kill Max off." I want to help the show in any way. That's kind of a joke I told him, but I guess they wanted to keep it open for me to come back, which was very nice of them.

Would Hawaii Five-0 continue without Alex O'Loughlin?

Why was now the right time for you to leave?
Oka: My feeling was that, after seven years, I've been so grateful for the opportunity to be on such a great show that's beloved in the U.S. and around the world. At the same time, Max has pretty much done everything that I think he can do. He's at the high point of his life. He got married. And we're probably not going to see much of his married life, because Rumer has commitments elsewhere and the show has so many main characters. Max is going to be a side story. So, I felt there was not more exploration that could be done for his character. He's just constantly spewing out medical terms in autopsies. So, I think in terms of a character arc, he's already reached his peak. And it was a good time for him. He went to Africa. He got married. So, it was nice to see him leave on a happy note.

And him leaving got me thinking about, "Well, maybe it's time for me to go as well." As much as I love Hawaii, I love the crew, I love the cast, I love the writers and I love the fans, and I'm very grateful for the opportunity, it was time for a new adventure. I'm not getting any younger. I was also concerned about my mother's health as well. She's in Los Angeles. If the show was in LA, I would stay forever. But because it's in Hawaii, it takes a good two days or three days of traveling to Hawaii and back to LA. and I can't plan for anything because of that. And I just needed to be in LA to be able to get to my mother and also to be able to take care of a lot of the business stuff in LA. It took a physical toll on me to make 18 round-trips to Hawaii every year. It's the seventh season, so that's over 100 round-trips to Hawaii in the last six years. And as much as I love Hawaii and I know it's champagne problems, when you're on a plane longer than you are on the ground in Hawaii, it adds up, unfortunately. I love Hawaii and would love to go back maybe on my own terms, on a vacation. But for now, me commuting to Hawaii, the time has come.

How did the conversation go with Peter and the other producers? Did they agree, or did they try to convince you to stay?
Oka: I think it was both. But Peter was very understanding. It's actually something I was asking for maybe a year ago as well. It was the same situation. Peter's been great. He's been so open, and he's like, "Sure. Let's make this work out for you." ... So I'm grateful, because we're all leaving on amicable terms, which is nice. I have a lot of respect for Peter, and vice-versa.

Will you consider making future guest appearances on the show?
Yeah, absolutely. I'm definitely not against that. There's a tradition in the Halloween episode, where he dresses up as Keanu [Reeves]. They left it open where, I'm in Africa but Max says, "I'm reachable by Skype or by phone calls." So, I'm sure I could always just literally phone it in at times if they need an expert. I'm definitely not closed to it. It'll be nice for nostalgia's sake at times ... to just pop in once in a while. Definitely not against it, but as a regular, I think the time has come and it's time for a new adventure.

Hawaii Five-0's Alex O'Loughlin: McGarrett would be an "idiot" to take Catherine back

We see Max pass the torch of the ME position to Noelani (Kimee Balmilero). Do you know if her character will have a bigger role going forward?
I hope so. I haven't been keeping up on the scripts, so I can't tell you how much she's in it. ... That would be the assumption. At the same time, they said they didn't need an ME in the beginning, so I'm not sure how much they're going to use her, but I hope they do. She's a good character.

As you mentioned before, Max gave a very heartfelt speech to his colleagues at the end. How much of that was art imitating life?
A lot of it is true to life. I added some of my own stuff into it. The speech flowed really easily, because it's definitely things that I was thinking about. Ironically, when everything was done, I really didn't have anything to say, because I felt like I said it all on camera to everybody. But it was definitely me saying goodbye to everybody through Max's words.

Now that you have some distance, how do you feel about the goodbye?
I'm actually very relieved in some sense, just because I never get to say goodbye on some shows, like, on a lot of the guest-starring shows. ... Even with Heroes, we got canceled. So, it was nice to say a proper goodbye before I left. I was happy in the sense that -- I mean, nobody's dying. Nobody's going away forever. It's just, I'm going to have to make an effort to go see these guys, all my friends, now, which is the hard part and sad part. You take that for granted. But, I don't know. I was in a really good place. I was emotional through the [scene], and I didn't want to ruin that moment by letting all the emotions come out beforehand. But it was a really happy moment, because it's something that I wanted. It was, ironically, very happy all around.

Did you take any props from the set as mementos?
Actually, no. They gave me the leis. I always like to take the chair backings with me. But that's about it. It was a long night shoot, so I also didn't want to drag it on for a long time. Because those guys, everybody had to work the next day, so I didn't want to make it all about me. I'm just grateful to have had the opportunity to say goodbye.

That's why I'm really happy about it. They gave me a really nice farewell, and I think it's a reflection of how much I love the 'ohana and how much 'ohana loves Max as well. So that's why I'm saying I thought it was really well done. That's why I was happy. Nobody was getting fired. Nobody was saying, "Oh, I can't take this anymore, I hate this sh--." It was just a natural flow of things. It was done with such respect on both sides.

What's next for you?
It's almost pilot season, so I would love to see if there's any other TV shows, hopefully that shoot in LA. That's a big thing for me. But I'm producing a lot of movies. I'm working on Death Note, we're in post [production] with that for Netflix. I have about six other projects I'm working on, in terms of movies and a couple TV shows. I'm also in a movie called Meg, that's coming out 2018 from Warner Bros. It's an action shark movie starring Jason Statham, so that's fun. And then I'm continuing to do some consulting work for a lot of Japanese corporations ... and then I have my own game company. Mobius Digital. We're coming up with our first console game later this year. So, a lot of irons in the fire, fortunately. I'll stay busy. But definitely open to another venture on TV or a movie or whatnot. I'm just grateful to be working. Just, Five-O and Max, it's time for him to retire for now.

Any final words?
I just want to thank everybody, thank the crew, thank the cast, thank the writers, thank CBS for giving us such a great sendoff, and thanks to all the fans, too. This is why we make the show, and I really appreciate all the love that they've given Max. Hopefully they'll continue to support Five-O and they'll continue to support my endeavors in the future as well.

Hawaii Five-O airs Fridays at 9/8c on CBS.

(Full disclosure: TVGuide.com is owned by CBS.)