Heroes Reborn: The Psychological and Physical Challenges of Being a Hero

We spoke with Heroes Reborn cast members about getting into the supernatural mindset...

While Heroes Reborn is very much a reboot of an old property, NBC has given it new life. That’s partly because of the infusion of new actors to lead this celebrated, then later vilified NBC drama into the golden age of on-screen superheroes. 

In our interview series with the new cast, we spoke to Jack Coleman, who is returning as HRG, and Zachary Levi who is the new villain. We then chatted with a slew of other new cast members who also gave us some more insight on the Heroes reboot. Among them was Judi Shekoni, who plays Joanne, the wife of Luke (Levi). They are on a mission to execute EVOs, people with powers. Shekoni had a brush with a passionate fandom already as Zafrina in The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2

I spoke with Shekoni about the darkness of hers and Levi’s characters in Heroes Reborn. 

What can you tell us about this character?

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Judi Shekoni: I would describe my character as a vigilante. She’s out for revenge and hopefully redemption. Her son, her young son was killed, and she blames the EVOs for doing it, people with supernatural powers. She wants to find them and kill them all and destroy them all so she can feel better about life. She sort of gets a bit of an addiction to hurting people and trying to get revenge, but she has a good heart. She’s a mom.

He wasn’t killed by people with power, was he? 

Judi: Well, the event was held for people with abilities, and so I think my character makes the chain that if he wasn’t there and if it wasn’t for people with abilities, then he wouldn’t have died. And throughout the storyline, you find out more reasons why she would think that. 

Isn’t that like killing the messenger?

Judi: [Laughs] I think she’s justified but I also think that when you lose someone you love, you’re probably not thinking that straight. I think she’s caught in the stages of grief and she’s trapped in anger. And in anger, you’re just looking at someone else to blame. I think when you lose a child, who you really blame is yourself. But you don’t want to deal with that so you’ll lash out and blame every other person around. So I think it’s whomever she thinks is the most guilty at this moment in time. Probably deep down she thinks it’s herself and she’s looking for some sort of resolution and redemption. 

What are the psychological challenges of this role?

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Judi: I found that dealing with the grief, I thought long and hard about that because you don’t just want to be crying your way through it. I think it has to be very specific and it has to change and it has to graduate. It can’t just be generalized grief. I also really thought it was so interesting because she is doing the killing and everything, I really found it interesting how she’s developed a bit of an addiction to it. Because I think that she was feeling so much pain, the pain becomes numbness and then when you kill someone, you start to be alive and you feel something again. So she’s developing an addiction to that and so wanted to do that more, it feels good. So I think understanding addiction and understanding grief, and then also I don’t personally have children so trying to find a way to reflect what it would feel like to lose a child without having had that experience. And to find something in my life that I thought would come close to that and would also play on camera.

What are the physical challenges? 

Judi: The physical challenges, she’s really badass and sometimes I’m badass and sometimes I’m feeling really Angelina Jolie about myself and that’s great. But then other times there’s a vulnerability to me that’s not like the character. So I think it was definitely a challenge to sustain the physicality of her because she’s maybe tougher than me. Some of the things I did, I really love doing animal work and I did animal work when I was in Twilight. I kind of based that character on a panther, so that came in handy as well because I felt like she was a mother lioness who had lost her cub. So that gave me an idea of something to go with physically when I wasn’t necessarily feeling that way myself.

I’m sure your characters have bigger things to address, but is it ever mentioned that you and Zach are a mixed couple? Or is it perhaps a world where no one cares about that and I wouldn’t have to ask that question?

Judi: Yeah, I love that question actually and what I think is so great is that it’s not a main feature of the show at all. I think some shows do mention it and it’s very valuable when they do. What I really love about this is that it’s not the topic of conversation. It’s not the main issue and the issues at hand, those issues that are about humanity, about loss, about grief, about love, about the feelings of revenge when someone’s done something to you. And that race and color are not the main talking point which I think is great. Yeah, you have a mixed race couple and our child is mixed race, and yet it’s about a married couple and it’s about the loss of a son and it’s about seeking revenge and seeking redemption.


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The original Heroes was also multi-generational, with Hayden Panettiere as Claire the cheerleader representing the youth. Panettiere is all grown up now and on her own show, so the teenage storyline falls to Robbie Kay. I spoke with Kay and got to hear his real British accent, which you won’t hear on Heroes Reborn.

Heroes was such a great vehicle for discovering young talent, like Hayden playing Claire. When you got the role as a teenager character on the new Heroes, how did it feel?

Robbie Kay: Oh, it was really exciting. I had known about the show beforehand. I had never seen it. Obviously after doing it, I had intense interest in watching it. It was just really exciting to get the phone call and I kind of knew what it meant in terms of the scope of the show, the fact that it had been on before, so I was really excited to give it a go.

Where does your character begin? 

Robbie: My character kind of begins in a small town in the midwest. He’s just moved to this new village and he’s jus trying to fit in and be a normal kid with the looming prospect that he isn’t a normal kid and he can never be a normal kid because of his power. The trailer sets up the climate of the show which is that it’s a very dystopian present. What people call EVOs now, people with evolved powers, are persecuted, treated as third class citizens. That means that he needs to be on the run, he needs to be a fugitive and he can’t tell anyone about his power.

Is coming out with a power very different now than when Claire was discovering it in the first season? 

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Robbie: Yeah, because in the original, there was no kind of a public form about it. Nobody really knew. The general public had no idea that this was even going on. So when Claire revealed it, it changed the entire dynamic of the world that Heroes is in.

What are the physical challenges of this role?

Robbie: Not too much physically. So far I haven’t had to do too many crazy stunts or anything like that. But there’s been a fair amount of running around and a lot of quick, pacey action scenes. So there’s been a lot of movement which has been great. I’d say it’s more of a mentally challenging thing.

That’s my next question. What are the psychological challenges? 

Robbie: It’s weird for me to enter the mind of a person with powers because it’s such a far-fetched thing that nobody in this world has. So to have that heightened sense of a power is weird to get my head around. As you grow into the character, you get more used to your own power and you get used to the character you’re playing. You grow into it. 

Does your character go to school?

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Robbie: Yes, yeah, he kind of picks up in a high school so it’s reflecting a yearning for a normal life.

It’s hard for everyone to fit in in high school. How hard is it for him?

Robbie: Anyone with a big dark secret that you’re uncomfortable sharing in public, is definitely going to eat away inside of anyone. But for him to know that he has a power, that he will be persecuted, he will be looked down upon as a degenerate if he does publicize it, that kills him. He can never truly be a normal person. 

Does he get by? 

Robbie: I mean, Tommy is an awkward kid. He’s a little bit of a social outcast I think as a result of his time on the run and on the road. So he does have trouble fitting in, but along the way he finds friends and a support system which is nice. It’s very rewarding to see.

When you think of the possibility of having a super power, did you ever think of it as a bad thing?

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Robbie: I think it’s a very interesting way to look at it. The fact that superheroes are kind of idolized. Everyone envies them because of their capability and because of their power, but I think in this world, in this climate in Heroes Reborn, it’s flipped. It’s completely the opposite. If you’re special then there’s something wrong with you, or you seem to have something wrong with you. It’s all about these characters and their attitudes towards their powers and how they deal with them. 

For more Heroes Reborn coverage, click here.