TELEVISION: My superpowers trump your superpowers

Arts & Entertainment/Film and TV by

The newest and most highly anticipated show from NBC’s fall lineup premiered Monday night. Heroes enacts everybody’s dream fantasy – to wake up in the morning and discover an amazing superpower. Along the lines of a televised X-Men, the show follows nine characters around the globe who find themselves in just that situation. From teleportation to indestructability, these characters seem to embody every “what if?” curiosity that we secretly have. The mystery of the show revolves around the use of the new superpowers and how these international and strikingly diverse characters – from a white-collar Tokyo businessman to a Texan high-school cheerleader – finally meet. Also keeping viewers on their toes is the question of whether or not the superpowered characters will actually all form, as expected, into a superhero squad out to fight for global truth and justice. What about the ever-present possibility of a bad apple spoiling in the bunch? This is all part of the “journey of discovery” that creator Tim Kring describes as the experience of the show.

The Tribune had the oppurtunity to learn more about the world of Heroes and its players in a talk with creator Tim Kring as well as two stars of the new show, Greg Grunberg of Alias fame and Masi Oka, a digital effects maven- (of such movies as Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest) -turned-actor.

What superpower did you want as a kid?

Greg Grunberg (Matt Parkman): My superpower was given to my imaginary friend. I always dreamt of invisibility – I had this imaginary friend that no one else could see – that was the really cool thing for me. Right now on the show I get to read people’s minds, which is incredibly cool. I’m learning throughout shooting and sort of becoming this character that it at times can be sad and really enlightening at the same time. You don’t always want to hear everyone’s thoughts! The way Tim is writing this character and all these characters is in a really personal way – what would actually happen if you woke up and you had that superpower. It wouldn’t necessarily just be an incredible thing. It would also be something very difficult to deal with and at times… it’s just so interesting to play and it constantly surprises me, makes me relate it to my everyday life, and hopefully everyone else will as well.

Masi Oka (Hiro Nakamura): When I was a kid, a superpower I would have wanted is probably the Midas Touch – the ability to turn anything into gold. Because my allowance was, I think, about a quarter every week, and that wasn’t enough at the arcade to play more than one game, so I just had to be really good at the arcade or have rich parents. But If I had the Midas touch I could have just picked up a stone and it would’ve turned gold. I could’ve played a lot of arcade games!

Tim Kring (creat0r): Well right now I wish I could be in four places at once! But no, I was never really one of those people who were really fascinated by or fantasized about having superpowers. Although when I really started thinking about that for the show, I sort of decided that flight would be the best one to have. It just seems like it would be the coolest.

Tim, where did you get the germ for the idea for this series?

TK: The germ for this idea came about a year ago. I was supposed to develop a show for NBC and I became fascinated with this new idea of the paradigm of a serialized large-ensemble show. That was something very interesting to me. And I started thinking about what would make an interesting version of that show. Then I happened to see two movies back-to-back, in two consecutive days and they sort of melded together in my mind – one was The Incredibles, and the other was The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind by Charlie Kaufman. I just started to blend those two in my mind over the next few days because I loved both of these movies. I then mixed the idea of people that had superpowers who were trying to struggle with their everyday lives with these sort of Kaufmanesque characters – the highly hyper-real anonymous kind of characters – people that you would pass on the street and never think twice about. And in my mind those two things started to come together. That was sort of the genesis where that idea came.

If there’s been one criticism of the pilot, it’s that it lacks a little bit of joy. And aside from Masi’s character, no one’s really particularly excited to be discovering these abilities. Is that something that we’re going to see more of as the series evolves – that they come to accept their powers?

TK: Yes exactly. Heroes was actually created for just that reason. I was very interested in the idea of what would really happen if you or I woke up and something this extraordinary happened. The ability to read thoughts, or if you sensed you could fly but weren’t quite sure how one would really react to it. Well the truth is that there wouldn’t be great enthusiasm. All of us would find it kind of burdensome… we’d go to the doctor, or we’d go to the shrink. Most of us would not embrace it as someting that was wanted. But as these characters continue to accept these powers and grow in their use of these abilities they then can pull them into their normal lives. Their lives have obviously all of the ups and downs and travails of normal life. As it goes on, we will see them gain an acceptance and it will be less burdensome to them.

Greg, how does your character Matt feel about keeping his power a secret? Is it hard for him to keep his powers secret from his wife and friends?

GG: Well at first, like all the other characters, it’s right at the very genesis, right when he wakes up. Suddenly he’s hearing voices. To tell anyone, especially his wife, opens a can of worms – people will think you’re crazy! What I love, is that it’s not just so simple to just tell people. People won’t believe you, they’ll think you’re nuts. And when my character first comes across it he can’t even control it, he doesn’t even know it himself.

When I read the script, it’s just so much more complex than you would think at first – ‘oh I can read someone else’s mind – great!’ It’s just so great to read the script and discover how best to use these powers and deal with them in everyday life. It’s going to be a constant struggle for my character to reveal it… but I’m looking forward to the parts where my character is getting excited about his powers. I’ve already shot a little bit where I’m using it to satisfy my wife – my ability to read her mind. You can take that as far as you want – we did!

Greg, given that you seem to have good runs on series where you don’t appear in the pilot yet – in the Lost pilot you were gobbled up by a monster – is this a good omen for the show, that you’re not in the pilot?

GG: I really do think it is. I was joking about that but you really have to go and run with your track record. After watching the pilot that’s going to air it’s so satisfying that you really spend quality time with Masi’s, Peter’s and Ali’s character. To try and squeeze all of these characters into the pilot and give them enough time to really get to know them, to relate to them, and enjoy them, it’s just too hard to do. Tim and I had a talk, and they were going to try to pepper my character and Leonard’s character for the pilot, but it just didn’t do it justice. The way that I’m introduced in the second episode is just so fantastic. I’m just really, really happy, and I’m so excited for the premiere. It’s just one of those shows that I’ve been incredibly fortunate to be a part of, there’s been a few of them, I mean Felicity had a great buzz about it when it started too, and of course Alias and Lost. Hopefully I’m just really, really lucky!