On “Heroes,” Jack Coleman and Masi Oka play two very different characters, but both actors revel in the complications faced by those personalities each week.
“I’m lucky to be working on a show where I get to evolve and face so many challenges,” says Oka, who began his entertainment career as a CG artist at Industrial Light & Magic.
Though Oka loved working at the visual effects company, his love of acting led him away from that. Now as Hiro, a character “inspired by Joseph Campbell’s ‘Hero With a Thousand Faces’ and the ideas within it,” the Japan-born actor feels he’s able to live out his own “hero fantasy of being a working actor.”
Still, Oka had to make adjustments as fans began to recognize him. “I don’t think I was quite prepared for it, to be honest,” Oka says. “I love that people are responding to what we do, because that’s why we do it, but I have to remember sometimes that I can’t go out looking bad because someone might see me, and I don’t want them to be disappointed or end up in the tabloids for being a bad dresser.”
The show’s appeal is clear to Oka: “When you work in a cubicle, sometimes the monotony of life gets to you, but we all still have dreams, and we have hope there’s a special destiny for us.”
Coleman finds the mixed motives of his Mr. Bennet very human. “It’s almost easier to play, because we’re all conflicted and complex,” says the veteran television actor, who worked on “Dynasty” and “Days of Our Lives” early in his career. “His motivations are actually quite clear, but what makes them interesting is that they’re in opposition to each other because he loves his daughter but he also feels a sense of duty to his job.”
Coleman start on “Heroes” was a challenge. “My first day on the pilot I was sick as a dog and I had a fever of 102 degrees, and Hayden (Panettiere) and I just met 45 seconds before we shot our first scene,” Coleman recalls. “But Hayden was fantastic and we immediately found a way to play father and daughter in those first few moments we were working together.”
Having his own 7-year-old daughter has given Coleman insight into his character’s struggle to protect his television daughter.
“They say once you become a parent, you live with your heart on your sleeve, and that’s definitely true,” says Coleman. “My character has been Hayden’s Sherpa in trying to keep her safe, and she’s been his moral compass. It is through her that he finds his soul and a way to become heroic in a way. And the fact that she’s not his biological daughter makes it that much more interesting.”
Oka: “The first time Hiro meets another hero in episode 5. It was such an odd combination of Hiro — this wide-eyed wanderer — meeting this other hero who was a hard-edged alpha male, and finding out they had a lot in common.”
Coleman: “There’s a scene on a bridge where I get shot, and Claire and I have a big goodbye. When we were shooting that, it was freezing cold and I was basically wearing Kleenex, so it wasn’t a lot of fun to shoot, but I loved the way it played out.”
Where you’d like to see your character go next season:
Oka: “He’ll probably mature a lot more, but he’ll probably also keep his sense of wonder. I’d also like to see a little more romance for Hiro, because I really enjoyed playing the scenes with Hiro’s love interest, Charlie.”
Coleman: “I love the idea of a guy who’s trying to settle into a suburban life with his family and just can’t because of his sense of duty to what he’s made a commitment to in his job. I can’t begin to tell you what that would be in the next season, but I like the idea of my character struggling with that.”
TV guilty pleasure:
Oka: “I love ‘The Price Is Right,’ and I’m pretty good at guessing the prices.”
Coleman: “I can sit and watch ‘SportsCenter’ about a game I’ve just watched and then the next day I want to read the newspaper about that same game and then I want to hear more analysis after that. It’s a sickness.”