Zachary Quinto might play the baddie on TV, but in real life he’s super nice, super intelligent, and an all around super guy. Fans have just begun to see his character Sylar emerge on new hit show Heroes, so we caught up with the actor to shed a little light on the mystery behind this season’s most mysterious character.
The Star Scoop: Tell us a little bit about your character on Heroes.
Zachary Quinto:He was introduced in an episode called “Six Months Ago,” so we were able to see a little bit of the journey of this character. The journey was what the reveal was. The journey the emergence from the shadows. I guess that sort of takes us up to date. You saw him in the shadows, you saw him killing people, and then you go back and see where he comes from, and then it sort of brings those two things together so you understand a little more fully [who] the character is, and now we move forward from that point.
Why do you think Heroes has been so successful?
Quinto:I think it [has] been successful for a number of reasons. It’s incredibly well executed as a production from the very top all the way down, the standard is set really high, and everybody works as hard as they know how to work. I think that’s one reason that the show’s so successful. As far as the stories are concerned, I think we live in a time when people are hungry for [an] awakening to their own potential and changing the world. This show deals with that on a really powerful level, and then sort of breaking it down even farther, you get to know these characters as individuals, and their lives are seemingly very independent of one another, and separate and they’re all over the world. You get little glimpses of these people’s lives, and then all of a sudden, they just start to fall into step with one another. Events sort of bring them into circumstances that they would never expect until the end. Then they start meeting, and then they start realizing…what they’re working against, how it’s going to require pretty much everybody’s efforts. I think there are just a lot of levels that are operating with such a rarity [in] television especially that it sort of fell into place.
Some of the cast has been around, done some other shows, movies, and then you’ve got some of the [others] who are a little bit newer. Do you think that mix between rising stars and established actors helps?
I think it’s kind of a which came first situation. Is the show a big hit because of everybody’s really great attitude and unity or is that sense of unity enhanced by the stars of the show? They feed into one another, but I also think that the producers of the show made a commitment themselves to make the best show that they can make. It’s the best actors for the job, whether it’s someone that is established or it’s somebody that’s just coming onto the scene. When the work is what’s the most important thing, I think that you’re already many steps ahead of the game, and every opportunity, it’s been reinforced that the work is the most important thing on this show. I mean, making the best show and contributing everything you have to making the best show, whether you’re an actor or [crew], everybody. It’s just like, it’s such a team effort than when doing the best work you can do is all that matters, that’s what makes the show successful.
You did 24, another hit show. But have you seen your life change any since your involvement with Heroes?
Yes, to a degree. I think it’s definitely a lot more exposure. I mean, I was on 24 for an entire season but the role that I played was pretty peripheral. This is much more an opportunity for me. The depth of the character is much more on Heroes.
The cast on the show is just beginning to interact. In real life, what’s it like being on set with such a diverse and large cast?
Yeah, it is both diverse and large, and I think that’s one of the best things about it. It’s just a really joyful environment, I would say. Everybody’s there to get their respective job done, but it’s just a pleasure. I came in [on] episode eight, and shooting episode eight, and the second episode airing, so it was already established, the rapport, and the relationships, personal and working relationships. I was sort of a little bit curious as to how I was going to be perceived, especially being the villain, and the one completely out to steal everybody’s powers and kill them all, you know? But from day one, it was… welcoming and supportive, and open, and I think that’s the tone that’s set there, and that’s what everybody expects. It’s really just so fun. I have such gratitude for it because it’s such a great group of people.
Do you get to watch the show? Do you actually have time to watch your performance and watch for some enjoyment?
Well, there is another example of the unity of the cast and crew is that every Friday is a screening during lunch. So, people come, even if they’re not at work, they’ll just come to watch the screening, and if you’re at work, then that’s your lunch hour. They feed us, and bring us all together so we can see what we’re creating. And that to me is such an indication of the integrity of the people that are running the show over there – the producers, the writers, everybody. It’s like, we want to spend time with each other, we want to see what we’re working on because I think part of what makes a really good show is the desire to make it, and the willingness to invest the overwhelming amounts of time and energy that it requires, even less by actors, and even much more by the people that are there every day for fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen hour days. It is really cool to see it, and I do watch it, because I like to watch it with everybody and see what we’re all a part of.
When you’re watching, is there one of the specific heroes whose story line you find extremely interesting or captivating?
Well, I really feel that way about the show as a whole. I mean, we gathered together to watch episode eleven, the episode that just aired, the last [new] one before January 22nd, and I couldn’t even look away from the screen. I was riveted by all of the stories. I think I tend to be drawn to, a lot of the stories have really strong family elements. I’m really drawn to that element of it. I think that’s one of the biggest hooks of the show for me, is like, what do these powers do to the relationships in everybody’s lives? I really feel like the dynamic in [the Bennett] family is really compelling and really complicated.
How would you advise someone to proceed if they’re trying to follow in the same kind of path [as you]?
Just stick with it. That’s a really tough one, because it’s so experiential. I remember being in college and sort of having people brought in for us, that were years ahead, seven or eight years ahead, and people would talk to us all about their journey and their path. I just think everybody’s experience of this business and of the craft of acting is so specific and unique. I think the things that have really served me personally have been perseverance, and sometimes blind faith. It is not an easy road, and it requires a specific amount of self-preservation, you know? I think that finding a balance of preservation and perseverance and a certain relentlessness and just belief in moving forward with what you have to offer and knowing that you’re enough, and knowing that standing on your own two feet will eventually serve you best.
Your character seems to be killing people and taking their powers. Is there a superpower you would want if you could have any [one]?
I think I would probably do well with invisibility. I think that would be fun, [to] just sort of like, not be seen if you don’t want to be seen, you know, just go about your thing, and be where you need to be, and get through where you need to get through. I just think it would simplify your life so much, you know? You could like, get on a plane, not have to really worry about anything, just stroll right through, you know? I think invisibility would be pretty fun. I know the go-to answer can be flying, but I’m going to throw the curve off.
Does the show keep you pretty busy? Do you have anything going on at the moment?
I’m certainly still auditioning. The show is definitely my primary focus right now. I want it to be that. It’s the first time I’ve really had a job that I’m not that concerned with, what else is going on, you know, I’m just really thrilled to be where I am. I’m auditioning basically, is what I’m doing right now.
Does being part of Heroes seem to open any doors for you?
Absolutely. I mean, people respond to what is doing really well, that’s the bottom line. I mean, people respond to what’s hot at any given moment as far as pop culture is concerned. This is definitely there. It’s definitely a level of exposure, and an exposure of my work that I haven’t had. I think more people watch one episode of Heroes than watched the entire season of So noTORIous. Invariably, I’m going to have more opportunities, just having contacts with more people because of the level of exposure and quality of the work.
You mentioned that you went to college.
I did, yeah. I went to the School of Drama at Carnegie Mellon. I graduated in 1999. I went to a conservatory program, exclusively I studied acting. The tendency does seem to be for kids to sort of abandon that, and just come out and hit the ground running at a younger and younger age. And there are certainly benefits to that. I went to a very specific kind of college. I wonder if I had to do it over again, if I might have had a broader liberal arts education for undergrad and then maybe specify my studies in grad school, and go to grad school for acting. Everything works out the way it works out, and I did it the way I did it, and I had an amazing experience in college. I think it’s important to trust your instincts when it comes to that kind of thing, and really look at the benefits. For me, it was really invaluable. But everybody has to walk their own path, that’s the best part about it. There’s no one answer.
I remember being talked to a lot in my sort of formative years, high school, and even into college. People would come, actors would come, successful working actors would come back to school and give master classes or give open talks. One of the things that a lot of people would say, and I didn’t understand it at the time, I never understood what people meant by, if you can ever think of yourself doing something else, then do it, you know, that sort of axiom of, if there’s any other career, profession or discipline that you can see yourself practicing or studying instead of acting, then you should do that thing. I never got it, I was like whatever, I’m gonna be an actor, this is my life, this is what I’m meant to do. Now, years later, I’ve been at this for a while now, I’ve been at this, for over seven years now in L.A. physically, and I understand now, because it’s so hard. It’s such a hard life. Even when you’re working, it’s relentless, and the structure of it [in] Los Angeles is different than the structure of it anywhere else, and I think it’s so much more ruthless out here. I think it’s really smart to believe, you have to have a fundamental belief that this is the only thing you are called to do, and really called to do it, on a level within yourself, otherwise, it’s not going to fulfill you. It’s not going to be worth it. That’s it. Whether or not you ultimately achieve your level of success, becomes kind of irrelevant. At a certain point, you have to recognize the pain of it, the difficulty of it. And I don’t mean to sound heavy-handed, or negative about it, I’ve had an amazing experience. But a lot of the amazing experience has been hard won. Weathering that and realizing that it’s a lifelong journey, and that it never ends, no matter what level of success you achieve, it still exists and your ability to relate to it and process and deal with it becomes the only tool you have and sometimes putting yourself in an educational environment strengthens that foundation and allows you to sort of sustain it with more grace. Coming out here with no real frame of reference for where you want to go isn’t necessarily always the best thing. Going to school, if nothing else, afforded me the opportunity to do a showcase in New York and in L.A., and that’s ultimately what got me my first agent, manager, and my first auditions, and my first job. That was a very practical application of school, not to mention all the other sort of ethical ones. It’s an important time. There are so many young actors that have been doing it so long that really lose their sense of themselves in those years, being twenty, or eighteen, nineteen, twenty, early twenties. That’s a precarious time.
Is there anything else that you want to include?
I actually kind of feel like I covered all the bases. I think your questions were really good, and I think at this point in my experience, people are definitely interested in my perception of the show, and what the show is doing to my life, and I think we covered most of that.
Especially because your character isn’t exactly one of the “heroes” it sort of gives you that different perspective to look more objectively on the show in that sense.
That’s true, yeah. It is interesting to sort of be the antithesis of everything that they’re working toward and fighting for. To be the opposing force of that is actually really sort of gratifying because there’s so much talent on that side of it that it gives me a lot to work with. The show’s been great and, I guess one thing that people always say to me is like, you’re the nicest villain I’ve ever met. I want to make sure people don’t think I’m just an asshole [laughs].