Posts Tagged ‘Samuel Sullivan’

Heroes’ Jack Coleman – Noah’s Arc

May 3, 2010

Jack Coleman as Heroes' Noah Bennet. Photo copyright of NBC

Heroes‘ Noah Bennet (a.k.a. Horn-Rimmed Glasses or H.R.G.) seemed to have it all – a comfortable home, a loving wife and children, and a steady job with Primatech Paper Co. Most people, however, had no idea he was living a double life and that Noah’s actual work involved tracking down and imprisoning evolved humans for a mysterious organization known as The Company. 

His daughter, and an evolved human, Claire, eventually finds out her father’s secret, and in the show’s third year, Noah’s wife Sandra and son Lyle discover that he is now doing the same type of work for the U.S. government. Sandra decides to leave Noah, who, at the end of the season, helps “kill” one of the most dangerous evolved humans ever, Sylar, or so he thinks. 

In the season four opener Orientation, he is asked to once again help get rid of Sylar, who is, in fact, still alive, but Noah refuses. Meanwhile, his own life is in danger from Tracy Strauss, who uses her ability to control and freeze water to try to drown him in his car. That scene turned out to be quite a memorable start to the season for actor Jack Coleman, who plays Noah. 

Noah and Tracy Strauss (Ali Larter) - unlikely allies. Photo by Adam Taylor and copyright of NBC

“I did another interview where I mentioned that the [fourth] season starts as well as ends in a flood for Noah, so there is a nice symmetry to it all for me and my character,” muses Coleman. “That scene in Orientation got my attention as soon as I read the description of it in the script, which was something like, ‘H.R.G. gets into his car, turns on the ignition and the car is flooded with water up to and then over his head, then cut to commercial.’ 

“I thought, “Is H.R.G. going to live? It’s going to be interesting to see what happens.’ They [the show’s producers] had already told me that this scene was coming, and the actual shooting of it was a lot of fun as well as challenging and one of those things you get to do on a show like Heroes that’s just really cool. They had these big hoses coming into the car vents, and literally on the cue of my turning on the ignition, the water gushed into the car. It came in with such force that it knocked my glasses off, and in 10 or 15 seconds the car interior was filled with water. 

“So it was very intense, but a blast. They took good care of me, too, and I was never in any danger.” 

Almost being drowned is just a small part of Noah’s life being turned upside-down at the start of Heroes‘ fourth year. Now living alone, his wife divorcing hm and his daughter Claire (Hayden Panettiere) trying to start a new life for herself  at college, this onetime “company man” has reached a personal as well as professional crossroads. Noah begins to reevaluate what is and what is no longer important to him, including his involvement with evolved humans. This was a side of his character that Coleman enjoyed having the chance to explore. 

Noah's life begins to take some unexpected turns in "Orientation." Photo by Justin Lubin and copyright of NBC

“I liked the idea of redemption and H.R.G. taking stock of his life and deciding that all the time he’s been bagging and tagging [evolved humans], he hasn’t really helped others very much,” says the actor. “I was curious to see where that would go and I think it’s kind of cool that by the end of the season he does get to help other people without shooting them or in any way harming them. 

“As for Noah’s and Sandra’s divorce, again, I’d heard that that would be happening, and I was surprised that it was essentially a fait accompli when the season starts. I thought it was going to unravel as we went along, but basically it had unraveled and the writers had done that pretty well last year where Sandra could no longer trust Noah. You get to a point where you stop giving someone another chance, and she had reached that point with Noah, and understandably so. 

“I always liked the family unit and I loved working with Ashley Crow [Sandra Bennet]. I think it made a certain amount of sense just in terms of mixing things up from season to season and focusing on a guy like Noah, who thought he was doing all this for his family and to protect them. When, however, you take that family away, you get to see who he really is and the soul-searching that my character has to do. I think that’s what’s been different this year for me. 

Noah and Sandra Bennet (Ashley Crow). Photo by Justin Lubin and copyright of NBC

“At the beginning of the season, Noah found himself in a fairly quiet, reflective, contemplative place. He was trying to figure out if all the years of rationalizing why he has been doing all this really added up to anything meaningful. And I think he finally realized that it did not. A leopard can’t change its spots and Noah is who he is, but at least there’s room in him for growth and self-examination, which I enjoyed having the chance to do this season.” 

Despite Tracy’s (Ali Larter) efforts to drown him, Noah is saved by Danko (Zeljko Ivanek), a former senior government agent who he worked with when hunting evolved humans. Noah and Tracy later meet, and she tells him that he is one of the former “Company” employees who she has vowed to kill. He then does something, though, that changes her mind about him, so much so that the two join forces to save another evolved human named Jeremy Greer (Mark L. Young) in the season four episode Strange Attractors

“I liked that early on there was a very wary but slowly building friendship between Tracy and Noah,” says Coleman. “Obviously she was very suspicious of my character, and because she had the ability to kill him at any time, he was wary of her as well. In Orientation, Noah saves Tracy from Danko with some help from Jimmy Jean-Louis’ character of The Haitian, who erases Danko’s memory of Tracy so that he is no longer chasing after her. 

Danko (Zeljko Ivanek) and H.R.G. in the episode "An Invisible Thread." Photo by Trae Patton and copyright of NBC

“About three episodes into season four, things between Tracy and Noah begin to thaw, to the point where he calls on her to go with him to this town to try to save this kid, Jeremy. The episodes leading up to that were pretty dark as well as a little disturbing, and Mark Young, who played Jeremy, was great in the role. I just remember there being some very intense scenes, several of which we shot at night in that town. Prior to this I hadn’t worked much with Ali Larter, and I enjoyed getting to do that.” 

In the Heroes‘ fourth season episode Ink, Noah is surprised to find that Claire’s college roommate Gretchen (Madeline Zima) knows about her regenerative powers. When he suggests that The Haitian erase Gretchen’s memory of this, she refuses, telling Noah that she will handle it. Claire longs to lead a normal life out in the open, so much so that she considers an offer by Samuel Sullivan (Robert Knepper), the leader of a travelling carnival, to join his group of evolved humans. Unbeknownst to Claire, he has an ulterior motive, but Noah is looking out for his daughter and resolves to bring Samuel down. 

“It was interesting to watch the way that Samuel woos Claire to come join his carnival and find a new family and be able to live openly,” notes Coleman. “That was all very appealing to her, but then you realize that he’s not telling the whole truth. Samuel comes out and says, ‘It’s not really Claire that I’m after,’ and I think that’s when he’d made up his mind to make my character the fall guy in the grand plan that he has. 

Noah Bennet and his daughter Claire (Hayden Panettiere), an unstoppable father/daughter team! Photo by Adam Taylor and copyright of NBC

“Noah already has this reputation of hunting ‘specials’ [evolved humans], so in the episode The Art of Deception, Samuel sends Eli [Todd Stashwick] up into the hills above the carnival and has him shooting at his own kind, which he blames on my character. As a result, all of Samuel’s people coalesce around him, and it suddenly becomes apparent that this was his intention all along – to lure H.R.G. to the carnival and set him up as his straw man in order to rally the troops all around him. 

Art of Deception was directed by S J Clarkson, this wonderful English director who we’ve worked with now a couple of times. It was almost all night shoots and it was hard on everybody because we were outside and it was getting cold and there was a ton of rain. So it was a tough one to shoot, but our director did a great job. I thought that Lydia’s [Dawn Olivieri] death was nicely handled and I loved the kiss that Samuel gives her. In doing so, he lets her know that he’s orchestrated this whole thing. It’s a macabre scene because as she lies there dying, Samuel is essentially telling Lydia that he’s been deceiving her. There is some sadness to it, too, and a really good set-up for the next couple of episodes.” 

Claire discovers a great deal about her father’s past, including his reason for agreeing to work for The Company, in the penultimate season four episode The Wall. This story also has Peter Petrelli (Milo Ventimiglia) and Sylar (Zachary Quinto) trapped in a telepathic world of Matt Parkman’s (Greg Grunberg) making. 

Noah, Claire and Peter Petrelli (Milo Ventimiglia) in "Upon This Rock." Photo by Chris Haston and copyright of NBC

“Allan Arkush directed The Wall, and he was a director as well as executive producer on Heroes for the first three seasons,” says Coleman. “He directed [season one’s] Company Man, among other episodes, and Allan came back to direct this one. So it was a pleasure to work with him again, and I got to do all the flashback scenes where I was a little nervous about looking like David Hasselhoff in Knight Rider,” jokes the actor, “but those scenes ended up being both appropriate and looking good. 

“Flashback scenes like that are always challenging because you’re supposed to look 28 years old again, and that isn’t always easy. We shot everything in black and white and I got to work with Eric Roberts [Thompson], which I thoroughly enjoyed. Then we had all the scenes in the House of Mirrors where Damian [Harry Perry] shows Claire all these bits of Noah’s past. This is Samuel’s last ditch effort to bring her over to his side, which, of course, fails. 

“I also thought the scenes in The Wall with Zach and Milo were really good. It’s impressive any time you have downtown Los Angeles or any downtown metropolis vacated except for the last two people on Earth. When I first read the script I wasn’t sure whether or not all that passage of time was going to come across and if you’d really get a sense that these guys felt like they’ve been trapped in this world forever. All that played out incredibly well and Zach and Milo did some terrific stuff together.” 

Things will never quite be the same for Claire and her father as they enter a "Brave New World." Photo by Chris Haston and copyright of NBC

Towards the end of The Wall, Samuel traps Noah and Claire in a trailer and uses his ability to manipulate geological materials to sink it deep below the Earth. Although Claire’s lungs will regenerate over and over, Noah will eventually suffocate and die. Lucky for them, Tracy comes to their rescue in Heroes‘ fourth season finale Brave New World

“One of my strongest memories from that episode is the flooding that you see come our way,” recalls Coleman. “As I said before, there’s the symmetry of almost perishing by water at Tracy’s hands in the season opener, and then being saved by water at Tracy’s hands in the season finale. The thing that sticks with me the most, though, are all my scenes with Hayden in the souvenir trailer, which is supposedly buried 40 feet blow the Earth’s surface. The two of us spent several days working in this little trailer on a gimble; it was dark, dusty and dirty, but we had some really amazing scenes, and Hayden is just so good in them.” 

When Heroes debuted, H.R.G. appeared on the surface to be one of the bad guys, and while the show’s writers as well as Coleman could have easily focused on that, they instead chose to dig deeper. “One of the true joys of playing this character is that he is multifaceted, and there’s been a lot of development with him,” says the actor. “Noah was a true believer when we first met him. He was a company man and sold on The Company’s mission and what he was doing. He could justify anything and took a great deal of pleasure in his sometimes dirty work. 

Noah calls on Tracy Strauss for help at the end of Heroes' fourth season. Photo by Adam Taylor and copyright of NBC

“As time went on, my character began to question The Company and what it was up to and what it was going to do. Then, however, by the first season episode Company Man, you see it all really pivot. You suddenly know for sure that Noah has actually been trying to hide and protect his daughter rather than harvesting her or whatever other theories people out there had, because no one was quite sure what his intentions were. At that point, though, I think you realize without a doubt that Bennet really does love his daughter as well as his family and is trying to keep them safe. 

“Then he goes on the mission to try to bring The Company down, and that leads into the second season and all that betrayal at the hands of Suresh [Sendhil Ramamurthy],” continues Coleman. “So Noah goes from true believer in The Company’s work, to trying to bring it down, and then just doing his best to keep a low profile and out of sight. In season three, he’s essentially forced into doing all this work for The Company to keep it off his family’s back. They try teaming Noah up with Sylar and do all these other kind of crazy things that bring him back to his old hunting days, but he’s doing it under duress in order to keep his family safe. So you see him kind of careening back and forth between family man to secret agent to man without a country where he’s on the lam and he can’t trust anyone. 

“And in season four, again, he takes stock of everything and tries to figure out whether or not what he’s done has amounted to much. Noah comes to the conclusion that it hasn’t. As I said, it’s hard for the leopard to change his spots. There are parts of my character that will always be Machiavellian. He’s always going to have claws and fangs and remain a dangerous person. But I think that Noah has gone from being a man with very little conscience, to someone with a conscience who actually tries his best to help people.” 

Noah and Suresh (Sendhil Ramamurthy) in the episode "1961." Photo by Adam Taylor and copyright of NBC

There has been no official word yet if Heroes will return for a fifth season this fall, but if all goes well and it is renewed, what are Coleman’s hopes not only for his character but also the series as a whole? 

“That’s a good question, and a tough one,” he says. “I’m not entirely sure that I could tell you where I’d like Noah to go and where I want the series to go. I don’t have a pat answer and would have to think long and hard about that. 

“I do think that the series is in its comfort zone or sweet spot if you will, when it keeps its focus squarely on characters and relationships and have the story develop from there. Keeping our characters consistent, which we got back to this season, and seeing them making their decisions justifiable and understandable is, again, extremely important. And I think they’ve done a very good job of that this year. We’re probably going to need a new big bad, and you see at the end of this season’s finale that Claire leaves little doubt as to who and what she is. The episode is called Brave New World, and so what happens in this brave new world when she essentially outs herself along with everybody else who has these powers. It’s pretty fertile ground for storytelling, and I’ll leave that up to those with the word processors.” 

Reluctant "co-workers" Sylar (Zachary Quinto) and H.R.G. in season three's "Angels and Demons." Photo by Adam Taylor and copyright of NBC

Heroes is just the latest entry in Coleman’s long and varied list of acting credits. Longtime fans will remember him as Steven Carrington in the hit ABC nighttime soap Dynasty. Other work includes roles in such series as Nip/Tuck, CSI: Miami, Without a Trace and Entourage as well as a number of made-for-TV movies and feature films. The actor has managed to maintain an ongoing presence in front of audiences over the years, which is not as easy at it sounds. 

“This industry is tough and it’s getting tougher, and as you get older it gets a million times tougher,” explains Coleman. “The availability of jobs and the outlook for continued employment is far greater if you are in your twenties or thirties then it is when you’re in your fifties. So the fact that Heroes and such a great character like Noah came along at a time in my career where I could have easily just gone out to pasture is incredibly rewarding. It’s also been a show that I’ve really enjoyed doing and with people who I enjoy working with. 

“When these unexpected things come out of nowhere, you say to yourself, ‘Wow, it can happen again,’ and it can happen at a time when you least expect it. The thing is, though, you need to really keep working at it and kind of refuse to go away. I think it was Woody Allen who said, ‘Ninety percent of it [acting] is just showing up.’ So persistence has a great payoff, and being able to keep a career vibrant and viable at a time when it’s very easy for it to dry up is one of the great joys of this industry.” 

Steve Eramo 

As noted above, photos by Adam Taylor, Trae Patton, Justin Lubin or Chris Haston and copyright of NBC, so please no unauthorized copying or duplicating of any kind. Thanks!

Heroes’ James Kyson Lee – Lightning Man

February 7, 2010

James Kyson Lee as Ando Masahasi on Heroes. Photo copyright of NBC

It was almost four years ago that Ando Masahashi was spending five days a week earning a living working as a computer programmer at Yamagato Industries in Tokyo, Japan. That was before his best friend and fellow employee, Hiro Nakamura, discovered that he had the power to manipulate time and space. Since then, Ando’s life has never been quite the same. In season one of Heroes, he and Hiro risk their lives to help stop the destruction of New York City. In the show’s second year, Ando is stuck back at work and on the sidelines, trying to assist Hiro in his time-travelling battle against a villain with the power of rapid cellular regeneration. 

When season three opens, Ando is back on the front lines with Hiro and together they search for a missing genetic modification formula that can give ordinary humans special abilities. In the episode Duel, Ando injects himself with the formula, convinced that he will gain Hiro’s power of space-time manipulation. Instead, he acquires the ability to “super-charge” the powers of other heroes, which manifests itself in concentrated blasts of energy or “red lightning.” Hiro’s onetime sidekick is now a fully fledged superhero in his own right, much to the delight of actor James Kyson Lee, who plays Ando. 

“Ando’s powers were actually revealed to us in the flash-forward during the first episode of last season [The Second Coming],” recalls Lee. “In that story, we saw a vision of the future where my character is battling Hiro [Masi Oka] and Ando blasts him with this red lightning. From there, they [the show’s writers] took several episodes to really develop Ando’s story line to the point where he had to inject himself with the formula in order to save Hiro. 

There is never a dull moment for Hiro (Masi Oka) and Ando as they try to help save the world. Photo by Justin Lubin and copyright of NBC

“I love that the writers spent the time to integrate that into my character’s story line in a believable way. Also, it was circumstances that sort of drove him to do what he did, as opposed to all of a sudden, wham, bam, thank you, ma’am, he’s got a power. And I also like that they didn’t overuse Ando’s ability last year and it’s the same this [fourth] season. We’ve seen him using his power very sporadically. Ando reserves it for crucial situations, like when they have to break out of somewhere, or when he had to fight special agents or the S.W.A.T. team, and that leaves a lot of room for him to continue learning to master his ability.” 

At the start of Heroes‘ fourth season, Ando is still working at Yamagato Industries and engaged to Hiro’s eldest sister, Kimiko (Saemi Nakamura), who works with him as well. Ando and Hiro have also started their own business, Dial A Hero, and their first client is a little girl whose cat is stuck on a roof. As the season unfolds, Hiro continues to travel back and forth through time on various self-appointed missions. In Upon This Rock, the police bring him to Ando’s office; Hiro has been missing for six weeks and is speaking in a weird manner. It is also revealed that Hiro has a brain tumor that is slowly killing him, and if Ando hopes to save his friend, he must decipher the clues hidden in Hiro’s words. 

“Hiro’s parents are no longer alive, so his sister and Ando are the only family that he has left. Because of that, my character is, in a way, becoming his guardian,” explains Lee. “Part of the reason why Ando opened up the Dial A Hero service with Hiro is so that his friend could continue with his adventure and that the two of them could still help other people. It’s reached a point where Ando feels more and more responsible for Hiro now that he’s been stricken with a brain tumor. 

Ando and Hiro admire their Dial A Hero sign! Photo by Justin Lubin and copyright of NBC

“I think this season has really been about these two friends becoming partners in crime or a dynamic duo, and that started last year when Hiro lost his power and turned back into a 10-year-old, so Ando had to take charge. They had been going back and forth as far as who was the leader and who was the follower. But then Ando and Hiro reached an agreement that they were partners, and because of their different abilities they’re able to complement each other. This year, Ando is carrying more of an emotional burden with the possibility of losing his best friend and someone who’s become like a brother to him. 

“Because of all this, the past few episodes have been especially fun and interesting for these two characters. First of all, when Hiro turned up after being missing for six weeks [in the aforementioned Upon This Rock], he was only able to speak using comic book references. That was a neat homage from the writers to the Sci-Fi and comic book fans who have been watching Heroes from the very beginning. It was fun [as Ando] to play Sherlock Holmes and try to decode Hiro’s messages and solve the riddles in order to then put the pieces all together. 

“There was also the episode [Close to You], where we [Ando, Hiro and Mohinder Suresh, played by Sendhil Ramamurthy] broke out of the mental hospital. Putting Suresh with Ando and Hiro felt a bit like The Three Stooges meets [the feature film] One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest,” jokes the actor. “I think the show needs the right amount of action/drama as well as comedy in order to truly flourish, and this episode is a great example of that. It was fun to be pushed around in the wheelchair, and also to pull off the sequence where Ando has to switch out the pills that are meant for Suresh. It was exciting for him to be part of a rescue mission, and fun for me as an actor to shoot those scenes.” 

Hiro follows closely behind as Mohinder Suresh (Sendhil Ramamurthy) takes Ando for a ride in "Close To You." Photo by Chris Haston and copyright of NBC

Ando uses his ability to break Hiro and Suresh out of the mental hospital. Photo by Chris Haston and copyright of NBC

In Pass/Fail, Ando rushes Hiro, who has collapsed, to the hospital where the doctors perform emergency surgery on his tumor. While lying unconscious on the operating table and fighting for his life, Hiro has a dream in which he is put on trial by some very familiar faces, including his father, Kaito Nakamura (George Takei) and Adam Monroe (David Anders). Also present is Ando, who is serving in a very important capacity. 

“In this episode we saw some things that we’d never seen before on the show, including re-creating the courtroom scene in the Burnt Toast Diner, which the fans are very familiar with,” says Lee. “A great deal happens in this story, starting at Noah Bennet’s [Jack Coleman] apartment to going to the hospital and the whole [dream] sequence at the end where Hiro has to face the light at the end of the tunnel. In-between all that, Ando is encouraging him from the real world where he’s watching Hiro struggle through the operation. 

“There were a lot of [story] arcs to be played out, and I really loved being part of the dream sequence where Ando has to act as Hiro’s defense lawyer. So I had the opportunity to do my best impression of Atticus Finch [Gregory Peck’s character in To Kill a Mockingbird] and see if I could get him out of this jam. This episode and the one before it, Close to You, were very satisfying for me as an actor.” 

Ando takes a trip through Hiro's subsconscious in "Pass/Fail." Photo by Chris Haston and copyright of NBC

Ando and Hiro are among those heroes who go up against Samuel Sullivan (Robert Knepper) in Heroes‘ fourth season finale, Brave New World. The carnival leader has spent most of his energy this season trying to entice other evolved humans over to his side in the hopes of bringing a fantasy world to life. “The interesting thing about Samuel is that he has this father-like quality where he’s constantly welcoming episode into his carnival family,” notes Lee. “In some ways that seems quite warm and generous. However, we’ve slowly found out that not only is Samuel doing this to amplify his own powers, but also because of a delusional vision he has to create a new society where people like him are the norm.” 

“So we definitely want to find Samuel and try to stop him from pursuing that path of destruction. Along the way, there will be some big revelations about some of the characters that we know and their histories. I think the season finale will be a nice way to wrap up some of the story lines as well as transition into the next volume of Heroes, which is tentatively titled Brave New World.” 

With his character having taken the step from average human to evolved human, Lee is curious to see what hopefully lies ahead for Ando. “I would like to see him develop more into a warrior,” he says. “I’m pretty athletic in real life, so I think there are a lot of elements there that we can play with and that would serve my character well. 

Ando and Hiro take on a new heroic challenge in "Brave New World." Photo by Chris Haston and copyright of NBC

“I’d also love for Ando to be taken under the tutelage of someone like Noah or the Claude [Christopher Eccleston] figure that Peter [Milo Ventimiglia] had in the first season. I think my character has the ability to learn; he’s one of those characters that you’re able to sort of mold and bend in different directions. Ando might just be the character that’s gone through the most change from the beginning of the show to now, but in that time we really haven’t seen any of his family or revealed much about his background and history. So that leaves a lot still left to explore and more stories we can delve into.” 

Besides his work on Heroes, Lee recently finished shooting the film How To Make Love to a Woman, a romantic comedy in which the actor plays one half of three couples featured throughout the movie. “That film should be coming out later this year,” says the actor. “Another movie I did, which is supposed to be released around April 20th, is called Necrosis. It’s about six friends who go off camping and get trapped at a location where the Donner tragedy took place back in the 1800s. If you’re into the psychological thriller/horror genre, that’s something you should probably check out.” 

Looking back at his past four seasons on Heroes, has the time gone by quickly for Lee? “In some ways, yes,” muses the actor. “It’s hard for me to believe that it was over three-and-a-half years ago when we all got together to film the pilot and this new concept that we weren’t exactly sure where it was going to go. So the time has flown by, but so much has happened, too. And I love that Heroes has been a very good example of a new generation TV series that has really embraced the fans as well as a new media platform that it is being presented on. 

“Times are changing very fast. I was recently in Las Vegas at the Consumer Electronics Show and it’s amazing how the ways in which we watch media has changed, even in the last four years. People are watching Heroes not only on their TVs, but also on their computers, iPods, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, TiVo, you name it. That means the audience is larger than ever, but now it’s sort of scattered throughout different platforms. As a result, the traditional Nielsen ratings don’t really apply any more, so you have to find ways to provide content and connect to the viewer. And our show has done a terrific job of that through its graphic novels, webisodes and many of the official websites that are connected to the program. A lot of the cast is on Twitter and Facebook, too, and we really embrace the fans and communities in this new platform.” 

You can follow James Kyson Lee @ twitter.com/jameskysonlee. 

Steve Eramo 

As noted above, photos by Chris Haston or Justin Lubin and copyright of NBC, so please no unauthorized copying or duplicating of any kind. Thanks!

Heroes’ Robert Knepper – Mover And Shaker

February 2, 2010

Robert Knepper as Heroes' Samuel Sullivan. Photo by Chris Huston and copyright of NBC

 

Murder, kidnapping and rape are among the most heinous crimes committed by racist and pedophile Theodore “T-Bag” Bagwell. Once described by TV Guide magazine as “one of the creepiest characters on television,” T-Bag became a very familiar face to Prison Break fans around the world thanks to the talented Robert Knepper. For four seasons, he kept viewers guessing as to what his character would get up to next, and when the show ended last year, the actor began looking for a new creative outlet. He was soon cast as Samuel Sullivan in season four of Heroes. The leader of Sullivan Bros. Carnival, Samuel has the ability to control earth and other minerals with his mind. Playing someone with super powers could not have been more different from T-Bag, but Knepper was determined to make this character just as memorable for audiences.    

“When I first met with Dennis Hammer [executive producer] we talked about Samuel not being a stereotypical character,” says Knepper. “I learned a long time ago from a great acting teacher of mine in New York to always play the opposite. Don’t play a bad guy like a bad guy, don’t play a doctor like a doctor, don’t play a cop like a cop, etc. The stereotypical carnival barker is someone who is kind of oily and sleazy and is like, ‘Step right up, step right up, see him walk, see him talk.’ That type of thing, you know?    

“At this point I didn’t even have any ideas yet visually about Samuel, but Dennis and I talked about him being charismatic, magnetic and magnanimous, like a rock star. Samuel has to entice these people with powers to get them to come over to his side because he realizes that he’s more powerful with them around him. His abilities increase exponentially as a result of that. I suppose he could have just coerced them in obvious ways – hey, you’re going to join me or I’ll kill you – but then you would have had half a season of Heroes and not a full one,” jokes the actor. “But I think Samuel is smart enough to realize that it’s better to entice these people and get them to say, ‘Hey, thank you, Samuel, for helping me realize something in my redemptive path that I really need to look at. Now, how can I pay you back?’    

Samuel welcomes you into his world in "Hysterical Blindness." Photo by Trae Patton and copyright of NBC

 

“So Dennis and I talked about all this in our initial meeting and I realized that this was a really interesting character. From there, I began thinking about what Samuel would look like, and Keith Richards kept coming to mind. Why do rock-‘n’-roll musicians sometimes wear facial make-up onstage? When you’re, say, an accountant, you don’t do that when you go to work. I come from the theater where you want the audience to see your eyes in the back row, but some of these guys go over the top. KISS wore all this make-up and created a certain look for themselves, so I thought, ‘Well, it may or may not be explained why Samuel does this,’ like the nail polish thing that I came up with, but these guys [the Heroes producers] were great. They let me experiment and would pull me back if they felt I was going a bit overboard with the make-up, but it was always a collaborative effort from the get-go.    

“I think they knew and know that I’m a team player and a true storyteller. I love being part of telling a story, and when you’re in the theater or on television, at least the kind of television that I like to work on, that’s a true collaboration. And I have to say that the people on Heroes took a lot of my ideas and ran with them. When we were shooting the last [season four] episode, Tim Kring [series creator/executive producer] came up to me and said, ‘I just want to thank you because we have such a great time writing for you.’ And I said to him, ‘I had a great time saying your words, buddy.’ When you have that kind of collaboration, the writers love writing for you. Also, on Heroes, they know I don’t look ahead. I’m right there in the moment with the scripts. What’s right there on the page is what I’m concerned with and nothing more. So it really was such a terrific start with these guys, and by the time we got to the end of filming, there were a lot of good feelings bubbling around.”    

Making his debut in Heroes‘ fourth season opener, Orientation, Samuel Sullivan is seen giving a speech at his brother’s funeral. He tells his fellow carnival workers – who also have special powers – that they are his true family and that the outside world does not understand them. Using his power to cover his brother’s grave with dirt, Samuel later goes to see Lydia (Dawn Olivieri), an empath who can sense the wishes and desires of others. In this and in later episodes, he uses her abilities to show him others with powers who can help him expand his family. Although Knepper had made some decisions on how to play Samuel, there were still one or two aspects of the character he needed to tweak.    

Samuel consults Lydia (Dawn Olivieri) as fellow carnie, Edgar (Ray Park), looks on. Photo by Chris Huston and copyright of NBC

 

“My challenge with this character, as with any character, was to make him believable so as not to look so damn silly as you’re standing there causing an earthquake with your clenched fists,” he says. “Samuel’s accent was a huge challenge for me. I always work with Tim Monich [dialect coach] and try to make the time to prepare and get it [the accent] down. I remember when I did [the feature film] Hitman in Bulgaria during one of the hiatuses from Prison Break. I worked for a bit over here with Tim and then I studied with a guy in Bulgaria for a couple of weeks before we began filming. I thought, ‘People know me all over the world as T-Bag from Prison Break, and now I want to be Russian. I want to be as freakin’ Russian as I can.’ When I did press for that movie, I met a French journalist in New York, and his first comment was, ‘Where did they get that Russian guy who looks a lot like T-Bag.’ I thought, ‘Yes!’    

“With Hitman I had time to study the accent, but with Samuel it was frustrating because I had to jump in right away. Early on I had this crazy idea of making him Irish, or not necessarily Irish but coming from someplace in the British Isles, maybe a little Scottish, maybe a little of Northern England. There’s kind of an Old World feeling to Samuel because he’s not your average guy walking down the street. This is someone with powers who is suddenly discovering them over the years. If, when he was a child, Samuel had known about his abilities, he probably would have destroyed half the world, but if his brother had told him about it, then maybe he wouldn’t have been so destructive. Who knows?    

“Anyway, the fact that my character had these powers made him seem timeless, and there’s something timeless about British accents, but I didn’t have any time to call Tim [Kring] about it. I actually phoned him after we began filming and apologized to him, saying, ‘I’m just kind of winging it [the accent].’ I’ve done quite a few English dialects over the years in the theater, but never Irish.    

The charismatic, magnetic and magnanimous Samuel. Photo by Adam Taylor and copyright of NBC

 

“I remember going down to Comic-Con and telling the people there, ‘You’re going to watch me discover Samuel as we go along. This is not a fully fleshed-out character, especially dialect-wise.’ And the thing is, a lot of these fans are the same fans who watched Prison Break, so I just hoped that they’d forgive me for that because I was experimenting. But at least I had the guts to experiment in front of them, almost like it was theater. I’d say that by about a third of the way through the season, I found my footing. So Samuel’s look didn’t change, but his dialect did.’    

What did the actor think about his character’s powers and filming scenes where Samuel uses them? “I like how the writers wrote about the power of moving earth,” notes Knepper. “That’s how it was described to me. What’s Samuel’s power? He can move earth. Then, of course, it went from this nice sweet simple act of Samuel moving his arms and covering up his brother’s coffin, to covering up seeds he planted in the ground [Hysterical Blindness], and then, [in Strange Attractors] him saying, ‘I can’t believe you’ve hurt one of my own. I’m going to bring down the police station.’ And before that [in Ink] when Samuel destroys the house where he and Joseph grew up and later became its caretakers, all because the owner wouldn’t let him into the backyard.    

“So you don’t want to upset this guy because he will do something destructive, and as the season goes on, Samuel becomes angrier and angrier as more and more things are revealed to him. When it comes to shooting the scenes where he uses his powers, you’ve just got to pretend. You have to stand there and think, ‘I’m believing all this is real.’ It’s described to you [in the script] how to look, but even then you don’t know for sure. It’s more about a feeling you have as opposed to what you’re really seeing.”    

Samuel Sullivan - one man who literally can make the earth move! Photo by Adam Taylor and copyright of NBC

 

Among the heroes (and villains) that Samuel tries to lure into his carnival family are Claire Bennet (Hayden Panetterie), Hiro Nakamura (Masi Oka) and the psychotic Sylar (Zachary Quinto), who, while suffering from amnesia, stumbles upon Samuel’s carnival in Hysterical Blindness. “The thing with Sylar is that Zach and I first met when I was doing Prison Break,” says Knepper. “We were in this issue of Entertainment Weekly as some of TV’s best villains, along with people like Vanessa Williams from Ugly Betty and James Callis from Battlestar Galactica. We were all brought together for this photo shoot, and because I don’t watch TV I didn’t know who any of these other actors were, but it was just nice to be included in this group.    

“I did, however, know that Zach was in Heroes, and then later when I came on the show, I thought, ‘This is kind of fun. Here are these two heavyweights [Sylar and T-Bag] going up against each other.’ So it was a little surreal. Our characters were famous from our [respective] TV shows, but now we were together. It was like a big-time wrestling match; in this corner is Sylar, and in the other corner, Samuel,” chuckles the actor. “Zach is a cool guy, and even though people go nuts for him because of the Star Trek film [in which Quinto plays Mr. Spock] as well as Heroes, he’s totally unpretentious about the whole thing.    

“As far as the storyline with Sylar and Samuel, I’m not sure the writers knew exactly where they wanted to take that. Sometimes he would get Sylar in his clutches, and then Sylar would disappear and then come back. I think that’s still got to be fleshed out as far as what happens with it. Ultimately, though, I feel that Sylar will become as much a hero as he can be and be part of taking down Samuel. However, I’m not sure yet if they [the writers] know whether they want to do that or not. It would be kind of nice to leave it hanging as far as, oh, you thought you saw that bad boy [Sylar]. Well, take a look at this bad boy [Samuel], and you’ve got them both on the same show. At the same time, I don’t know if Sylar and Samuel could ever come together because they might be a bit too narcissistic.”    

Sylar (Zachary Quinto) and Samuel. Photo by Trae Patton and copyright of NBC

 

In the fourth season Heroes episode Thanksgiving, viewers are given further glimpses into Samuel’s and his brother Joseph’s (Andrew Connolly) past. Since childhood, Joseph, who was also an evolved human with the power to cause others to lose control of their abilities and render them unconscious, had kept his younger brother from ever fully realizing his abilities in order to prevent him from wreaking havoc. When Samuel discovered that Joseph lied to him, it led to the fight where he accidentally murdered him.    

“It’s funny, after I was cast as Samuel, I found out that it had been between me and another actor, and the next thing I heard was that this other actor [Andrew Connolly] would be playing Joseph,” recalls Knepper. “I thought, ‘Oh, this is going to be awkward,’ but Andrew turned out to be really cool. He’s the real McCoy, meaning he’s Irish, and just the sweetest man. On our first day working together, Andrew came up to me and said, ‘They gave me a few episodes to watch and your Irish is terrific. You’re an amazing actor and I’m just really honored to work with you.’    

“So Andrew was incredible, and I learned so much from him about Samuel. We had that great scene together where our two characters go out in the field and they fight. Samuel is so upset and he throws a rock and hits Joseph in the neck. But he didn’t throw that rock to kill him. Samuel threw it because he was so angry, and then it was like, ‘Oh, crap, I killed him.’ That scene was so well done in how it was filmed and written to say, no, no, no, it was not the intention to kill him. Damn you, Joseph, I hate you so much that I feel like killing you, but I don’t really want to kill you. I just want to let you know how mad I am.    

In an effort to discover his true self, Samuel inadvertently kills the one person he ever truly cared about. Photo by Justin Lubin and copyright of NBC

 

“Joseph was everything to Samuel. He was his world, he was his mentor, he was his father, and he was his leader. At the same time, Samuel couldn’t believe that his brother kept this information from him. How dare Joseph hold this back from him and not let Samuel reach his full potential. How could he not have found a way to tell his brother? All this stuff is fantastic in Shakespearean-like or Greek tragedy-like proportions, and really neat to play. And Andrew was terrific to work with from start to finish.”    

In last week’s Heroes episode, The Act of Deception, Claire returns to the carnival to try to talk Samuel into surrendering to her father, Noah (Jack Coleman), who is coming for him. Samuel agrees, but unknown to Claire or Noah, he betrays them and uses Noah’s attempt to capture him as a ploy to further convince the other carnies that they must help him create a new world where all evolved humans will be accepted. Filming this episode as well as the final few season four Heroes stories was especially satisfying for Knepper.    

“The best thing about working on an ensemble show is that most shows shoot around eight days [per episode], but Heroes shoots 10 or 11 days as well as shoots simultaneously with other episodes,” explains the actor. “When I was on Prison Break I’d work three or four days out of eight, so I got a lot of time to spend with my family. These last three or four episodes of Heroes were over two months worth of work. I swear I worked every day, sometimes all night long, but as a result, I got to feel what it’s like to be number one on the call sheet, and it didn’t feel like an ensemble. It was like I had this weight on my shoulders, and I proudly took it. I thought, ‘I’m going to take this season to the finish line,’ and I loved it.    

Samuel and Edgar in the Heroes fourth season finale "Brave New World." Photo by Trae Patton and copyright of NBC

 

“Probably my biggest challenge was finding the energy as well as time to memorize my lines and just stay afloat. But I was like a boxer in the ring and thinking, ‘Come on, come on, bring it on. What else have you got for me?’ In these last few episodes everything comes to a climax in regard to Samuel’s powers along with his anger, frustration and revenge. It boils over the top and is very intense.”    

Born in Fremont, Ohio, Knepper was nine years old when he joined a community children’s theatre group, the Back Alley Kids and performed in plays during the summertime. At home, the actor’s parents both played piano, and rather than television, their nightly entertainment was standing around the piano and singing. Knepper’s father is a veterinarian, and the actor always thought that he would one day take over his dad’s practice.    

“But I never stopped having fun [performing onstage],” says Knepper. “Luckily, my parents didn’t discourage me from having fun, and they didn’t encourage me, either. When I was in high school I was auditioning and doing college plays, so it just seemed like a natural conclusion that I would go into the theater.    

“When I was studying at Northwestern University I did an English play called The Ruling Class, which my mom and dad came to see. This particular night just happened to be amazing; it was the first time I ever got a standing ovation. And my dad was so sweet. Before he and my mom came backstage, he sent me a note that read, ‘I think you’re doing the right thing.’ So they were always supportive of my decision.”    

While attending Northwestern, Knepper worked professionally onstage, and after two years he moved to New York City where he continued performing in the theater. The actor was around 25 years old when he relocated again, this time to Los Angeles, to pursue feature film and eventually TV work. That’s Life!, Wild Thing, Species III and The Day the Earth Stood Still are among his movie credits, while on the small screen Knepper has guest-starred on such shows as Star Trek: The Next Generation, ER, Law and Order: Criminal Intent and CSI: Miami as well as played recurring characters on Presidio Med and Carnivale.    

Robert Knepper's Prison Break alter ego - Theodore "T-Bag" Bagwell. Photo by Greg Gayne and copyright of Fox

 

Prison Break is what put me on the map, though, and I haven’t looked back since,” says the actor. “T-Bag had so much in his past as well as so much he was fighting against and wanted. Of course, there was the need to cover all that up because he was a wanted criminal. He had escaped from prison, so he needed to be charming. Some of the funniest damn lines I’ve ever said acting-wise came with that role, too. T-Bag was kind of like the show’s Don Rickles,” he jokes, ” and that was a hell of a lot of fun. It’s the same sort of thing with Samuel. Again, you peel the layers of the onion away, but you don’t wear it on your sleeve. You don’t walk around saying, ‘Look at me, I’m a wounded guy. Oh, forgive me.’ Samuel would kick T-Bag’s butt, except for the fact that he’s just as wounded.”    

Steve Eramo 

As noted above, photos by Adam Taylor, Trae Patton, Justin Lubin, Chris Huston or Greg Gayne and copyright of NBC or Fox, so please no unauthorized copying or duplicating of any kind. Thanks!