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Q&A: Zachary Levi Spills About 'Chuck's' Near Cancellation, The New Season & More

Kris King Kris King
January 10th, 2010 9:00am EST
Chuck

Things couldn't be better for Zachary Levi, the star of NBC's spy comedy "Chuck," but that wasn't the case just a few months ago. Over the summer, "Chuck" came dangerously close to getting canceled. Despite a dedicated fan base, the show, in which Levi plays a geeky computer technician turned CIA agent when he winds up with a government super computer in his head, couldn't score the ratings to keep up with the rest of NBC's line-up.

But after a rally cry from the fans, NBC picked up the show up for a full third season. It was a close call, but Levi? He was never worried, and with the upgrades "Chuck" received last season, the young actor finally has a opportunity to do something that he's never had before: become an action hero.

With the third season starting up with two episodes on Jan. 10 at 9 pm followed by another the next evening, Levi spoke with Starpulse about "Chuck's" close call, his character's new superpowers and if he actually enjoys Subway sandwiches.

Starpulse: What was the atmosphere going around near the end of the last season? Were you worried that the show was going to end?

Zachary Levi: No, not really, no. I knew that it was certainly a possibility and it became stronger and stronger a possibility the longer we were waiting, but I wasn't worried about it. I believe that whatever is supposed to happen happens, but you know you kind of let go… and just know that as long as you're doing your part and putting out the best product you can, that's all you can do. So, I believed in us, I believed in the show, and I believed that we were putting out a good enough product that it deserved, I guess, another season. But I also know that television is a very fickle game and it doesn't always work out that way. Did I know there was certainly a good chance that we could be canceled, yeah, but was I worried about it? No.

I know the internet was kind of worried about it for a while.

Oh yeah, oh for sure.

Do you think there was one key factor that kept "Chuck" in production?

The fans. I know that the network and the studio both have really supported us and really loved us and the show since the beginning despite regime changes and all that stuff, which can be a little tricky. We made it through a writer's strike, it was like, you know when, it's funny, it's like when you hear your grandparents or that generation talk about living through the Great Depression. That's what it's like talking to some actors and writers in Hollywood, (adopting an old man voice) "Ah, we made it through the writer's strike..." But we did, and you know, that was not an easy thing to do, and a lot of people didn't. But at the end of the day, regardless of the love we had from our bosses, and the people who were employing us--had the fans not risen up to make themselves be heard and fight for us, I don't know if we'd be around right now. I think that really was the kind of last straw on the camel's back. I think it resonated loudly enough with Subway and with NBC where they at least kind of took pause, and looked at each other and said "maybe there's something to be done here," and that gave us that last little umph to get over the hill, and here we are in the third season.

So Zach, tell me. What do you really feel about Subway sandwiches?

No joke, I actually quite like Subway sandwiches. I mean if you're going to have fast food you might as well have something that's not unnecessarily unhealthy for you, and there's some healthy options there. There really are. And I was eating a lot of Subway sandwiches before, so I wasn't all of a sudden a Subway convert.

Yeah, the show near the end of the last season was really pushing them.

Oh yeah, and there will be more of that in this season too…

Was it difficult for you to transition from bumbling nerd to action hero?

Well, no, because it's not quite bumbling nerd to action hero, it's bumbling nerd to bumbling action hero, I think (laughs). There are certainly some moments that are cooler than others and Chuck being more serious in other moments and cool and calm and collected, but you don't lose the heart of who he is. He's going to be a nerd. No matter how good he gets at being a spy, he's always going to be a nerd. Because you've got to maintain the heart of that, and I think that's what people relate to. They relate to the hearts of these characters and their relationships, and they like to live vicariously through them. I think offering the audience now the opportunity to live vicariously through these little ability flashes and kicking bad guy butt just adds to the mix.

Did you look forward to the change?

Oh yeah. Oh for sure, yeah. I mean, I've been sitting on the sidelines for two years watching Yvonne [Strahovski] and Adam [Baldwin] have all the fun, and I'm like "Put me in coach, come on! I can do that!" It's tough. I mean, it's for sure tough. We get sometimes a day to learn these fights and we're shooting them the next day. I can learn them quick enough, but I'm long and lean, I'm like Shaggy from "Scooby-Doo," with my coordination I'm like "What am I doing right now?" I'm a giant spaghetti noodle just whipping people in the head with my hand.

Did you have to do any special training for any of the fight scenes?

No, no. Had I known that we were going to have a third season and that we were gonna have a lot of fight scenes, I would have tried to get some of that in in the off season, but I didn't know we were going to have a third season and if we did, I didn't know how much fighting I'd be doing. I went off and shot ["Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakuel"], and then after that I went to a friend's wedding, and then I went on a USO trip and visited some troops in the Middle East and then Africa, which was all very rewarding. All of that was awesome, but I would have tried to finagle some time to be like "Hey, it'd be nice to know how to do a little Kung Fu." But as it is right now, I just kind of learn it as we go.

So you're just kind of winging it?

A little bit. But we have, our stunt coordinator is like a multiple black belt, the guy is unbelievable. So that everything that we learn is legitimate.

So what else is new this season? Will the Buy More still be around? I know that it seemed like it was almost getting phased out.

Buy More is still around and all of the Buy Morons, more Jeffster to be had, and the love connection between Chuck and Sarah will continue to permeate and perhaps come to fruition, we'll see, you'll have to watch and see. Secrets revealed, you know, all kinds of fun stuff. Just more of all the same stuff that people have come to know and love about the show.

I know you've been acting since you were, what, six years old?

Yeah, kind of. I did my first kind of little stagey things when I was 6, 7. It was really in middle school that I did, in 6th grade we did "Grease," so from like sixth grade on it's been non-stop.

Now that you've sort of become a bit of a successful actor, is it everything you hoped it would be?

Yeah, in a lot of ways. I mean, I'm sitting in New York right now in the NBC Experience Store doing live feeds to all over the nation. That's something I never thought I would be doing, because I didn't know really that was part of the job. I've gotten to do some of the coolest stuff I'll ever do in my life. I got to light the tree out here, the Rockefeller tree, right back here a month ago.

With the Muppets!

Never would I have thought I would get to do that. To go and be here for the ball drop at New Years a few years ago. I've met amazing actors and singers and athletes and all because I'm some schmuck who got lucky enough to be on a TV show. It's a pretty incredible life that I've lived so far and I hope that I continue to get to stay here and continue to keep doing this, and whatever comes of that, then, awesome.

You write as well, is that right?

I do, yeah, I do write a bit, and this season I directed an episode, I got to direct episode 9. That was a lot of fun.

Was it hard for you to balance acting and directing?

It's a very difficult balance for sure. You're wearing two very significant hats as the lead of the show and as the director. My crew is second to none, and they all believed in me and supported me and helped me through the process. I just wanted to be as prepared as I could be, I didn't want to leave anybody questioning things or in the lurch. I feel like I prepared pretty well, and stay open to the organic process of other people having opinions, and feeling it out. And honestly I feel like we came out with a great episode… It should be on in March or something like that.

I saw online that there's going to be a whole Chuck festival going on the weekend of the premiere, what do you think of that?

I'm super excited about it. I mean, there's hundreds of fans coming from all over the country, and some even internationally, to get together to watch the premiere of our show together? Like who does that? That's amazing. I've never heard of that happening for another show, I'm not up to date on everything, but I've never heard of that before. The whole cast has all said that, yeah, we'd love to go down and just spend a little--well unfortunately we have a huge.. Our premiere happens to fall on the same night as a giant network press event, so we can only be at Chuckfest for a limited amount of time, and we can only be at the press event for a limited amount of time before getting over to our own premiere party that night. But it will be really special to goat least stop in and just thank everybody and all the dedicated fans for being part of our survival.



Chuck

Image © PR Photos





Kris King
Story by Kris King

Starpulse contributing writer