Hiro Nakamura makes his highly anticipated return tonight on “Heroes Reborn,” as Masi Oka reprises the fan-favorite role that jump-started his acting career. However, it’s only a precursor to the reappearance of even more veterans of the original series, including Greg Grunberg as Matt Parkman, Cristine Rose as Angela Petrelli and Noah Gray-Cabey as Micah Sanders.
With NBC’s 13-episode revival rapidly approaching its midway point, Oka, Grunberg, Rose and Gray-Cabey recently spoke with journalists at NBCUniversal in Universal City, California, to discuss their return to the world of “Heroes.”
What was it like getting that phone call to come back and reprise your character?
Greg Grunberg: I first saw the promo during [the Winter Olympics] and I was like, "What?" Then I got an email from Tim [Kring, series creator] that said, "Get ready," which is not fair to say to an actor because I was literally like, "OK. That's it. Clear my schedule!" We just had to work it out schedule-wise and clear the deal and everything. I was very happy to come back and play this character again. It was great. But mainly, seeing all these guys -- that's what it's all about.
Masi Oka: For me it was the same way. When we saw the promo -- you heard the music score and saw the logo and "Coming Soon." That's it! Then all of a sudden, 10 minutes later, I think all of us literally got on a chat and said, "Hey! Does anyone know about this?" [Laughs] I think it was 20 people on a group chat.
Grunberg: I don't even think it started with, "Hey." It was, "W.T.F."
Oka: Yeah. It was all of us texting, "Have you heard anything?" And it was like, "Nope," "Nope," "Nope." I remember maybe two or three hours later or maybe the next day I got an email from Tim.
Cristine Rose: Mine was like that except I got a telephone call and I was with my dad at a park looking over a beach, and I was thinking that I probably wouldn't be included. I was an old woman.
Grunberg: Old woman? What are you talking about? You always look beautiful.
Rose: I played so many moms. Now I'm a great-grandmother. Anyway, my poor dad, he's since passed, but I wheeled him out to the park and we were watching the dogs and the children and it was quiet and peaceful and lovely. Then I got a telephone call and I screamed bloody murder. I was like, "Yay!"
Noah Gray-Cabey: I saw some of the ads and a lot of friends were also really, really big "Heroes" buffs, so I guess they all had a Google Alert set or something, but they knew before me. So, I got some Facebook messages asking, "Do you know anything about this?" I hadn't heard a thing but it wasn't for a long time that I got a call, but I'm very happy I'm back.
We saw Noah on the webseries "Dark Matters," but on "Heroes Reborn" proper, thus far, we've seen two old people show up -- excluding Jack Coleman, who is a main [character] -- and both of them have died. Should we be concerned?
Masi: [Laughs] We all die. Everybody dies.
Grunberg: I don't know if I'm more mad that you said “old people” or that we'll die. You mean "seasoned veterans"? [Laughs] I mean, there's always the threat of that. That's the nature of the show. I think of the problems that we had early on was that [Hiro] could change it all. He could just bring us back and the person who was dead is now not dead. It's incredible for the writers to be able to do that, but then you have these moments where you're like, "Wait, his powers are limited by this, so he can't do that." We know our characters sometimes better than they do because they're servicing so many characters. It's always a challenge threatening the audience. I heard that during the first four years. It's like, "Nobody dies on 'Heroes.'" And I was like, "Yeah. I hope so. I hope that's true." [Laughs]
Oka: Everyone can come back to life. I mean, look at Adrian [Pasdar's] character. He's the Kenny of our show. He died every season and he came back! There's probably going to be some rule shifts but we'll see how it turns out. It's an interesting dynamic you have to play with. That finality and making a real threat while at the same time there's powers that allow you to go back.
Could you explain your character arcs in three words?
Rose: Can't tell you. [Laughs]
Grunberg: [Laughs] Um ... I. Am. Evil. I can't believe I'm doing the things I'm doing on the show, but I'm so excited to be doing them. We did "Five Years Gone" [in "Heroes" Season 1], and I think about how badass I was there, but we didn't really delve into the why too much. This is five years now and they have me doing some things that are just so cool and things that my character -- if you saw who my dad was and all that stuff -- it's justified.
Gray-Cabey: There was a little bit of frustration [in "Heroes"] being the little kid and watching all these movies with superheroes and everyone in the show is going off and doing these cool things and I was like sitting there like, "Mom! Why aren't we leaving?" So, coming back a young adult is really, really cool.
Grunberg: Plus, you and I are the most powerful people in the whole show. It's crazy when you think about --
Oka: Hang on, let me change that.
Grunberg: Like I said, Masi is the most powerful character in the show. [Laughs] But there's a moment in the show where they make reference to it. "The two of you together could control the world!" And it's, like, that's kind of true.
Gray-Cabey: That is true when you think about it, but watching the show with my roommates, I've got one roommate who always says to me, "Hey, Noah, you know what's cooler than being able to control electronics? Anything else."
Oka: I think for me, to some up in three words, is probably Present, Future, Past. I can't really say "Live. Die. Repeat." [Laughs]
When you opened up the scripts for the first time, were you surprised where your characters were and how they'd changed?
Rose: I've always said about the original show that it was like a jigsaw puzzle. It was a mystery. Every script was a mystery. Speaking about death, and this is true, I always open to the last page to see if I'm still breathing. I'm not kidding. Script by script in the original series we found out a little more about ourselves and the mythology and where our characters had been. This is the continuation of an unfolding mystery and one of the joys of the show -- the not knowing.
How does Angela keep herself occupied now that she's not mourning Nathan for six months?
Rose: She's taken up knitting. [Laughs] She's been discouraged but she continues to work and remains involved in all things that she might have been involved with at some point. I think I should have stopped at knitting. [Laughs] I carry on.
Almost all of your characters have ties to characters that won't be returning -- Greg with his family and baby, Masi to Ando, Cristine to Peter. Do we find out what happened to or what is going on with this other characters?
Grunberg: We haven't really talked about that too much, but ultimately it's not really a secret that kind of serves as justification for my character and what I'm doing. So, working for the highest bidder -- good or bad guys -- it's all to protect my family.
Oka: Not really for Hiro. It's pretty contained, I think. Yeah. There's no mention of Ando at all, so I wonder what happened. I know people are curious about it. Maybe he started his own pawn shop. [Laughs] There's definitely a lot of Peter references and Claire references and Nathan references.
Rose: Yeah. We talk about my family, yes. [Laughs]
Are you able to say which episodes you guys are featured on?
Oka: Six, seven, eight!
Grunberg: Eight. So the show gets good in Episode 8!
Gray-Cabey: Seven and eight.
Who of the "seasoned veterans" do you each share scenes with? It doesn't seem like you guys interact with everyone.
Oka: I have scenes with Cristine. I have scenes with Sendhil and Jack, and I won't reveal who I have scenes with with the new cast.
Gray-Cabey: [Greg] and I do some scenes together.
Grunberg: [Laughs] Ohhhh yes. The only thing better than being able to control electronics is being able to control the guy who controls electronics.
Rose: I have Sendhil, Noah and Masi.
There are a lot more superhero shows and movies out there now than when "Heroes" was first on the air. How do you think those shows have changed things for "Heroes Reborn?"
Grunberg: The technology is such that you can do stuff now on TV that you couldn't do before. We just shot a drone shot that I was a part of that was so beautiful. There was no way we could have shot that before. There weren't even drones when we were shooting ["Heroes"]. The bar keeps going up and up in post-production but I have to say it's still about the characters. If they are writing characters people are invested in, you're going to want to take a ride with those characters. I don't care what their powers are and what visually it looks like. Just to be completely fair, I don't think we spent enough time in the first two episodes with those characters. There's so many of them to service and I don't blame anybody but I just wanted to know a little bit more about them, just hang out with them a little bit more, personally, to be more invested. Now -- my kids are the barometer for this and they are so invested in the show. They just love it. It's great and it's really exciting.
Oka: I totally agree with Greg. "Heroes" was never really about the superpowers. It's more about what people do with them. It's about the characters' relationships and drama and how that world interconnects. As long as it focuses on that, I think that's what makes it unique compared to the other super hero shows. The special effects are there and bar is set much higher, but I think "Heroes" stays true to its original form of talking about the human drama behind the super hero aspect of it.
Rose: My big moment with special effects in the original "Heroes" was when Peter lifted me up in a stuck elevator and then brought me down next to a church, and it was just a crane sort of letting my feet land and it was really pretty unspectacular, but at least he saved me. But when I saw the trailer for "Heroes Reborn," it was breathtaking with all of the special effects. It was beautiful and powerful, and so much more than my feet landing on the ground. But once again, it is the characters that land it.
For Noah, back in the original show, Micah's power was mainly used to control traffic lights and get money from ATMs, but now technology is the thing. It's changed a lot since the original series and is arguably the most dominant thing in the world. How does that affect your character?
Gray-Cabey: You get to see a lot of that in "Dark Matters," and you see that Micah is running this whole underground operation and is trying to make sure the truth gets out there. I mean, that's pretty much been his MO and the quest he's been on since he was this high and had a lot of hair. I think with the dissemination of information being all about social media these days, he's using his powers to do -- some stuff. [Laughs]
Grunberg: Imagine if you could control social media. If you had the ability to control all of it. They didn't have that back then. That wasn't even an option.
Gray-Cabey: One of the things I loved about Micah and one of the reasons I think he got such a huge response at Comic-Con was because there was a young demographic of people who loved "Heroes," people my age. I think that's why they really identified with Micah. He was the only kid that stayed throughout the whole series. So, getting to now reprise this role as a young adult, I feel like I definitely connect to the younger audience a lot. And that's a special relationship to have.
Grunberg: We're also lucky that this guy didn't grow up a freak. I mean, young actors get crazy or whatever. He's the greatest. He's got his head on straight and he's back and he's killing it. It's really awesome.
Gray-Cabey: I did get rid of the hair, though. I couldn't, man. As soon as "Heroes" was over I just took a razor to it.
If you look at the television culture right now, revivals are the current big thing. Do you think that helped with "Heroes" returning? That now was the perfect time to do this?
Grunberg: I was interviewing Damon Lindelof recently and I asked him that exact question. I said, "’X-Files,’ ‘Twin Peaks,’ ‘Heroes.’” There's a lot of them, and I asked, "What if you were given the opportunity to do bring back ‘Lost’?" And he said, "Are you fucking crazy? Not me." It's like in the comic book world where Damon wrote ["Ultimate Wolverine vs. Hulk"] and you're taking iconic characters and then it's his interpretation of what it is. Just because that story goes that way over there doesn't mean you can't do this over here. I think certain shows lend themselves to that. He was really excited at the idea of someone taking on "Lost" and seeing what that guy is going to do with them. It really depends on the project, I think. It was a great thing for us because there was no end. We just stopped. So, picking it up from where we left off -- if there was an end, I think it'd have been harder for Tim to resurrect it.
You look at shows like "Fuller House," they confirmed that Bob Saget and stuff are coming back where if he wasn't people might have, like, rioted --
Grunberg: [Laughs] Do you really think people would have? "What's that one guy doing? Why is he so mad?"
[Laughs] For "Heroes," though, do you think it was important to make sure these older characters were back?
Oka: I think, yeah, absolutely. We're just here to lend and help -- pass the torch on and help it succeed. It's a creative choice, and I think it can go either way, and I know there's a version of the old series where Tim wanted to kill everyone and start off fresh with Season 2. That's a bold choice, too, and that's a creative decision and I don't think there's a correct or wrong answer to that. It all depends on execution. If it worked with us coming in, great. If it works with completely new characters, that's great, too. In this case, we were just fortunate.
Grunberg: Tim has done it in such a cool way and he's interwoven us into the story in a really important role. It's great because it brings familiarity into a new and exciting world.
Oka: And you want to bring new fans in. You don't want to discard the old fans. I produce a lot of movies based on manga and I always have the philosophy: you never want to make something for the fans but you want to make something that the fans will enjoy and accept. Those are two separate things. I think having us in the series is something the fans would enjoy. But if you make it only for those fans then you're never going to grow that fan base. You want to introduce new people and bring them into this world. So, having new characters is an entry point for those folks. Getting the old fans approval and bringing them along and saying that they are a really important part of us -- that's why we're here -- and also making it accessible for the new fans to come watch. That's the way a show can live.
“Heroes Reborn” airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on NBC.