James Kyson Lee of 'Heroes' Is Learning Japanese (and Motorcyling)
When NBC's superhero drama "Heroes" ends its fourth season (and 5th volume, "Redemption") on Monday, Feb. 8, with an episode called "Brave New World," best buddies Ando Masahashi ( James Kyson Lee) and Hiro Nakamura (Masi Oka) will be right in the thick of it, as they are called on to avert a disaster.
Both Japanese, Ando and Hiro spend a lot of time conversing in their native language. That's fine for Oka, who was born in Tokyo and moved to Los Angeles at the age of 6 and is still fluent in Japanese. It's a little more complicated for Lee, who was born in Seoul, South Korea, and moved to New York City at the age of 10.
He speaks Korean along with English, but while that might help him on ABC's "Lost" -- which has two Korean characters -- it's not much good on "Heroes."
"I went to Hawaii for the first time this year," says Lee, "and I actually hang-glided off the North Shore. We were up in the air for about an hour, and we actually flew by the set of 'Lost.' I was joking to the instructor, 'Why don't you drop me off here, and I'll do a guest episode.'"
Lee has also watched "Lost" star Daniel Dae Kim -- born in Korea but raised in Pennsylvania since the age of two -- work on scenes in Korean with costar Yunjin Kim. who has worked in both American and South Korean productions.
"I do speak Korean," says Lee, "so I was able to tell he was working on it when the show started. I could definitely relate to trying to master a new language."
(Incidentally, with "Lost" ending, Daniel Dae Kim has booked a new job, as Detective Chin Ho Kelly in CBS' re-imagined "Hawaii 5-0." Click here for more.)
As it turns out, while Lee didn't speak Japanese, he has a connection to the island nation.
"My dad," he recalls, "was one of the few people who went from Korea to study engineering in Japan back in the '50s. Then they brought him back to Korea to help rebuild the country after the wars. He lived in Japan for about five years, studied there and worked as an engineer there.
"And then, now, here I am, playing this character. Life has a strange way of working itself in."
Starting out as Hiro's (on right in picture) work buddy and sidekick, Ando has evolved into a hero in his own right , with his own superpower, the red lightning, which can amplify the power of other superhumans he meets. It also can affect electronic devices.
"Looking back," says Lee, "the relationship has really progressed nicely in the past four seasons, starting out in this adventure together, and then developing our own powers and our own identities.
"I see Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson; I see Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer; Luke Skywalker and Han Solo. I feel like we're carving out our own nice little legacy in a way."
Asked if Ando's Luke or Han, Lee says, "I feel more of the Han Solo. Ando's definitely more of the happy-go-lucky sort of fellow. He has a knack for romance."
And, in the "Star Wars" saga, Han Solo wound up with Luke's sister, Princess Leia, and in "Heroes," after a little reworking of the past, Ando is engaged to Hiro's sister, Kimiko.
"I think they were meant to be together," Lee says, "and that's why Hiro had to go back to the past to fix his mistake. Now they're getting ready for a wedding. We'll see if it happens on the show, maybe next season."
As of today, there's no word from NBC on whether "Heroes" will get a new season. With Jay Leno abandoning his self-titled 10 p.m. ET/PT show to go back to "The Tonight Show," that does leave five hours of primetime to fill on the fall schedule, but there's no indication yet what will occupy the open slots.
Whatever happens, Lee has kept up his movie career, and continues his involvement with the Hollywood Knights, a celebrity basketball team that works for charity and entertains the troops through the USO.
"I just got back from Italy with my basketball team," says Lee. "For the Italy trip, we had a couple of the 'American Gladiators'; Ryan Cabrera, who's a singer; and Travis Van Winkle, who's an actor. It was a mixed bag.
"We were out there doing a USO tour, visiting the troops and playing exhibition games for the Air Force, Navy. It was pretty awesome. I got to visit the Air Force base and see F-16s. They brought us on the Naval ship, got a tour. And seeing the sights of Italy -- it was a blast."
If there is a season five, Lee hopes to see more of the "Andocycle," a Harley-Davidson V-Rod Muscle motorcycle given to Ando by Hiro in the season-three episode, "A Clear and Present Danger."
"I had to learn to ride for that episode," he says. "It was a three-day course, and I had different instructors each day. They were all women, so go figure. I had a really fun time. I'm hoping next season I get to do some more riding and some more action stuff."