Jack Coleman, Heroes: What's Going On Behind the Glasses?
Jack Coleman, Heroes
How does a mild-mannered Dynasty
vet come to be one of current pop culture's most enigmatic TV characters? What lured Jack Coleman
to the role of Heroes
' Mr. Bennett, aka Horn-rimmed Glasses/H.R.G.? And, for once and for all, what are this protective patriarch's ultimate intentions? TV Guide hit the actor with those hot topics and more.
TV Guide: Congratulations on being made a series regular, promoted from guest star. Were you originally signed up only for a limited number of episodes?
Jack Coleman: It was always open-ended. It was a one-page audition, but when I saw that this Horn-rimmed Glasses guy turned out to be the father of Hayden Panettiere (Claire), I thought, "This is rich with possibilities." The way it turned out in the pilot, it just caught [series creator] Tim Kring's eye and ear and those of the writing staff, and they saw the possibilities of the character and started writing for him. I don't know if they had any long-term intentions, but I do know that they wrote me into the first five episodes just based on how it worked in the pilot. They realized that this was a character that could work in many different areas of our story, that he can have his finger in a lot of different pies and still be the loving father — but one with a very dark secret. What's kind of fun is that H.R.G. and Claire love each other, yet almost every single thing they say to each other is a lie, so every scene we have is layered with all this weird subtext. That's exactly what a show like this needs: "What's really going on between these two people?" The way I look at it, H.R.G. is sort of two characters — he's the guy who has a dirty job to do, and then he's Mr. Bennett, who is very protective of Claire and very loving with her. But when they cross over into each other's domains, you have all this weird stuff that's going on.
TV Guide: Will we ever learn H.R.G.'s first name? Or real name?
Coleman: I think one day. But being an acronym is perfect. And there's a bit of an inside joke there. In the fourth episode, when I had Matt (Greg Grunberg) down on the table, he said, "Who are you — FBI, CIA?" And I said, "I'm not part of any organization that has initials." Meanwhile, my character is called H.R.G. I don't think they're in too much of a hurry to reveal too much, because these kinds of stories depend on everybody wanting to know what happens next.
TV Guide: Were the horn-rimmed glasses your idea, or the writers'?
Coleman: That was always in the script. Tim's original description in the pilot was "an everyman but unknowable." The idea was based on Max von Sydow in Three Days of the Condor, that seemingly benign but anything-but-benign character. I think bringing Claire and H.R.G. together in so many kinds of father-daughter scenes pops the character a little bit out of the background and into the foreground, because now, he's the father of our cheerleader. But I did tried on many, many pairs of glasses to find the right look. The thing that's great about them is that they're so anachronistic, they kind of make him into this '50s Cold War warrior, which is perfect because he is this mystery guy who doesn't quite fit in. Putting those glasses on does half the work. They make you instantly suspicious [Laughs], because nobody wears glasses like that anymore.
TV Guide: Don't you think H.R.G.'s wife is pretty creepy in her own way? Always carrying around that dopey dog?
Coleman: [Laughs] Ashley [Crow] is such a wonderful actress that she can pull off that bizarre, eccentric, Mr. Muggles-the-show-dog-loving housewife with authenticity, which is anything but what Ashley's really like.
TV Guide: Come on, won't she be revealed as some kind of villain in her own right at some point?
Coleman: That's the thing. Her behavior is so daffy and off-center, it immediately makes you suspect that something else must be going on. She can't really be so dog-centric, right? But you never know. What Tim has established early on, and has put in the scripts, is that everything is related. At this point, I don't know, but it's entirely possible that we could all be taking our marching orders from Mr. Muggles.
TV Guide: Don't you have a nickname on set?
Coleman: "The Face of Evil." [Laughs] Because of the promos. Masi [Oka] was relentless with that for a while. Every time I'd see him, it'd be [Imitating Masi], "The Face of Evil! Evil has a face! There's evil in the face, yes!" He really ran with it, as you might expect Masi to do. Even my daughter Tess calls me the Face of Evil. When I go to say goodnight to her, her room's all dark and I come in, back lit, casting this huge shadow on her bed, and she goes, "Oh, no! It's the Face of Evil! Get out!" She's 7! She's actually never seen an episode, because she's cordially not invited to see the show yet. But I do understand that our [performance with the] 2-11 demographic is quite strong. We're looking at it compared to other shows, and we're doing pretty well in the 2-11 demographic! I'd like to know who's letting a 5-year-old or a 7-year-old watch the show.
TV Guide: Well, is the Face of Evil accurate? How would you describe H.R.G.?
Coleman: When people ask if he is good or bad, I say... yes. I think what he's doing is based on what he believes is serving the greater good. I think the natural position is defeat, and that's where he comes from. He's sort of a '50s Cold War warrior and you can see him fomenting revolution in some Soviet satellite country or in Central America, if he weren't doing this.
TV Guide: When do we find out on whose behalf he's working?
Coleman: I don't know when, but I can tell you that hints are starting to get dropped that there are marching orders, and there aren't a lot of clues as to where they're coming from. We're starting to get the idea that H.R.G. is a cog in a larger wheel, but we have not quite learned that much more about it yet. I would say that H.R.G.'s motives may be suspect but ultimately, I don't think he's plotting the end of the world.
TV Guide: The heroes seem to be slowly coming together. How will that affect H.R.G.?
Coleman: Well, I think H.R.G. will be somewhat overscheduled and very busy trying to deal with a whole lot of fires at once. The problem with having your fingers in a lot of pies is that there are a lot of different ways to get burned. I'm not trying to be too coy, but I can't reveal what happens.
TV Guide: What will we learn about the Haitian?
Coleman: We will learn a lot more about the Haitian, and in revealing himself to a certain extent, the mystery will deepen tremendously. I like to refer to Jimmy Jean-Louis, who plays him and who actually is Haitian, as "The Haitian sensation that's sweeping the nation." You will see that he has a mind of his own and ideas of his own. He's not just a robot.
TV Guide: Should the good guys be wary of him?
Coleman: He's "a person of interest," as the police might say.
TV Guide: How does protecting Claire fit into H.R.G.'s larger picture?
Coleman: I would say it's at or near the very top of his things-to-do list.
TV Guide: She really is adopted, isn't she? Not his natural daughter?
Coleman: Yes, she is adopted.
TV Guide: Will the goal of protecting Claire clash with his larger dictated goals, which could of course be a bit nefarious?
Coleman: They may very well clash, yes. To protect her and take care of business can definitely be at odds with each other. His devotion to her can jeopardize his mission, and his mission can jeopardize her.
TV Guide: OK, it's time for some scoop.
Coleman: There's a mid-season cliff-hanger where suddenly the story gets very big and very expansive, and yet also gets very small and very specific at the same time. There's big story and then there's a story that is much smaller and specific but has large ramifications. Though it might not seem so at first... if that makes sense.
TV Guide: What can you say about the Nov. 27 episode, where the clock turns back six months?
Coleman: I read some blog that said, "I don't want to go back, I want to keep going forward," but I'm telling you, this episode's fantastic. Going back illuminates so much of what you've already seen and sets the stage for so much of what lies ahead. You learn a lot more about, for instance, where Niki's coming from and how her split came to be. There's a lot of light shed on how all these people came to be who they are. The episode right after that is the cliff-hanger, which I don't think would be nearly as strong without setting the table the way Episode 10 does.
TV Guide: What's revealed about H.R.G. in "Six Months Ago"?
Coleman: Quite a bit, not the least of which is the revelation of how Claire in a very profound way is revealed to him and how he decides to act on that.
TV Guide: Will H.R.G. be revealed to have any abilities at some point?
Coleman: At this point, no. But everything is subject to change.
TV Guide: Do you have any action scenes, or physical altercations coming up?
Coleman: Uh, yes. There are some confrontations — some small, some large, some life-threatening.
TV Guide: Let's go back in your own history, and further than six months. Those of us of a certain age remember when you were the cute young gay son, Steven Carrington, on Dynasty.
Coleman: It's hard to believe that they let people who are old enough to remember that show work in any area of the entertainment business.
TV Guide: Was that your big break?
Coleman: Yes, I was doing theater in New York, and I had done a year of Days of Our Lives. I started doing Dynasty about a year after that.
TV Guide: Nowadays, everybody's gay on and off TV. But that was pretty daring for the early '80s, wasn't it?
Coleman: It was quite daring at that time. I think the only other gay character in a series was Billy Crystal on Soap, and that was a comedy. But [Steven] was so timid by today's standards, especially looking at what's on cable, with The L Word, Queer as Folk and shows like that. Dynasty now seems unbelievably quaint.
TV Guide: You and Billy Campbell (The 4400) were a pretty cute couple.
Coleman: Oh, yeah, we were adorable. We were both looking at each other like, "I'm a basketball player, he's a rugby player.... Well, OK, dude!" [Laughs] It was very much The Donna Reed Show in terms of four feet on the floor, nobody actually ever touching. And you know, we were OK with that.
TV Guide: Have you stayed in touch with your old Dynasty colleagues?
Coleman: Yeah. John James and I talk from time to time, get together occasionally. When Emma Samms is in town, we'll get together for dinner. I see Gordon Thomson from time to time. There's a nice camaraderie.
TV Guide: You've been a guest star on some really good shows, most recently Nip/Tuck, CSI: Miami, Without a Trace.…
TV Guide: Is there a type that you are usually called on to play?
Coleman: I don't play a lot of convicts or mafia guys. I'm usually a professional, a doctor, lawyer, banker... that kind of thing. But sometimes you get to be the twisted guy, too, which is what I'm relishing so much about this [Heroes] role. There's nothing worse than playing a milquetoast. I'm happy to play a jerk, and I'm happy to play a bad guy. It really is fun to be able to play somebody who has a dark, sinister side.
TV Guide: And we're waiting to see just how sinister H.R.G. becomes.
Coleman: I know. I think what's so great about what they've been doing so far is that they want this character to be somebody who people really can't put their finger on. Tim and the writers have brilliantly developed the story slowly enough that you're engaged and involved with the characters, but you're starting to see a sharp escalation of story that really culminates in the [mid-season] cliff-hanger.
Send your comments on this Q&A to firstname.lastname@example.org.