In the darkly comic mystery Searching For Sonny, Heroes and Hawaii Five-0 actor Masi Oka stars as the titular Sonny, who has disappeared under mysterious circumstances and during his high school's tenth reunion. As his friends try to find their classmate, the plot thickens when one of the plays Sonny wrote matches the events of his sudden disappearance.
The film, written and directed by Andrew Disney hits DVD and Blu-ray this week and we spoke to Oka about taking on the part, his own adventurous side, and his upcoming foray into video games. And don't forget to check out an exclusive clip from the movie here.
MTV Geek: So tell our readers a little bit about Sonny—or at least as much as you can without spoiling the mystery.
Masi Oka: Sonny was a high school playwright, and he wrote all of these eccentric plays. And let’s say he’s a guy that likes to go on adventures—he’s very inquisitive, very curious. He’s kind of a mystery, and that’s the whole idea of this movie, trying to find out what happened to him. Because as he leaves this trail of clues, you’ll try to find out if, uh-oh, maybe he’s really in trouble. That’s where the whole Searching For Sonny comes in.
Geek: It’s always interesting watching a movie discover a character in bits and pieces like this. As an actor, is there a challenge in sort of doling out the character in this way?
Oka: Uh, you know what, actually as an actor it’s kind of fun to just go in, hit the ball out of the park, and come out. It’s always fun to play the great characters as much as possible. And this was such a great crew and great cast to work with. I was only there for a week, but it was definitely a lot of fun.
Geek: How did you end up taking the part?
Oka: I met with the director [Andrew Disney], and was offered a script, and he said “Hey, would you do this?” And I was contemplating it because I’d never really done a movie before.
But I saw the trailer he did, kind of a tone video, and I found out Minka was going to be in it, so I said “Hey, why not? Sounds like fun.”
Geek: Did you actually get a chance to work with everyone as much as you would have liked given the scope of your role? A week’s really not a whole lot of time to mess around with the rest of the cast.
Oka: To be honest with you, I came in kind of late in the game, so I didn’t get a chance to bond with everybody because they’d already been around for two or three weeks shooting. So that was the only thing I missed out on, but after I got there, I got a chance to hang out with everyone. It was a great experience. Lot of thunder showers, though in Fort Worth, which is kind of surprising.
Geek: What did people think of you back in high school? If we asked “What was teenaged Masi like,” what would they say?
Oka: [Laughs] I was a social recluse, I think. I went to an all-boys school—we merged co-ed in my senior year, so that was kind of a weird experience. I was just a typical math, science guy all the way. Because I went to a boys school, I didn’t deal with girls—I took theater classes, one or two, but just as kind of an elective. I did fencing. Everything was pretty much math and science: I was in the chess club, I was in the computer club, I did everything in the math club—everything was more oriented that way.
Geek: So then how did we end up with the fun-loving, outgoing actor that we have today?
Oka: Well, I think it was college. I got to college and saw all of my friends going to these other schools and thought, you know, college is just a blank slate. And I had an opportunity to go to different schools, but I chose Brown because it was unique and allowed you to be yourself as an individual and like I said, it’s a blank slate.
So once I got to college, I wanted to try something completely different that took me out of my comfort zone. So I was thinking what can I do to learn more about myself—the concept of being a human being, in general [and] interacting with people in general—and I thought the most interactive thing was theater arts. It was so different from what I did in computer sciences and math and the left side of the brain, so I wanted to use the other side of the brain.
And once I did it, I loved it. It opened up my mind, and gave me a different POV of the world. And a school like Brown allowed me to do that because there’s no core curriculum. It allowed me to experiment a lot more and make my own curriculum.
Now it wasn’t the beginning of the profession, of course, but one thing led to another and I’m grateful for this opportunity that I have now.
Geek: It seems like a couple of your past roles have involved characters doing the same thing, opening up their worlds and kind of discovering more about themselves as people. Was that a conscious decision or something you were aware of in the parts you took?
Oka: I just like the idea of the childlike wonder, where we’re curious about the world. It’s nice to have these adventures to go on. Even as we get older, we get in these routines—and routines are nice and comfortable—but I think that it’s important to live life to its fullest and try different things. Because you never know what you’re going to learn. You might not like it, you might like it.
Whatever you do, we’re all human beings and we’re constantly trying to learn from and educate each other. So the more things you do outside of your norm, the more ideas you get exposed to, the more people you get exposed to, and I think that’s interesting.
And the freedom to explore that through characters is definitely a fun thing and I think that also, especially with TV shows the writers start to write towards you and I’m kind of that person, so that start to use a little bit of my qualities to give to the characters as well.
Geek: What else do you have coming up?
Oka: Right now just doing a lot more producing, going on TV shows and some movies, and trying to get more active on the digital side and creating some games as well. It’s all kind of all over the map right now. Also trying to work with Japan and trying to bring [sketch troupe] Second City to Japan.
I guess just trying to keep myself busy.
Geek: Oh, could you talk a little about your game development work?
Oka: Right now I’m actually trying to start up a company myself and hire some engineers. Because coming from a coding background—I probably can’t [produce] code right now and it’s probably going to take me a year to get back into the swing of things.
I think there are a lot of great ideas out there and I want to create some casual games here and there. It’s tough to go into the console world because everything’s all about AAA titles or low-end—the middle tier’s kind of gone. But with apps these days, it’s kind of a new frontier. It’s how the Internet became a big boom and now gaming, casual gaming in particular, is kind of an entry point for new IP and content.
I’m working with the Massive Joe guys [a mobile developer co-founded by The Batman cartoon writer Jeff Matsuda] to create one game, and I have another idea that I’m pitching around. And I’m trying to develop smaller ideas as well.
So as with my producing thing, I’m trying to find new entry points—one’s starting at a developer, one’s starting at a publisher, one’s starting at my own. Kind of like when you’re spec-ing or pitching your own or licensing an idea or developing something from scratch, there’s just a bunch of different approaches because there’s no one way to enter that field.
Searching for Sonny is available on DVD and VOD, Blu-ray and via the on-demand theatrical service Tugg now.