Few characters on NBC’s hit drama “Heroes” are as baffling as the enigmatic Mr. Bennet. Last week, the actor who portrays Claire Bennet’s adoptive father spoke to the press on an NBC conference call, and CBR News was there.
Episode 17, “Company Man,” which airs Monday, February 26 th , promises to be a hallmark episode for the character whose name appears in “Heroes” scripts as Horn-Rimmed Glasses, or HRG for short (after his signature eyewear). Mr. Bennet lives in Odessa, TX, with his wife and daughter, Claire. And it is no accident that the invulnerable, young cheerleader came under his care: the seemingly mild-mannered employee of Primatech Paper is actually involved with a shadowy organization that has designs on Claire and all the people like her who have manifested superhuman abilities. HRG, along with a mysterious Haitian man who has the ability to erase memories, pursue the murderous Sylar, and advance an agenda re: the heroes known to them and them alone. And at the end of the day, HRG comes home to his loving family. “He’s been able to sort of separate the personal and the professional for a long time.” Coleman said. “And that is about to end.”
Coleman, an accomplished actor whose most high-profile role prior to “Heroes” was probably his recurring role as Steven Carrington on “Dynasty,” relishes HRG’s moral ambiguity. “I have to say that this character is much more interesting and fun to play for me than Steven Carrington was,” Coleman said. “Don’t get me wrong, [‘Dynasty’] was a great opportunity, I loved doing that, but this is a much juicier role. And the Devil gets all the best lines.
“[HRG] has been set up as the bad guy for the first two-thirds of the season, but I think there’s going to be light shed on both his motivation and his loyalty which will I think broaden everyone’s understanding of who HRG is and what he’s been trying to do,” Coleman said. “And I think it will make him in one way more sympathetic, and in another way, maybe even more horrific. But I think there’s gonna be a lot more light shed on who he is and where he came from.
“I think he sees himself working for the greater good, and taking on a job which is dirty but has to be done,” Coleman continued. “I love the ambiguity; I think it’s what makes the character so interesting. People can do horrible things and come home and love their children. It’s a perfectly human way to behave in the world, because I think most of us are living in areas of gray in some part or another of our lives, and I think it’s what makes the character interesting and so fun to play.”
A doting father himself, Coleman brings that real-life experience to the persona of his on-screen character. “I have a daughter that I dote on so the whole thing with Claire makes sense to me. Of course, I’m not bagging and tagging people, doing horrible things, putting chips in them, following them around performing experiments. So that part of the parenting thing is quite different from my own experience.
“And as twisted as he may be, [HRG’S] feelings for his daughter are genuine, as they are for his entire family,” Coleman said. “And they’re feelings that he’s often tried to sublimate because in his line of work you don’t want to be beholden to your emotions and your family.”
From the moment creator Tim Kring’s “Heroes” pilot script started making the rounds, the entertainment industry was abuzz about the show. Coleman jumped at the chance to audition for the role of HRG. “I went in knowing that the part was a very small part, it was basically a one page audition,” Coleman said. “So that was all I knew about it, but then when I saw at the very end that he is Claire’s father, I said to myself, ‘This definitely has potential to carry on forward.’
“Having said that, I had no idea that the role would become what it did,” Coleman went on. “I had no idea the show would become the juggernaut that it has become. I did know that there was a tremendous buzz within the industry about this show, so it’s kind of being seen as the little engine that could, but I think that within people in the industry, this show was always seen as something that was potentially going to break out.”
Though Coleman was involved in theatre throughout much of his academic career, he never expected to make acting his bread and butter. “But during my Freshmen year [in college], I was doing some theater, and I just decided this was what I really wanted to do,” Coleman said.
“Woody Allen, I think, said, ‘Half of it is just showing up,'” Coleman continued. “Part of it really is just refusing to go away. You have to believe in yourself and you have to believe that you’re good and you have to sort of refuse to go away. And eventually they just might hire you out of exhaustion. But something like [‘Heroes’] really is lightning in a bottle, it’s very, very hard to come by, and so I’m extremely grateful for this opportunity.
“To me what makes [‘Heroes’] interesting are the shades of gray. Although we’re talking about super abilities, no one’s donning costumes, people have to deal with the fact that it does make them a freak, it does make them hunted. If you think about how people might actually respond to these kind of things, there could be sort of widespread panic, so I just like the fact that there’s a price to pay, and that you really have to come to terms with your ability. I think that the old days of the straightforward superhero are probably behind us, for better or worse.”
And Coleman is no stranger to the world of superheroes: he read his share of comics when he was a boy. “Generally people are kind of DC guys or Marvel guys, and I was sort of a Marvel guy,” Coleman admitted. “I liked Spider-Man and that whole thing. I always felt that the Marvel comics had that great sort of angst to the characters. There seemed to be more of a personal cost to all of this stuff, as opposed to just straight, square-jawed heroes going and cracking heads and making things right.”
That being the case, Coleman was as excited as the next guy about comic legend Stan Lee’s guest appearance on the show. “I was working on the day that he came in, came into the makeup trailer, and he was just the nicest guy,” Coleman said of Stan the Man. “He was shaking hands and signing autographs and everybody loved him. It was great, and I don’t know how old he is, but he’s a spitfire, he’s in great shape. It was really fun to have him on the show.”
The initial search for HRG’s elusive eyewear was, in a word, exhaustive. “We probably went through about probably a hundred pairs,” Coleman said. “And we came up with sort of the perfect pair. As soon as I put the glasses on, it’s the character. It really is amazing how much something like that becomes the character for you to a certain extent. I think the glasses were a very, very big part of how the character was originally conceived, you know, behind a veil, kind of a ’50s throwback,” Coleman explained.
Though many of the show’s characters have only manifested their abilities within the past six months, the phenomenon has been known to HRG and his associates for a good deal longer. “The organization has been going on for 15 years, and people have manifested well before this,” Coleman said.
In “Company Man,” HRG has occasion to ally himself with telepath Matt Parkman, in what Coleman calls a “marriage of convenience.” “There’s sort of an allegiance which takes place out of necessity,” Coleman said. “And the allegiances are constantly shifting, it’s one of the things I really love about the episode is that as soon as you think you know who’s on whose side, and who knows what and who doesn’t, all of a sudden the land shifts beneath you and things are suddenly very different.” Coleman enjoyed working with actor Greg Grunberg on this episode, and looks forward to interacting with the rest of the cast in upcoming episodes.
Hinting at yet another unlikely team-up, Coleman cited his most difficult scene to date as one he had to perform in Japanese. “There are some things that are just physically strenuous, but I don’t think there was one that caused me quite as much angst as when I got the script and I saw that I was doing a page and half in Japanese,” the actor said.
As for Sylar, who recently escaped HRG’s clutches and assaulted the man’s wife, events conspire to delay the fugitive’s pursuit. “[HRG’s] antipathy toward Sylar is put on the backburner for a little while because other things come up and supersede it,” Coleman said. “And Sylar’s out on his own, wreaking havoc away from the prying eyes of HRG for a little while.”
Recently, HRG’s supposedly mute Haitian associate revealed to Claire that he could in fact speak, and this is a fact of which Coleman’s character is blissfully ignorant. “That little tidbit rears its head very soon, and shall we say causes a bit of friction between the two of them,” Coleman said.
“Any allegiance on this show is subject to change,” Coleman said. “Certainly the relationship between HRG and Claire has been very strained lately, and again, in 117, there’s a crisis situation which brings it to a head. But ultimately, I think they really do love each other, and there’s a tremendous bond there. I think it is one of the bedrocks that they build story on.
“One of the things that’s so amazing about the show is how much happens in every episode, and how action-packed it is, and how much story there is,” Coleman said. “The writers’ expression is ‘stuffing 50 lbs. of story into 10 lb. sack.’ And they really do that. And more and more as the season goes on I think you’ll see that from here to the end of the season it’s gonna be chock full of story. And also paying things off, not just leaving things to dangle.”
In a lot of ways, Coleman is as in the dark as the rest of us when it comes to Mr. Bennet’s motivations. “I don’t spend too much time worrying about what’s coming five episodes down the road,” Coleman said. “Speculation only gets you so far, and you’re gonna be wrong anyway, so you might as well just go along for the ride. I just try to play what I think is going on at that moment and not worry about how does this fit in to the greater picture. In serial television, the greater picture is ever shifting, and this show is as well. So you just have to sort of trust that your own truth that you bring to it will kind of work as a glue to hold together things which might seem to be contradictory.”
Of “Company Man,” Coleman said: “The story very much takes place in the present, but we also flash back to see how he got started in the company, and how he came to be in possession of Claire, and how a lot of things happened. But also driving it forward from our present point as well, to a point where HRG really has to make a decision, and he does. He takes a stand, and it reaches a very, very dramatic conclusion.”
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