While Masi Oka draws much attention for his role on NBC's Heroes (returning from hiatus tonight at 9 pm/ET), Hiro himself would be nothing without his loyal best friend and translator, Ando, played by James Kyson Lee. But now that Hiro has incredibly improved his English, will he still need the seemingly "ability-free" Ando around? TVGuide.com had to know the answer, so we spoke with Lee to see if Ando will, in fact, survive the hit show's first season.
TVGuide.com: What has it been like for you to get so much sudden fame for Heroes?
James Kyson Lee: You know, it's just been a blast. I think the best part of it is that we have such a good family here at the show. Everyone, from top to bottom, is just really friendly and has great energy, and I just love coming to work. We have great writers, they're doing some brilliant stuff.... It's probably the best show I've been a part of.
TVGuide.com: Are you at all jealous of Masi [Oka] and the attention he's getting? C'mon, be honest!
Lee: You know, I'm very happy for Masi. He's been in the business a lot longer than I have, so a lot of times he shares stories about how he was on the verge of giving up. It's interesting, there are so many unpredictable things about this business, and you just never know what's going to happen tomorrow or the next year, but we've been having a blast together. They love writing for our story line, and we have this really interesting, great dynamic on screen.
TVGuide.com: The scene of yours that I love is you in the diner just waiting for him to come back.
Lee: [Laughs] I must have had every single piece of pie in that diner! Sitting there for 48 hours or so....
TVGuide.com: Are you at all concerned about Hiro's much-improved English, that maybe he doesn't need Ando anymore?
Lee: Yeah, hopefully he doesn't learn too fast. [Laughs] We told the writers to slow it down a little bit. Right now, they see us as one entity, and we have created this great relationship where we balance each other in sort of a yin-and-yang kind of way. They created this interesting combination of a modern-day Odd Couple or Dean Martin-and-Jerry Lewis — or that's how they like to refer to it. I feel like we have a unique position in that we are able to bring comedic elements into the show, which separates us from some of the other heroes.
TVGuide.com: Right, because squinting isn't the same as flying.
Lee: [Laughs] Exactly.
TVGuide.com: What would your reaction be if somebody said, "Hey, I can do this really cool thing — watch me walk through a wall"?
I have a fairly active imagination, so I'd be so excited if someone came up to me and could show me something. I'd be like, "Well, do it now!" and then my brain would start being active, like, "How do we use this? Let's put a show together!" It's fun when Ando comes up with different ideas to pursue his power.
TVGuide.com: So you're not as logical as Ando is?
Lee: No. In fact, I think having any kind of power would be so much fun. I know if I had a power, I'd get in so much trouble.
TVGuide.com: Which ability would you like the most?
Lee: I do like the way Peter is able to absorb other people's [powers], but I think it'd be great to absorb other people's special skills. Like, if you knew how to play the trumpet and I just hung out with you, and then all of a sudden I'm this jazz-trumpet master. Or, you speak fluent Italian, and I absorb your ability and am fluent in several languages and traveling the world. Something like that would be so fun. Another fantasy I have would be to switch bodies with somebody for a few hours. I would switch with LeBron James, or any professional basketball player, and see how I do in an NBA game! [Laughs] I mean, I grew up playing a lot of sports, so I've had these fantasies about professional sports.
TVGuide.com: You're very well-rounded, because I hear that you're also a jazz singer in your free time.
Lee: [Laughs] Well, I do like singing jazz. When I first came out to L.A., I started in music classes rather than acting, so I explored jazz a lot and the standards and really kind of fell in the love with that whole history and world. And then I entered musical theater a little bit.
TVGuide.com: You have to tell me: Does Ando have a power? A special ability that a normal human being wouldn't have, perhaps?
Lee: Well, is romancing women a power? [Laughs]
TVGuide.com: In some circles, yeah!
Lee: Well, we have some great surprises coming up. Ando has a mini love interest in one of the upcoming episodes, and there's going to be a great twist to it, too. We have some really, really fun stuff ahead.
TVGuide.com: I love how you totally avoided that question, by the way. They've trained you well!
Lee: [Laughs] You know, we were talking about this, and we thought, "How funny would it be if Ando develops powers that were unique but just really random?" Like being able to make cheese out of thin air. I concentrate and say, "Mozzarella!"
TVGuide.com: I think it would be really cool if he had uncontrolled powers, like he never knew what was going to happen.
Lee: [Laughs] Like all of a sudden, 10,000 balloons pop out of nowhere and everything turns pink.
TVGuide.com: Did you ever watch Inspector Gadget?
Lee: [Laughs] Yeah! Random things pop out of his hat and you just don't know what's going on. What about the ability to Bedazzle?
TVGuide.com: The ability to make people sparkly!
Lee: I snap my fingers, and there's glitter all over you. [Laughs] How useful is that for saving the world?
TVGuide.com: I'm definitely glad to hear that there's a good story line coming up for you. I've been worried about Ando becoming, well, dispensable.
Lee: Yeah, we have some great cameos coming up. I'm sure you've probably heard by now about George Takei [of Star Trek fame, debuting Jan. 29 as Hiro's father]. [Right now], I'm working with Missi Pyle [who plays a damsel in distrees in the Feb. 12 episode]. And we have some new characters with different powers coming up. It's all going to keep people on their toes.
TVGuide.com: We've seen the painting of Hiro and a dinosaur. Are you with him when he faces off with the T. rex?
Lee: [Laughs] Yes, I am with him, I am in the vicinity. Now, where that's going to take place will be a great surprise. In fact, when we come back [tonight], that's going to be Episode 12, and boy, that's a great, great, great episode. It's a fun one.
TVGuide.com: Now, the geeky girl in me is all excited that you're involved in all these video games. I heard that you're doing The Darkness, and you did a baseball one?
Lee: Yeah, The Darkness is coming out this year [for Xbox 360/PlayStation 3], and that was a really fun process. I did motion capture, where they get me in this tight leather suit with pins all over, and then they put these little pins all over your face to capture every expression that you make. And you're put in a sort of chamber where there's, like, 36 cameras going all around. Basically you have to physically move and tuck and roll and jump and shout and say your lines. I mean, it was really theatrical!
TVGuide.com: You have movies coming out as well. You're very all over the place.
Lee: Well, thank you. I have four feature films coming out next year. The last one I worked on is an independent ensemble comedy, called Searching for Mickey Fish, and it's with Treat Williams, Daniel Baldwin, Charlotte Ross, Curtis Armstrong, Efren Ramirez.... It's an ensemble piece directed by Don Most (Happy Days), and he's such a great guy, a great actor's director. I'm really looking forward to seeing it.
TVGuide.com: Do you have time to do movies now, or are you busy with Heroes?
Lee: I do have a cameo [which aired Jan. 19] on Las Vegas. I play this interesting guy who womanizes his older brother's ex-girlfriend in order to try to get them together. [Laughs]
TVGuide.com: Well, Ando and Hiro were already at the Montecito once....
Lee: [Laughs] We said it would be awesome if we did a crossover episode. It would have been so funny when we were playing cards if James Caan popped up in the background and Molly Sims gave us cocktails.
TVGuide.com: So, coming up on Heroes, do we get to see lots more of you and Hiro hanging out?
Lee: Yeah, and our adventure. I myself don't know where things are going, but I'm getting little hints here and there, and we have some amazing stuff coming up. The great thing about it is that a great friendship is really featured in our story line, and you don't really see that a lot in prime-time television. I think it's the first time you see two Asian characters featured in this sort of way, so fun to share. People come up to us who don't understand Japanese and at the same time they're like, "We totally love you guys.... We feel like we relate and connect and really latch onto these characters." To me, that's the biggest compliment.
TVGuide.com: Is it hard going back and forth between the English and the Japanese?
Lee: [Laughs] For me, it was one of the biggest joys and challenges, because Japanese was not my native language. My father lived in Japan for a while, and then he was transferred back to Korea, where he married my mom, so I've always been really fascinated with the culture and the language. I took a semester of it in college, but this has been such a great opportunity to really dive into it and study intensively.I'm planning to go [to Japan] sometime in the summer, if I can, to really experience the culture.
TVGuide.com: If they've seen the show by then, you're going to be a god over there.
Lee: [Laughs] Well, I just hope that they're fans of the show.
Are you on the list... of Heroes fans itching for scoop? Keep an eye out for the TV Guide cover story hitting newsstands this week! Also, be sure to check out TVGuide.com's other Heroes feature running today.
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