A Heroes Star's Secret Identity
Greg Grunberg talks about his all-star band, the killer iPhone app he created, why his 15,000 Twitter followers could be choosing his next role—and his character’s death watch.
Greg Grunberg is keeping his day job but is not above a little moonlighting. He currently plays telepathic good-guy cop Matt Parkman on Heroes, the dark and complex “Save the cheerleader, save the world” show that, in recent years, invaded viewers’ minds and invited parodies everywhere. Grunberg is also well-known for his characters on Alias and Felicity (he was childhood friends with creator JJ Abrams) but possesses an entrepreneurial spirit not seen in those who already have plum roles on television—in the last year, Grunberg has also started a band and built a popular iPhone application. He talked to The Daily Beast about Parkman’s slide to the dark side, his cameo in Abrams’ upcoming Star Trek movie, and how his 15,000 Twitter followers could choose his next starring role.
This season of Heroes feels like a restart of the entire franchise. All the heroes were captured and are now involved in one central storyline.
Ever since the show started there’s this sense that it would be cool if they all worked together as a team where we each have our specialties and together we can defeat the bad guys. The stakes are so high and all of our lives are going to turn upside down, and any glimpse at a normal life is thrown out the window. My character just wants a family, he doesn’t want any of this.
“So far they’re keeping me around. I’ve always been thrilled to be on the show, but the storyline they’re giving me now is just amazing.”
First you were telepathic and now you have the ability to draw the future. Any downsides to your new talent?
In one episode, we’re in a ravine ditch with jagged rocks, and I wanted to be able to do something physical when I’m wearing [the white contact lenses] because it looks even creepier, but I couldn’t see anything. The last guy [Isaac Mendez] who had this ability ended up dead on the floor, so I’m hoping that doesn’t happen to be me.
You’re not breaking the news of an untimely demise for Matt…
So far they’re keeping me around. I’ve always been thrilled to be on the show, but the storyline and what they’re giving me now is just amazing.
Željko Ivanek, who plays The Hunter, is leading soldiers to track down you and the other evolved humans.
He won an Emmy last year for [the FX series] Damages and he’s such a great actor. I’ve been working very closely with him the last couple of episodes and it’s the most intense stuff I’ve done on the show. Working with a guy like Željko is like playing basketball with an NBA star—you have to bring your A-game.
So is Matt going to start roughing people up?
I get really dark out of necessity so it’s not like I’m going crazy—I’m trying to save my own life and defend the people I care about. What’s great about my telepathic power is it’s a very powerful thing and I can use it, not for evil, but in a desperate way. The ultimate thing is not letting it get out of hand like my father did. He used it for destructive purposes and went out of control, trapping people in their own dreams.
Rumor-mill time: Is it true that a cast member wants to leave the show?
I haven’t been able to find any truth to that. You always hear about things like that when actors renegotiate their contracts because you always want to get paid what you feel you’re worth, although it’s a weird time because we’re all lucky to have jobs. You don’t want to rock the boat, but at the same time you want to be on the nicest boat you can.
You’ve been friends with Heroes writer Jesse Alexander for years. How did you feel about his sudden departure at the beginning of this season?
Both he and Jeph Loeb [who also left the writing staff] are two of my closest friends and it was a shock when that happened. The show needed to be invigorated; it needed change. Jesse’s pilot [ Day One] just got picked up, and Jeph has a monster project that’s about to be announced, so I knew that they were going to be in a great place, but at the same time I love working with my friends. I don’t know if it was that or if it was budgetary reasons, if they needed to make room for Bryan Fuller to come back. It was bittersweet.
Any chance you’ll make an appearance on the post-apocalyptic Day One?
Oh, I’ll do anything Jesse asks. Anything. Just like for JJ [Abrams]—they ask me to do something and I’m there.
I heard you were going to be in JJ Abrams’ new Star Trek film.
I was shooting the new movie [ Group Sex] that I co-wrote and produced, so I wasn’t able to do the role. I actually am in the movie but you have to look for me really carefully.
It’s going to be the best movie of the year in that genre. It’s terrific, so good. My kids are excited to see Uncle JJ’s movie. They saw the commercials and didn’t know anything about Star Trek before, but were excited to see it. That means it’s going to be a monster hit.
The new trailer seems fresh and able to capture an entirely new generation.
He’s really reinvigorated the franchise and with respect to the actors, characters, and people who originally created this incredible world. You cannot replace William Shatner—he’s absolutely incredible and commands the screen in TV shows and movies, as does Leonard Nimoy. But you leave the film saying. “Here’s our new team,” and you can’t wait for the next adventure.
You and JJ grew up together—did you always want to work together in the film industry?
We were making movies when we were 12. As an actor, you wait around for people to give you stuff [to film] and you hope that the best and most-talented people will hire you. I happened to grow up with one of the most-talented people in Hollywood, so I’m very lucky.
You’re quite the multitasker—your rock group Band from TV just had their first appearance on The Tonight Show.
I started this band for charity. Suddenly we were super in-demand and all these celebrities were calling and wanting to be a part of it. It’s like going to rock 'n' roll fantasy camp. The response has been really positive and we’ve raised almost $2 million in the last three years. I get to play music with a guy like Hugh Laurie, who is so sweet, so generous.The music is so much fun to play and we get to goof off and pretend to be rock stars and support our charities.
You also built an iPhone application…
Get Yowza came from an idea I had to save people money by using their iPhone through signing up a bunch of retailers and getting them offer discounts—10 percent off at Gap, 20 percent off at Barnes & Noble, free coffee at Starbucks—and offer it as a free application you use while in their stores. I almost never want to meet the guys who created it with me in person because this is the future of business. It’s crazy—we met on Twitter, are you kidding me?
And now you have more than 15,000 followers.
They just started finding me. I talk about the projects I’m doing, but I’m hoping to do it in an interesting and creative way. I don’t want people to think I’m taking advantage of Twitter. I want people to send me something fun, interesting, or funny. Don’t try to take advantage of it—let me do that, that’s my job. [ Laughs]
It’s fun to put something out there and get a reaction. I was at a restaurant the other night and the waitress asked what I wanted to drink, so I sent out “What should I drink?” and got 500 Tweets telling me what to try. So I had a ginger ale with vanilla vodka.
So are you going to ask fans which film role to take?
You never know. It’s interesting—these are the people who care about following what I’m doing. They know my career and it’s interesting to see it from that perspective. So far on Twitter I haven’t found any lunatics. They’re all smart people who send a quick response back and are hopefully honest.
Twitter is an example of how you can get people communicating and talking. I’m launching a website called Talkaboutit.org and it’s all about getting the awareness out about epilepsy. We’re just about to do these PSAs with 40 huge stars and it’s going to be a big deal when it launches.
Kara Cutruzzula is a culture reporter at The Daily Beast and recent graduate of UCLA.