On the NBC series Heroes Reborn, a terrorist attack in Odessa, Texas left the city decimated and those with extraordinary abilities, known as EVOs, were blamed for the event, leading them to go into hiding or on the run. As two of the people deeply and tragically affected by what happened in Odessa, Luke (Zachary Levi) and Joanne Collins (Judi Shekoni) have spent the last year seeking vengeance, even though it may actually be what ultimately tears them apart.
Collider, along with a handful of other outlets, was recently invited to a luncheon at the Universal Grill on the studio backlot, to chat with Zachary Levi and Judi Shekoni about what’s to come for their characters. During the interview, they talked about what they view as the theme of the show, what’s holding their marriage together, the tension between their characters, the training they did for their roles, why it’s more important that the audience understand their characters than sympathize with them, Luke’s surprising discovery, and the shifting dynamics between their characters.
Question: What is holding the marriage of these two together, at this point?
JUDI SHEKONI: Probably time. They had a good marriage earlier, and they have history. Having had a child and having lost a child together, there’s a connection and a commonality of pain. People bond from having similar pain, so I think there’s that going on. Neither of them are in a position to make any decisions or really know what’s going on themselves. They’re almost letting destiny lead them along.
ZACHARY LEVI: By the time you pick up with them, it’s been about a year of murder and vengeance, and I do feel like the only thing that’s keeping them together is this common enemy that they’ve determined as their common enemy, in avenging their son. Losing their son affected them both in very deep and powerful ways, but also very different ways. As a husband who is trying to show love to his wife, I think Luke has found that this is maybe the best way to show her love, which is strange. This is their quality time. So, I think it’s definitely that the couple that kills together stays together.
These two have the same goal, but are starting to drift apart on their approach to the best way to get there. How might that create tension between them?
SHEKONI: I think it definitely does cause tension, and there are some really nice scenes coming up where you get to explore that. I think Joanne definitely enjoys the idea of killing more than Luke, and she maybe gets a thrill from it. It probably eases some of the numbness that you would experience after grief. But Luke is not necessarily enjoying the thrill of it as much, and that does cause problems with their marriage. Their journey is trying to figure out how to solve that and fix that.
LEVI: It’s a really great dynamic because it speaks to a lot of different things. Luke is along for this ride because he’s trying to save his wife and their life together. I think that he tries to convince himself and rationalize to himself that, after the grief that they’ve experienced and seeing her come back alive, if they do this, that will be the therapy that she needs to finally get through it, and eventually, it will end and we’ll get back to being normal people again. But the deeper that she gets into it, the more she wants it, and that is a problem.
How much training did you have to do for these roles, especially with the guns?
SHEKONI: Before I went for the audition for Heroes, I randomly have a couple of friends who own a gun range in L.A., and they had been inviting me to go there, but I hadn’t gone. So, I thought, “I’m going to go and try to shoot some guns and see what it’s like.” I spent the entire day and thought it was kind of fun. And then, I went in and booked Heroes and found out that I was going to be shooting a gun every day. It was a weird coincidence that that happened, but it really put me in a good place for shooting it ‘cause I got to shoot real ammunition [at the gun range], and as much as I begged, they didn’t let me use real ammunition on the other actors when we’re shooting, so I get to be able to remember what it’s like.
LEVI: We did a lot of that stuff on Chuck, and I’m a gun owner and I go to the gun range, so I have experience with that stuff. It’s a very interesting line, as far as how talented these people are at killing. Before they started killing, they didn’t kill anybody and they weren’t gun people. But by the time you meet them, they’ve been doing it for awhile, so I had to find what he’d be good at. You come to find out that my character is a dentist, and I always felt he was a very cerebral guy who probably does a lot of research about certain things. Between the two of them, he’s probably the one that probably exercises a little more caution and is a little more thorough at mapping things out.
What do you see as the theme of this show? Is it the fact that mankind fears things that are different, and the challenge of acceptance?
LEVI: I definitely think that’s a big part of the story and how it plays out, against the backdrop of people who fly, teleport, or shoot heat out of their hands. I can neither confirm nor deny what Tim [Kring], Peter [Elkoff] and James [Middleton] are all trying to say with the show because I don’t know. They would have to speak to their ultimate goals with that.
SHEKONI: I think everyone is going to take something different from it because there are so many characters with so many different storylines going on. But the defining one is that you have a group of people who are different from another group of people, and how do they interact and what does that create. That’s the global thing, right now, and something that goes on with humans and animals. Everyone separates themselves, and then tries to find out who’s the boss, who’s the leader and who has the power. It’s about separation and integration, and how these people can come together and manage to find harmony.
What’s it been like to work with Jack Coleman, who has been there from the beginning?
LEVI: From day one, he’s said, “Suck less!,” and I receive that. No. Jack is a consummate professional, such a sweetheart, and incredibly humble. I’ve known him since he was doing the original series, and it’s really awesome. When Heroes started, he was a guest star in the pilot. He wasn’t even a regular. And now, he’s number one on the call sheet and he’s leading the charge. We couldn’t be in better hands. He’s just such a good dude. And I really do think that, of all the characters they could have chosen to be the glue between the two worlds, he was the perfect glue for that. But I don’t think there was really any advice other than, “Buckle up! You’re going for a ride.”
SHEKONI: He just has a really good heart and it’s really great that he was there to ground us all. And you’d someone to reach out to, if you wanted to ask questions. Whenever he would get into a conversation about how it was with the other cast and what was going on, I was like, “Oh, really? What were they like? What happened? Were there any arguments?” I was always trying to get the gossip. And he would talk about how everyone would go over to his house and hang out, and I was like, “Oh, my god, that sounds like so much fun!” And then, about three weeks ago, we were in town and I went over to his house, and I was like, “I achieved it! I’m just like the old class! I’m in!”
Because this is such a secretive show, who in your own lives do you spoil it for?
LEVI: I don’t spoil it for anybody, genuinely. You’re the first people that I’ve even talked to about the fact that I have a power. I’ve had friends ask me, “So, what is your power?” And I’m like, “I don’t have one.” If I want you to actually enjoy what you’re about to watch and be surprised, why would I tell you anything?
When did you find out that Luke Collins would discover that he’s an EVO?
LEVI: When I was talking to Tim [Kring] about what the character was going to be, before I signed on for the show, he expressed who the character was going to be. My only pre-requisite was that I didn’t want to play Chuck again. I really wanted to play something darker, grittier, edgier and more fucked up. I just wanted somebody that had some problems. And he came back to me with the pitch he’d been working on, of this character Luke, and one of the things he pitched in it that I really loved so much about it was that he ends up in a very conflicted spot because he goes from being the persecutor of the very people that he finds himself being. From a biblical perspective, it’s like Paul in the Bible. This guy is going and killing Grecian, and then he’s one of them and what does he do with that because his whole life is changed. I find that kind of stuff to be pretty profound and big and very conflicting. The more dynamics you can find in a character, the better. It challenges you more.
When Luke went to Odessa with his son, was he aware of his own EVO powers?
How important is it to you that the audience sympathize with these people?
SHEKONI: I can’t be necessarily concerned with trying to earn sympathy when I’m playing a character because that would be the wrong thing to go for. That would leave me thinking about trying to make the audience like me versus doing what the character is. I don’t think my character, as you see her in the early stages, is a particularly sympathetic character. You hear what’s happened to her, but other people who have lost a child or gone through a bad experience can’t necessarily relate to it on the scale where you can have that much sympathy for her. But as the story goes on, there are opportunities where that will become present and people will have more understanding. If people can understand, than I think that’s enough. Sympathy is not necessarily something that you need.
LEVI: I think it’s important to understand what it means to make compelling characters and write good story, but you can’t pander, in any way. You have to stay true to the character and the motivations of that character because they play a specific part in that puzzle. If everyone is trying to be sympathetic, than there’s no teeth. Then the good guys can’t even be as good, if the bad guys aren’t so bad. But, I do think that there’s enough built-in relatability. We’re not just people who are straight-up psychopaths. We actually went through something that is very intense and very brutal. So, people are able to go, “I’m not a killer. I don’t think I would ever be able to do that. But, I understand where they’re coming from.” There’s a little built-in sympathy, in that regard, but you can’t play for it.
After what Tommy (Robbie Kay) does to Luke and Joanne in the premiere episode, how do they feel about him?
LEVI: Personally, I feel like by the time you’re meeting Luke, he’s pretty much out of steam when it comes to wanting to kill people. He really did believe that, if they did this just long enough, he would get his wife back and she would be able to get through it. It’s dawning on him, really heavily, right in that moment when they kill all those people in the basement, that they don’t need to go after this kid. If they want to go kill this guy in L.A., fine, but he’s a kid. Her reaction to that scares him a little bit, and even more so, he’s like, “This isn’t really going the way I hoped it would.” And even though he’s teleported us to this place, I don’t think it’s made Luke want to go back after him. I think Luke understands that they were going to kill him, so he teleported them. I wonder if, in some ways, Luke looks at it like, “Thank god, we got stuck out here. Now, let’s use this as a moment of having lived through that, so let’s go back home and get back on track.” That’s what I think Luke is feeling.
SHEKONI: I think it really shows where Joanne is at, that she feels she could kill a boy when she’s lost her own child. If that doesn’t get through to her, than she’s obviously in a really dark place. When you think that it’s justifiable to kill children or very young people, I think that’s an illustration of where she is, what she’s going through, where her mind is, and what she’s capable of. I actually think the thing with Tommy is probably one of the things that’s dividing their marriage. Luke probably never thought Joanne would do that to a young boy, and that she’d have no remorse or conscious about that. If we’re doing this because of a child, but is still going to do it to other children, than it does bear the question of what are her intentions. It shows where my character is at.
LEVI: That’s definitely one of the things that Luke has been struggling with. He went on this journey trying to save his wife, and now he’s not even sure if she’s there anymore.
Does that make him more fearful for his own safety, once she realizes that he’s an EVO?
LEVI: I don’t know. The way that I’ve felt about it and played it, he feels so much remorse for everything that I don’t know if he’s even worried about his own life. He’s come to a place of, “If I die right now, than I probably deserve it.” You’ll see how that dynamic plays out in him. But, I don’t think he’s worried for his own safety with his wife. It’s shockingly in his face that this woman that he fell in love with, married, had a children with, spent many good years together with, and loved her so much that he would kill for her, and now she’s not even there anymore.
Have you talked about continuing on with the show, if more season get ordered?
LEVI: I’m sure there are conversations going on with the powers that be about, in success, that they want to do more seasons, but that’s above my pay grade. As far as I know, I’m just doing one, right now.
Heroes Reborn airs on Thursday nights on NBC.