TV Preview: Pittsburgh native Quinto is face of 'Heroes' villain
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Don't turn your back, lest you lose your noggin, because the big bad on NBC's "Heroes" is a Pittsburgh native and he may even be in town for Christmas. Actor Zachary Quinto was recently revealed to be the face behind the show's primary villain, Sylar.
When: 9 p.m. Monday, NBC.
Starring: Zachary Quinto.
Quinto, a 1995 graduate of Central Catholic High School and a 1999 graduate of Carnegie Mellon University who grew up in Green Tree, has appeared in just three "Heroes" episodes so far, but he's already made a killer impression. He was mostly seen in the shadows until last week's episode revealed his character's background.
"Heroes," one of the few bona-fide hits of the fall 2006 TV season, concerns normal human beings who begin to develop unusual powers, including flight, mind reading, a split personality and indestructibility. Last week, viewers learned Sylar was once a mild-mannered watchmaker/repairman named Gabriel Gray. He took his alias, Sylar, from the brand name on the face of a watch.
After being approached by an evolutionary scientist who thought Gabriel might be a person who had evolved beyond regular human abilities, Gabriel became jealous when it was determined he had no special powers. He killed a man who had the ability to move objects and found a way to extract his power, presumably by taking out the dead man's brain (viewers have seen examples of Sylar's dastardly craniotomies in past episodes).
"The sad part is, he's initially well-intentioned. He wants to improve his life," Quinto said by phone from Los Angeles Tuesday. "He wants to make a difference. He wants to matter. Through the process of realizing how to do that, he gets blinded and loses himself in the pursuit of it and goes a little crazy -- 'a little' being understatement."
The big question is, how, exactly, does Sylar absorb the powers of his victims. Does he eat their brains, Hannibal Lecter-style?
"They haven't told me," Quinto said. "The impression I was operating under was he actually ingested them, but I don't know. It's the question I'm most often asked."
This week's "Heroes" (9 p.m. Monday) is the last one to air until early 2007, and previews last week showed Sylar imprisoned and none too happy about it.
"When Horn Rimmed Glasses [a k a Claire's dad] gets me in captivity, he's kind of merciless in trying to get at the root of what I'm doing and why I'm doing what I'm doing," Quinto said of Sylar's Lecter-like incarceration. "You really see [Sylar's] anger, the darkness that comes out. I don't like being in captivity, and I don't like being overpowered."
Quinto said he'll be in "Heroes" at least through episode No. 14 (this week is No. 11).
"The stage is set for me to be around for a while," Quinto said. "I would love for it to be the rest of the season."
But he's only as far ahead on the "Heroes" story as what's been filmed.
Information was also elusive when Quinto auditioned for the role in September.
"The scenes we auditioned with were actually not really scenes," Quinto said. "One ended up in the show. One was made up for the audition. They gave no details about who this character was."
Quinto said he had to garner as much information as possible from his dialogue and fill in the blanks for the rest of his audition characterization.
Sylar is certainly Quinto's most prominent prime-time role to date. He previously had a recurring role as CTU computer tech Adam Kaufman on "24" in season three and he played Tori Spelling's best friend on VH1's "So NoTORIous" earlier this year.
"This couldn't be more different," Quinto said. "Certainly more people tuned into one episode of 'Heroes' than tuned into the whole nine episodes of 'So NoTORIous.' "
The 29-year-old also shot an unaired 2001 Fox pilot in which he played "the shadiest character" in the cast and he appeared in an uncredited role on "Charmed" as a warlock.
"I had to be attacked by cats," Quinto recalled. "In one of the setups for that they put chicken in my pockets and let these cats loose and they went scratching at my pockets."
For an upcoming "Heroes" episode, Quinto filmed a scene with a cockroach that got too friendly, climbing up the inside of his pant leg.
"What was I going to do, jump up and have a tantrum?" Quinto recalled, chuckling. "So I was just laying there. As soon as they cut, the cockroach wrangler jumped up and went to get the cockroach, but it was a long five seconds. I think it trumped the cats."
Quinto has been acting since age 11, including stints in Pittsburgh with the CLO Mini Stars as a child and teen and several main-stage CLO summer productions ("The Wizard of Oz," "Cinderella," "Oliver"). He won a Gene Kelly Award for his role as the Major General in Central Catholic High School's "Pirates of Penzance." While at CMU, he performed in "Gross Indecency" and "Side Man" at City Theatre.
"I think in high school, acting revealed itself to be something more than a hobby," Quinto said. He said his mother, Margo Quinto of Green Tree, initially had some trepidation about his vocation, but after he was in a serious car accident at 16 that led to a three-hour discussion about responsibility, he blurted out, "I wanna be an actor!"
"That, somehow, just turned it," Quinto recalled. "I think she saw in my impassioned plea something serious about what I was after.
"When I started looking at colleges, I couldn't imagine anything else to study," Quinto said. "I still can't. Even when times aren't as good as they are now, nothing would remotely fulfill me as much as acting does."
What comes next? In the immediate future, Quinto may return to Pittsburgh for Christmas or his mom may visit Los Angeles to see him and his brother, Joe, a photographer who took the shots on Zach's page at www.imdb.com.
Beyond that, he's wary of getting too caught up in the "Heroes" hype, recognizing it could set up expectations that would only lead to disappointment. But he does have one dream role in mind: To play a young Spock in the new "Star Trek" movie. Quinto certainly has the complexion and bearing to pull it off.
"I missed the 'Superman Returns' boat," Quinto said, although many have commented about his resemblance to Clark Kent when he wore glasses in last week's episode. "So I'm angling for 'Star Trek.' People are constantly telling me I bear some resemblance to Leonard Nimoy."
Quinto said he didn't start the discussion thread about the Spock likeness on his IMDB page, but he doesn't mind the attention. He even joked about talking to "Heroes" regular Greg Grunberg, a former star of "Alias," whose creator, J.J. Abrams, is expected to direct the new "Trek."
"Maybe Sylar should tell Greg, 'I promise I won't kill you if you get me an audition,' " Quinto said, laughing. "We'll see what happens."
First Published December 3, 2006 12:00 am