'Hawaii Five-0' Star Masi Oka on Max's Big Episode and his Quest to Bring Improv to Japan

Masi Oka Hawaii Five-0 CBS - H 2012

Masi Oka Hawaii Five-0 CBS - H 2012

A serial killer comes to Oahu on Monday's Hawaii Five-0, and the development brings with it some rather surprising revelations about quiet medical examiner Max (Masi Oka). He offers up surprising insight about a killing -- and his past -- during the investigation that happens to fall on the first episode of star Alex O'Loughlin's brief hiatus.

Oka spoke with The Hollywood Reporter ahead of his highlighted storyline, likely the biggest arc he's gotten since becoming a series regular in Season 2, and the Heroes vet offered details on the season finale, working without O'Loughlin, how his summer plans involve teaching improv in Japan and what's next for his character, TV's only adopted, Jewish, Asian-American doctor.

The Hollywood Reporter: This was the first episode without O'Loughlin (who took a hiatus to seek treatment prescription pain medication). How was working with the smaller ensemble?
Masi Oka: It was a different experience, but we definitely missed Alex. A lot of the script had to change, because this was a sudden development for us. I think there was a strong bond between the small group. Personally, I knew Daniel [Dae Kim] and Grace [Park] from previous encounters. They're like my big brother and big sister. Having the smaller group, there were fewer people to share the screen time, so we actually spent more time with each other, because everybody carried a little bit more weight now. I think there was a strong bond that formed within the smaller group.

THR: What did the writers tell you about Max when they decided to make him a more prominent character?
Oka: They were just giving me the backstory of Max. They told me we'd get to explore his character and just kind of build him up and eventually pay it off. You can’t have every episode in a procedural focused on character stories. It can’t always be personal cases, otherwise it gets too much. This time around, the case means a lot to Max.

THR: He has a bit of a dark history. Did you know he was hiding this much?
Oka: I never thought he had this much in him. It’s always interesting to find out why someone goes into a particular profession, particularly one that deals with dead bodies -- to find out what motivates that person. What makes him want to go to work every day? What makes him want to do this? What made him choose this? It was interesting to see all that and to know that the writers have given it some thought. And they were always open to ideas that I had.

THR: We find out more about Max being adopted in this episode. When did they let on the direction it would take?
Oka: At the beginning of the season, when I talked to the writers, they already knew. I don’t think they knew about all of the details, but they knew that my character was adopted. Elwood Reid, who wrote this episode, came up with a pitch for the story of Max’s background, and that’s when I first knew the link to the murders and the backstory behind why he was abandoned.

THR: The episode ends on a dramatic note for Max. How much do you think it will change him?
Oka: It’s a procedural, so tragedy happens to all of us, but life goes on. And we have other cases that we have to solve. So it is going to affect him, but he can’t wallow in it the whole time. You will get to see a little bit more of a fighter in Max. He does get to grow in the future episodes, and I am trying to play him where he is a little bit more open to everyone. He's revealed a part of him. That’s a big deal for Max. Whether that’s going to change him greatly I don’t know. He is still sort of a reserved guy, and there are still mysteries about him that we didn’t get to see in the episode.

THR: What did you think of the NCIS crossover episode?
Oka: I didn’t get a chance to work with them, but I did get to visit their set. They are really good guys.

THR: Can you say anything about the season finale?
Oka: Yes, it’s amazing. I can say it’s amazing. I have to give credit to the writers that they know how to write an ending. There is going to be a big cliffhanger that’s going to leave people saying, “Oh my god what was that?” And make people want to come back for season three, so there’s definitely that. And then there’s a stunt for Max.

THR: How does living in Hawaii affect your hiatus plans?
Oka: Fortunately for me I have a much easier schedule from everyone else. When I’m not shooting, I’ll go back to Los Angeles or I’ll go to Japan. I'll most likely spend [this summer] that way. I have a lot of things in the works behind the scenes, so I might be focusing on more of producing things. I’m also working with Yoshimoto in Japan, which is the biggest management of comics and independent production company in Japan. I’ve always believed in connecting cultures through comedy. So what I’m trying to do is I’m trying to bring a Second City branch to Japan. People in America take improv classes whether you’re interested in being an actor or not, and I want to bring that to Japan. I might teach a summer course while I’m there.

THR: Are you trying to bring an actual Second City outpost to Japan?
Oka: Yes, I’ve been working on it for over a year now. I graduated from Second City. I said [to Yoshimoto], 'If it’s possible, let me introduce you guys to the folks at Second City." We are going to experiment in the beginning this summer. It’s a way of giving back to the community.