When Zachary Levi returns to NBC this fall on Heroes: Reborn he’s going to play a very different character than he did on his last series on the network — which was all part of the actor’s plan. Below Levi talks about moving away from his Chuck Bartowski past in the 13-episode event series revival of Heroes. We can tell you Levi plays Luke, a husband seeking to avenge the loss of his child and, well, that’s about all we’re allowed to reveal. Here’s Levi:
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Were you a Heroes fan before?
ZACHARY LEVI: Yeah. We were on Monday nights together. We had a lot of like press tie-in things and I met all the cast and became friends with them. I was always looking from the outside in going, “Man, wouldn’t that be so cool to be on that show.” I mean, Chuck was great obviously, but flying around and shooting lightning bolts out of your hands — all that stuff is so cool, especially as a comic-book kid. So when somebody sent me an article saying they’re going to do a Heroes: Reborn miniseries, I was like, “Sign me up!.”
Heroes seems like the sort of show Chuck would watch.
Oh absolutely. Heroes is absolutely something that Chuck would watch 100 percent.
Did you reach out to NBC, then?
Initially, I reached out to them. Then I ran into some of my NBC friends and they’re like “We’d love to have you back on NBC.” Then I started having some conversations with Tim Kring and he was open to the idea and pitched me on this character and kind of some broad strokes and I thought, “This is awesome.” For me, my one big mandate was I wanted to play something that wasn’t Chuck. I wanted to get away from that kind of archetype and do something that was darker and grittier and heavier — and that’s exactly what we found. It also still has a really unique dynamic kind of arc to the character and the journey that he’s on.
Why was it important to embrace a very different character for you?
I think that any chance you get as an actor to spread your wings a little bit and challenge yourself is important, and also to challenge other people’s perceptions of you and what you do. Also, then you go, “Okay, how can you look different? How can you be different?” When Judi [Shekoni] was cast and her being from England I was even trying to pitch the idea of maybe Luke was English, because in Thor I got to use an English accent and that was great. But it’s very few American actors that are ever trusted enough to do that.
It was interesting seeing you on the set yesterday when you trying to figure out how to make your movements more realistic in a scene.
In Chuck, we got away with all kinds of wacky stuff because it was a slightly wacky show. This is a very grounded — I mean, it’s people with abilities but that’s your only consent, the other rules of the world still apply. We are portraying real people but with real loss and real grief and complications you want to always be able to go through it in a way that makes sense in your heart,to bring that character to life in a real way because that’s ultimately what the audience is connecting to. If the characters themselves who are a part of that journey seem like they’re out of touch with what’s going on, then you can’t connect anything.
It sounds like the story is a bit darker and more grounded than the original series.
I think the first season of the original, there was a real dark groundedness. I think that they were definitely having a hard time juggling. You know network television is really a difficult thing to drag out for 24 episodes and still have every episode mean something and then at the end kind of getting to a place where you’re like, “Where do we keep going with this? How do you double down on the success that we’ve already had?” I remember that second season of Heroes, I’d never seen, nor have I ever seen since, a television worldwide press tour like that where they split a cast up all through Europe and Asia and another group was like North and South America. They went everywhere. It was like a Marvel movie, almost. It’s really difficult to kind of maintain that same hype and power and success of a show, you start sometimes losing a bit of groundedness, but with 13 episodes in this miniseries I think that’s kind of certainly what we’re trying to get back to.
So I know you can’t talk about your storyline, but what excites you the most about doing this show.
Being back in the fantasy genre, sci-fi. I love being able to do things that feed into that same world. There are a lot of Chuck fans who were Heroes fans. I just like making stuff that people dig. I really believe that entertainment is for the audience. It’s not for you. You shouldn’t feel fulfilled at work. At the end of the day, I think we should all be focusing on doing right by the fans. If you do that, then you make an excellent product. So I’m hoping that this speaks to and resonates with my fan base and specifically with the original Heroes fan base. I want them to feel like they got more, they got a new chapter of something that they really loved and it kind of made its way back to its roots.
Given that sort of fan impression of the show in the later seasons wasn’t as good as in the first season in particular, is there a certain redemptive drive behind the scenes?
To an extent. Look I can’t speak for anybody else, but I will say for me that I definitely hope that this is something that the fans go, “Hey, they did it right,” like there was a redemption to bringing us back into this world and making up for what some people believe was a little fall off.
Finally, any update on your quest to make Y: The Last Man?
No, man. I’ve tried every angle. I mean Warner Bros. has had it for a while. They haven’t been able to crack it. I think they’re working on something now, maybe a series. I think it needs to be done as a miniseries. The miniseries is the perfect storytelling device for most things. You don’t really get enough told in a film and often times doing a series over five years tells way too much story. Especially with something like this where we already have the source material. I think Warner Bros. thought they’ll make the movie because that’s what everybody does. The problem is you can’t tell Y: The Last Man in one movie so it has to be a trilogy. Then they go, “But if nobody goes to see the first movie are we spending a bunch of money on the second and the third.” That’s one of the reasons why I had so much respect for The Lord of the Rings trilogy because they just committed.