Wednesdsay morning, NBC hosted a press conference call with "Heroes" cast members Adrian Pasdar (morally fluid politician Nathan Petrelli), Christine Rose (Nathan's mother, Angela) and Malcolm McDowell (the ubiquitous Mr. Linderman), and CBR News was on the scene.
McDowell admits that "Heroes" was off his radar until he was approached for the role of Linderman. "I don't watch that much TV," McDowell said. "When it was coming up, of course I tuned in, and they sent me the pilot, which is really a wonderful show. And my son also said, 'Dad, it's one of the great shows on television, what rock have you been hiding under?'"
Rose, on the other hand, has been watching "Heroes" since the beginning. "I'm a big fan, and it's hard not to be once you get hooked on the storyline, and the brilliant, not only writing, but the actors," Rose said. "When I'm gonna be in a show, I request all the scripts that have been shot in between my last show and the show that I'm doing. You sort of have to keep tabs on what's been happening with the boys, as it were."
"I must say, as a viewer, you're always on the edge of your seat, but I haven't got a clue what's going on," McDowell said.
McDowell, who is known for playing villains, usually doesn't define his characters in such black and white terms. Is Linderman just misunderstood? "I suppose you could make a case for Hitler being misunderstood, couldn't you, really?" McDowell said. "But the fact is that Linderman is such a fabulous part for an actor to do, that really I had to do no acting at all. It was so well written."
When asked if his propensity for playing villains stemmed from the actor's real-life dark side, McDowell admitted, "Well, you know, I think that any part that you play, there's always a little bit of you."
"I just wanna tell everybody, I have seen Malcom's left buttock, and he does have that tattoo of the little villain with the dagger," Pasdar chimed in, and Rose confirmed.
"You know what, I am very proud of that tattoo, thank you for brining it up," McDowell said. "Of course one has a bit of the devil in one, doesn't everyone? It's just that they pay me to have fun with it, so of course, I do it, and I'm happy to do it." McDowell also posited that while his villainous roles may be better known, he's played just as many good guys in his career, by his estimation.
One reporter asked McDowell to compare Linderman to his upcoming portrayal of Dr. Loomis in Rob Zombie's "Halloween" remake, and the actor said that the characters couldn't be more different. "Loomis is a psychoanalyst, of some note, I might add," McDowell began. "Although, God knows, let's face it, for a man who's got a patient like Michael Meyers, and he certainly can't do anything to control him or cure him in the 17 years, God knows how good of a doctor he really is." But, as far as McDowell is concerned, Loomis is a "well-meaning man," as opposed to Linderman, who the actor describes as "arch."
McDowell also said that his portrayal of Loomis is in no way influenced by Donald Pleasance's original take on the role, due simply to the fact that the actor has never seen "Halloween". "I have to tell you that I've never seen 'Halloween' 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 or 7," McDowell said. "I must be one of the only people on the planet never to have seen any of the films. Of course, I knew Donald Pleasance, and a brilliant actor he was, with that wonderfully sinister kind of thing of his, and I could imagine him playing Loomis of course, with that sinister kind of thing that he has. But it's a new look, it's a reinvention of it." McDowell also revealed that he's already signed on for three "Halloween" films. "They obviously think it's gonna be a big hit." Other upcoming projects for McDowell include "Doomsday," "War and Peace," and a screening of his tribute to director Linsday Anderson at Cannes.
Echoing something said by his "Heroes" co-star Eric Roberts in last week's conference call, McDowell told reporters that his niche as a science-fiction villain is not necessarily one he's chosen, but one that's been chosen for him. "You know, you're only as good as what they ask you to do," McDowell said. "And I'm very lucky that I was asked to do this, 'Heroes,' because it's a gift of a role, it's really a wonderful part. I've been very lucky through the years to get a few good parts here and there amongst the crap, and let's face it, there's probably a lot of crap out there, too. So the odd little pearl that comes my way, you feed on it, and you say, 'Thank you very much.'"
One reporter asked McDowell to address the contradiction between Linderman's healing powers and his plans to blow up New York. "Well, it's not a conscious thing, you know," McDowell explained. "The man is a healer. He's obviously got a wonderful side to him. He's wonderful with children, wonderful with pets. He's the life and soul of a party, tells a good joke. He's a delightful man, and would be a very fine uncle to your children.
"But having said that, there is a side to him that is a little bit dark," McDowell continued. "He has this power thing, and he feels that the world is in such a state that the human race is so decadent and out of control that he thinks the answer to that is starting again. And it's obviously a kind of a strange way of going about things, but there are other people on this planet at the moment that think the same, unfortunately. And they're dangerous, you know. Linderman, I don't know, he must have had quite an unhappy childhood, I think, for him to have taken it that far."
Pasdar posited a theory of his own, that Linderman might be more to Nathan than just a political ally. "I think from what I understand, and I think I can say this, I knew your father quite well," McDowell said.
"I understood he knew him maybe a lot better than we might imagine," Pasdar suggested, coyly.
But what Pasdar was getting at is that Linderman may have sired the Petrelli brothers. And that's a theory that many of the show's fans subscribe to, including cast member Christine Rose. "This is my theory," Rose beagn. "No, it's actually wish-fulfillment. I would like to think that Malcom and I… Actually, Linderman and Angela, met at Woodstock, and conceived Nathan. And you might not remember, because we were in a daze of drug-filled joy."
"You know, I do vaguely remember something about that," McDowell relented. "I think Joe Cocker was on the stage at the time. It was a pretty nice moment."
Since super powers seem to run in the family, one reporter asked whether or not Angela Petrelli has a power. "I'd have to kill you," Rose put forth. Then, engaging once again in wish-fulfillment, the actress joked, "Okay, I can change my makeup at will."
When asked if she'd had any inkling that her character would be as pivotal as she's become, Rose responded with a resounding no. "It's like a surprise package every time I open up that script," Rose said. "I got a little bit of a hint of a clue in the fall, when it was alluded that I would be a little more interested in Nathan's political career than might normally be expected from a mother. And then it was terribly exciting to find out that I am in fact in league with Linderman. And I don't think that we're evil, I really think we're out to save the world, just a little misguided."
Rose, it seems, has spent a great deal of time analyzing her character's motivations. "There are still a lot of questions that I hope might be answered in the second volume, called 'Generations,'" Rose said. "As the title might intimate, there will be more news about what's gone on before, what might go on in the future. I've been wondering if, if indeed Linderman and Angela and others of the Numerati (as Tim Kring refers to us), if these plans have been going on for decades, if Angela might not have born her children to be part of this whole plan." In the episode "The Hard Part," Sendhil Ramamurthy's Mohinder Surresh learned that his blood held the antibodies that could have saved the life of his late sister, had he been born a scant few months earlier. "And so the idea of bearing children to save someone, or in this case, save the world, I've had to deal with that." For Rose, it casts dispersion on her character's feelings earlier in the season when she believed her son Peter had perished. "Was that concern, that overwhelming grief, was it for the son that she loved, or for the demise possibly of a plot or a plan she'd been working on with others for so long? There's so many questions, so many mysteries that we just don't know."
On a show like "Heroes," the average life expectancy of the characters is decidedly low. At the beginning of the season, while part of Rose was hoping for a meatier role, at the same time she took solace in the fact that she "wasn't important enough to kill."
"It's a double edged sword, isn't it?" Pasdar said. "Like I said earlier when somebody asked me this question, I signed on to do 'Heroes,' and I wound up being on 'Survivor.' I'd like to stick around, but if and when it's time for me to go, I'll be happy to be a part of a terrific season of TV."
"If I told you how many I'm doing, then it'd probably give it away, so I better not say anything about that," McDowell teased. "But suffice it to say that I'm doing a few of these."
One reporter likened Angela Petrelli to Jackie O, and asked if Rose had based her portrayal on any real-life figures. "Oh, my gosh, I've never thought of it terms of that, how lovely," Rose said. "No, I'm not drawing on anyone in particular. No one in real life." Rose did recently watch the original 1962 "Manchurian Candidate," and lauded actress Angela Landsbury for the "elegance" with which she tackled the role of the mother. "Jackie O, I adore her, and she looks so much better in clothes than I ever would hope to, so I can't possibly go down that road."
McDowell was of the same mind as Rose: more often than not, his inspiration for the characters he plays comes from the page and the page alone. "I can't tell you how many times people have said to me, 'You were playing Rupert Murdoch, right?'" McDowell said. "I've had that about, oh, I don't know, at least half a dozen characters that I've played. And the answer is no, I have nothing to do with Rupert Murdoch whatsoever.
"You know, I think that honestly, I think the writers look to the headlines for inspiration, quite rightly, because they are mirroring what is going on in our society, and they're using it in a fictional way," McDowell continued. "And therefore, in a sort of second hand way, we're getting handed down these characters that vaguely are sort of in the headlines or something. I think you may say, they could be inspired by events or something, but that's about it. As far as the actor goes, of working on the part, of course, that's neither here nor there. I mean, you're working on the part as written. At least, that's the way I work. You can only take it as far as it's drawn in the script."
And as to whether Nathan Petrelli has a real-life counterpart, Pasdar made the answer unanimous. "I think they have done a wonderful job of creating a fictional character, and I think when anything is so successfully drawn, obviously parallels can be drawn to existing people," Pasdar said. "Again, having said that, there haven't been any attempts to base this on anything other than our writers' imagination. The conversations we have on the set by and large tend to focus around everything but the parallels that might be drawn between what we're doing and real life."
"I think the actor has two responsibilities," Pasdar said. "One is to be visually compelling, and the other to recite the lines as written by the writers."
"Oh, yes, well, we want to look beautiful, of course," McDowell confirmed. "I mean, the hell with that, who wants to play Dick Cheney?"
As far as Pasdar is concerned, his portrayal of Nathan Petrelli is an amalgam of many different politicians, both real and fictional. "I've taken the best and the worst of politicians that have come across me in my personal life, and also people that I don't know. Just a mix of the worst and the best that I've seen. The most morally liquid characters that I've come across, I based this guy on." Pasdar said that Petrelli has tendencies on both sides of the political spectrum, and didn't go so far as to align the character with one side or the other.
In the recent episode "Five Years Gone," viewers were given a glimpse of New York's future, if the heroes fail to stop the bomb. Nathan Petrelli did indeed become president, as Linderman had predicted. But towards the end of the episode, we learned the president was not the Nathan we know and love, but rather a shape-shifting Sylar. "I thought it was a great opportunity to play another actor, I always love to do that," Pasdar said. "That morning was the culmination of a lot of work that Zack and I had done up to that point. He came to the set, he wasn't on call, but he came to sit with me in my trailer and just whispered the lines in my ear for about a half an hour. And then I just watched him walk around, I followed him, he blocked the scene, and to be able to take on his mannerisms and such."
One reporter asked if Pasdar had ever considered running for public office himself. "You know, I haven't," Pasdar began. "I did a show called 'Profit' a while back, and I based some of the work on some people that were in office at the time." The parallels between acting and politics are not lost on Pasdar, who has had the opportunity to visit the White House himself. "There's so much showmanship and gamesmanship involved in politics, it's really not a stretch to imagine an actor getting involved in being a figurehead for a political party. But for myself personally, I just don't think I could do that."
Speaking of "Profit," one reporter asked if the short-lived series might have had more staying power in the current TV landscape where morally ambiguous characters seem to be the order of the day. "Absolutely, I think that show would've found a home quicker now," Pasdar said. Pasdar went on to say he has a penchant for playing characters with secrets, one he shares with co-star McDowell. "Playing someone who you like, you trust, but not a hundred percent. Sombody you'd wanna have a beer with, but you hope they pick up the tab. It's always very fun to play someone who's somewhat enigmatic, but at the same time there are underpinnings of real concern for mankind. That was what 'Profit' had a lot of. too, he's somewhat of an anti-hero, he moves the story along, but he's not responsible for being liked a hundred percent."
Nathan Petrelli has certainly made some dubious decisions over the course of the first season, but rather than characterizing him as good or evil, Pasdar believes Nathan Petrelli, like most of the characters on "Heroes," is positioned squarely in the shades of grey. "Just when you've had your suspicions confirmed one way or the other, he does something that presents the opposite," Pasdar said. "You think he's bad, he does something that might be called heroic, he does something that's good, he does something that's not so good. That's the beautiful part of the writers' creation here, is that they've made somebody who can lean on both sides of the fence, and still serve his ultimate goal without compromising his ability to be good or bad. It's a joy to play, because the writing's so good.
"I think that family's played such a big part in the landscape that's been defined by 'Heroes,' it's really a family oriented struggle on so many fronts," Pasdar said. "When I discovered that Claire was my daughter, there's a certain pragmatic approach to understanding what needs to be done, and then there's probably a less than pragmatic approach about trying to figure out how she's gonna fit into the future of his life. I think that family, as it's structured and as it's begun to unfold in the Petrelli household, the dynamic that exists between the four of us is gonna open up a little bit more, you're gonna have some more insight into how that all came to pass."
Reporters not only asked the actors about what the future had in store for their characters, but also tried to get a few juicy tidbits about the revelations we could expect in the last few episodes of the first season and beyond. The actors, of course, were less than forthcoming, and contractually so. "You know, it's frustrating to do a conference call, they ask you to promote the show, and tell you at the same time, you can't tell anybody anything," Pasdar said. "I think I did remember, at the offices there, reading the first page of the script, 'don't tell any of the secrets on penalty from being removed from the entire project.'
"So, having said that, questions do get resolved in a huge way," Pasdar continued. "All those questions that are posited in the pilot are answered almost to a T in the finale, it's a beautifully structured finale." Pasdar couldn't go into too many details, except that viewers should expect the unexpected. "The very end of the finale is where season two will pick up, and it shows you a good three minutes of where that's gonna pick up," Pasdar revealed. "I don't think anybody's gonna guess where. It's a very, very interesting place."
Pasdar then took a moment to address, in the broadest of terms, what the future holds for Nathan Petrelli. "From what I can tell, there'll be a little bit of story of redemption, having to pay for the sins," Pasdar said. "From what I can tell, without being too specific, that will be the question, how do you handle who you are without the ability to pick up a phone and get anything you want? I think you're going to find it's a completely unexpected place that you think that Nathan might end up, after the choices that he makes in the very last three minutes of the finale, that are going to lead to the story of what is going to happen to him in season two."
Pasdar suggested that the show's plot, like his character's morals, was decidedly fluid. "I think a lot of character dynamics are what define the progress that certain characters take," Pasdar said. "The performances, the way that people engage, however the relationships seem to manifest. So I think while they do have an overall arc for the season, it is somewhat fluid, in terms of who seems to be playing off who well."
Because of the nature of the show, sometimes the actors are working on as many as three episodes at the same time. "It can be a bit unwieldly, but I think the continuity that we've managed to achieve over the course of the season kind of has prevented us from making any agregious errors," Pasdar said. "You have to make sure you're consistent in terms of your choices. What's coming before and what's coming after."
"And whether you're in the right clothes," McDowell added.
"Thank God we've got terrific people taking care of all that stuff for us," Pasdar said. "Malcom has somebody who actually dresses him."
"Well, I need to, because, you know, I do tend to dribble, too," the elderly actor quipped.
McDowell, who is not what you'd call technologically savvy, marveled at the ability to download "Heroes" on iTunes all over the world. "It's amazing how different the business is, and I think the online part of it is very important," McDowell said.
"I think we're coming to the end of appointment television in the next few years. It's going to spell out a marked change in terms of what's on TV and the access that people have toward what they want to watch," Pasdar said.
"No, no, I'm sure we'll need actors," Pasdar assured his co-star. "It's just about the way that the material is viewed and the media is downloaded. With TiVo and video on demand, people are going to be able to watch whatever they want to watch whenever they want to watch it, so having to be home on Monday night at 9:00 is not going to become as necessary as it once was. I don't think you can remove the water cooler element of television, but I think the specificity with which television is delivered now is going to alter rapidly. To be a part of 'Heroes' towards the end of this part of an era is an honor."
One reporter expressed concern about a recent ratings dip, but Pasdar attributed it to the standard end-of-season drop-off. "The demographics have held tight the entire time," Pasdar said. "At the end of the season, everybody's numbers get compromised a little bit, because everybody's putting up their best efforts, but we're still winning that [18-49] demographic, which is the most important element.
"I think one of the reasons the show has reached a certain audience is that it does combine fantasy with reality," Pasdar continued. "We're living in a pressure cooker at the moment, and that pressure isn't lost on the writers, I think they're using it to their fullest advantage and they're also combining the elements of fantasy, namely having super powers, in order to fight the evils that are presented to us."