From creator/executive producer Tim Kring, who imagined NBC’s original critically acclaimed 2006 Heroes series, Heroes Reborn is about what happens when a terrorist attack in Odessa, Texas leaves the city decimated and those with extraordinary abilities, known as EVOs, are blamed for the event, leading them to go into hiding or on the run. As the bridge between the original series and the new, Noah Bennet, aka HRG (Jack Coleman), goes on a journey that opens his eyes to the truth behind the Odessa tragedy.
During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, actor Jack Coleman talked about when he first realized that Heroes Reborn was going to happen, how easily and comfortably Noah Bennet came back to him, what it was like to be surrounded by new and old faces while playing the same character, feeling the absence of Hayden Panettiere (who played HRG’s daughter, Claire, in the original series), when he’s learned the show’s reveals, how the dynamics have evolved, how his character might react if he were ever to gain a power of his own, and what he’s most enjoyed about returning to the world of Heroes. Be aware that there are some spoilers.
Collider: When and how were you first approached about returning to this character?
JACK COLEMAN: The very first time any of us heard of it was when they ran the ad during the Winter Olympics last year. Nobody was expecting it, and nobody had any idea that there was a plan in the works to do it. It was all very cagey and hush-hush, and then, all of a sudden, there was an ad. And then, we all started texting each other madly because none of us had heard anything. It wasn’t long after that that I first got a text from Tim [Kring] saying, “Let’s talk sometime.” And then, he followed that up with a phone call, a little bit later on. We had a nice, long conversation where he told me how he imagined things to go and that he wanted me to be a part of it. And that was a year before we started filming. It was very cool. The conversation that I had with Tim was in late March or early April, a year almost to the day that we started shooting again.
Early after the show’s cancellation, there was talk of a movie or a follow-up of some sort. As the years passed and you got further away from the last episode that you’d done, did you figure that that door had closed and that it wasn’t going to happen again?
COLEMAN: Yeah, I did. I felt that there was a very good possibility that something would happen within the first year of the show going off the year. I thought they might do some sort of mini-series or something to wrap it up. But after a year or two, certainly I didn’t really give it much thought again. And then, all of a sudden, out of the blue, there was that ad and I was like, “Woah, wait, what?!” It was pretty crazy.
Because some time has passed, both in real life and on the show, your character is a different man from who he was when we last saw him. Did you have to find who he is now, or was it something that you slipped into easier than you expected?
COLEMAN: I slipped into it pretty easily and pretty comfortably. One thing that was really working for me was that it was five years later, and not five years before the first series every began. Prequels can be really tricky with hair pieces and make-up because you’ve gotta somehow look younger than before the show started. That’s a trick that I’m glad I didn’t have to try to perform. But, he is a different guy. When you first met Noah Bennet, he was being touted as the face of evil. And then, he became this morally grey guy. You weren’t ever quite sure what side he was on. This guy is much more settled in his life, his philosophy and his take on things. He’s not the true believer that he was, back in the day when he was working for the company, and then he was completely disillusioned by the fact that they were coming after his daughter. Noah is a little older, a little wiser, and he’s definitely on the side of the EVOs, as we now call them, which we didn’t in the first series. He’s not playing both sides of the fence anymore.
Noah Bennet is the eyes and ears of the audience this time, catching everyone up on what’s happened in the past while discovering what’s going on in the present. What’s that been like to play, finding that balance while making sure it’s not too heavy on one side or the other?
COLEMAN: The balance when you’re catching people up, and the craft of what we do as actors, is to try to make sure that the exposition sounds like thought and dialogue, and a plan or a problem or something that is motivationally induced, rather than just telling the audience information. Fortunately, they do a good job of that. There’s a lot of information that they have to pass on, and I’ve always been responsible for disseminating information to the audience, as well as the other characters. The challenge there is just to make sure that it’s based in some kind of an emotion and motivation, and you’re not just giving people information.
It’s not often that you get to return to a character where you’re put in new situations with a whole new cast of characters that you’ve never met or come across before while also having these characters from the past that come in and out. What was it like to be back on set playing this familiar character, surrounded by new and old faces?
COLEMAN: Very early on, when we did the gallery shoot where all of us were together, it was me and all of the new cast. There was nobody there from the original cast, except for me. I was looking around going, “Who are these people?! I’m wearing the horn-rimmed glasses, I’m dressed in the suit and I know I’m playing Noah Bennet. Who are these people? This is not the Heroes cast I know.” But, we really bonded very quickly. We have a text chain where you wake up to 48 texts in the morning and everybody is always communicating. We get along really well. That is actually pretty remarkable that lightening struck twice. The first cast was like that, as well. I have to say that the producers and Jason [La Padura] and Natalie [Hart], our casting directors, have done a really great job at not only getting talented people, but people who get along with each other. And then, to be there when all of the other familiar faces started rolling in, like Sendhil [Ramamurthy], Masi [Okay], Greg Grunberg, Cristine Rose, Jimmy Jean-Louis and Noah Gray-Cabey, it was really fun to watch them go through what I went through the first day with, “I know this guy. I know this character. I’ve just gotta get my rhythm back.” It’s like picking up a tennis racket, after many years. You know how to hit the ball, but you haven’t done it in awhile, so you’ve gotta get your strokes back. That’s a little bit of what it was like. It was actually really fun for me to watch everybody arrive on set. It’s a familiar show, but it’s an unfamiliar set. It’s not Sunset Gower, where we shot the first series. It’s in Toronto. The crew is all new. Some of the directors were familiar, certainly early on, but not as much as we went along. And then, a lot of the actors were unfamiliar. Everybody acclimating themselves to a familiar and yet new show was very interesting.
With how interconnected Noah and Claire’s story was in the first series, did it feel like Hayden Panettiere was noticeably absent this time?
COLEMAN: Yes, she’s noticeably absent, and yet everything that Noah Bennet does is motivated by Claire, whether it’s to find her, to protect her, to find out what happened to her, or to honor her. Whatever he does, it’s always driven by her. So, that oddly remained the same, even though Hayden wasn’t around. I would have loved to have had all of the old cast around, and Hayden in particular, but this is Reborn. This is a new time, a new story and a new series, even though it is Heroes. We get to spend time with a lot of the original cast, but it’s a new show, so obviously it’s going to be dominated by new actors.
Now that Noah Bennet has gone from being the company guy to the guy fighting the company, what is driving him, at this point? As he learns more about what’s really going on, will what’s driving him change?
COLEMAN: Yes, it will. After we go back to June 13th when everything fell apart and Noah finds out what happened, there are all sorts of answers given and mysteries revealed. Every question that the show has asked, up to this point, will all be answered. And then, it will spin off headlong towards the end of our story for these 13 episodes with a very distinct objective for how the world has to be saved and from whom. Everything pivots and sends us toward our finale.
Because it took a few episodes into the season to get to the point where we get answers, did you know what those answers would be from the beginning, or did you have to wait to learn those answers in these scripts?
COLEMAN: We all had to wait. That’s the nature of serial storytelling, for a couple of reasons. One is that it’s always evolving. They may have an idea, from the very beginning, that this is going to happen and this is when it’s going to happen. But then, they start looking at things and thinking about things and going, “Wait a minute, what if we turn that on its head and this happens instead?” There’s a natural evolution of how a story unfolds, and then within that, there’s a reluctance to share it with the actors until such time as they know exactly what it is. If they tell you, “This is what’s going to happen,” and then it changes, sometimes the actors aren’t happy with the change and the actor is in their ear going, “Well, what about this?” It’s a very natural and understandable mechanism that all showrunners, writers and producers have to make sure that, once the actors get the information, that is what’s going to happen.
There’s been a really fun teaming up of Noah and Quentin. It’s a surprising and unexpected dynamic that’s brought out an odd sense of humor between the two of them. Have you enjoyed exploring that dynamic and working with Henry Zebrowski?
COLEMAN: I loved that. If there’s one thing that I would love to enhance or tweak on this show, I would unleash Henry. A lot of his really funny quips have been trimmed, in their desire to keep the show serious. I think an opportunity exists for more comic relief and I’d actually like to see that, and Henry is absolutely brilliant at it without derailing the scene. He’s playing the stakes and the circumstances, but he’s so good at little quips that I’d like to unleash him a little bit more. And we had a great time working together. The great thing about Henry is that he’s a comedian, but he’s also a really good actor. He’s absolutely rock solid with his lines. He almost never drops a line, which is not always the case with comedians. I’ve loved working with him, and I love the odd couple dynamic. It works well, and I’d love to see more of it.
How has the relationship between Noah and Hiro (Masi Oka) changed?
COLEMAN: They’re both a little bit older and a little bit more world weary. They both also have a little bit more mileage on them. The upside of that is that these are two people who couldn’t come from more opposite ends of the spectrum when the show began, and yet they’ve found themselves in the middle. Hiro is no longer the goofball worker in the cubicle who’s just trying to get the clocks to stop. His abilities and his knowledge have grown exponentially from that. And Noah is no longer a bad guy playing both sides of the fence. So, when they get together, they understand each other a lot better and there’s a lot less wasted time trying to figure out who has the better philosophy. It’s much more about trying to solve problems. And of course, Hiro is always trying to tamp down the more reckless aspects of Noah. You’ll see that really come to fruition.
Which of the returning characters would you say has changed the most?
COLEMAN: Everybody has changed to a certain degree, but Matt Parkman the most. His transformation is a little bit shocking. I think it’s going to take the audience aback a little bit.
Even in just a few short years, technology grows so tremendously. Is anything noticeably different with the production itself, considering that the technology has probably changed so significantly since the last time you did the show?
COLEMAN: Yeah, certainly there are moments that are going to be done either with CGI or different kinds of technical tricks that are done a lot more quickly and easily now, and almost right on the spot, as you’re shooting them. The motion capture stuff that we’ve done never could have been done a few years ago. That stuff is incredibly painstaking, time consuming and expensive. Without the lead time that we had this go around and without the advances in technology, that stuff absolutely would not be possible on this television schedule. Some people complain about the motion capture, but I don’t know what they’re talking about because I think it looks good. When I see Kiki [Sukezane] as Miko in Evernow, and I see her running around a corner, that’s Kiki’s run. They animate it perfectly for her. You use the actor. That’s why it’s motion capture. I think it’s remarkable.
There are two types of people with powers in the Heroes universe, the ones who are scared of their abilities and the ones who really embrace them. If your character were ever to gain powers, what type of person do you think he’d be?
COLEMAN: Given Noah’s background, I think he would be very nervous to discover that he had a power. I hope that doesn’t happen. I like having all of the human restrictions, and having to use my wits and my knowledge. There’s always a character reason for not wanting to embrace your ability.
What have you most enjoyed about returning to this character and being a part of this world again?
COLEMAN: The single best part is getting together with a lot of the old guys and old gals, and then meeting all of the new people. It’s always the people experience that makes everything great or horrible, and Heroes has always been a great experience with the other people, whether they’re actors, directors, writers, producers or crew. It’s been a remarkable thing. And then, on top of that is just getting to go back to playing my favorite character that I’ve ever played on television. I get to be the bad-ass and also vulnerable, and the father whose very existence and any semblance of happiness depends on this daughter who has not been there and who is feared dead. It’s a really great character to play, and to go back to it is a joy.
Heroes Reborn airs on Thursday nights on NBC.