Heroes Reborn: Zachary Levi Talks Mundane Powers And Nerd Culture

Interview Fred Topel
9/17/2015 at 8:10AM

Zachary Levi talks Heroes Reborn, nerd culture, his place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and more!

Heroes Reborn, the NBC reboot of their previous series, has been shrouded in a bit of mystery. Critics haven’t yet seen the series premiere, and with characters like Hiro, Micah, Parkman and HRG back, it’s unclear how much of the new series will be considered a sequel and how much will stand alone. We know new blood will be arriving in Heroes Reborn, but we don’t know a lot about the new characters. 

A sizzle reel at the Television Critics Association panel showed new cast member Zachary Levi as a villain. He and his wife (Judi Shekoni) infiltrate a support group for people with abilities, now in hiding, and execute them with guns. I got to speak with Levi about his role in Heroes Reborn, and naturally he excelled at talking around any specifics. We’ll learn more about Heroes Reborn when it premieres September 24 at 8PM on NBC. 

Den of Geek: Since you run Nerd HQ, has it gotten really competitive in the world of branded nerd culture?

Zachary Levi: I don’t know. I think that everyone’s trying to do their thing and I don’t blame anybody for doing their thing. My thing, I’ve always tried to do, is something original. I think there are two things we can do in the world. Either bring something that’s brand new that needs to be brought or make better something that’s already existing. If you’re not doing either one of those things than I don’t really see the point in doing it. So as long as people are bringing new original things that need to be brought into the world, or if they’re improving on another product that has become stagnant and refuses to change, then I say rock n’ roll. If you can build a brand out of it, build a brand out of it. Just take care of people.

HQ was about how do we do good as a business at Nerd Machine? To me, the best way to do business is we take care of people. You give them something that they’re not getting somewhere else. Then I just sat with that and I was like, “Well, what don’t people have? What can we give them? What can we bring them?” Games and tech and parties, and hopefully we can sell some T-shirts while we do it and build some brand recognition. There were brands that existed before us. There are brands that popped up after us. There’ll be more brands and more brands. I think there’s enough room for everybody as long as everybody’s respectful and everybody is doing excellent stuff. Just be excellent.

Do you cover Heroes Reborn on Nerd Machine or do you have to recuse yourself?

No, we’ve definitely covered it. I’m never the one who’s covering it. Early on, we decided the way we wanted to do all of our editorial was all fan generated. There’s so much talent and thoughtfulness in the public and a lot of people’s voices just never get heard. So we thought, “Why are we trying to write our opinions? There are incredibly intelligent people with great taste who can write an expose on Heroes or Chuck or Avengers or a new video game that’s coming out. Let them do it.” We vet them obviously and say, “Are you somebody that gets it, has good taste” and they do. So yeah, go ahead, write whatever you want about Heroes. Freedom of speech, baby.

Were you very aware of Heroes in its first run as a fan yourself?

Oh definitely. We premiered a year after they did and we were on the same night with them for three years. I got to know basically all the cast and just a bunch of lovely people, and was a fan. I only really got to watch about a year and a half of the beginning of the show because once Chuck started, I didn’t have a life. My schedule wasn’t very conducive to television watching. 

Are you also very picky about what a superhero show can be?

No. As far as the premise is concerned, no. There’s only really two prerequisites to that. One, it’s got to be a show that has a hero, if not more than one hero, even if it’s a bit of an antihero. And two, they have to be super. That requires some kind of an ability, some kind of a power, and we’re going to stay genre. You can have a hero show. You can have a show about real honest to God heroes but they’re not superheroes. Superheroes is something that comes straight out of creativity and fiction, comic books really. You kind of start with Superman and you work your way down. But there’s all kinds of ways you can slice that. I think in some ways the smaller the powers, the more interesting. I’ve always wanted to make a show about a guy who had a really almost imperceptible and maybe considered mundane power. Definitely otherworldly, definitely not natural. I don’t know what it is. I can’t even think of an example.

You never thought about what the power would be?

Well, I have an idea but I don’t want to talk about that because it’s a show that I’m working on. Say his only ability is he can drive a car without looking. That seems like, so what? But that’s exactly what’s so intriguing about it. Not an automated car or anything like that, and he has to look when he’s riding his bike or walking. But when he’s driving a car, without fail, I’m driving, you’re sitting shotgun and we’re talking. You’re freaking out because I’m not looking at the road but I’m driving perfectly. How am I doing this? I’m eating and I’m drinking. This guy’s whole life, maybe he never leaves his car. It’s the one place where he feels like a superhero. How weird, and maybe he uses that somehow. Again, you’d have to make a hero out of him. I don’t know how you make a hero out of him. 

That’s the creative challenge: Where would this power be useful?

Exactly, 100%. So I think that stuff is very intriguing.

What does Heroes Reborn have to be in a post Marvel Cinematic Universe world?

As a comic book/video game kid, I love that people are finally coming around on the worlds and the characters that I loved and still love. I embrace it. It’s very strange. I’ve noticed, I’ve seen, I’ve even felt in some ways a lot of weird reverse discrimination that goes on in the nerd culture sometimes.

Somebody who might not have been into comic books all of a sudden loves Avengers. Maybe they love it because they love Robert Downey, Jr. so they started watching Iron Man. “Oh my God, this is great.” Then they watch Avengers. Then they’re talking to somebody who’s a certifiable massive comic book collector and Avengers fan and has been since they were a kid, and then they start grilling them, “What do you know about Iron Man?” Whoa, whoa, whoa. Shouldn’t we just be happy that somebody else likes what you like? I know I was ostracized as a kid because I liked certain things like video games and comic books and theater. I was such a spazzy theater kid. I was a massive nerd but if all of a sudden all of the world loved theater, I’d be like, “Great! I hope you do.”

I didn’t mean in a snobby way, but is there more potential for Heroes now that the public is educated to superheroes?

Oh no, no, I was tangenting a little bit. What I would say as far as the expectations of what Heroes now would be because of the MCU is I hope good. I think the bar should always be raised. I think everyone should always be shooting for excellence. So if the Marvel universe and the exposure that’s come from that as far as heroes and superheroes and special effects and all that, awesome, bring it. If that raises people’s expectations of what “great” should be, then great. We should be making great anyway. Hopefully it didn’t lower people’s expectations. That’s what you don’t want.

Hopefully people will see it for what it is. I think a lot of times people are incapable of going, “Well, this is a television show where the budget is this much per episode. This was a massive $300 million tentpole feature film that’s going to last about two hours. So they spent $300 million on two hours as opposed to not nearly as much on what ends up being 13 hours.” So you’re not always going to get quite the same thing on every level but from a storytelling perspective, hopefully it’s as good if not better.

Are you going to be in Thor 3?

I have no idea. They have not told me anything. I hope so. I think that’d be pretty fun to get the gang back together, the Warriors Three. But there’s a reason why the movie’s called Thor and not The Warriors Three. They’ve got to do what’s right for Thor.

Jaimie is on an NBC show too so we don’t know if she’s available.

I think they’re shooting for next summer so it really just depends on when in the summer. I know when they’re going to shoot, only because, like everyone knows, when the film’s actual releasing because Marvel’s already slotted all that out which I think is again the following November which is what the last Thor was. So they’ve got to shoot it next Summer. I don’t know. It’d be a lot of fun but there’s also a lot of other Marvel roles that I’d love to play one day. If I never get to play Fandral again, I got to do it once and it was a great group to work with.

So playing Fandral doesn’t preclude playing a different character?

Oh no. I had a very interesting talk with Kevin Feige early on about it all and he said, “Look, it doesn’t preclude you from playing another Marvel character.” Chris Evans was The Human Torch and Captain America. Ray Stevenson was The Punisher and Volstagg. I did point out to him, “In fairness, neither Fantastic Four nor The Punisher was actually a Marvel movie. You were a part of it but they were produced by other studios.” But he said, “Look, I totally understand that but don’t worry about it.” I don’t know, if there’s a right role that comes along and they want me to play it, I’d love to.