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'Heroes' star adjusts to Hawaii time


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POSTED: Monday, March 23, 2009

At first glance, “;Heroes”; star James Kyson Lee seems downright local—casual, unaffected, dressed in shorts and a T-shirt. When asked about the time limit for his interview, he shrugged. “;We're in Hawaii,”; he grinned as he settled into a chair on a balcony of the Hyatt Regency overlooking nearly all of Waikiki Beach. “;Whatever!”;

The actor just wrapped the third season of NBC's hit show, and is using the hiatus to play a few games with the Hollywood Knights, a United Service Organization celebrity basketball team that supports the troops by raising morale through USO exhibition games.

“;They heard I really like basketball,”; said Lee, who stands just under 5 feet 10 inches tall and typically plays point guard. But it's the charity aspect that really attracted him. “;It's one of the most satisfying parts of my work—the opportunity that comes with being on a TV show. It's so great when I can use it for something positive. And it's always more fun when you get to participate on a personal level.”;

Lee chatted about why he likes acting in independent films (more freedom), the grind of working on a television show that costs millions to make (each episode can take up to 17 days and feels like filming a movie) and how he stays fit while working 12- to 14-hour days (plenty of discipline).

Lee's impressive biceps are the result of dedicated hours in the gym, usually early in the morning before his call time. During his first season on the show, it got too easy to consume the comfort food so readily available on the set, and he admitted to gaining a bit of weight. So he started lifting with a trainer, and now makes sure to eat healthy food at home before going to work, reducing the temptation. Typically, he grazes throughout the day on vegetables, chicken, fish, tofu and egg whites. And if he ever loses sight of his current physique, he can seek inspiration from his action figure, launched at Comic-Con last year. “;It's weird seeing yourself in plastic,”; he chuckled, seemingly unimpressed. “;I'll tell you that much.”;

Born in South Korea, the 33-year-old Lee attended high school in New York before enrolling in Boston University and the New England Institute of Art. His first acting gig was on “;JAG”; in 2003, and he's been working steadily since, with roles on “;CSI,”; “;Las Vegas”; and “;West Wing”; before he auditioned for Ando Masahashi, Hiro Nakamura's sidekick on “;Heroes.”; When he landed the part and found himself surrounded by stage, screen and television veterans, Lee said he “;felt like a rookie who just got drafted by the Lakers.”; Now the show airs in about 150 countries.

“;We started off so strong out of the gate,”; he recalled. “;It was a pretty amazing experience. Because I was so new and green, the show has been like my graduate school in television.”;

It's also been a graduate school in foreign language for Lee, who is fluent in Korean and English but must speak Japanese on the show. He and his language coach must translate all the scripts into Japanese. There was a time he spent up to 40 hours per episode perfecting his lines.

“;Japanese is a very complicated language, so it's not just learning the words,”; he said. “;There are different cultural elements ... and unique intonations and cadences.”; Thankfully, he embraces the challenge. “;I think my brain is pretty receptive to foreign languages.”;

In many talk-show interviews, Lee endures questions about his attractive female co-stars. People want to know what Hayden Panettiere, Ali Larter and Kristen Bell are doing, but he deflects these inquiries with grace. “;I'm glad the girls in our show get a lot of attention,”; he said.

Besides, he'd rather focus on his work, with seven films scheduled to come out in the next year. “;How to Make Love to a Woman”; and “;Hard Breakers”; are independent movies slated for limited theatrical release. “;Termination Shock”; was filmed in Bulgaria and will air on the SciFi Channel in June, and the horror flick “;Necrosis,”; along with “;White on Rice,”; probably will make the festival rounds.

When he escapes the massive production surrounding “;Heroes,”; Lee enjoys the simplicity of independent films. “;It's kind of fun,”; he said. “;Usually you have a little more freedom, but you have to be willing to expect less.”; On the whole, interesting locations, creative collaboration and a low-budget atmosphere often result in a more fulfilling experience—kind of like the hoops gig.

Aside from travel to Vancouver and possibly Malaysia and Korea, Lee is exercising, volunteering and resting up before “;Heroes”; resumes shooting in June. And he plans to enjoy every minute he has in Hawaii.