When Masi Oka '97 graduated from Brown with a degree in computer science, he never expected that within a few short years he would appear in such television series as Scrubs, Will and Grace and Gilmore Girls. This September marks a new chapter in Oka's career, as he prepares for his first leading role in the NBC series Heroes, which will premiere Monday, Sept. 25.
Oka knew he wanted a career that would allow him to exercise both the logical and creative parts of his mind, but he was unsure how to pursue this goal until one fateful meeting at a career fair.
“Lucas Films came to our career fair my senior year,” Oka said. “Until then I hadn't even considered that I could use my knowledge of computer science to work on films.”
After a series of interviews, Oka landed a job for Industrial Light and Magic in San Francisco and began working in the research and development department. He wrote applications to create images for special effects for Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones, The Hulk, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and The War of the Worlds, among others.
After a few years, however, Oka asked ILM to transfer him to its Los Angeles office so he could pursue a career in acting while continuing to work on special effects. He was allowed to transfer on the condition that he would return to San Francisco if he did not successfully land a pilot or recurring role within one year.
Oka got his first big acting break after pitching a pilot for Straight White Male, a half-hour, single-camera comedy for FX. Though that show did not take off, the same directors who viewed the pilot asked Oka to “do them a favor by taking a recurring role in Scrubs,” Oka said. “I couldn't believe it; I kept asking if they were sure I was really doing them a favor by taking the part.”
Though Oka's career has begun to accelerate, he continues to work for ILM and said he is very thankful for the company's support.
“I still consult for ILM to keep the analytical side of my brain active,” Oka said. “I'm really appreciative that they gave me the opportunity and freedom to pursue a career in acting which provided me with a wonderfully stable income.”