It’s been no more Mr. Nice Guy for Zachary Levi. After spending five years as lovable computer geek-turned-spy Chuck Bartowski on NBC’s “Chuck,” the 35-year-old actor was craving darker and grittier material. Enter “Heroes Reborn’s” Luke Collins, a man determined to eradicate super-powered freaks after his son was killed during an EVO terrorist attack. Lately, Luke has been experiencing doubts about his crusade, especially after discovering he is an EVO as well.
Ahead of tonight’s episode, “June 13 — Part One,” Levi spoke to SPINOFF about Luke’s descent into darkness, a possible new lease on life and reuniting with his wife. In addition, Levi provided updates on “Thor: Ragnarok” and a second season of “Geeks Who Drink,” while also proving what a big nerd he is.
Spinoff Online: One of your primary goals was for Luke Collins to be this antithesis of Chuck. How rewarding has it been to play this dark and damaged character?
Zachary Levi: It’s very rewarding to have the opportunity. Often times, you don’t really get a say in the characters that you are playing, as much as you are auditioning for roles and whatever you can get, that’s what you get. It was very rewarding that I got to have input in that and that the character is a departure from Chuck.
As the episodes have progressed, especially in the last episode, you see that Luke is turning a corner. Where it started as a much more of a departure, you are starting to see that Luke has a bit of a heart. That was very much Chuck’s M.O. He was the guy with the big heart. The departure might be a little less now, but it’s still different. Like you were saying, Luke is damaged. He’s a really messed up dude and conflicted in a lot of ways.
It’s also been a very dark journey to stay in the character for as long as one has to do. I think I need to do a zany comedy next in order to just get my soul repaired. I’m grateful I got to do this.
The “Heroes” characters have never been easily defined as good or evil. How important was it to have Luke straddle that line?
I loved it. I’m a really big fan of shows that are complex and dynamic and have characters that are morally ambiguous. It reflects life. I do think there are a lot of very specifically good people in the world and very specifically not good people in the world. Look at Hitler. Hitler was convinced that what he was doing was absolutely right. He was absolutely wrong and did horrible things in the world. As far as he was concerned, he wasn’t a bad guy. He was the champagne of the German people. It’s important, as much as you can, that characters have that moral ambiguity about them. It’s one of the reasons “Game of Thrones” is so great. Even the good guys do some really horrible crap and the bad guys tend to have some honor about them. It really throws you for a loop. I like it.
What was your reaction when you discovered that Luke’s powers allowed him to radiate heat and light?
I thought it was cool. In the beginning, Tim Kring had told me Luke was going to go from someone who persecutes EVOs to being one. That alone, regardless of whatever the power was going to be, I thought was very cool. To reference a character from the bible, Paul was persecuting and killing Christians. Then, all of a sudden he became one, which created this massive crisis of conscience for him. Luke has that same thing going on. Regardless of the power, I was stoked he had that dynamic. The power itself is pretty awesome. I could light somebody’s cigarette for them. I could cook a steak. I’m great for camping trips. No worries about making a campfire.
In last week’s episode, “Game Over,” Luke hit rock bottom and tried to commit suicide. Malina saves him. How was that a turning point for Luke? Going forward, what is his headspace?
The Luke that we knew from the first episode to this last episode that aired — even before he found out he had powers — he came to a place where he didn’t have the will to live anymore. He started killing EVOs in an attempt to save his wife and his marriage because his son was gone. It seemed like this was the only thing keeping his wife, Joanne, alive, but it was killing him. He got to a place where he realized he could never atone for any of this. At one point, he was ready to die, which was why he was able to look at Joanne and say, “Look, do it. Kill me. I’ve got nothing left.” Then, saying goodbye to his former life and burning down the house — that was it. Now that Malina has given him this new lease on life and that he’s had this very symbolic baptism of jumping into the water and then being brought out of it, he feels a new purpose in helping her. I don’t think he feels like it’s going to make up for anything that he’s done, but at least he feels like he’s still meant to do something. That’s where his journey lies.
What can you preview about the tonight’s episode, “June 13 — Part One?”
It really gives everyone a lot of back story. People are about to get a lot of questions answered. I love episodes like that because you are holding on, going, “I don’t totally understand this or this person’s motivation or that person’s agenda.” In the next couple of episodes, people are going to get a lot revealed and things are going to get a lot messier.
What can viewers expect the next time Luke and Joanne meet up?
Oh… They can expect an unresolved relationship. I think that’s all I can say.
In what ways will Luke’s abilities continue to manifest?
You’ll see some cool stuff. There’s definitely a utilization of his powers.
It’s been announced that “Thor: Ragnarok” will be filming in Australia. Has anyone contacted you yet about reprising your role as Fandral?
No, not at all. As far as I know, they are still writing the script. Once that’s all buttoned down, I’m sure they will be making the phone call to whatever actors are involved. I hope I’m involved. I’d love to reprise Fandral. That was a fun experience, getting to be blonde, Asgardian and sounding British. I think shooting in Australia would be a hoot. The weather is certainly more conducive to happiness than when we were shooting in London, which is a great city, but pretty dreary.
Your pop trivia TV series “Geeks Who Drink” celebrated being a nerd and it seemed like you had a blast doing it. Any word on a second season?
I was a little bit terrified just because I wasn’t planning on hosting that show. I was executive producing it. We made a pilot. Syfy really liked the pilot. We had a whole other host and then they said, “Hey, we just feel like you’re the only guy to really do this right.” I had never hosted a game show. Again, I didn’t really have a desire to host a game show at this point in my career. Hosting can be a very interesting thing. As an actor, there’s a fear that people are going to start seeing you as a personality and not as an actor.
Ultimately, I was like, “You know, it’s my baby. I’m executive producing it. I want it to have the best life it can have. If Syfy thinks that’s me, then I’ll do this. If it works, awesome. If not, it was an interesting attempt and I can check that off my bucket list of things to do before I die.” Now, we’re just waiting to see if we’re going to do more. They are having conversations at Syfy about trying to figure out what their new programming is going to be and looking at the numbers. It was definitely a fun experience. Any time you can combine trivia, which I love, and alcohol, which I also love, it’s a recipe for fun.
Superheroes have invaded television. As a comic book fan, which series would you like to guest-star on?
Guest-star? Who says I want to guest-star? I want to star, brother. My two favorite characters growing up were Gambit and Deadpool. I’ve now lost out on both of those. I’m not bitter. I’m not bitter. But, I’m a little bitter. I loved X-Men, X-Force, X-Factor and the New Mutants. There’s so much in that world and I really wish Fox would explore those other teams. I loved the Multiple Man and Havok.
To be honest, I think it would be really awesome if we could have a Spider-Man that was actually an adult. I’d love to play the adult Spider-Man. They keep retooling him and making him younger and younger. Eventually, we’re going to have a 4-year-old Peter Parker getting bit by a radioactive spider and going through the trials and tribulations of kindergarten. I just don’t think that’s compelling storytelling. I want him to be the adult Peter Parker and be swinging around with the Avengers. That would be a pretty awesome role.
I know the “Heroes Reborn” cast hit the karaoke bars while filming in Toronto. What was your go-to song and how did you do?
I’d like to think I did very, very, very, very well, but that’s just me. You’ll have to ask everyone else their opinion. As far as my go-to, karaoke is the cross between an art and a science. There’s a formula. Are you doing karaoke with just your friends in a private room or are you doing karaoke with a crowd of other drunk people? How into it are they? What was the last song? You just can’t have “Sweet Caroline” over and over again, ’cause that’s just bad karaoke. I personally like some Elton John, some Billy Joel. Upbeat piano driven music is really good karaoke music. It’s something people can sing along with even if not the verses, at least the choruses. I like “Fill Me Up Buttercup.” Also, some Huey Lewis and the News. That’s some good karaoke.
Lastly, at the end of the day, what’s harder: A cool guy trying to be a geek or a geeky guy trying to be cool?
Well, I’m going to say at the end of the day, it’s harder for a cool guy to be a geek because being a geek is cool now. People are realizing all the things that you used to get lambasted for like digging Iron Man — everyone digs Iron Man now. Some cool guy who doesn’t know anything about pop culture and all of a sudden is trying to insert himself into those conversations — That can get a little awkward.
“Heroes Reborn” airs Thursdays at 8 P.M. on NBC.