At an intimate luncheon last week with select journalists, Blastr sat down to break bread with the returning MVPs of the Heroes universe, Masi Oka and Greg Grunberg. When the series debuted back in 2006, Oka was a CGI artist moonlighting as an actor. Landing the role of Hiro Nakamura, a Tokyo-based geek who dreams of having superpowers and then gets them, literally changed his life and cemented him on the path of acting as a career.
For Grunberg, getting cast as Matt Parkman, an everyman-cop-turned-mindreading-superhero, was a chance to be the hero instead of the hero's best friend. A familiar face on shows from Felicity to Alias to The Jake Effect, Grunberg was allowed to shine on Heroes in a brand-new way.
And then, after dominating the pop culture zeitgeist for two seasons, Heroes lost its footing in its last two seasons and was canceled in 2010. When it was announced in 2014 that the series, once again guided by creator Tim Kring, would be returning in 2015 to resurrect its mythology for a new generation of superhero-savvy audiences, even the actors were shocked.
Today at this table, Oka and Grunberg still seem a little blown away, and giddy, that they've come full circle, talking in the now about their beloved characters and a show that they fully expected to remain in their rearview mirrors. However, in truth, Oka returns for a three-episode arc on Oct. 22 in "Game Over," while Grunberg's Matt Parkman returns in the Nov. 5 episode, "As Time Goes By". Both play very changed men in a world where the empowered are now hunted, and they had a lot to say about where they've been and where they're going.
When did you get the call that Heroes was coming back and you might be involved?
Greg Grunberg: I first saw the promo during the Olympics and I was like, "What?" Then I got an email from Tim [Kring] which said "Get ready," which is not fair to say to an actor, because I was clearing my schedule, but I don't come in [to the miniseries] for many episodes. We just worked it out, and I was really happy to come back and play this character. But mainly, seeing all these guys was what it's all about.
Masi Oka: For me, it was the same, the Olympics promo had the score and the "coming soon" title. I think all of [the former cast] literally got on a chat asking, "Hey, does anyone know about this?" It was all of us texting, like 20 of us. Maybe the next day I got an email from Tim asking, "Do you have your dancing shoes on? Can we talk tomorrow?" When we first sat down, he wanted to bring three main characters back, and one of them was Hiro.
Was there anything keeping you from returning to the Heroes fold?
MO: I love the show. It gave me my start, and I thought it would be nice to finish it off instead of being canceled. It was a great opportunity to close a chapter. But I'm on a wonderful show on CBS [Hawaii 5-0], so the contract didn't work out, so I couldn't be a series regular for Tim. But things got worked out. For me, it was to finish the story and give back to the fans, and Tim and NBC. This was my first role as a series regular, and I went in with that mentality.
GG: I think every actor has a different reason to revisit a character they've played before. This was by far the biggest, and we had something amazing, so there was never a second thought for me.
Was it a relief to know your character made the cut to come back?
GG: Yeah, but when Tim told me Jack Coleman [H.R.G.] was going to be the center of this, that made me so much happier, because he's so good and wasn't a series regular when we started the show. It was so deserving that he be that character and have that role and carry the show.
In three words or less, encapsulate the return of your character.
GG: I am evil. (Laughs) I can't believe I am doing the things I'm doing. We did the episode "5 Years Gone" back then, and Matt was crazy cool. But we didn't delve into the why, and now it's still five years down the line and they have me doing some things that are so cool. And they justify it all in a cool way.
MO: Present. Future. Past. It's pretty contained in terms of his arc. Most of my stuff is with Jack and Sendhil [Ramamurthy], but nothing with Matt.
Do your episodes reference the lives and people who were core to your characters on the original show?
GG: I'm still waiting to hear about my son's powers. We haven't delved into that yet. But utimately, it's not a secret that it's the justification for my character. I'm working for the highest bidder, good and bad guys, to protect my family. There is plenty of reference for me that people will be satisfied in hearing about my family.
MO: Hmmm, there's no mention of [his best friend] Ando [James Kyson] at all. I wonder what happened? I know people are curious. Maybe he started his own porn shop. (Laughs)
What's the dynamic been with meeting the new cast?
MO: I got a chance to hang out with them a lot. They are great kids and have a nice, tight-knit group. We had that. We made sure we had dinners once a month, because we rarely got to see everyone.
It's been five years since Heroes ended, and it's a whole new world with social media and spoiler culture on the web. Heroes helped kick-start some of that back in the day. Where do you stand on that?
MO: I think it's fine. You don't want to spoil too much, but if it's a good spoiler people are still going to watch the outcome. It's good to have little leaks here and there to generate buzz.
GG: Like the promo showing you kicking ass with the sword, people want to know how that happened and how we get there.
MO: I saw a picture out there with Hiro in gray hair, so something happens there where you see a future-future Hiro. It's a spoiler, but you want to know how the puzzle connects. If the content is great, I feel spoilers won't ruin it and just enhances curiosity making it more of a must-see viewing.
What strikes you as being different with this series?
MO: The effects! I remember in our pilot we had cheaper effects. I still look at the original pilot and I'm amazed when Hiro teleports, because you see a wipe. A wipe! We shot it with me on a turntable and a green screen on a roof downtown with someone turning it like a Lazy Susan. Things have progressed. (Laughs)
GG: Our budgets are so much better, and NBC is so behind this, which is great, and you can see it.
It must be very surreal to be back in the Heroes world again. What's the overriding emotions regarding it?
GG: It's great. They made no promises of who was coming back. We are very lucky to be paid to do what we do. Others went off to do other things, and others just stayed unemployed knowing this day would come. (Laughs)
MO: That's not you!
GG: I did a bunch of shows but they didn't have the longevity. (Laughs)
MO: We are coming in as guest stars, and it's a little bit weird. I remember going back on set, and it's our show, but at the same time it's not our show. My mentality coming into it was my opportunity to give back and to pass a torch. We were very fortunate to have a success with the cultural phenomenon that Heroes was. We love the world, so we want it to succeed. I wanted to do whatever part I could to pass the baton so the next generation of Heroes can succeed. Hopefully it will go on with Heroes Reborn or even Heroes Resurrected years down the line.
Heroes Reborn airs Thursdays on NBC (9-10 p.m. ET).