IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Masi Oka Talks 'Searching for Sonny' and 'Hawaii Five-0'

Friday, 31 August 2012 13:13 Written by  Jami Philbrick
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IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Masi Oka Talks 'Searching for Sonny' and 'Hawaii Five-0'

American-Japanese actor Masi Oka actually began his career as a visual effects artist at ILM working on such films as The Perfect Storm, Hulk, and the most resent Star Wars trilogy. But it was his role as Hiro Nakamura on the fan-favorite NBC series Heroes that took him from behind the camera and made him a household name.

Since the popular series ended, Oka has appeared in several popular films including Get Smart, Balls of Fury, The Promotion, and Friends with Benefits, as well as landing a role on another hit television series; Hawaii Five-0. But now, the talented young actor can once again be seen on the big screen in the new film noir comedy Searching for Sonny, which was helmed by first time director Andrew Disney and will be available on VOD, DVD, Blu-ray, and in theaters via TUGG on August 28th.

Searching for Sonny tells the story of Elliot (Jason Dohring), Calvin (Nick Kocher), Gary (Brian McElhaney) and Eden (Minka Kelly), four old friends who find themselves chief suspects in a murder mystery at their ten-year high school reunion. Ironically, the events surrounding the disappearance of their former-classmate Sonny (Oka), is reminiscent of a high school play they once performed, coincidentally written by Sonny himself. Deception leads to scandal and the truth surfaces as the friends learn that shady businessmen and school officials, including their former principal (Michael Hogan) are involved in a complex scheme of money and murder.

I recently had a chance to speak with actor Masi Oka about making Searching for Sonny, as well as his work on Hawaii Five-0. Oka discussed his new film, taking on a small but pivotal role, making his first independent film, director Andrew Disney’s script, working with Battlestar Galactica actor Michael Hogan, life after Heroes, and joining the cast of Hawaii Five-0.

Here is what he had to say:

IAR: To begin with, while your character in Searching for Sonny is the title role, it’s a very small part. So what attracted you to this project?

Masi Oka: Well first of all I think Andrew is a great guy. He’s very interesting and I think he has a lot of potential as a director. I love the tone video he created. He created kind of like this mini trailer and I thought he was like really talented, so I wanted to work with him. I also knew that my friend Minka (Kelly) was going to be working on it too so I thought it would be fun to just dive in and do something. Also, I’ve never done an indie before so I also thought it’d be a great experience just to learn what that side you know the job is like.

So you wanted to get a little indie cred going, is that right?

Oka: Yeah absolutely, but it was kind of scary because when you go to an indie film, literally I found that everybody on set except for maybe two people were younger than me. So I felt like I was getting old.

Well you’ve been at this game for a long time now, haven’t you?

Oka: Yeah I don’t feel that way, but now reflecting back … I guess I’ve been around.

What was your initial reaction to reading director Andrew Disney’s script?

Oka: I think it was a very fun script. It’s a great cast, great crew, and it’s a lot of fun to work with a very young energy. It’s was also fun to have that trailer with everybody in it, we were all in one trailer so we were always just goofing around, playing games and singing, so that was our big thing there. The script was also really smart. I loved all the tonal things he was going to do with the murder mystery and the kind of a noir-ish feel vs. the juxtaposition with real the world as well.

You've worked on some big studio movies in the past as well as two hit television series, so what was it like for you as an actor to be a part of an Independent film like this?

Oka: It was a great learning experience. It’s great because everybody’s chipping in, and everyone’s learning. It was a very professional environment. It was very surprising because you don’t expect that much, but this was really well done for an independent film.

Did you have a lot of time to work on the scenes with Andrew and the other actors? Were you able to do as many takes as you wanted, or was it kind of a “run and gun” shoot and you just had to do the best you could because they needed to move on to make all their shots for the day?

Oka: It was pretty much run and gun. I talked to Andrew before the shooting started. I came in while they were shooting. I think I came in the last week or the week before they were about to wrap. It was a week’s worth of shooting for me and then Andrew was already deep into the production so it was pretty much a run and gun thing, especially with my character. It’s kind of funny because everybody’s wondering where Sonny is and all of a sudden my character just comes in, pops up and says, “What are you guys doing? Oh, and by the way, I’m fine.”

In one of the scenes you appear in, you worked with actor Michael Hogan. Were you a big fan of Battlestar Galactica and if so, was it fun for you to work with him?

Oka: Yeah, it was definitely fun to work with him. I haven’t seen the whole season but I promised my colleague Grace Park (Hawaii Five-0) that I would watch the series when I get a chance. It was definitely fun though. That’s the good thing about making an independent film, we’re all together and we’re just talking. There were a lot of interesting people on that show and there were a lot of interesting stories, so that was definitely a fun thing to hear all their stories.

Finally, I wanted to ask you about life after Heroes and returning to television on another hit show, Hawaii Five-0. What has that experience been like for you? Did you have to move to Hawaii?

Oka: Well right now I’m commuting between L.A. and Hawaii. I do have an apartment here in Hawaii, but you know even as a series regular I have a lot of time off because on the show I’m not carrying the show like I was with Heroes. So I have a lot of time and I’m trying to do a lot of producing. I shuttle back from L.A. and even Tokyo back and forth trying to keep things moving. But it’s been a great experience. I love the crew here and the cast, Daniel (Dae Kim) is a great friend of mine, and it’s great to be finally working with him. It’s just great to get to go on set and do some fun stuff. It’s a lot more technical than it was on Heroes. I am learning another foreign language and there are all these Latin and medical terms, but it’s amazing to be able to work in Hawaii and to go from one hit show to another is a rare opportunity and I’m very grateful for it.

Searching For Sonny opens in theaters via TUGG, and will also be available on VOD, DVD. and Blu-ray August 28th.

To read our exclusive interview with Michael Hogan about Searching for Sonny, please click here

To watch an exclusive clip from Searching for Sonny, please click here.

Scheduled screenings include:

Nashville - September 6th

Atlanta - September 12th

Chicago - September 18th

Phoenix - September 19th

For tickets to any of these screenings, please click here

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