Masi Oka bids a fond farewell to Hawaii Five-0 this week and, after seven years on the island, Max Bergman will finally get to say all the things that he’s been keeping inside. We spoke to Oka about his time on the show, why he’s leaving, and what’s next for him both in front of and behind the camera.
Max’s old journals are uncovered, and we get to see a few hidden moments of his life before he says his final goodbyes. Although a good chunk of the episode is devoted to him, though, there just wasn’t enough room for everything. “I wish maybe we saw a little more of [Max] and Sabrina together,” says Oka. Rumer Willis, who plays his wife, wasn’t available for filming, but she is seen in some of the flashbacks.
We do get plenty of Max and Jerry (Jorge Garcia) together, though — he’s the one who finds the journals — and Oka says that is one of his favorite relationships of the entire series. “They’re both geeks in their own way, and they can have a very interesting conversation.” His other favorite is Scott Caan, who plays Danny. “Danny and Max always bantered a lot. There’s a lot of improv and things that didn’t make the final cut, but did make it on the DVD. It was kind of fun sparring on that end.”
Seven years is a long time for anyone to be on a show, but part of Oka’s decision to leave was the killer commute. “I lose a good two days,” he says, every time he flies to or from Hawaii (which can be many times a month).
“I have my mom in L.A. — she’s so important to me. I want to tend to her when she needs it, and there were times I couldn’t.” It’s nice to see that for all the importance the show places on ohana, it’s reflected in the real lives of the actors as well.
One of the things Oka’s most proud of, on a personal level, is learning all the medical terms. “A lot of times, you can paraphrase,” he says with a chuckle, but not as a doctor. “One word might mean bleeding; the other word might mean diarrhea.” He also worked hard to make sure that Max “never lost his passion and his pureness.” Even after seven years, he says, “At the core, he’s still a guy who loves his job and cares about people — even if he’s not super socially apt.”
A lot has changed in the world since he got his big break as one of the stars of Heroes back in 2006. Asian roles on television were few and far between, but Oka thinks the progress was inevitable. “It comes every 10 years. The first time, it was African-Americans who got pushed. Then, 10 years later, it was the Latinos. Then, 10 years later, it was the Asians.” Asian-Americans still have difficulty landing roles in movies, where, he says, the studios cast mainland Chinese actors to appeal to the Chinese market. But, he said, “TV is still for us — it’s for Americans, the domestic market.”
Oka is still hoping to find another series-regular role — as long as it shoots in Los Angeles. In the meantime, though, his plate is still full. He has a role, both behind and in front of the camera, in the Netflix series Death Note. He is a producer on that show, and has others in production. He’s in the Jason Statham action thriller Meg, due out next year. Oka has his own game company, Mobius Digital. And, if that all falls through, he can still go back to his job as a digital effects artist at ILM, where he’s technically still employed. “That’s kind of a running gag we have, because I love that company,” Oka said.
That should come in handy for achieving his lifelong goal. “As an actor, I’m still dying to be a part of the Star Wars franchise.” It was the reason he went to work for them in the first place. “I’d be ready to retire if I could get a role in a Star Wars film.”
Hawaii Five-0 airs Fridays at 9 p.m. on CBS.