Greg Grunberg & Masi Oka Reflect on 'Heroes,' Their Characters' Fates & Revival Chances
Save the cheerleader, save the world.
"It was Bryan Fuller who came up with [that] tagline, and thank God he did because that was definitely what defined the show," Masi Oka, who played the time-traveling and teleporting Hiro Nakamura, tells TV Insider, as all four seasons of Heroes come to NBCUniversal's new streaming service, Peacock (launching July 15).
That was how the sci-fi drama, created by Tim Kring, began in 2006 — save Hayden Panettiere's Claire Bennet, who could heal and couldn't die, future Hiro told Milo Ventimiglia's Peter Petrelli, who could take on others' abilities, and save the world (below) — at a time before superhero and genre shows became popular. "We didn't know it was going to be a hit. We knew we had something special," Oka says. "It was a little bit of a gamble for NBC."
Both he and Greg Grunberg, whose Matt Parkman could read minds, credit the writing staff (which included Marvel TV's Jeph Loeb, Pushing Daisies' Fuller, Everwood's Michael Green, and Lost's Jesse Alexander) for its success. "I still to this day maintain that Season 1 of Heroes is one of the best seasons of television," Grunberg says of what he calls his "dream job." "The discovery that went into that first season, both for the audience discovering the characters, for the characters discovering their powers, for the writers discovering the actors and how everything was going to work together and mesh, it just was so well crafted." (He also remembers the first season being "like eight different shows at the same time" and telling his costars at press events, "I really love your show," since he didn't work with them until later.)
Both actors also think that the same thing that drew fans in back then will bring new ones in now. For Oka, "There was a wonderment and a wish fulfillment. Tim always said a TV show is a reflection of the times, and back in that time, we needed Heroes. We needed something to believe in and hope for, that ordinary people can do extraordinary things and can rise to the occasion." That remains true today.
"It's a very relatable show," Grunberg says, and that's because of the characters. "They had faults, but they had aspirations, and when given these superpowers, their aspirations came true, but it's be careful what you wish for because with this newfound power comes responsibility, it changes your life, and you learn to appreciate the small things in your life and try to keep them balanced as this new ability is spiraling out of control."
We saw that with Grunberg's character when he first discovered his powers, as Matt realized he was reading people's minds. "That character was the most connected to being grounded and human," the actor notes, and in fact, his audition conveying just that is why he was cast on the show — but not for the part he'd read for. He originally auditioned for Peter Petrelli, at a time he was looking for a comedy following his work on Alias.
After, his agent relayed a call for NBC: "The bad news, you're the worst Peter Petrelli ever. You're too old, you're not the right person for that role," Grunberg recalls. "But the good news is there's this other role, Matt Parkman, and they want to offer it to you. [Kring] just saw such humanity and a grounded performance and he really feels like he can write to you and that character."
The series did play with alternate timelines in a few episodes, and Oka enjoyed getting to play future Hiro. "It was so fun to be able to play the juxtaposition of the promise of the character and leap forward and in some senses play a different extreme version of that character," he says. "You're challenged and you get to try new things."
We also met another version of Matt in the Season 1 episode "Five Years Gone," as the future head of Homeland Security. "I loved that, jumping ahead and seeing where these characters are. For my character, it was great, because he wanted to be more of a presence in law enforcement," Grunberg says. "He wanted to be more responsible. He wanted to find out what's behind this. Was I altered? Was I engineered? Is there a master plan? All of that stuff. If you look at just my character's arc, even through Heroes Reborn, you see that I really got to explore that stuff and investigate it the way a cop would."
For the most part, he got to do everything he wanted with his character. "The one thing I wish I would've been able to revisit and see in the future is what happened with my wife and my son," Grunberg admits. "They alluded to my son having powers, and we never got to see that."
Oka also wishes that Heroes had explored more from his character's personal life, specifically Hiro and waitress Charlie (Jayma Mays), whom he traveled back in time to save, and Hiro as mentor to the next generation, as we briefly saw in Heroes Reborn.
Oka and Grunberg appeared in multiple episodes of the 2015 revival and wish they'd been able to do more. (Both had other commitments.) "That was a blast," Grunberg says. "That was such a dream to be able to come back." For Oka, "It was our way of giving thanks and hopefully continuing the tradition and legacy. [Heroes] was our home and [with Reborn], we're just being invited to what used to be our home. It's like you sold your home but you're coming back to visit."
Hiro and Matt's fates were up in the air at the end of the revival. Last we saw the former in the episode "June 13th — Part Two," he was prepared to sacrifice himself while bringing swords (which he's quite adept at using) to a gunfight. "As far I know, he's neither dead or alive, I can't confirm either," Oka says. However, he also adds that the deaths in this world are "rarely final," except for Isaac Mendez (Santiago Cabrera), who painted the future, in Season 1.
And Matt was rushing home to his family with the watches needed to transport them to the future when his car ended up in a ditch in the penultimate episode. "Matt Parkman called AAA and got his car out of the ditch," Grunberg laughs. "Yeah, that was a little bit of a cliffhanger and a surprise for me. I wish I had more of a dramatic ending, but the stuff that led up to it I thought was pretty juicy and pretty cool. Definitely alive."
Both Oka and Grunberg would be up for reprising their roles in another series. "If you're asking me and I had my druthers, I wish I could keep playing that character. I just love playing Matt Parkman," the latter says. "There's no part of me that says I wouldn't want to revisit this character if the writing was up to what it was before consistently with what it's always been on that show."
While it's up to NBC, in Oka's mind, "It would be great to see all the originals come back [and] have closure, too," even if it's as a movie. As he points out, Heroes Season 4 and Reborn both ended abruptly.
Even if that doesn't happen, Grunberg is hoping to get the cast together again somehow because he met some of his close friends on the show. (He, Adrian Pasdar, and Jack Coleman are in a band together.) "I'm thinking about doing a Watching Heroes podcast, which would be so much fun to be able to hear from us, like they're doing on The Office," he shares. "I love the idea of watching the shows with the audience."