As the superpowered cheerleader's shadowy father, the character actor was the glue that kept the first season of ''Heroes'' together. And his relative absence might be what's keeping Year Two from taking off

By Jeff Jensen
Updated October 16, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT

It’s neither fun nor easy to be a fan of Heroes here in the early stretch of the comic booky fantasy’s second season. The first four episodes have been savaged by message-board nitpickers and an increasing number of genuinely smart TV critics, and as fans of Lost well know, it’s lonely and even irritating watching everyone jump off the bandwagon while you’re still on it. That’s the ”no fun” part. The ”not easy” part is this: those first four episodes were pretty darn tough to defend. In my recent cover story on the show, I wrote about how the producers of Heroes were trying to avoid all sorts of arrows that could puncture the hull of their high-flying enterprise. Well, it seems a few of them have found their mark. The sophomore slump is here.

As someone who’s still aboard the bandwagon but who isn’t deaf to the fact that the engine sounds more than a little sputtery, I personally think that there isn’t anything wrong with Heroes that a little more HRG can’t fix. I refer, of course, to Noah Bennett, also known as ”Horned Rimmed Glasses,” aka Claire’s adopted Dad, the shifty non-descript dude who has gone from being a loyal agent of the hero-hunting outfit known as ”The Company,” to being a rogue agent determined to bring it down. Last season, HRG’s mysterious scheming provided the kind of cohesion that many believe is missing from this season. More than just another character, Claire’s morally ambiguous daddy was an important tool in the producers’ storytelling kit: HRG was the super-glue that bonded all the bits of business together and helped create the sense that the world of Heroes was much bigger than the mere sum of its parts.

Before the season began, I got a chance to chat the actor who plays HRG, Jack Coleman, a 49-year-old career character actor whose previous claim to fame was a six-year stint on Dynasty. I have to concur with my colleague, Mr. Glutton himself, Dalton Ross, who recently wrote in his column that Coleman deserved an Emmy nod for his Heroes performance. But as Coleman himself will tell you, having the job is almost reward unto itself. HRG was never supposed to be an enduring fixture of the Heroesverse; the original plan was to use the character to help set up the series and then… well, who knows? Certainly not the producers, because very quickly after seeing what the character did for the show — and noticing Coleman’s rapport with Hayden Panettiere — they decided to promote him to full-time cast member. As Heroes struggles to repair its clunking motor, we offer this interview with Coleman as a reminder of the awesome tools the show has at its disposal.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Did you ever think HRG would connect with the audience the way he has, and in turn, become the defining role of your career?
JACK COLEMAN: Well…no. The character was never originally part of the plans. [But] as the season went along, I just started getting better and better stuff… I really think the character of HRG — he really is a story engine. I can connect people. I can know their past when they don’t, I can let the audience in on things that the characters can’t know. I can be hunting someone, or I can be trying to liberate someone. There’s just so many ways to go with it.

It’s weird to think, in light of where we are today in the Heroes saga, that your character wasn’t conceived to go any further than a few episodes.
It’s really weird. My suspicion is that it wasn’t ”This man is brilliant! Give him lots of stuff to do!” I think they just saw how well the character could work as a story device. The moment that Tim [Kring, creator] decided that this man in the horned-rimmed glasses was Claire’s adopted father, that was the moment in my mind that the character as he came to be known was created. Because it’s just too rich not to mine it.

All modesty aside, the fact that you are playing this part does make a difference. I remember watching that pilot, and when you come home at the end, just that enigmatic look on your face — that little bit of a smirk that you do so well — suggested interesting depth to this guy. Was he a good guy? Does he have a mischievous, sinister agenda? You certainly drew us into the world.
One thing I got is that they wanted to play around in the shadows with this guy. That works perfectly for me because I’m the kind of guy who’s all-American looking, somebody who you wouldn’t necessarily suspect of anything nasty. But I’m perfectly capable of thinking those thoughts! Playing both sides of the light and dark, and hopefully at the same time, so that the conflict is inherent, so that within each scene, you see a little bit of how he may be a protective father harboring a special person, or he may just be saving her for somebody’s lab experiment. Early on, I didn’t know where they were going. I just knew that the moments with her had to be full and emotionally felt and real — but that as soon as she left the room, you wanted to give some other feeling, like, ”Whoa, what is he really up to?”

What were you looking for in your career last year when you took that role?
This was a one-page audition on my birthday for a guest spot on the pilot, possibly recurring. But when I read the script, and it said at the end that he comes home and he’s revealed to be Claire’s father, I went, ”This could be a great part.” I didn’t know how they couldn’t make him a recurring character. So, that’s really what I was looking for — for some part that would recur. And then, as it started growing, I was desperately trying to climb my way up onto the boat!

What was that day like when the producers told you that you were on the boat full-time?
I was driving down to Manhattan Beach for an audition for The O.C. I didn’t really want to go on the audition because it was just so far away — and there had been some chatter that maybe I was going to go full-time on the show. Anyway, [Heroes executive producer] Dennis Hammer called me and said, ”Just want to let you know that your deal is our top priority.” I got off that call, and I went, ”I’m going to be a series regular. It’s going to happen.” It was kind of long in coming. There had been a lot of talk about it, but there hadn’t been an offer. Then the next episode would come, and I’d get the script and I was prominent, and then I’d be signing that week-to-week contract. I was just like, ”Ugh.” I started to chomp at the bit.

Did you do that O.C. audition anyway?
I did the O.C. audition, and I did a damn good audition. I wanted that part!

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