A Word from Ando: James Kyson Lee Speaks Out

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Over at HeroesWiki, Ryan Stewart has interviewed Jason Kyson Lee, the actor that portrays Ando on our favorite show.

Here are highlights from the discussion...

Ando PhotoYou'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 mentioned that Ando went off to fight Sylar (Zachary Quinto) 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.

Follow our link to read the full interview with James Kyson Lee.

Matt Richenthal is the Editor in Chief of TV Fanatic. Follow him on Twitter and on Google+.

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