Friday, November 16, 2007

Best Hero and Villain 2007: HRG and Sylar of "Heroes"

The hell!? HRG, the guy who was touted as THE villain of Heroes (please note that I only watched the first seven episodes and thus am not privy to the unending twists and turns of the first season), becomes THE hero of Heroes?!

Man, that's such a hackneyed comic book plot that I never saw that coming. But yes, this means it's time for something else Heroes-related to be published on Wizard Universe, this time, interviews with HRG and Sylar...or at least the guys who play them.

Jack Coleman and Zachary Quinto talk about what it takes to be TV’s best and baddest characters

By Kiel Phegley

Posted November 14, 2007 6:15 PM

From a conspiratorial father turned gung-ho hero to a brain-eating baddie revealed as a quaint watchmaker, Jack Coleman’s Noah “HRG” Bennet and Zachary Quinto’s Sylar embody the twists that made NBC’s “Heroes” a hit. And when they get together, the actors have no trouble explaining what it takes to be the best and baddest characters on TV.

WIZARD: Jack, you kind of embody one of the heroes that really stood out in a way. And then, obviously Zach is the big villain for the show.

COLEMAN: Obviously, and not just on the show.

I know that throughout the course of the first season, you guys had some scenes together in the middle of the year, and then obviously everyone was there at the end of the year. But did the two of you get to hang out on the set or get to work with each other very much compared to the rest of the cast, or were you separated more?

QUINTO: My storyline started off pretty heavily involving Jack, and then I was thinking about this today, and then HRG had some bigger fish to fry, in terms of protecting himself and his family. And then, I went off and obviously escaped to captivity. So we spent the rest of the season sort of on our own paths last year. We hung out on set whenever we’d see each other at events and stuff, but we didn’t get a chance to work together after episode 13, I think, last year.

COLEMAN: Yeah. It was almost like just over half the season. But that’s the way this show is. Your characters are driven together for a period of time, and then they’re driven apart. And it’s a big cast; it’s an international setting. So yeah, we started out working together and then just went separate ways for a while.

So then, were either of you surprised, as the story kind of went along, to see some of the scripts or watch the episodes and say, “Oh, here’s Jack. We all kind of thought he was gray area, and he’s really stepped up.” Or Jack, were you surprised to see how far Sylar had gone as the things went on when you guys weren’t working together?

COLEMAN: I was surprised to the extent that we never really knew where the story was going or where any of these stories are going when they start, partly because we don’t have the scripts and partly because a lot of it just happens sort of organically. And they say, “This thing is really working, and let’s build it. Let’s develop it.” I remember actually the first time meeting Zach out on location. I think it was around homecoming or something.

QUINTO: It was homecoming, yeah.

COLEMAN: Yeah. And he had just been cast, and I didn’t really know him from “24.” But I just sat in the trailer for a while, and I just knew he was going to be really good. I knew he was going to be perfect for the part and that he was going to be good.

QUINTO: Oh, Jack.

COLEMAN: No, I’m serious, and I told you that, too.

QUINTO: No, it’s true. Jack was the first person I met on the show my first day of work. I showed up to kill the cheerleader, and I had just gotten cast the day before. [Laughs] so I was really like jumping in headlong, and Jack was great. We stood at my trailer, I remember, talking for a long time. It was really cool.

COLEMAN: What episode was that, 9?

QUINTO: Uh-huh.

COLEMAN: Okay, so I wasn’t a series regular yet.

QUINTO: No, you weren’t. But yeah, so both of our characters have come a long way since then.

Zach, you’ve obviously known Jack as long as you’ve known anyone on the show, and you guys get along and kind of bum around and hang out. And then, you have to do these scenes where you’re in each other’s faces and you’re chewing each other out, and it’s very intense. Do you guys hold it together pretty well on camera then, or do you sometimes kind of crack up?

QUINTO: Jack and I hold it together. Again, we haven’t been on camera. Like, when I was working with him, the material that—

COLEMAN: I took all the chocolate cake, which literally made him speechless.

QUINTO: The chocolate cake on the counter, that looked really good, let me tell you.

COLEMAN: He completely lost his train of thought at the sight of that chocolate cake.

QUINTO: Jack and I, when we were working together, we hadn’t yet necessarily built up that kind of rapport that we have now. So I always thought we held it together very well when we were working together, certainly better than I hold it together with some other cast members, like Milo Ventimiglia.

COLEMAN: That stuff was fairly early on in both of our tenures on the show, and it was very intense stuff. So we were really pretty all about the work. Whereas, if we were doing stuff now, it’d probably be a lot more jokey. And as you get to know people better, you start to develop a common sense of humor and running jokes, and then that stuff translates onto the set. When you first start working with people, it tends to be pretty much all business.

QUINTO: Also, as you get to know your character more, it becomes easier to sort of switch in and out of the serious scene, because the character is not as undefined or distant from you at that point like as it might be in the beginning. I remember what Jack and I did in episode 11, which is the first time you saw my character in captivity. For me, it was really important that I focus almost entirely on the work, because this was a whole new chapter of that character. So I needed to define it, and now that it’s more well defined and sort of I know where he lives, it becomes a little bit easier to switch in and out of it.

COLEMAN: And there could have been some great mileage out of that cockroach, but I don’t think Zach was enjoying that 3-foot cockroach that they kept placing by his face.

QUINTO: Oh yeah, and crawling up my pant leg, mind you.

COLEMAN: Oh yeah, that’s right. That cockroach spoke like four different languages I think, very well trained.

QUINTO: Everybody thinks I’m the cockroach now. It’s so weird. Since the end of last season, everybody’s like, “You’re the cockroach. I know the secret.” I’m like, “No.”

COLEMAN: It’s a metamorphosis.

Well, talking about getting into each of your characters a little bit, what do you guys feel makes HRG a good hero and what do you think his flaws as a hero are?

QUINTO: Well, I should speak to that.

COLEMAN: I think you should.

QUINTO: The thing that’s so compelling to me about Jack’s character and Jack as an actor is that he walks the line so beautifully between his family and the life that he has, last season in Texas, this season in California. And then, this secret life he has, he plays it so well. He just doesn’t give anything away. And so it draws an audience into it, and that’s, from an acting perspective, it really magnetizes people to the story that he’s telling. And then that story, the strengths of that story, I think, are the same thing. It’s the fact that he’s got such a shadow life and yet he manages to contain it so well, whether by his own intellectual design or just by the fact that his family’s not very smart. [Laughs] I don’t know which one it is.

QUINTO: I haven’t seen many flaws yet. He’s pretty badass.

COLEMAN: I’ll say this, the strengths and weaknesses, very quickly, of the character. I think obviously his weaknesses are legion. He’s coming from the wrong side of the equation to begin with, working for the company, I believe. But that’s also the strength, is that when he metamorphoses, he metamorphoses into the father entirely. I think the sacrifice on the bridge for Claire where HRG takes a bullet and gets his memory wiped for her, so that she can be safe, I think that is one of the real heroic acts in Season 1. And I think coming from where he started from makes it that much more compelling. But I’ll also say that as we go forward in season 2, old habits die hard, and he’s drawn deeply back into the shadow world, and to the point where you really start to question how heroic a character he might be. Now Zach, on the other hand, well, strengths as a hero are very questionable. What exactly are Sylar’s strengths as a hero? He loved his mother once?

QUINTO: [Laughs] One time, an episode or so. Yeah, strengths as a hero I guess are pretty limited. He’s just so self-absorbed and enveloped up and everything comes down to him, which I know nothing about as an actor. Really, I think his cunning is certainly a strength. He doesn’t have any strengths as a hero. His strengths as a villain I think are his cunning, his manipulation.

COLEMAN: Intelligence.

QUINTO: Intelligence, which I consider goes with cunning, his power, just the ends to which he’ll go to exact his power. The ends are endless. Does that make sense?

Obviously, Sylar is a villain who is motivated and who is in total acceptance. What he’s doing is what he wants to do. Good or bad, this is his mission. But do you feel as though there’s anything that could turn him back towards good at all or that he’s redeemable at all, or is he pretty much so driven by what he’s doing he’s just off and that’s it?

QUINTO: I think the question is different personally. And if you ask him, who knows? Like maybe down the line there is a way for him to sort of find his way back to good. But after all that he’s done to the people that exist in the world of this show, I don’t really feel like people would buy it. I don’t really feel like anybody would trust it. The good thing about being on a television series, and a successful one at that, is that characters do get to evolve and you get to many different sides of them. But I just feel like this character has made such a decision and has gone after it so relentlessly that it feels like something would be sold short if all of a sudden he turned good. Yes, I think there are situations that could present themselves in which he could decide to sacrifice some of his own hunger or his own desire for power in order to serve someone else, if this circumstance presented itself.

COLEMAN: I will deposit such a circumstance. Perhaps he could fall in love, which would make him not good but maybe conflicted and maybe in a couple of instances selfless; just a thought.

Last season, we had a bit at the end where when they jumped into the future, Sylar had kind of stepped into the role of Nathan and then a little bit a chance for Adrian [Pasdar] specifically, but everybody to kind of look at the characters different, play a different role or think about playing a different role. For either of you guys, would you like to swap roles for a day with any of the other characters in the show, play a hero instead of a villain or a villain instead of a hero?

QUINTO: I think all of us embody our roles. It’s hard to answer that. I think I’m so drawn to the other stories in the show, but I feel like I’m drawn to them because they’re played by those actors. I don’t know. It’s a difficult question, because I feel like we’re all where we’re meant to be. We all have the roles that we’re meant to play. I love Jack’s character. I think the ambiguity of that character is something that really speaks to me, but nobody could do it better than Jack. And I think the same goes for all of the other characters. But yeah, I’m pretty happy where I am on the show. I don’t think that I would ever need to see it from a different perspective to perceive it any more.

COLEMAN: I think one of the other characters that I’m drawn to is Nathan, and part of it is because I think in some ways that Adrian’s character, that Nathan and HRG are, besides the fact that they share biological and custodial parentage of Claire, I think that they’re kind of mirror images of each other to a certain extent and kept in separate poles so far in this story. But I think again it’s also his moral ambiguity which attracts me to a certain extent, because he’s good sometimes, and he’s bad sometimes. But I also have to say that sometimes that Zach’s character and just the ability to just have one motivation….[Laughs] I mean, one of my all-time favorite moments in the entire first season, and you’ll have to correct me on the exact line, but what is it? “Let me sink my teeth in.” What is the line?

QUINTO: I don’t remember. But yeah, “Give me a chance to sink my teeth in.”

COLEMAN: It’s the one where Suresh has him tied up, and he actually feels kind of powerless for a moment. And the audience is, for a second there, almost pitying him. He talks about how he’s a victim, too. But it was just when the veneer of civilization drops, and tears rolling down his face, he said, “Just let me sink my teeth in,” that kind of unbridled, unedited power lust. It was a great moment in the show, and I also think it was the kind of thing that, as an actor, it is also fun to just play a motivation that is that big and that strong.

Now you spoke a minute ago about how your character and Adrian’s character have kind of this Superman-Lex Luthor relationship. They’re polar opposites in some ways, but there’s always something they have in common. For the two of you guys in real life, what do you guys think that you share? What is your most common bond? Do you guys have something that you guys both collect or something that you guys are both really into that’s kind of off-base?

COLEMAN: I’ll tell you a moment that we shared, which Dennis Hammer actually told me was his favorite moment of the entire European trip, was when we were at Snack in Paris and we had our Beatles moment where we were absolutely mobbed. And nobody had any idea that we were going to have that kind of a crowd, and there were, I don’t know, what was it, 6,000 people or something like that. And Adrian actually turned to me at one point and said, “Not bad for a couple of old warhorses.” I don’t even remember exactly what he said, but the idea was that he and I have both been kicking around for a long time. And that’s something we very much have in common. And Dennis Hammer just happened to overhear the comment, and I just think it gave him a nice warm feeling that these two guys who we both had decent careers, but neither one of us had been on something like this well, in a long time. And so I think that’s something we share, because it’s mostly a very young up-and-coming cast, and he and I are two of the older actors.

At one point, I had talked to Adrian, and he had said that he and Ali [Larter] were talking about how it felt like you guys were the varsity and then everyone else was a freshman in certain ways.

COLEMAN: I’m sorry. Who’s “you guys”?

Adrian had said some of the older, more experienced cast who had done some different serial dramas before, but like you Jack, and Adrian, and Ali and stuff, who have done different parts and things in the past. And then, you have Claire, and you have Peter and all these other different characters.

QUINTO: I think Hayden [Panettiere] has been acting longer than any of us, actually.
COLEMAN: Yeah, Hayden, it’s what they say about cars. It’s not the year, it’s the miles. So yeah, Hayden is way up there in the mileage department. But I think I get the drift of it. For some people on the show, this is either their first series or one of their first series, and some of us have been at it longer. And I’m the elder statesman on this show, even over Adrian by several years. I don’t look at is as I’m the varsity, they’re somehow second string, but I think that I do look at it as I might have a few things to impart to some of the younger cast members, if they were to ask me. And in some cases, my advice would be just complete drivel and useless, and in other cases, it might be worth something.

Zach, I want to ask you a question that it might be a little strange to try to think of an answer to this, because it’s about some of your other people in the acting community out there. But how do you feel Sylar stacks up with some of the other great TV villains?

QUINTO: I think I always have learning and growing to do, but I think that I’ve been afforded a really, really wonderful opportunity to play a character that’s deeply complex and rich in his perspective. And I’ve tried in my life and in my work to not really draw comparisons because I don’t think that they serve me personally. So I leave those comparisons up to other people in terms of other villains or other shows. And as I’ve said many times before, when you make television, it’s very difficult to watch television. So I’m actually just in the midst of the first season of “Lost,” gearing up to work with those guys and sort of learning about what they’ve been making in the past couple of years. So I don’t really have a big frame of reference for other TV villains. I don’t really watch television very much, and I certainly respect the place that they all hold in the public and in the audience’s minds, and I hope that my character will hold a similar place. But I don’t really think of it in those terms. I think it’s a great character that I get to play every day I go to work, and that’s what’s important to me. So I hope that I get to do it for many years to come.

COLEMAN: How it all stacks up in history, none of us can say, but I can certainly say that the impact that he’s made in one season is fairly profound. It definitely has made its mark on television. I mean, people who have never seen the show know who Sylar is or have an idea who Sylar is. And so I think Zach has made a big impact.

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