A 'Hero's' predictions for 2007

Fortune's Patricia Sellers sits down with the star of NBC's hit show 'Heroes.'

By Patricia Sellers, Fortune editor-at-large

NEW YORK (Fortune) -- Masi Oka plays Hiro Nakamura, the geeky Japanese office worker who travels through time on NBC's breakout hit, "Heroes." But until he won that role last fall, Tokyo-born Oka, 32, was best known as a special-effects programming whiz for big-budget movies like "Pirates of the Caribbean" and "The Perfect Storm."

Ever since earning a BS in computer science and mathematics from Brown University, Oka has worked for George Lucas' Industrial Light & Magic. Through 2004, even while acting on NBC's "Scrubs," he kept his ILM job fulltime. But even a guy with a 180 IQ can juggle only so much. Now shooting "Heroes" as well as a big-budget movie, "Balls of Fury," Oka is simultaneously consulting for ILM one day a week.


What does "Heroes'" success tell us about mass culture in 2007?

The message is that in a world that's chaotic and unstable, there are heroes out there. The heroes in the show have extraordinary powers, but that's just a metaphor. Anyone can be a hero. You just have to have faith in yourself. The show gives signs of hope.

Your character, Hiro, can manipulate time and space. Will we ever do that in the real world?

Teleportation - transferring something through time or space - is coming. But it's going to take a long time.

As a real-life computer geek, what excites you about the future?

The academic world is typically three or four years ahead of the consumer market, and one of the things exciting me there is haptics, which is sensory feedback. A haptic controller might be a virtual knife that you use to cut through a piece of bread. You feel the knife cutting through the bread. Doctors are using haptics to train for surgeries.

You're a veteran gamer. What's new in that world?

Cultural boundaries are diminishing. With advancements in MMORPG (massive multiplayer online role-playing games), I can be playing a game with someone from Singapore and chatting with them at the same time. It's surreal, but it's there.

Is this all good?

No. I'm afraid that people will forget how to be human. Anonymity breeds irresponsibility. Virtual environments are anonymous, and I'm concerned that people - mainly younger folks who grow up this way - will see social relationships as part of a game. One of the reasons I took up acting was to learn to be more human, to get in touch with human emotions.


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