James Kyson Lee was born in Seoul, South Korea and moved with his family to New York City at the age of ten. He attended Boston University and the New England Institute of the Art, also located in Boston. James moved to Los Angeles in 2001 and began training in jazz singing, musical theater, and acting and also studying comedy at The Groundlings, Upright Citizens Brigade, and I.O. West. His very first television audition landed him a guest-starring role on the former television series JAG and he has been a working actor ever since. His most prominent role to date is that of Ando Masahashi on the hit NBC series Heroes. This week I had the pleasure of talking to James about Heroes and some other projects he has going on.
ABOUT “THE FACE”
Currently, Ando and his buddy Hiro Nakamura have completed a quest to unite Matt Parkman and his infant son. Matt Parkman Jr. has the ability to activate or deactivate electrical devices (and also those with powers, such as when he gave Hiro one of his abilities back). This was demonstrated in the latest episode to air by way of the group’s car turning off when baby Matt Parkman became upset. The two adult heroes tried many methods to cheer up the baby and in the end it was a particular funny face by Ando that saved the day.
“The face was a combination of me trying some faces in front of the mirror, adding some Krusty the Clown and Yoda and then just improvising,” James said, explaining the genesis of the face. “Did you like it?” he asked and I told him how much it made my wife and I crack up when watching the episode. He of course had to try it out in front of the director, who loved it. The day they shot it, the face made the crew laugh so he feels it worked pretty well. “My face felt like rubber by the end of the day!”
HIRO AND ANDO, THE DYNAMIC DUO
Since Hiro and Ando have now reunited baby and father, yet there are a few episodes remaining in the season, I asked James what’s next from the dynamic duo. Hiro and Ando’s quest will now shift more towards discovering the secrets of Building 26, helping to free the rest of the captured Heroes and taking down the bad guys. “What and how will they be able to do that? I don’t know!” says James with a laugh. He specifically noted that the penultimate episode of the season would be big for Ando.
When it was revealed at the beginning of “Villains” that Ando would have a power in the future he didn’t want to ask too much if that was where the character was headed, but was pretty excited once he read the script where Ando injects himself with the power-giving formula. That power has been slowly building and could very well get to the point where he is able to blast Hiro and kill him. I joked that could be how Ando gets more of the spotlight and James said “Yeah!” with a laugh. We will get to see Ando use his power in interesting ways and in combination with other Heroes as the season comes to a close.
James liked seeing Ando take the central spot in the Hiro-Ando relationship and specifically cited when Hiro was mentally regressed to age ten and Ando had to essentially babysit him as a defining moment for his character. He’s always thought Ando was the voice of reason in the relationship and agreed that the character has more respect for his power after having to save the world and come into his own without powers.
James is Korean so is naturally fluent in that language. He took a class on speaking Japanese while living in Boston and, once he took the role of Ando a coach was hired for him. “I often get asked if I learn [the lines in Japanese] phonetically, but for me it works better to actually learn the Japanese words.” It does make it interesting for him to appear to speak Japanese fluently and act the scene at the same time. “I will get the lines in English, translate them in my head into Korean and then work with my coach to speak them in Japanese.” This process helps him have the lines in his head and be able to also act the scene.
TWITTER AND COMIC BOOK HEROES
James is on Twitter and I asked him how he found out about it. Brea Grant (Daphne) originally told Greg Grunberg (Matt Parkman) about Twitter and that’s who got James interested. He thinks it’s a great tool for interacting directly with the fans, as close to one on one as is possible. “Monday nights it’s almost like live theater in regards to the instant feedback of people Twittering while watching the show.” He likes getting the instant feedback and points out that Heroes has always embraced the Internet, from some of the producers having a blog to the web comics to several of the actors being on Twitter.
Naturally, I had to ask him if he read comic books as a kid and if he had any favorite comic book super-heroes. James did read comics as a kid, Batman being an early favorite. Spider-Man was the first Marvel hero he read and he really liked the Stan Lee stories, finding them thought-provoking and original.
Looking past Heroes James has kept busy when on break from the show. One upcoming project is Termination Shock for the Syfy. James and Connor Trinneer play two guys sent on an undercover mission to retrieve a crate which, after crash-landing their ship, they discover contains a woman. There are also vicious giant alien bugs involved. “It will appeal to fans of Starship Troopers and Aliens, but there is more humor involved. We don’t take ourselves too seriously and it’s a lot of fun,” he said chuckling.
James has another film called White On Rice that is currently making the film festival circuit. “It’s from the phrase ‘a family sticks together like white on rice’,” he explained. “Image the The 40 Year Old Virgin type character moving back home after his seventeen year marriage has ended. He’s divorced and moving in with his sister.” James plays the sister’s musician boyfriend. For the role, he bought an acoustic guitar and learned to play. He eventually started writing his own songs on the set.
I asked James about the differences in shooting schedules for television and film. He described them as “TV is like the day job you love and film is the camping trip you get to go on for vacation.” He continued saying films are more enclosed and the characters have a smaller story and arc. “It’s fun getting to take the time to let a character grow over time on a TV series and finding out new things about them.” He seems to equally enjoy film and television work, so I expect we will see James in films and on television for a long time to come.
Thank you to James Kyson Lee for taking the time to talk to me. “Heroes” can be seen Monday nights at 9:00PM.