Luke (Zachary Levi) struggles to find his trapped son in the upcoming episode of HEROES REBORN | © 2015 Christos Kalohoridis/NBC

Luke (Zachary Levi) struggles to find his trapped son in the upcoming episode of HEROES REBORN | © 2015 Christos Kalohoridis/NBC

Zachary Levi became known and beloved for his five years on NBC’s CHUCK as the title character, who went from humble tech repair guy to superspy, thanks to a government implant in his brain.

Levi’s experiences with CHUCK fandom were so positive that he founded the Nerd Machine, which produces the annual event Nerd HQ. He’s also starred as the singing voice of the male lead in Disney’s animated Rapunzel tale TANGLED.

Now Levi is back at NBC as Luke Collins in HEROES REBORN, Thursdays at 8 PM. The original HEROES, created by Tim Kring (who is also the guiding force behind the new series), actually ran back to back with CHUCK for a few years. HEROES followed a group of people who were brought together by their different but potent secret superpowers. In HEROES REBORN, the secret is out and a lot of ordinary people are afraid of their more powerful neighbors. After a family tragedy, Levi’s Luke is violently opposed to those with powers – but he also wrestles with his own convictions.

AX: Were you a fan of HEROES before becoming involved with HEROES REBORN? Did you watch HEROES?

ZACHARY LEVI: Well, it was a little bit of both. I was a fan of the show, but because we premiered at the beginning of their second season, I really only got to watch the first and a bit of the second, and then little blips of the rest of the series. But yeah, I was a fan. I was a comic book/videogame kid and anything with powers and flying and teleportation and mind-reading – I love that stuff, so I was slightly envious I wasn’t part of the original, although I had a great gig with CHUCK, so that definitely was a silver lining. I loved playing Chuck and loved the adventure that we had. And through NBC, we were on the same night together and I got to meet and came to know and love really the whole cast. I’m friends with [original HEROES regulars] Greg [Grunberg] and Hayden [Panettiere] and Zach [Quinto] and Sendhil [Ramamurthy] and Milo [Ventimiglia] and Jack [Coleman], even before we were doing this together, and now we’re even closer. So it’s really great to come full circle with that and come back to NBC. They’re my alum.

AX: Your character Luke starts out as very tortured and vengeful, seemingly the antithesis of who you are …

LEVI: In a lot of ways, yeah. But at the same time, my approach to every role is trying to make it as genuine as possible, and I find that the best way to do that is find whatever that character is and find that in yourself. So while it might not be the most innate resting place of myself, there’s still a lot of me there. But [Luke is] definitely not Chuck. Chuck was far more me than it wasn’t.

AX: Luke seems passionate and really thinks he’s doing the right thing …

LEVI: Oh, completely. But he’s very tortured, very conflicted, very angry, very lost, and you have to go to all those places as a person and find that and it’s hard. I never really spent this much time on a single character [with such] a lot of heaviness for five months, and I’ve never been that heavy for that long with a character, so it’s takes its toll.

AX: Did you have to learn how to do anything you didn’t already know how to do from CHUCK or from real life?

LEVI: No, not necessarily, no. I mean, I’ve fired guns before, I know my way around a pistol and other guns, and I know how to hit people and take a hit. I know how to run [laughs]. And look, life has a lot of lumps, so I know what it’s like to feel lost and alone and conflicted and angry and vengeful. So all that stuff you can still draw upon, but hopefully those aren’t your most accentuated characteristics.

AX: Was there any sense of being the new kid at school when you came into HEROES REBORN, or by then, had you all been around each other so much at NBC functions that you were all familiar with each other anyway?

LEVI: Well, it’s really only Jack [Coleman as Noah Bennet] that is the returning glue. There are some great cameos in multiple episodes from some of the returning cast, but it wasn’t like I was the new guy and everybody else was old school. It was me and a dozen other people who were all brand-new to the franchise. So if anything, probably Jack felt the most like, “What’s happening? These aren’t the people that I know and I worked with.” But I don’t think he even felt that, because from Day One, we as a cast have clicked in such incredible ways. Just a really lovely group of talented, passionate, kind people that are hungry to make something great and were there for one another, on- and off-screen. It’s a little bit of a working vacation in a lot of ways, because we’re shooting in Toronto, and other than a few of the guest star hires, none of us are from there, so we’re all up there without our own friends and family base, so we are our friends and family base, and there’s not a bad apple in the bunch. And I genuinely mean that, and I genuinely love that I can say that. It’s always disappointing when you can’t say, “Wow, what an incredible group of people.” And they are.

AX: How much of your career now is involved in running Nerd HQ, which interviews genre people during San Diego Comic-Con?

LEVI: You know, it’s weird. It’s difficult to put a percentile on it, because literally, the actual event is four days. So four days out of three hundred and sixty-five – there are a lot of things that go into it, and my business partner David Coleman and the incredible team that we have brought around us to produce it every year, from our event producers to our sponsors to our volunteers and my own sister runs the entire volunteer department, David’s wife runs merchandise …

AX: Are you considering expanding it?

LEVI: We’ve always loved the idea of expanding. One of the main things that we do are our panels, the Conversations for a Cause, and unfortunately, it’s just very difficult to get that much talent in one place at one time, even at other big conventions. Even at the second-biggest convention has got a shred of that much. So we could maybe do a day at another convention if we could get all the top talent, all the new panels that one day, but even that’s difficult. I’m a big believer in not wanting to water down a product just to go and bring it to other places. So I don’t know. Look, if I had my druthers, I’d throw my own convention entirely. I think it would be amazing – not competing with Comic-Con, but some other time of the year, somewhere else in the world, like Nashville or something, and just doing entirely my own con and bringing in people from all over the world and giving in the ways that I believe – bringing talent and fans together in all of the ways that I believe that we can coexist and interact and do commerce, make money for ourselves and also raise money for charity and bring happiness to people. It’s always been those kinds of driving forces. Right now, Nerd HQ exists in the world that it exists. To find a way to do that outside of that – there is a solution, I just don’t know what it is right now.

AX: Alan Tudyk’s Vimeo Web series CON MAN is a comedic take on the convention scene. A lot of your genre freidns and colleagues appear in it …

LEVI: They were trying to [get Levi into CON MAN], I was trying to. The schedule for HEROES REBORN just did not work out. But they were so lovely. Alan and Nathan [Fillion], I love those guys. I would have loved to have been a part of it, and if they do a second season, I would love to be a part of that.

AX: Do you have any other projects we should know about?

LEVI: I’ll be doing a small arc on Eva Longoria’s new comedy in the spring, which I think has yet to get a firm title. It was called TELENOVELA, they’re working on that right now. I still do GEEKS WHO DRINK that I executive-produce and host, that’s a fun trivia show on Syfy, that’s been doing well. We’re recording the TANGLED animated series, I think that comes out in 2017, that’s a little ways away, and then just working on whatever else I can do.

AX: And what would you most like people to know about HEROES REBORN?

LEVI: That it’s all of our collective efforts to bring not just the original audience but a fresh audience an incredible new and heartfelt take on what that world was and still is.

This interview was conducted at NBC/Universal’s party at Spago for the Television Critics Association summer press tour.

Related: TV Review: HEROES REBORN – Season 1 – “Brave New World”/“Odessa” – Season Premiere 

RelatedHEROES REBORN: Jack Coleman give the scoop on Season 1 – exclusive interview

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ArticleHEROES REBORN: Zachary Levi chats about his path in Season 1 – exclusive interview

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