After seven seasons, Masi Oka will exit Hawaii Five-0 as a series regular, EW has learned exclusively.
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 will leave in the upcoming 13th episode of the season, moving to Africa with new bride Sabrina (Rumer Willis). Below, the Heroes alum details his decision to leave the long-running CBS procedural and what’s in store for Max’s send-off:
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What came with the decision to leave the show?
MASI OKA: I just thought the character went through a major journey. He got married, now he’s going off to Africa, so I think character-wise I felt like Max had done too much of everything he can do. And we’ve been so blessed to work for seven years on a great show, but a lot of my business has been in Los Angeles and Japan and it’s been increasingly difficult to really commute to Hawaii. I’m probably the only one who really commutes to Hawaii, maybe 18 times a year round trip. It got to the point where the producers were very gracious enough to — like we talked about it and we thought Max was entering his journey and they allowed me, kind of like for my health as well, to be able to take a reprieve from being on the show.
So what where your conversations like with executive producer Pete Lenkov about exiting? Anything particular you wanted for Max before you left?
No, I just wanted to give him a nice send-off, and if it helps the ratings, please feel free to kill him off. Do whatever works for Peter and his great writers to come up for a good ending for Max that would also help the show, because I want the show to go on as long as possible. So it was actually a very simple conversation, they were like, “Great, we’ll come up with something.” It was really smooth.
I’m surprised that you wouldn’t have minded for Max to die. Do you think now it’s leaving the door open for you to come back or are you definitely done?
Well, nothing is definite for sure. The fact that Donald Trump has a chance to win too, I guess nothing is 100 percent. [Editor’s note: This interview took place on Election Day, but was published today to coincide with Oka’s final day on set.] But look, I’m definitely not opposed to it. They left the door open with the idea that there’s still going to be technology, of course, in Africa, so I could be tweeting or emailing or Skyping in, so that might happen. Nothing is 100 percent at any time.
What can you tease about Max’s send-off?
It’s going to be a little bit of the greatest hits, so you’re going to see things that really made Max’s character very interesting and unique. You see his relationships with Sabrina, with Commander McGarrett, with some of his working mates. You’ll see a little bit of a — I shouldn’t say a clip show — but as I said, the greatest hits. And there’s a lesson/awakening from an unexpected friend and he wants to take a final journey, not a physical one, but more of an emotional and mental one as he says his goodbye to everybody.
What has it been like filming your final episode?
It’s been great to be honest with you. I love my crew, I love the cast, the writers. Typically, I’m like saddened, but I was actually really happy, because I rarely get to say goodbye on a set. In my past shows, we’ve had the unfortunate situation being canceled many times, so I never got a firm way of saying thank you to the crew, thank you to the cast, and say thank you before I leave, because it’s, “Oh, we’ll see you after the summer break,” and all of a sudden you find out that you’re not going to see them again. So this time it was really nice knowing that there’s a farewell, knowing that this will be my “last day.” It was just nice to know I had that and to really enjoy and kind of reflect on the amazing journey and experience that I had. I mean, seven years is a long time to be on a show and it was just beautiful. It was just a lot of us talking about memories and just going back, a lot of laughter and a lot of crying.
Looking back on your time on the show, what would you say is your point of pride and what would you say is one moment you wish you could have changed?
There was an episode about the Trashman, where Max had to confront the killer of his biological mother. That was kind of my moment of pride, where it was pretty much his storyline. To be able to go through that journey and learn a lot more about Max and make him more three-dimensional, I think that was one of the biggest moments of pride for him as a character and his growth. The thing I would probably change is… I don’t know, he was initially introduced as somewhat of a savant, as tactile. He uses music to figure out things and the piano was broken and out of tune, so one thing I wish was having requested to get that piano fixed earlier on so he could actually try to play it and make use of it in the future. I think we saw the piano twice and that was it. One of the things is for one of the weddings, it would have been nice to be like, “Oh, Jesus. Why wasn’t Max playing at this wedding and they hired another pianist?” I wish that didn’t get lost. That musicality is a fun trait, someone having a gift as well.
What are you going to miss most about the show?
To be honest with you — everything. I miss the crew, the cast, the writing. Hawaii is beautiful, I will definitely go back many times. Seven years is a long time and knowing that you have to create reasons know to go see some of your friends on set is what I’m going to miss. In the past, I’ve been able to maintain contact with a good number of my castmates and my crew folks, but it takes effort now. Right now, I take it for granted that I get to see all these greatly talented people on set everyday and now I have to actually mail them a, “Hey, are you free on Friday? Are you going to be in L.A. or are you going to be in Hawaii?”
Between Heroes and Hawaii 5-0, you’ve done two long-running series — what’s next for you? Do you want to continue in the TV space?
Whatever is ahead, I’m very fortunate to be able to do things also behind-the-scenes, creating some TV shows and also producing a lot of movies. I recently finished producing Death Note for Netflix, which I have a part in as well. I also just finished shooting Meg, which is a Jason Statham-starring shark movie for Warner Bros., so that’s a pretty big budget film as well. So Five-0 has been great about letting me pursue other opportunities. I consult for a lot of Japanese companies as well, including the Japanese government, so I’ve always been going back and forth to L.A. to Hawaii to Japan. I’ve literally been doing the shuttle run between those three cities.
So you have a lot of frequent flyer miles?
Definitely. [Laughs] For me, I think it’s about whatever is there. I have a goal to try and go towards directing a movie. That’s definitely where I want to go, but whatever is open, I’m always open-minded. If there’s a great TV, I’d love to do that, if there’s another feature to do, that’s great, as far as producing goes, that’s great. I’ve got like eight projects in development, a couple things that are supposed to come out soon, deals to close, so hopefully [I’ll] announce those soon. I have my game company, so I have a lot of chickens in the fire… No, that’s not right. [Laughs.]
Hawaii Five-0 airs Fridays at 9 p.m. ET on CBS.