Heroes: Season 1 - Jack Coleman interview
Compiled by Jack Foley
JACK Coleman talks about playing Mr Bennet in Heroes: Season 1, how his character came to be expanded, becoming an ambassador for glasses and his thoughts on superheroes and comic books in general…
Q: Is the fact that your character is such an enigma that is one of the most appealing elements?
A: Yeah, the thing that I love about it is that people talk about the ambiguity, to me it’s more of the specificity that makes it so much. People say: “Are you good or are you bad?” And the correct answer is “yes”. Like many people in life, you can go out and do horrible things and still love your family. So, I think of it as playing light and dark. There are sides of him, which are light, sides of him that are dark – it’s kind of an equal measure. There are moments when you know that this is the bad ass operative talking and you are going to behave a certain way and all of a sudden he’s the father who’s helping his daughter with her homework or a boy problem. Then you see him in a much more domestic light.
Whatever bad he has done, he does truly love his daughter. My only questions, early on, were: “Did I kill Suresh’s father?” The answer to that was “no”. Then the other question was: “Does my character truly love Claire?” The answer to that was “yes” and that was kind of all I needed to know.
Q: You have vast of experience of being in a global TV success [Dynasty] so at what point with Heroes did you realise that this was history repeating itself?
A: Fairly early on. The ratings were good from the beginning and interest in the show was very high. After several episodes had aired and the ratings stayed strong and I realised that my character was being increased, rather than decreased. That was when I realised that things were really falling into place… great show, great part and it was a part Tim Kring and the writers and producers are growing and expanding.
So, early on I thought that this was great. You realise that this is a very, very tough business and I have had many, many misses and a couple of hits. But to be on two international hits in one lifetime is pretty great and pretty rare. I realise how fortunate I am to be a part of it.
Q: What has the reaction of the public to you been like?
A: The question I’m almost always asked is: “Are you good or bad?” Then the other thing that people almost always remark on is how much younger I look! That’s a good thing but it’s also a double-edged sword because you wonder whether you really look that old on television. The severity of the glasses, and the haircut and the suits and the basic stone-faced nature of the character definitely serves to do that and also the way they shoot me. They always shoot from underneath with is not flattering. That’s pretty unforgiving on the old jowls and jaw-line. They call it a ‘hero’ shot but it’s really more of a fat man shot!
Q: Do you think that you have made glasses fashionable again?
A: I don’t know that I have made them fashionable again but – maybe this is a coincidence – all of a sudden, after Heroes starting airing, all these other movies were coming out with people in horn rimmed glasses. Matt Damon in The Good Shepherd and I could be related! When I saw all these posters of him I thought, for a second, that they were me. They were shot from the exact same angle, from the back, through the glasses and because we do so much of that on Heroes that almost every time I saw a poster for The Good Shepherd I thought it was me. That could just be my narcissism but I’m hoping that it’s something more than that.
Q: Who had the bright idea for the horn-rimmed glasses that your character wears in Heroes?
A: The character was named ‘Man In Horn Rimmed Glasses’ from the very beginning. It was Tim Kring’s idea and I believe that the model for that was Max Von Sydow in Three Days Of The Condor. That was kind of who this guy was fashioned after.
Q: And how good is your eyesight in reality?
A: I’m blind as a bat and I wear contact lenses because the vision they afford is much better. So, I wear contacts and then I have to wear reading glasses. My eyes have been bad – I come from bad eyesight on both sides of my family, so what chance could I stand, really.
Q: Have you had offers to promote glasses because of the success of Heroes?
A: You know, I haven’t and I think that there are some people who are not on the ball about this; I think they need to figure that out. I’ve not been offered an eyeglass contract. It’s astonishing! I guess the reality is that the glasses I wear are not actually horn-rimmed glasses, they’re something else – I can’t remember what they’re called. But horn rimmed glasses are even more heinous. Did you ever see Monsters Inc? Roz, the bubble woman in that film, wears what I think horn rimmed glasses actually look like.
Q: You said your part grew, so was it originally much smaller?
A: That’s true, I auditioned for a guest spot in the pilot and at the time that’s all it was. Reading the script at the end it was revealed that he was Claire’s father and I thought this was too rich, there was too much that could happen and if the show got picked up I couldn’t imagine that they wouldn’t explore this relationship. The inherent drama of a man who is hunting these people while his daughter, who is right under his roof, is one of them. She was trying desperately to get away and be normal while not being found out and yet the man who is her adopted father has the job of bagging and tagging and studying these people. It was just too rich in possibility. So, I really felt that the character would have a life beyond the pilot but I had no idea that it would become what it became. I think a lot of it was because they started right away to see the possibilities of how they could connect characters and stories and the drama right there in the Bennett household and they liked Hayden and me together.
Q: How do you and Hayden get on because there appears to be a good chemistry on screen?
A: I’m not trying to be falsely modest but Hayden has chemistry with everybody. When we first started working together we realised that she was one of those rare actors who invested in you whatever arc you were playing to her. If you were her father she would sit down and tell you a story and tears would flow – and we had just met. But that’s just who she is. As an actor she’s an open vessel, which is why she’s so good. I think we hit it off right away and had chemistry right away.
Q: William Goldman famously said that in Hollywood no one knows anything. Do you have an idea what makes a TV show like Heroes so special?
A: I think it’s the combination of the simple and complex. The show is both simple and complex. It’s wish fulfilment fantasy and epic in nature and that’s the simplicity of it. The complexity of it is in the people and relationships which are more like kitchen sink dramas than comic books. The relationships that the characters have to the people around them are more complex and deeper than you often see in something which is – quote, unquote – “comic book”. And I think that that’s one of the strengths of the fact that Tim Kring created this show – not being a comic book guy – with archetypes that are very familiar to comic book but which are also richer and more complex than maybe comic book fans had seen before.
Q: Are you a comic book guy?
A: When I was a kid I was, but not since I was 15 have I really been invested in comic books. But I do remember as a kid loving Spider Man, because I loved Peter Parker. Jeff Loeb was one of our writer producers and he famously said that Peter Parker was infinitely more interesting than Spider-Man and that’s one of the mantras of the show. When you do a television show you don’t have a $200 million budget and it can’t all be about gigantic battle scenes, it has to be about the people and the characters. So, I think that obviously the focus is much more on the Peter Parker side of things than the Spider-Man side of things.
Q: So is Clark Kent more interesting than Superman and Bruce Wayne more interesting than Batman?
A: I would say yeah, generally speaking I think so because the alter egos are richer – they have things that they’re hiding, things that they’re protecting, they’re vulnerable in a way the super heroes are not. You feel for Clark Kent when he is awkward in the newsroom and I think that’s what draws us into these people more than seeing them flying or pulling the train off the track. It is the human side that gets you engaged.
Q: Amazingly, you’re a direct descendant of Benjamin Franklin. Were other kids impressed when you were growing up, were you expected to be brighter than the rest because you were related to a genius?
A: It was on my mother’s side that I’m related. Nobody in my elementary school had any idea. It was such a non-issue growing up. For two reasons – one, my parents in general were very unimpressed by all things celebrity related and it was never a point of emphasis in our family. Also, being the youngest of seven meant that so many stories were told and had come and gone so that by the time I came around everyone just assumed that I would know what they were talking about without anybody actually telling me.