Karen Herman conducted an interview with Morita in Las Vegas, Nevada in October of 2000. She interviewed the movie and television star in a wide-ranging talk for The Interviews, which was created by the Television Academy Foundation. The Hollywood-based foundation records conversations with notable people from across the television industry.
During the three-and-a-half-hour interview, Morita touched on his early life in an internment camp in California in the middle of World War II. Additionally, he spoke about his long career, including his role on Happy Days as Arnold and his work as Mr. Miyagi on Karate Kid. Morita also talked about appearing on two episodes of the hit show M*A*S*H.
In 1974, Morita played the part of Captain Sam Pak, a South Korean Army surgeon. He was the friend of Henry Blake and the surgeons on episodes “Deal Me Out” and “The Chosen People” during Season 2. Herman asked Morita to explain how the short-lived role came about.
Morita said that at the time, he still had to try out for parts, so he went to a “cattle call.” The way he explained it, when a show or movie had specific attributes in mind for a character, tons of actors that fit that bill would show up and read for the part.
“[Captain Pak] on M*A*S*H was really my first serious role within the spectrum of a so-called comedy show. It was straight ahead acting. It wasn’t goofy stuff. You had to be a real person,” Pat Morita said of the role.
“The guys were a joy to work with; Alan Alda [and the rest of the cast]. I’ve done so many wonderful vignette role things over the years that I can only be happy for what I’ve been able to do. I’ve lost out on my share too,” he added with a smile.
Pat Morita on Being Cast as Arnold on ‘Happy Days’
One of Pat Morita’s first big breaks came about when he earned the role of Arnold on the hit show Happy Days.
During the 11-season run of Happy Days, the character Arnold was always present. However, Pat Morita was not. For the first two seasons, Arnold’s voice could be heard off-camera. But the show never cast an actor to portray the character visually until the third year.
As the actor explained, the show couldn’t decide on who Arnold should be and what the character should look like. He said they tested out both men and women, people of all shapes and sizes, and from all cultural backgrounds.
“[They tried out] every possible kind of person, and nobody’s happy with the selection of Arnold,” Morita explained.
Eventually, showrunner Garry Marshall gave the nod to Morita and he joined the cast for episode one of Season 3. He went on to appear in 22 of the 26 episodes that year. After that season, he would appear here and there, but not as a permanent cast member. Pat Morita quickly became a fan favorite though, and even came up with the character’s full name: Arnold Takahashi.