Actor Zachary Levi is bringing Nerd HQ back to San Diego, with a really cool assortment of celebrity panels, parties and fun activities that will be held at the New Children’s Museum during Comic-Con, from July 21 – 24. And if you can’t make the trek to be there in person, you will be able to stream all of the “Conversations for a Cause” in a variety of different ways, so that you can keep up with everything that happens, all with a 360-degree view.
During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, Zachary Levi talked about what he most enjoys about getting to do Nerd HQ, every year, what they’ll be offering to fans this year, what he’d still like to be able to do, some of his favorite memories, what he geeked out on growing up, and what he geeks out on now. He also talked about how things are coming along with the Tangled animated series (premiering on the Disney Channel in 2017), his experience on Broadway with She Loves Me (for which he got nominated for a Tony Award), and how he’d like to try his hand at directing again.
Collider: What do you most enjoy about getting to do Nerd HQ, every year?
ZACHARY LEVI: There’s so much to enjoy. It’s a massive undertaking and there’s a tremendous amount of stress that comes along with the events. We’re still a pretty small team at The Nerd Machine. We have a few partners that we work with, producing the event, but overall, it’s us. It’s our blood, sweat and tears, and energy and love. The reason why we keep doing it is because of the happiness, the joy and the memories that we get to bring so many people, whether it’s the dance parties or the intimate panels or the photos or the exclusive video games, or whatever. I set out to make something special. I wanted to make something that was different and that I felt like didn’t quite exist yet. After the first year, we realized, “Hey, I think we did that!”
Every year has new challenges, with trying to work schedules out with panelists or secure great sponsors. We’re super excited because AMD has continued to be such a solid partner for us. Xbox has come back to be a co-headline sponsor, which is super dope ‘cause we worked with them the first couple of years of HQ and now they’re back. We’ve got some great games like Battlefield, Gears of War 4, Titanfall 2, Halo Wars 2, ReCore and Minecraft. We’re going to have some PC gaming and Xbox gaming. Oculus Rift is going to be doing VR demos, which I’m excited about. AMD powers everything video games, so they’re involved with everything, whether it’s the Oculus, the PC or the Xbox. And we have a completely different and outside the box sponsor in Johnson & Johnson, but it’s so great because they work with Operation Smile, which is how all of it came to be. I was at this event and met some of the Johnson & Johnson people, and they have this really cool Donate a Photo app to raise money, and we do these Smile for Smile photo booths. I felt like there was a cool partnership to work out, and they felt the same way.
And we’ve got some great panelists. Our panels are going to be streaming on Facebook, Xbox Live, IGN and our Nerd Machine YouTube channel, so there’s a lot of options for people to watch, which is great. And people can do a virtual 360 view of the conversations, at well. There will be a camera in the panel room, so that people can look around, which is super awesome. We’ve also got a new app that we built, and we’re always trying to make that better, streamlined and up-to-date. And we’ll have parties every night, on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Fans can come to the parties on Thursday and Saturday, and we have the private party on Friday for our sponsors. Those are our big tentpole things, and that’s what we’re doing again this year.
Is there something you’ve always wanted to do at Nerd HQ, but haven’t been able to pull off?
LEVI: Gosh, I don’t know. When we were at Petco, I loved doing that movie in the park. I wanted to do that more. I wanted to do a concert in the stadium, as well, and get some really awesome band, like Weezer, to come and play. I’d love to do more panels. I would love to be able to have multiple stages going at a time, raise more money for charity, and give more fans an opportunity to make it into the panels. The panels are just so small. They’re intimate, which is what makes them so special, but it also makes people very frustrated because those tickets sell out so fast. You’ve just gotta be real quick. I think people don’t realize it and they start getting a little greedy and will add tickets to their cart, and go to another panel, but then they’re gone. If you’re smart, you’ll add those Supernatural tickets and buy them quick, and then go after another panel, but people try to get more than they can in 1.7 seconds. Those Supernatural kids sell out real quick.
What have been some of your favorite memories of the past few years?
LEVI: Oh, man, just all of the experiences and the things that happen so impromptu. I love our panels because they’re unmoderated. There are no rules. That leaves a fan asking Tom Hiddleston to impersonate a Velociraptor, and he does it. That’s awesome! I hosted Richard Madden’s panel, after he had just been killed off of Game of Thrones, and that was such an awesome panel. And then, all of a sudden, Matt Smith and Jenna Coleman just burst in the door and all four of us were sitting there. It was Chuck, the Doctor, the Doctor’s companion, and the King of the North, all sitting on a panel together, and it was so weird and amazing. Last year, Bryan Cranston mic-dropped on a kid. But also, there’s the dance parties. These guys showed up dressed as Chewbacca last year and just ruled the dance floor. Everybody was taking pictures with them. I just love going down into the crowd and getting people pumped up and dancing. I love hosting. I’ve always really enjoyed making people happy, and so anytime I’m doing anything or the event is doing anything, and I look around and there are smiles on everybody’s faces, I feel like I’ve succeeded in doing something. That’s the stuff that I’m most grateful for. I’ve really enjoyed the Chuck panels that we’ve had in the past. I love all of it.
Obviously, you can’t do something like Nerd HQ, if you don’t understand geekdom and what it means to be a fan. Growing up, what were the things you geeked out on, and are they the same things you geek out on now?
LEVI: Yes and no. The thing I’ve always been most nerdy about is technology, in general. The future and where we’re going can be very terrifying, in some ways, but it’s also really inspirational. I subscribe to Popular Science magazine and love it. I love reading about all of the breakthroughs and all of the new tech, even just the little household things that are coming on the market. I’ve always been nerdy about that. And I’m still kind of nerdy about video games, but I’ve had to take a little bit of a step back. I was really not getting a lot of things done in life because I was playing so much Destiny. I loved it, but I’ve gotta prioritize. But, I still love me some video games. When I was a kid, I used to be way more nerdy about comic books and comic book characters. I still love them, but I don’t collect anymore. I read graphic novels, here and there, but I’m not a comic book guy, as much. I got up to the whole Infinity Gauntlet series and loved it so much. It also exposed me to all kinds of characters that I never would have read about because it involved everyone in the Marvel universe. But then, other things in life took over. And then, there’s comedy and TV and film, and all of the things that have made me who I am and that filter themselves back into Nerd HQ.
When we spoke about Nerd HQ last year, we also spoke about the Tangled animated series that will be on Disney Channel in 2017. Have you done any of the voice work on that yet, or are you almost done?
LEVI: Yeah, I think we’re almost done with the first season.
Has it been fun to get to revisit that character?
LEVI: Yeah, of course! Flynn Rider is a great character. The movie was so great, the character was so great, the people that I worked with were so great, and it really has a massive following. People love it, and I love that they love it, but I’m also proud of it. It was a good movie. People come up to me at the stage door (on Broadway), or whenever they run into me at different things, and they say, “Tangled is my favorite Disney animated movie, and Flynn is my favorite prince.” And I say, “Well, you have great taste.” He’s completely different than any other Disney prince that ever was, and that’s super fun.
You’ve had a lot of success on Broadway with She Loves Me. What has it meant to you to be a part of that production and how do you think it’s changed you, as a performer?
LEVI: Oh, gosh, I don’t know. I think it definitely gave me a little bit more confidence in my ability to do it. Maybe it’s just because I’m an actor and there are insecurities that come with that, but there were a lot of moments where I was like, “I’m horrible in this show.” I did not think I was doing a good job. I was struggling. And then, some reviews came out. I didn’t read the reviews, but people told me they were good. And then, all of these nominations started happening and I got nominated for a Tony, and I was like, “Well, I guess I’m not as bad as I thought.” But even after that, I was like, “Maybe that was a fluke.” It’s tough to fully believe in yourself sometimes. I think anybody can relate to that. But, I learned all kinds of things. Sometimes it’s just learning how this world works, a little bit better. Feeling more embraced by this community was great. I don’t know. We’ll see how it all applies, the next time around, if and when that ever is.
How cool was it that people got to livestream the show?
LEVI: That was definitely one of the cool things about it. We got to be the first Broadway show to ever livestream. I think 850,000 people tuned in. That’s massive. And then, even more have watched it since the livestream has been archived on the website. And they’ve watched it multiple times. People are tweeting me, saying that they’ve watched it five times. That’s insane! I’ve never watched anything five times. Well, that’s not true. I’ve probably watched Groundhog Day a million times.
You directed some episodes of Chuck, but haven’t done it since then. Is that something you’d like to try again, at some point?
LEVI: Most definitely. I love directing. I have a hard time with scheduling, and with hunkering down and planning. That’s always been a struggle for me. I’m more of a seat of my pants, heat of the moment kind of person, which lends itself well to hosting and acting, but not necessarily going, “Oh, what is my shot list? That’s right, I needed to work on a shot list.” But, I definitely want to do it again. I love it. I love being able to be the artist of the whole picture, as opposed to just one of the brushes.
You can get more information about The Nerd Machine and all of the events at Nerd HQ at www.thenerdmachine.com.