It was a homecoming of a sort for actor Masi Oka '80-'88, who came back to his alma mater — Mirman School — to speak to Upper Schoolers in a special assembly.
The topics that Mr. Oka spoke of were wide-ranging — sort of like his career trajectory! Although he's perhaps best known for his portrayal of Hiro Nakamura on the long-running NBC show "Heroes," Mr. Oka is busier than one might imagine. He has worked on the big screen (as recently as in 2019's "Spies in Disguise"), has a long resume in digital effects (for none other than Industrial Light and Magic, George Lucas's production company), founded the video game studio Mobius Digital Games, produced a popular adaptation of the manga series "Death Note" for Netflix, and has numerous other projects in the works.
Interviewed by US4 students Leyna A. and Jett G., and then taking several questions from the audience, Mr. Oka was generous with his time and expertise, giving our future alums a taste of what their futures might hold. Overall, the message that students took away from the successful polymath was clear: the sky is the limit as long as you stay open and try everything!
Here are some excerpted questions and answers from Mr. Oka's interview on stage.
How does it feel to be back at Mirman?
It’s great. It’s funny because you recognize a lot of things, but it has also changed. It's gotten much bigger.
What are some of the things you liked to do when you were at Mirman?
Play with my friends and always try new things. Mirman was very open minded and had us do things that were outside our comfort zone. I had to take a theater arts class — it was kind of weird for me at the time, but I think because I did that, it gave me the bug for acting and an appreciation for the arts. You never know what it will be that interests you.
What’s one of your favorite memories from your time here?
I had a math teacher named Mr. Morrow here. I was raised by a single mother, and he was kind of like my father figure in many ways. I really loved math, and that's a fond memory for me.
While you were here at Mirman, what did you think you wanted to be when you were older?
I remember the first pictures I drew: I wanted to be a fireman and a golfer. Things change.
How did your time at Mirman influence your career choice?
A lot! Because being here, it was like unlimited possibilities - they had me try everything, as I said. I was in a play, I had to do one of the big monologues and I remember I had no acting experience. But doing that, getting laughs from the audience, it definitely influenced my career choice.
What specifically made you want to be an actor?
It was really interesting because I didn't see acting as a profession for me growing up. These days you might see a lot of Asian-American kids on TV, but back in my day we only had stereotypical characters — you either had to be a martial artist or super super nerdy. Now, we have better portrayals.
How has being gifted impacted your life as an adult?
I think it helps a lot. You’ll notice this going to high school and college; you’ll come to realize what a great education you have. Because you don’t realize it, but you guys, we’re all very gifted in the sense that we are privileged and we are given this gift of a wonderful education. And when you get to high school and college, you’ll realize the rest of the country wasn’t as fortunate as you. So don’t take this for granted, this is an amazing opportunity and it will definitely be with you for your entire life.
What are some words of advice you would want to give to our Upper School students?
Enjoy yourself. Don’t worry about succeeding or failing, it doesn’t matter. This is the time to just try different things. I teach improv, and the concept behind improv is ‘yes, AND.’ If you’re afraid, don’t worry about it. Just try it. You never know. To do it once, you might regret it at the time, but to not do it at all you might regret it for a long time. Just be open minded, try different things, and also, take care of your friends.