Nick Zano claims he’s never shotgunned a beer before.
On its face, this feels ridiculous. If there’s any scripted show on television right now that seems like the cast engages in some periodic competitive drinking behind the scenes, it’s Legends of Tomorrow. But talk to him about it, as we did ahead of “Freaks and Greeks,” the next episode in the show’s still-wonderful fifth season, and it actually makes more sense. He hasn’t shotgunned a beer because he comes from a line of professional drinkers. “Ever go to a bar in New Jersey at 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM?” he asks? “[His grandmother] was your bartender.”
So while Zano’s deft handling of a keyring and a can of Noonan’s Lite in the episode is out of the ordinary, his handling of his character on the show, Nate Heywood, the adventure professor who can turn to steel, makes perfect sense. Nate is a glue guy on the Waverider, exactly what you’d expect from people who are as serious about social facilitating as day shift bartenders. He’s the character who can have a little romance, drop knowledge when it’s needed, be the best example of male friendship on television, or be the one who starts the rest of the crew laughing. It’s probably not surprising that Zano and the rest of the cast spend a lot of time laughing on set.
“The show is very, very, very, very difficult to make, but even through all that uphill we’re having fun,” he says. “We’re having fun with our crew, we’re having fun with one another, and we are laughing. We spend our days laughing in the rain, sitting inside dressed up as aliens, fighting aliens, dangling from ropes. We’re always enjoying each others’ company, and I think that’s what it is that translates.”
Legends of Tomorrow season 5 has represented a shift for Nate Heywood. When he came on the show in season 2, he was almost immediately in a relationship with Vixen, and after she left the show, he fell in love with Zari, but after the end of the fourth season and the rewriting of their timeline that moved her resurrected brother onto the Waverider and turned her into a (seemingly) vapid influencer, Nate was left with no romantic ties. “This is the first year where Nate doesn’t have a love story,” he tells us. “So it’s freed me up as as performer to be everywhere, and be part of everything, which I haven’t had a chance to do in the past four seasons.” That’s opened the door to the show using Nate in a way that it uses so many other characters effectively.
One of the things Legends does best is pair off different characters to see what kind of reaction they drive in each other. Romances aside, Zano had built up a particular chemistry with Brandon Routh, with whom he shared terrific onscreen chemistry. Now, with Routh gone, Zano is especially glad for his time with Matt Ryan’s John Constantine.
“I fucking love working with Matty. I love Matty’s presence, I love Matty’s energy. I could be around Matty all day. It’s easy. It’s enjoyable.” They routinely compete to break the other. “Off camera Constantine slips into an Al Pacino when it’s my coverage just to fuck with me,” Zano says. “He keeps making the same joke over and over again when I wear my steel super suit. He’s like, ‘I think this is the first time I’ve seen you in this suit.’ And I was like, ‘Bro, you were literally laying over, you were standing up on my body last year in the scene.’”
And while it works, a big part of the looseness on set comes from the absurd amount of trust the cast and crew has in each other. Legends of Tomorrow is a show that has taken no small amount of risk over five seasons, for its characters and for its jokes (remember that this is a show that decided to have John Noble cameo as himself on the set of Lord of the Rings while he was voicing the season’s big bad). “There’s a humility to our show,” Zano says. “Not a single one of us crosses our arms and is like, ‘We are not crossing this barrier with our characters.’”
It’s how Legends of Tomorrow can get away with a crossover with Supernatural that only has the car in it, or how “Freaks and Greeks” can be one long frat party and still be true to its characters. “The closest we ever stood to a mutiny was Beebo,” he tells us, talking about the climax to the third season, when the Legends used their assorted totem powers to form a gestalt stuffy to fight off a giant demon. “Beebo came out and…not one of us knew [what] was going to happen. Everyone noticed it. It put us on the map. So ever since Beebo, anything’s on the table.”
With Nate freed up to work with anyone else in the cast, and the show humming along as good as it’s ever been, and the faith between cast and crew rock solid, the big question is where does the show go next? The last handful of episodes have been playing with the idea of a Zari/Nate/Constantine love triangle. Could there be trouble brewing? “Yeah, we have these scenes where we tie our wrists together like the Michael Jackson ‘Beat It’ video and then we have a knife fight.” On any other show, this would obviously be a joke, but on Legends of Tomorrow, it’s just potential.