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Interview with Greg Grunberg

Fans of good genre television can't really avoid Greg Grunberg. His professional credits date back over 15 years, and in the early days of his career, he made appearances on such hit shows of the time as Melrose Place, Baywatch, and Murphy Brown. He also was featured in films such as The Hollow Man and BASEketball in those early times.

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In 1998, Grunberg began a recurring role on the TV series Felicity, which was created by his childhood friend, JJ Abrams. Once Felicity had completed its run, Grunberg began making more and more appearances as Eric Weiss on the hit ABC series Alias, soon becoming a series regular. Grunberg left Alias in 2005 to pursue other projects, although his character of Weiss was always on hand for guest appearances when needed.

Another role that Grunberg is very famous for is that of the doomed pilot in the first episode of Lost. Sadly for him, he didn't make it past the first episode and was one of the show's very early victims.

Since leaving Alias, Grunberg has done some series pilots, and has made appearances on TV series such as House and, of course, he appeared in the JJ Abrams-directed Mission: Impossible 3 starring Tom Cruise.

The Bravo network has also recently begun airing of a sitcom starring Grunberg that was done a few years ago but never got off the ground. The Jake Effect showed off Greg's comedic talent alongside Jason Bateman, he of the late, great Arrested Development.

On Heroes, Grunberg plays the character of a LA cop named Matt Parkman who has the ability to hear the thoughts of others. It's looking like Grunberg will now have yet another hit genre show on his hands....


Were you part of the initial casting process for Heroes?

I was. I actually read for Milo's role. I had worked with the director, Dave Semel, on House, and I had a deal with NBC. And my deal was coming up, I'd done a pilot for them that they didn't pick up, and I so desperately wanted to work with NBC. I just love them. I love what they do. They get me. And right at the very end of my deal, they sent me this script, and said would you go in and audition and meet with Tim Kring for this role. Found out that Dave Semel was doing it, and so I went in. It was only an hour-long script when I got it. I called Dave, and I said "hey, I'm so excited, I'm gonna go read for you tomorrow," and he said "You're completely wrong for that role." And I had prepared, and everything. I go in, and I audition. I said "I'm gonna knock your socks off. You're gonna love it. I really wanna do this."

Because when I read the pilot, it read to me like a MOVIE. It didn't read like a show. It truly read like something which is, you know, I'm a fan of the genre, and I love the fact that when you create something like this, you're creating a world, the mythology, the history, the future -- it has to be laid out. You have to have answers. Not every answer, but you've gotta know where this stuff's going for it to really work, and it just seemed like a story that somebody had wanted to tell and had been working on for their whole life. Tim assures me that's not the case, he threw it together in a matter of weeks. But it really is so well-written, and I love his writing, and coming from the world of Lost, and Alias, and JJ's writing, and Jesse Alexander, and Damon, these guys -- they're just such good writers that, when I read this, I was like "Okay. This is what I want to do." There were a number of pilots I was considering.

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Anyway, I went in there, auditioned, I wasn't right for it, but Tim had something up his sleeve, which was the second hour of this 2-hour pilot that he was planning, and one of his favorite characters, he's told me since, is this cop. So as I was driving home, they called me and said hey, we're gonna send you a script, if you would play this guy, we'd love you to play this guy. So it was an offer, immediately, it was great. After this audition, I read it, I LOVE this character because I think it's one of the most relatable characters, because his ability is one of the least fanciful abilities, which is reading minds. I mean, obviously, it's still a leap, but something that we can all relate to more than flying or some of the other ones. So I jumped on it, I loved it. We shot the 2-hour pilot, and I think now, I'm not sure exactly, but I don't know if I'm going to be in the pilot-pilot, but that's fine. My character is a very integral part of the show, and has been since the beginning.

What can you say about your character of Matt?

He's this frustrated cop. Frustrated just because he, like all of these other characters, is like most other people. If you talk to people, everyone feels like they are possibly not destined to do more, but everybody feels like they can do more in their life, whether it be lose weight, or get in a better relationship, this guy feels like he needs to be more a part of the action. He wants to be a detective. He's a LAPD beat cop. He's taken the detective test three times, and not passed, and why has he not passed? Because he's got a secret that he doesn't want to share with the department, for fear that he'd be put down to a desk job, which is he's dyslexic.

It's something that's been a real problem. He and his wife have argued about this for years. She's like, just divulge it, who cares. I can't tell them. She's frustrated because she's happy with her life. She's like, "Matt, we can't be happy unless you're happy. Why can't you just be content with where you are in your life?"And I've said for years, in this relationship to her, I know that I'm destined to do more. I know I can do more. I want to be where the action is. I'm not going to retire a beat cop. And just like anybody else in life, if you were stranded on a desert island and you wanted to lose weight, there you go. You're gonna lose weight. Except for Hurley. Somehow Hurley has found a way to keep the weight on. But if you hate your situation in L.A., and someone picks you up, puts you in a box, and ships you to Florida, you don't know anyone. Now you've got to start your life.

Everybody needs a kick in the pants, and that Matt gets. He gets the ability -- the one thing that a cop needs more than anything else, which is to be able to hear, see, read the truth. That's what he gets. He's able to read minds, and hear thoughts.

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Heroes is truly a show that's starting at the very beginning. We're not coming in to the middle of a story. Stuff has been happening, obviously, in this whole world of people getting abilities and becoming heroes, but as far as these characters are concerned, which it really is a character piece rather than a sci-fi piece, I think, you're at the various instances of what happens to these characters and how they're dealing with it, and in my case, I have absolutely no idea what these voices are, where they're coming from, what's going on. I think I'm going crazy. And I quickly learn, at a crime scene, that I can use this to my advantage, and I can really do some good, and then I use it to promote myself. And over the course of the series, I think I'm going to get into some really great situations, being someone who is in law enforcement, and trained, and who's in a position to be a hero anyway. You know, cops and firemen, they're all heroes in my mind, so he's basically living up to his calling.

Even though Matt is one of many main characters on this show, would you consider Matt to be a meatier role than what you had with Eric Weiss on Alias?

On Lost, I think everyone shares the show equally. You have the doctor who everyone kind of looks to, [With Heroes] It's like six or seven shows, all within a show. You're gonna go and follow that storyline, then you're gonna follow Nikki, then Claire. So in a way, I do get my own storyline, every episode. We're all going to intertwine more, but Eric Weiss was more of a, I mean, I loved that character, trust me, but this is definitely more of an a story every week than it is being the shoulder to cry on, or the go-to guy, or the utilitarian sort of character that you can stick in when you need to fill up the tactical van. It's the kind of thing where my storyline follows my character and what happens to me.

I think everyone's going to latch on to one character, like they do on Lost, and that's going to be their favorite character, and their favorite story, to find out what's going on with them. So in that way, it's definitely given me more of a leading kind of role.

You've been friends with Jesse Alexander for a long time. Did his participation in Heroes sway your choice to join the show, or did your participation sway his choice?

I've been trying to get away from Jesse for years. Uh, no. I was really excited. He came on after me. I did the pilot, and then we got picked up -- or we were about to get picked up, you know, that time when you didn't really know, but the buzz was really good, and I got a call from the network, and I got a call from Tim, and then Jesse saying he was going to go in and meet with Tim. So I called Tim, and I put in what should have been two cents, I gave about $200 worth of how I love Jess, and I just think he's incredible, and his writing -- I mean, he's just all about the work, and he's such a fan of this genre, and he's perfect for the show.

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He had just heard from Damon [Lindelof], too. Damon and Tim had worked together before, so Damon called him. Damon was working with Tim, and then had to leave Crossing Jordan and go work with JJ, so it was like Tim [Kring] is really responsible for the success of Lost, in a way. Because he let him go. He said, "I'm not gonna stop Damon from going off and doing a show," even though he was under contract. He let him go and so it was like payback. He's like "Okay, great. So now I get to work with a great guy from that team," and that's what happened, because he and Jess clicked like crazy, and Tim ended up calling me and going "Well, you were right. He's just fantastic." So I'm really excited, selfishly, about a huge fan who's like family in the room going, "uh, why don't we give that to Matt."It's great having someone like that pulling for me.

I understand you've participated in some fundraisers to fight epilepsy because of your son. Can you talk about how going through that ordeal might inspire your performance at all, and how people who deal with such struggles may be the real heroes?

It's funny, I just had an interview, and I realized that, especially something like epilepsy, a lot of people keep it to themselves. That's something they have in the closet that they don't want to talk about for insurance reasons, or for other reasons, and that's kind of what my character does in the show. He doesn't want to tell people that he's got dyslexia, and because of that, it's stopping him from doing other things.

My son, we try and teach Jake to tackle this head on, and to deal with it... I'm not saying we don't cry all the time in our house, and get emotional about it, but it's something that with the right medication and treatment, you can live a perfectly normal life, and epilepsy, and disorders and diseases like it, we shouldn't let stop us from doing things. And I think the more that people talk about these things, and the more knowledge there is out there, it's not such a scary thing. You know, I didn't know anything about epilepsy when Jake got it. My wife and I were in the dark, completely. We didn't even know that's what he had. And now, knowing how terrible it is, but knowing what's out there, and what they have coming in the form of medication and treatment, I really believe Jake's not gonna have to deal with epilepsy for the majority of his life. I think they're gonna find a cure, stem cell research and the medications that they have out there -- we're gonna see it happen.

It's just a really, really difficult thing to deal with, but there's a reason why I've been given this challenge in my life. Raising a child with epilepsy is nothing compared to having epilepsy, and Jake's the hero, not me.

Back when you did the pilot for Lost, did you feel you were participating in something special, and did you get the same feeling when doing the pilot for Heroes?

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Absolutely. When I read the pilot for Lost, I called JJ and Damon up, and I said "well, first of all, they had the doctor die in the pilot." I was like, "What are you, crazy? There's no way! This is a good character! You can't kill Jack, it's not gonna happen! No one wants to see Jack die!" And they ended up changing it, and because of my big mouth, I'm the one that died. But I felt the same way when I read this. I read it, and I was like "wow." This is a show. It's either gonna be a HUGE, huge, monster huge popular fun show, or no one's gonna get it. It's one or the other. I feel there's more promise for Heroes, believe it or not, because when I read Lost, and I remember hearing this from a bunch of producers and people that I'd been working with outside of Lost, while they were making it, was "Gilligan's Island as a drama? I don't understand. They're on an island? What the hell can you do next? Where in the world can that show go?" That's what everybody kept saying. Like, "what are they doing? They're creating a bottle episode every week. This is impossible to write. Who cares? They're on an island. It'll never work."Meanwhile, in JJ and Damon's head, it was, where can't we go with the show. It's limitless. Absolutely limitless. Everyone was thinking geographically, and they were thinking emotionally, and they're thinking about the characters, and they're thinking about the mythology and the mystery of it, because that's really where all the unanswered questions are, in the mysteries and all that stuff.

The same is true for Heroes, even moreso. It's a limitless possibility. And if you read the script, it says Volume One. It's exactly the very, very beginning of this story. And it's a very long story. In the same way that Lost was, I think Tim's doing such a great job in creating. Every question that's answered, brings up ten more questions that are even bigger than the one that you just got the answer to. So in the same way, I think it could be huge.

Were you a comic book fan at all growing up?

No, I wasn't, really. Believe it or not, I wasn't. I didn't collect 'em, but I'm a fan of where the comic books end up. You know, the TV series... I was a fan of Superman the TV series, I was a fan of Batman & Robin the TV series, I was a fan of the Twilight Zone, a big fan, but I wasn't a comic book collector.

Though you didn't read comics, did you ever consider if you could have any super power in the world, what you would want it to be and why?

I always wanted -- it's funny, 'cause I did The Hollow Man, but I always wanted to be invisible. That was something that I thought would be really cool, would be to be able to just fade in and out whenever I wanted to. That I always loved. And, like everybody else, I had dreams of flying. Now I dream of having low cholesterol.

Have you ever considered going behind the camera, as some of your friends have?

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Yeah. I write, and I enjoy writing, and I have a film project that I'm working, and I have a bunch of TV things that I'm working on as well, but I just think I have so far -- I definitely want to direct one day, but I have so far to go as an actor, I feel. I love it. I don't think I'm anywhere close to mastering it, or knowing my limits, or knowing what I'm best at yet. I think I'm pretty good at certain things, but until I really screw it up, I don't want to take on any other challenges. JJ, of course, has said "You know, you should really direct." But I love having a loose set, I love doing my homework and then coming to the set and really working on it. I'm really good at getting performance out of people, but I'm not ready to do that yet. But one day, I will. When this gorgeous face gets too wrinkled... I'm kidding.

Last season you had a NBC sitcom project in development. What made you decide to return to hour-long drama?

I was looking for a sitcom, and they knew that at NBC. I had an overall deal there. And Mark Hirschfeld, who's the head of casting at NBC, and Kevin Reilly, the head of the network, he was like, if you find something for Greg, I said "Send anything. I want to read everything." And I really loved all their pilots. Studio 60, I auditioned for, I went in and read for that, and I really love that. I that that's gonna be a huge show, too. But I love shows that are bigger than just your average drama. Something that's bigger, something in the genre. That's what I love doing. I've been lucky that JJ is such a good friend, and likes my work enough, to put me on these things, but I just see the response that's out there. If you can create sci-fi elements and create an escape for people in TV, really relatable... like, my Dad's gonna love to see this show. So are my kids. It's just there's visual eye candy to the show, there's that element, but there's also the smart side of the show that you really kind of have to think about, so I think it's gonna satisfy both audiences.

My dream is to end up on a really, really smart sitcom. I think JJ and I are gonna end up doing a sitcom, in years to come, that hopefully I'll star in or be an ensemble member of. I don't think that side of the business is dead at all. I really, really want to do a sitcom. I love comedy; I love adding levity to a show. But this just seemed like the perfect character for me right now. So, I think it was meant to be.


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