One of the surprise hits of last years U.S. television season was NBC’s comedic spy series “Chuck,” created by Josh Schwartz (“Gossip Girl”) and Chris Fedak and produced by McG (“Terminator Salvation). The series is about a Buy More employee (think Best Buy) who receives an encoded e-mail from an old college friend who works for the CIA. The message embeds the only remaining copy of the world's greatest spy secrets into Chuck’s brain, forcing the government to assign a team of agents to work with and protect the hapless clerk.
Zachary Levi (“Big Momma’s House 2”) stars as the title character, Buy More employee by day and secret agent by night, Chuck Bartowski. Actress Yvonne Strahovski plays CIA agent and Chuck’s love interest Sarah Walker, while fan-favorite Adam Baldwin (“Firefly,” “Serenity,” “Superman: Doomsday”) plays NSA agent and all-around Bad-Ass Major John Casey. Josh Gomez (“Invasion”) rounds out the cast as Chuck’s annoying co-worker and BFF, Morgan Grimes.
CBR News had the opportunity to speak to Levi and Gomez about the new season of “Chuck,” which premiers September 29 on NBC. The two actors talked to us about Wildstorm’s comic book series based on the show, their lifelong love for comics, Gomez’s dream guest and Levy’s experience acting opposite Hellboy.
CBR: “Chuck” has been compared to the classic spy series, “Get Smart.” Have the show’s creators ever talked to you about what shaped their ideas for “Chuck” or what inspired them as far as the premise and the overall feel of the series?
Zachary Levi: Well, interestingly enough, what I do know is that they don’t want it to be “Get Smart.” As much as I agree, in the sense that I really loved “Get Smart” when I saw it in reruns, I think we definitely do have elements and you just can’t hide it. There is some absurdity to the missions we go on. It’s just a very tough line to walk when you have the comedy and the action, and when those two worlds collide it can be very funny and entertaining.
But as far as I know, I think it really came out of Josh and Chris having known each other for awhile, both being writers at USC. They wanted to make kind of a quarter-life crisis, mid-20s to late 30s, what-are-you-doing-with-your-life kind of a premise. And you know everybody has a take on that. What’s a fresh take on that? Well a fresh take would be that you’re wrapped up in espionage. That’s a heck of a quarter-life crisis right there.
Our writer and co-creator Chris Fedak is a huge fan of great action movies like “Die Hard” and “Total Recall.” That’s where he’s drawing a lot of his influence in that world. Then you know Josh Schwartz was so successful with finding that young audience with “The O.C.” and that kind of pop culture buzz. If you take “The O.C.,” “Die Hard,” “Get Smart,” “The Bourne Identity,” “The Office,” various kinds of genres and influences and throw them altogether, that’s “Chuck.” I suppose.
With the Writers Strike cutting your first season short, will some of the new season have storylines that were intended for last season or are you starting off from scratch with season two?
Josh Gomez: I think it’s kind of starting off from scratch. But I know there are probably ideas being used that were intended for last season. They are now being put into place, absolutely. But I think it was all sort of rearranged, rewrote, reorganized and put into a new season. So I don’t think it was like, here these are episodes we didn’t get to. I think there’s a whole mythos and there’s a reason why everything is happening. A whole planned goal for the end of the show or something like that. So I think there are ideas that they didn’t get to use that are now being used but probably in a different way or just kind of rearranged.
Is it fun working with Adam Baldwin? He seems very serious and wrapped up in his character.
Levi: Adam is so dedicated to the character and shares many aspects with him. But I would also tell you that Adam’s probably the biggest surprise because he can get sillier than almost anyone on set. He’ll do funny voices, joke around and he’ll bust out some “Full Metal Jacket” stories. You know, like really funny, great stuff. He’s such a veteran and been around the block numerous times. And I mean he’s our rock. Adam Baldwin is our rock!
Gomez: The biggest surprise is that he plays this character when the cameras are rolling, he’s polishing his gun, he’s grunting at Chuck and he’s doing the scene. But when the cameras aren’t rolling, he’s the biggest teddy bear you probably have ever seen. I mean, he loves his cast and he loves his family. He’s just like the biggest sweetheart. Then all of a sudden, you know, he’s grunting and he’s slamming my face into a wall. Then he says, oh are you okay and he’s just a sweetheart, so yeah it’s funny.
Oscar-nominated actor Michael Clarke Duncan (“The Green Mile”) guest stars on the first episode of the new season. Are there any other actors that you would really like to work with on the show?
Gomez: I would love to see ALF, but I know it’s not going to happen. But I think he’d be great in the Buy More. I don’t know. What do you think?
Levi: Well, that’s the great thing about television as opposed to film. If you do a film you get to work with your cast and then that’s the experience. But in television you get to work with new actors and new directors all the time. They’re always coming in. So I would love for more solid, awesome, actors and actresses to come through. You know, hopefully they’d dig the show and want to be a part of it in some way, shape or form.
We just had Gary Cole on, who was Lumbergh in “Office Space” and has done all kinds of work. Not to be confused with Gary Coleman (“Different Strokes”) who is also a monster of the craft. Gary Cole is one of those great character actors. Maybe not everybody is familiar with his name but they’re familiar with his face. I was over the moon. I felt like such an idiot because when I saw him in the hair and makeup trailer for the first time, I was like [in his best Lumbergh voice] “Peter, what’s happening? Listen, did you get the memo about the TPS report?” I mean, he probably gets that all the time but I couldn’t resist. It’s one of those huge things for me. He’s such a great actor and he kills in the role [on “Chuck”]. He plays a great character. I can’t tell you what role he plays but he will be great, I assure you.
Zachary, what was it like to work with Ron Pearlman, as Hellboy, in the “Hellboy II: The Golden Army” commercials that aired on the USA network this past summer?
Levi: That was a lot of fun to do. They said to me, hey you want to go do these Hellboy promos? I was like, yeah sure, I guess? What’s the deal? They said, well Ron Pearlman will be there. I was like, oh really? And they said, he’ll wear the Hellboy outfit. I’m sold. Sign me up, I said. I’ll do it for free. I’ll drive myself. Where do I need to go? It was really cool to do.
Wildstorm publishes a comic book based on “Chuck.” Have you had a chance to look at it and if so, how do you feel about it and how does it feel to have your image in the pages of a comic book?
Gomez: It’s so freakin’ cool to be in a comic book. I think it’s a great way to expand the storyline in ways that frankly we probably could never afford to do on film. I have gotten a chance to look at them and I think they’re all doing just an amazing job. I mean, the covers have been so cool. I just enjoy seeing them. I think it’s just a great way, again to sort of expand the mythos and go deeper. Revisit characters and go to exotic locations that of course we could never do right now, maybe one season. But for now, this is a cool way to kind of let the reigns off of “Chuck.” So I think it’s definitely cool.
Levi: I totally concur. Although I would say as opposed to so freakin’ cool that it’s about time. I mean, shouldn’t we have been in a comic book when we were kids? Come on. But I do think the artists are great. I think that it’s drawn and colored very excellently and they capture, I think, the voices of our characters pretty well. You know, the dialogue is pretty spot-on and like Josh was saying, they can go to Paris. They can go to Japan. They can go to all these places that just, you know, monetarily and time wise we just can’t do. But I’m hoping that Season 3 will include episodes like “Chuck versus The Bahamas.” That would be great.
Finally, are either of you comic book fans and if so, what are some of your favorite comics?
Gomez: Yeah, I was a huge comic book fan growing up. As I’ve gotten a little older I’ve definitely tapered off and I don’t follow it as much as I probably should. But as a kid growing up I was a gigantic X-Men fan. I was a huge Batman fan too, but I would say my main comic book read was the X-Men. I followed that for a long time and yeah, I love comic books.
Levi: Yeah, I was a big comic book fan as well. I probably shouldn’t admit to this but you know how some kids go out and play war, like they have their guns and stuff? My buddies and I would do that occasionally but more than that, we would go out and play superhero. You know, one friend would be running at me pretending to be Wolverine and slicing me up with his claws. I chose to be Gambit. I was a big X-Men fan as well. I like Gambit, Mon Cherie. I was very much into that whole Cajun thing and charging up his playing cards and throwing them at people. They always made fun of me because I had charged up cards and they had adamantium claws. In fact I think all of my friends were Wolverine. Everybody wanted to be Wolverine and I was like you know what, I’m going to step outside of the box on this one boys.
Speaking of randomness, one of my all time favorite comic book artists is Rob Liefeld. He did some of the best covers that Marvel has ever seen and then went off to Image and did “Youngblood” and whatnot. I got a message from him on Facebook the other day. He wanted to be my friend and I was like, “Rob Liefeld that’s so … Marvel … oh my god, oh my god it’s Rob Liefeld!” When I was in middle school, I was weighing all my career options for when I was going to be an adult and comic book artist was one of them, although I’m horrible at drawing. Rob Liefeld was like one of my idols. So I’m all of a sudden now having chats with Rob Liefeld. I said, oh my god, I’m such a huge fan of your work. He said, hey I really love your show too and god bless. I’m like, oh my gosh this is incredible. I can’t believe this. So yeah, if that sums up how nutty I am about that stuff, then there you go.
Season Two of “Chuck” premieres September 29 on NBC.