In NBC’s HEROES REBORN, Thursdays at 8 PM, Robbie Kay plays Tommy Clark, a teen who discovers that he can make objects – and people – vanish by touching them. This comes at a time when the world at large has turned against people with extraordinary abilities, but Tommy finds he has some unexpected allies.
Kay, who hails from Hampshire, England, previously played a malevolent version of Peter Pan on ONCE UPON A TIME (according to IMDB, he’ll return to that role in 2016), the title role in 2008’s PINOCCHIO telefilm and a cabin boy in PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES. The young actor has also been in some more naturalistic, historical fare, including MY BOY JACK and MADE IN DAGENHAM.
ASSIGNMENT X: After your stint as a seasonal villain on ONCE UPON A TIME, are you happy to be playing a somewhat heroic character as Tommy?
ROBBIE KAY: Yeah, it’s kind of interesting to see the difference now. I’ve gone from playing a British villain to an American hero in a sense [laughs]. So it’s cool to switch it up a little bit and to play multiple different interesting roles, if you will. This one is for me very eye-catching and I’m really looking forward to seeing how it all turns out.
AX: How is it playing the difference between somebody who is conversant with his abilities, like Peter Pan, versus somebody who doesn’t understand his abilities, like Tommy?
KAY: It’s been really fun, actually. With ONCE, my character was two hundred and fifty years old, he was very sure of what he was capable of. This is the complete opposite. What I love about this character is that he’s starting off at a very, very modest point in his life. He’s a high-schooler, he’s trying to live a normal life, and he’s not sure-footed whatsoever. He has no control. So the most rewarding thing for me is seeing that progression of the character, is seeing how that person comes to terms with his abilities and maybe potentially put it to good use down the line.
I think both Tommy and myself are both very secretly ambitious when it comes to exploration and learning new things. Tommy is a very intelligent individual and he’s very self-aware, but at the same time, he does strive to achieve new things and there’s something about him that is kind of like a pioneer, of sorts, to try and figure out his own power and his own destiny. I myself, I love finding out new things and delving into new hobbies and just exploring them and trying to get to grips with them and seeing if I can get a grasp of them and understand them.
AX: Would you want to have the type of power that Tommy has?
KAY: I can think of a few people that I could maybe send away [laughs]. I don’t know. I think having a power is a huge responsibility, but at the same time, I think it can have many benefits. Tommy’s power in particular is very, very interesting, and it seems to have many downsides, but I’m sure you can think of a few just off the bat that there are good sides to it.
AX: Is making people disappear a power that he has to intentionally exercise, or is it like, he can’t touch anybody or they’ll vanish?
KAY: Where we pick up with the series, he really can’t control it. He’s not aware of what he is capable of, so he’s obviously very afraid to do anything, to touch anything, to engage in anything. But I think it’s something that he knows deep down is very instinctual. It is essentially a survival device.
AX: Obviously, he can touch some things, like his clothing. Otherwise he wouldn’t be able to get dressed.
KAY: Pretty much. I mean, I don’t know about you guys, I do not want to see that. I think there is an element of awareness to what he thinks and he’s kind of getting to grips with it. He’s obviously had this thing his whole life, or something about it his whole life. And he’s had a few years as a teenager to kind of grow into it. So I think he is kind of at a midpoint with that. I’m sure he’s able to think about a few things that he can control, just based on experience. I can see him in the past maybe playing with a toy and then it suddenly going away and him trying to have to learn from that and come to grips with himself. It’s kind of like riding a bike – you might fall off it and then you kind of figure out yourself how you’re going to get back on it and not fall off again.
AX: Have to ask – if you could have a superpower, what would you want it to be?
KAY: My favorite superpower would be the ability to control time, very similar to Hiro Nakamura’s [Masi Oka] power in the original show. I think it would be so cool to have a lot of control over your own destiny, to be able to stop everything when you need to. I just think that would be incredible. But also from an education perspective, to be able to transport yourself back in time to major historical events and just witness it for yourself would be probably the most life-enriching experience I could even think of.
AX: Have you had to learn how to do anything for HEROES REBORN, like drive a car, shoot a gun, take a punch …?
KAY: Take a punch … [laughs] Yeah, people hit me all the time. I’m not sure. This has been the longest time that I’ve sustained an American accent on a show. I did a pilot a few years ago – I was American, that one didn’t get sustained because it didn’t get picked up, but it was still a great exploration for me. So to sustain [the accent] over a long period of time has been for me really beneficial and kind of a cool learning experience, so I’ve really had fun doing it.
AX: Do you listen to your American colleagues and pick up how they pronounce things?
KAY: Yeah, I think that’s the way that it went. I lived in Texas for four years, so I was around Americans frequently, so that might have helped with me picking up the intonations and everything, and just doing auditions over time and placing yourself in that kind of situation has helped get to the point where it’s fluid enough for me to be convincing.
AX: You have a fair amount of fantasy-genre credits. Is this a genre you enjoy, or just where the work has been?
KAY: The first few projects I ever did were a lot of historical shows, films, in fact, and as the career has gone on, I’ve gone on to many different, interesting projects, a wide scope of things. But I love it all. I love being able to go into this massive world that isn’t our own and to explore it and to really get the mythology and the historical context of that world. But then at the same time, I love doing things to do with costume, things back in the day, and also contemporary stuff that is a part of this world, because that’s where all the real stuff comes out, and things that are very relatable to everyday scenarios, so it’s all very appealing to me.
AX: How do you see the HEROES REBORN universe in contrast to some other, bigger-budget superhero universes?
KAY: What’s amazing about this universe is that it’s really just normal people. This world is a very modest world – people with abilities are not sure-footed, no one’s wearing capes and masks and things like that. In terms of exposition, that’s fantastic in one sense, but the fact that people are wearing normal clothes, they’re going around in everyday life – it’s a real-life problem. In my mind, it’s far more relatable to the public to be like, he looks exactly like a regular person walking down the street, and yet he has this incredible power or she has this incredible power. So I just think that relatability and that modest factor to it is really quite unique.
AX: There’s a fair amount of social commentary in HEROES REBORN about prejudice and fear of the Other. Does that resonate with you?
KAY: I think HEROES REBORN is touching on a lot of social issues in the world right now. The fact that a certain demographic is being singled out, discriminated upon and segregated is awful, it’s awful to see in any case. Where the show picks up, it’s a very, very controlled atmosphere with the federal government really taking a grasp on things, like bag and tag them, giving them personal i.d.s and that sort of thing. That that is so terrible, even when we’re shooting – I mean, if you translate that into the real world and certain things that are happening right now, it’s just awful. And for me to play a part that is kind of segregated and would be discriminated upon if he was found out, is just awful. It brings to life for me personally how terrible it would be to be fully discriminated upon. It shouldn’t happen.
AX: And what would you most like people to know about HEROES REBORN?
KAY: First of all, you don’t need to watch the original show to watch the new one. It’s very accessible for anyone to go and pick up a new thing. But I think the most important part is just how it is so much darker. There’s a real edgy tone to the show and you jump right in. You’re immediately immersed in the show. There’s a depiction of just the world that we live in, and I think that’s immediately eye-catching. I think a lot of people are going to really enjoy it.
This interview was conducted during NBC’s portion of the Television Critics Association summer press tour at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.
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