As EW exclusively first revealed, Masi Oka will exit Hawaii Five-0 as a series regular following Friday’s episode of the CBS drama.
Oka joined the series in season 1 as Dr. Max Bergman, the chief medical examiner who has assisted Five-0 in solving crimes since the fifth episode of the series — first as a recurring character, and then as a series regular starting in season 2.
After taking a brief sabbatical to work with Doctors Without Borders at the end of season 6, Max returned for the annual Halloween episode but is moving to Africa with new bride Sabrina (Rumer Willis). Oka breaks down his exit here, and also EW spoke with executive producer Peter Lenkov to get his take on losing a member of the Five-0 ohana, whether Max will ever return, and the future of the show:
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did Masi Oka’s exit come about? Did he come to you and say that he wanted to exit. or was it something you decided?
PETER LENKOV: Masi is so very ambitious. He’s producing a movie. He’s spending a lot of time in Japan these days. He wants to produce more, and he’s very entrepreneurial. He actually talked to me the last couple of years, and he said, “When the time’s right, I’d really like you to write me out of the show” because he wants to pursue other interests, so it really just came down to that, and I held onto it as long as I could.
When did you guys make the ultimate decision that now was the right time?
Last year, at the end of the season, we had discussed it. I wrote him out where he went on sabbatical, and I was going to do that, and then I decided, “No, let me just bring him back for a bunch of more episodes and have a real goodbye.” The character warranted a little more of a buildup of his goodbye. We came up with a great story, a little story for him to build to that place.
What can you tease for Max’s sendoff episode?
For seven years, he’s been this introvert. In this episode, you’re going to find out how he really feels about everybody. He never shared a lot of his emotions. He’s been present in family get-togethers, but you never knew what Max was really thinking. You’re going to get to see what his relationship was with everybody over the course of the seven years, how important they were to his life, and what he really felt about them. It’s just it’s a nice episode where a guy who didn’t really share his feelings gets to do that in the last episode that he’s in.
How does the team feel about Max leaving?
Part of the storyline is he went off at the end of last year and did this Doctors Without Borders. He came back a different person, a little more worldly and wiser, and he got married to Sabrina. I think they’re happy for him to pursue his dream. He worked with dead people for so long that now he’s getting to work with living, breathing people, and it’s expanded who he is as a person. I think they’re happy for him. Of course they’re sad. Nobody wants to see anybody leave, but I think they like what it’s done for him and the journey that he’s been on.
How do you think Masi’s exit changes the show? Do you think it won’t have as big of an impact considering the audience has felt what it’s like to be without Max?
Even since the beginning, he hasn’t been in every episode. I’m hoping people miss him, because that’s a sign that we did our job, but I think the first six episodes or first five episodes of the season did not have him in, and we were able to function pretty well having a new ME come in. But I’m hoping people miss him. I’m hoping people talk about him and want him to come back. We’ve left the door open for that to happen one day. But like any show, it grows and characters change. He’s leaving on a good note. It’s sort of a best kind of exit you want for a character. It’s all on good terms.
Was there anything in particular you wanted to do with Max before he left?
I wanted him to open up. That’s it. I just wanted him to open up. He’s an introvert, and I just wanted to have him share what he thought of everybody. It was just that. They didn’t really get to know him that well. I mean, you think you know him, but they didn’t really get to know him that well, and I think you’re going to in this episode.
Was there ever any consideration of killing off Max?
No. No. No. It’s very much mirroring what’s happening in Masi’s life, which is he’s going off to pursue other interests. And I like the idea of the character being able to come back one day. It just didn’t feel right for that character to have him exit in any other way than have the guy go and grow. He’s sort of like a man-child all this time. It’s like Jerry a little bit, so I like the idea of him maturing and leaving the nest.
So then you do see the door open for him to potentially return.
For sure, I hope so. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, for sure. It all depends on how much life we have left in us, which I think we still have a lot. I’d love him to come back someday.
You mentioned Max’s replacement, Dr. Cunha (Kimee Balmier), who we’ve already seen on the show. Is she playing a bigger role moving forward with Max gone?
Yeah, she’s the new ME. So whenever we have a case that involves an ME, she’ll be our ME. So hopefully just like with Masi, we’ll get to know her over time, spend a little more time with her and make her a permanent member of the family.
Do you hope, with this new ME, to have a different dynamic with the team, maybe one that is a little bit more personal?
Yeah, I think already she’s the opposite of Max. Max never got the joke. She gets the joke. She’s a more fully functioning human being. Masi always played things with blinders on. He was sort of based on a friend of mine, this genius savant who had very particular interests and excelled in them — and Masi was that character. This woman is a little more fully rounded in terms of her personality.
Did you ever consider doing a revolving door of people coming into the ME’s office?
No, I told our casting director in Hawaii that I wanted somebody with a really great sense of humor. Masi was funny, his character, Max, was funny, but not intentionally. He didn’t make jokes. I wanted the opposite of him, so I was looking for somebody who had some roots in comedy. I was always looking for somebody specific, but never a revolving door. Although, who knows, it may not work out, and it may be a revolving door, but so far it’s working out fine.
You mentioned you hoped to have a lot of life left in the show, but Alex has said in the past that he sees his final season as being season 8. How do you feel about that?
I think every actor looks at the end of their contract as the end of their run on the show, and then the network comes back, makes them an offer and extends it, and then it’s two years after that, so I don’t know. Right now, I think his contract does end in season 8, but I think people change their minds. If Alex is saying that, it’s partly because it’s true, his contract does end, but I think also when you get to 150-something episodes, there’s a little bit of fatigue. So I think when you’re doing an interview, it’s definitely something that people bring up, and I think the first instinct is, “Well, I’m only contracted to do another 25 episodes,” but who knows, you know? As you very well know, contracts come to an end and they get renewed.
So you’re not looking at these next few seasons as the end?
No. It’s funny because there was this article that called us Resurgent Five-0, and I think as long as the ratings are doing well and we’re doing well internationally, the show could run for more than another year. There’s a lot of life left in it, and I think nobody from our side — I know the crew and us as writers, we definitely have a lot more stories to tell. And it may require bringing in more characters and just expanding the family, which we’ve been doing over the years, but definitely there’s still a lot of stories left with McGarrett and the core group that have been there since the beginning.
Hawaii Five-0 airs Fridays at 9 p.m. ET on CBS.