Interview:James Kyson Lee
Ryan Stewart: You're one of the few members of the cast that I see doing a lot of interviews with some of the smaller fan sites, rather than only interviewing with the larger news sites. I just want to tell you, on behalf of the fans, how much I appreciate that you devote so much of your time to interacting with your fans as directly as possible.
James Kyson Lee: Well, you're welcome, Ryan. For me, I consider that important because our fans have been such an important and integral part of our show. It only feels natural and right to give something back.
Yeah, I have an administrative assistant who makes sure they keep track of stuff on the web.
Did you enjoy the Comic-Con?
I had a blast, yeah!
Yeah. You know, this past Saturday, three other guys from the show and I performed for a charity event called Hot in Hollywood. It was to raise money for the AIDS Foundation. It was just an amazing night! It was really fun to see some of the people from other shows perform. We had a couple people from ER, people from Ugly Betty and Notes from the Underbelly. Of course, Sendhil, Jack, Zach, and I did the closing number of the show, singing three songs with a rock band and a choir. So it was a cool way to bring the house down.
No way! What did you guys sing?
We sang "Here Comes the Sun", and then U2's "Beautiful Day", and then we closed it with "Let the Sunshine In" from Hair.
That must have been some sight!
Yeah, yeah, it was pretty awesome, man! You know, that's probably one of the best parts of this world and being part of the show. It really give an opportunity for me to do something outside of the acting world, and give something back that has some impact and has a positive influence.
That must feel great.
Yeah, absolutely, yeah.
Have you checked out the latest graphic novel?
You know, I haven't, but a writer just told me that it's a two-parter on my character.
Yeah, that's exactly right.
I'd love to take a look when I can. Yeah, I never got a chance to look at all the graphic novels, so this will be really interesting.
Your character is the main focus of this one, and he appears in two other ones, as well.
Oh, that's really cool.
Yeah, you'll have to check that out.
Absolutely! In San Diego, they announced that DC Comics is going to be officially publishing our Heroes official comic book. I was just thrilled. I thought that was so exciting. I mean, what kid doesn't dream about being in a comic book one day? You know what I'm saying?
Yeah, it's very cool...even if your character has no superpowers.
[laughs] Well, you know, that's the fun part, actually! During Season One, I used to get asked the question all the time, "When is Ando getting powers?" And I used to daydream about different possibilities. Like what if Ando got something unique and random, like I turn villains into small toys? Like, "Here comes Sylar!" BAM! He's a dreidel. Then I spin him around for 15 seconds and he surrenders. Or BOOM! "You're a yo yo!" and I bounce you around. I don't know. I think in the supernatural world, we do need a character that a mortal and somewhat relatable. I think that is Ando. He does sort of represent the human race in this supernatural world, if you will. And there's something fun about that. Ando's a fun character to play because he's able to take the audience with him on the journey. So I really enjoy that.
I agree with you. You're in a select little group of characters that don't have powers on Heroes. There's Ando, Mr. Bennet, and Mohinder. You guys are the three main ones that have no powers. I think it's fantastic that you represent the everyman, the viewer.
Yeah, it does balance out the show. I think you'd get a little too carried away if everyone and their dog [had powers]. The next thing you know, Mr. Muggles zaps little light bulbs from his eyes. You know what I mean? It would just be La La Land. I think that's part of the appeal of the show, that it is somewhat rooted it in reality in the sense that all of these circumstances and happenings and are still somewhat believable. We're able to latch on to these characters.
How do you relate to your character then?
[laughs] You know, it's funny. Someone from the Comic-Con asked what we bring from our real life. I guess my answer was I bring my enthusiasm for women. I don't know. [both laugh] But Ando's a character that went through quite a bit of character growth in Season One, starting out as sort of a reluctant participant, coming out to a foreign world, and really becoming a believer. I think towards the later [part] of the season, he really kind of swapped roles with Hiro at times and started spearheading. There were times when Hiro was really down and Ando sort of became the encourager and the inspiration so that Hiro could do this. It got to the point where he went out to go face Sylar by himself because he thought Hiro wasn't going to do it. [laughs] You know, it's been a really fun transformation. I try to bring different aspects of myself to it, of course, incorporating all the imagination of our writers. But we'll see. I think it's going to be very interesting and we'll see how things progress.
How do you want Ando to grow in the next season?
I'd love to learn more about his background and his family. Also, it seems like Hiro and Ando have known each other since they were younger than maybe some people have realized. They could have been coworkers at work, but Hiro does mention the fact that Kensei is a childhood hero that they both grew up reading about. Of course, we have the comedic elements in the show, which I think just adds a different layer to the show entirely. And Ando and Hiro have this really great dynamic relationship. I'd love to be part of more action, you know? Naturally, I'm an athletic guy and I love being active. So I'd love to see Ando incorporated in more of that and just maybe kind of go out there and fight. You know, when we had the future episode, Hiro got to do a lot of the battle stuff. I think it'd be fun to see Ando get in the mix on some of the action stuff.
Yeah, I agree with you, I think that would be very neat. You mentioned Ando's family. Is there any chance of seeing any other Masahashis in Season Two?
You know, I have no idea at this point. We only just finished episode six and a lot of things are still under wraps. But I'd love to see maybe a love interest in Japan, or, I don't know, I'd love to see the storylines being expanded more. But we'll see. With this show, you never know what's going to happen, man.
You never know. That's one of the things that I love about this show, that it keeps you on your toes so much.
It really does--including the actors! [laughs]
Yeah. You mentioned that Ando went off to fight Sylar on his own. How'd you feel when you saw that storyline?
Yeah, at first I was really excited, and then I was like, "Oh, wait a minute. Could this be the end?"
And then that coupled with that picture of you dead and mangled!
Right, right! In the future--luckily it was a future that we avoided. [both laugh] I think Adrian said once that he thought he was coming on a show called Heroes, but he didn't realize it was called Survivor. I mean, any of us can go at any time, and I think that's what keeps the show exciting. They're able to bring in new characters and flush out new storylines. So we hope that this is a long run... [laughs] but definitely, sometimes you get the script and you're like, "Oh my God, where is this headed?" But maybe that's part of the excitement. It's like one of those roller coaster rides where you have to have faith and just jump on.
Now, you're a Korean man playing a Japanese character. Do you speak any Japanese on your own?
My parents are South Korean. But yeah--you know, I studied Japanese in college. Interestingly, my father, before we moved to New York City, was an electrical engineer in Tokyo. So he used to be fluent in the language. But obviously, this is the most that I've had to immerse myself in the language and the culture for the show. That's been a big highlight for me in Season One. In May, I was in Japan filming a 20th Century Fox movie called Shutter. We filmed in Tokyo, and I saw a lot of Tokyo, and I got to travel Japan for a week. I went to see Kyoto and Osaka and Hiroshima. It was just a really powerful and eye-opening experience for me. I just had a blast. It was a treat.
It sounds like it. How does it feel to play a character that is not necessarily your nationality?
I've embraced it fully. It wasn't an element that was so foreign to me, I think because there were connections from my family and the past and my father, of course. And I've been part of a lot of projects where the storyline of Japan was a big element. You know, I have a movie coming out next year called Akira's Hip Hop Shop where I play a young Japanese DJ who ends up opening up a record store in the United States and starts dating an African American girl. So it sort of an interracial romantic dramedy, if you will. But yeah, you know, strange thing: when I went to Tokyo, it wast my first time there, but something about it felt really familiar, [like] home. So I'm not sure what it is exactly, but for some reason, Japan has been in my life a lot. So I've definitely embraced it. And I think, for the most part, the feedback has been very positive. And I'm having a lot of fun learning the language. I'm getting better and better with every episode. I'm looking forward to going back there.
So when you're speaking Japanese on the show, are you doing it phonetically, or--
--No, I actually learn every single word in the dialogue. The problem with memorizing phonetically--it doesn't work for me, because as an actor, I need to have an emotional connection to everything that is said and heard. The only way for me to do that, really is to immerse [myself] in the language and learn things from scratch.
So it is a really long process and a lot of work because my coach and I start from scratch. We work from the bottom up. Not only do I learn every word, but I learn different conjugations of the word and where it comes from and the root of it. So past tense, present tense, and future tense. Also, why things are being said at this point and the context of things. Also, for Ando, we had to create a character that is from modern Tokyo. There's a cadence and rhythm that comes with it that's different for different regions of Japan. Also, Japan's very interesting because how I would address Hiro is very different from how I would speak to his father or his sister. So there's a lot of cultural that come into play that you have to consider. So you take this all into play, and there's a lot of things you have to study and layer upon. When I wasn't filming, I would spend a good five or six hours just studying the language and the culture. So it was a lot of homework, but it was definitely worth it. I really enjoy it.
That's quite impressive, especially for an actor who has been busy acting in every episode except for one.
Yeah, for Season One, I was a season-long recurring guest. You're right, with the exception of the flashback episode, Company Man, Ando appeared in every one of them with Hiro. And for Season Two, I've been upgraded as a regular.
Thanks very much.
That's very exciting. So how much input do you have with the writers?
I kind of let the writers do their thing first, and obviously the product that comes out of there is so phenomenal. I think once we're on set and filming, there's a lot of in between the lines that we bring to our characters, and the writers really enjoy that aspect. So I feel like they have the ability to put the magic on the paper, and I guess we help bring it out and to life. So it's a really great collaboration, and we obviously honor every single word in the script because it's written so well and it's written for a purpose. But I think there's a lot of in between room that we get to do, whether it's physically, or I don't know. I think they really like the fact that Ando is a very reactive character, meaning there's always something going on in his face, and you can sort of understand what's going on. I think we know a lot of people like Ando and Hiro because sometimes you don't even understand what's being said verbally but there's a certain vibe that you understand from these characters about what they're feeling and what is happening to them emotionally.
I was listening to an interview with Paul Shapiro, the director of Hiros, and he said he was listening to a scene between your character and Masi Oka's character. It was all in Japanese, and he didn't even know it was over until you got up and left. It's interesting how you get caught up in the emotion of the scene, and not necessarily the actual words.
Yeah, it's true. And Paul is one of the best in town. In fact, we liked him so much we had him do two episodes last year.
So in Season Two, where do we find Ando?
Season Two is very interesting. It's going to start off four months after where Season One has ended. There are actually two parallel timelines going on. One in the present day, and one in 17th century Japan. Ando and Hiro are separated at the moment, with myself in the present day and Hiro back in feudal Japan. But there is still a correlation and a connection between us. How that's going to happen, you'll find out on September 24th. But it's going to be a phenomenal way of storytelling. I think it's going to exceed people's expectations. I'm really excited about this season. You find Ando of course in Japan, and possibly New York, but we're still barely a quarter of the way in, so who knows what the rest of the season has in store.
If Hiro is in 1671 and you're in 2007, are you guys still reacting with each other? Are you still the sidekick, or do you have your own storylines now?
Well, we're physically separated, but there's going to be a sort of interesting connection. I guess a "channel of communication," if you will. I can't give that away, obviously. But it's going to be fascinating. I think it's really fantastic you get to see these two parallel worlds going on. What happens in one will affect what happens in the other. There's going to be a lot of interesting discoveries.
And you mentioned that Ando is going to have a "new look" for Season Two.
Well, I think it's safe to say he's moved on from the Member's Only jacket...[both laugh]...which I was a big fan of, actually, because he was, like, the last remaining member! You can't even find those anymore, and Ando had it in five different colors. So we loved it for Season One, but for Season Two, Ando is sporting a new look, and so are a lot of the other characters, actually. They've gone through quite a bit of change in the four months, in between the seasons. Yeah, it's going to be very refreshing and very interesting to watch.
And you're embracing the "less-nerdy" look.
[laughs] Yes! Exactly!
Well, thank you James, for taking the time to talk with me and answer some questions. And have fun in New York next week during the Heroes World Tour.
You're welcome, Ryan, and thanks for all the support you guys provide us.
|Graphic Novel Crew|
Blackout • Dark Matters: directors / writer • Destiny • Evs Dropper • Golden Handshake • Into the Wild • iStory (follow up) • Nowhere Man: directors / writers • The Recruit • Root and Branch • Slow Burn
|See Also: Links • Interviews|