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Robert Knepper and Ray Park Reveal Their Plan to Save <i>Heroes</i>

After the last couple of seasons, which have been uneven at best, we weren't really sure what could be done to get us interested in Heroes again. Well, consider us interested. This season, the Heroes cross paths with some sinister circus folk, including a folksy Robert Knepper (T-Bag from Prison Break) and a knife-wielding Ray Park (Darth Maul and Snake Eyes). The pair got on a conference call recently to talk to us about their characters, and we were treated to two awesome stories from Knepper -- about scaring people on elevators and hanging out with Christopher Walken -- and the startling revelation that Park once wanted to be Teen Wolf. Our minds have been blown. Read for yourself after the jump.

TWoP: Can you tell us what kind of powers your characters are going to have this season?
Ray Park:
My powers are supersonic speed, a little bit like Daphne's in Season 3. And with this speed I'm also the knife fellow, as well, and able to utilize that skill. I see Edgar as a man who can throw many knives in one shot, and he has the speed to do that. And plus, the acrobatics and the circus-y martial arts acrobatics, I utilize that with the character. So it's fun to actually play the character with speed but actually get to slow everything down for precision, you know, which is really nice. You know, we do things at real time, then when we come to do some, as I say to Milo, "dancing" -- when we get to do some of the fight scenes together, it's nice to be able to really play it out and have a bit of fun with it. Yeah, I'm having a laugh.

Robert Knepper: I'll answer another question that you haven't asked; it's sort of in tandem with the answer to this one. One of the reasons why I came up with the idea to sort of do a smattering of dialect accent work with this character -- being mostly Irish, a little bit of English, a little bit of Scottish, taking a cue from Robert Shaw in Jaws -- was I wanted to sound like somebody that I would call "from the old world." And one of the oldest things in this world besides any one country is our planet and earth. And my power -- Samuel's power, is that he can move dirt, for lack of a better word, and I wanted that grounded feeling, that sort of old-world thing. Which, I guess if I literally wanted to go old world I would say I'm going to speak Roman or Greek, but I didn't want to go that old.

Can you describe the relationship between Samuel and Edgar outside of the carnival gang thing? Is Edgar Samuel's right hand man or something?
Knepper:
Well it's a good thing the actors like each other, because the characters... I wouldn't trust that guy down an alley if you paid me. There's a lot of pretense going on between these two guys. There's a lot of rivalry and jealousy and some old, old stuff going on that may or may not be told through our dialogue in eventual episodes. But so far, the little we do know about the scripts and the characters, Ray and I both have latched onto this thing of like, "Yeah, I trust you. Yeah, I'll go along with you. Yeah, you're my right hand man, wink, wink." Yeah, you just wouldn't want to turn your back on that guy for too long.

What do you guys like about your roles?
Knepper:
I like the fact that we're kind of going with the opposite of what was on paper, which could be a stereotypical carnival barker, "Step right up!" An Acting 101 lesson I learned years ago is you always play the opposite, anyway. Ray is very charming in his part, and I think Samuel, my part, is going to get what he wants by being charming and not, you know, beating people over the head. We turned him into a kind of a Keith Richards-esque rock and roller kind of guy. So that's always kind of fun. And then I sort of threw in this sort of Gallic Celtic Irish-English-Scottish accent, a mutt all in one. So that I think is kind of fun to play; whether it's appealing to the audience or not we'll see. Hopefully it is.

Park: To me to work on Heroes, I'm learning all the time about myself and the difference in pace of what I've been used to the in the past. And, you know, to have a beard and a Mohawk for a couple of months, it's a good excuse to cut my hair like that and grow a beard, so everyone thinks I'm a punk rocker. But as for the character, I was really intrigued with the carnival and where my character could go. Where it's like, even though we're working, there's still that uncertainty of where it's going to head, where my character would be going and where his place is. So the unknown is very appealing to me, but a little bit frustrating at the same time. But it's a lot of fun. I mean, Edgar is compassionate and he's good at what he does, but he feels the carnival is his family and so, you know, he'll bend over backwards, do anything to protect and do what's good for the carnival. Robert does a great job, by the way, and it's an honor to work with Robert. And the accent... Your accent's good, you know.

Knepper: It's all right. You're from there, you know.

You do a lot of accents, Robert -- how do you prepare for them?
Knepper:
I usually have at least a couple weeks to work with my dialect coach and wherever I've played -- a character from France or Bobby Kennedy or English or the latest one was a Russian character -- I usually have time and I really invest it in. Prison Break kind of taught me that, at least with a Southern accent, you can sort of get by with what Chris Walken told me once, called "movie talk." But doing a character from one of the British isles is tricky, because unfortunately -- or fortunately -- I'm surrounded on the set by people from that community, especially Ray. The first day I worked with him, I'm like, "Oh no, he knows exactly what I'm trying to do here, and I haven't done my homework on it." I deliberately didn't want to do the homework because I wanted him to be kind of a mutt. I wanted him to be a hodge-podge of different things so people would go, "Where exactly is he from?" But that's kind of the challenge for me to still keep it in the vein of somewhere, either Ireland or Middle to Northern England or even Southern Scotland, but not be specific and not get laughed off the screen.

What do you mean by "movie talk"?
Knepper:
I did a film once with Chris Walken, and I was trying to get chummy with him, and he and I played the same part in a Tennessee Williams play. But right before I went over there to rehearse, I was doing this movie with him, and I knew he had played the same part, so I said "Hey Chris, what'd you do? Did you go down South? I'm about to go to New Orleans and soak up the accent and drive over to Florida." And he looked at me like I was just the dumbest actor on Earth. And he said, "No, I didn't work with a dialect coach. I just did" -- and sorry I don't do a very good Chris Walken, but he took this long pause, he said, "Well, I did just like movie talk." And I was like, "Movie talk?" He said, "Yeah, you just kind of talk like this, and all of a sudden it gets kind of Southern." And I went, yeah, exactly, man. It's like, if you want to get really specific, I could have worked with my dialect coach and said, "This guy is from So-and-so, Alabama, and let's make him this." But I didn't, you know, I just kind of went with it. I got more letters and calls from people saying, "You know, you sound exactly like you're from Alabama." So it was a big lesson to learn from that.

What was the first day on set like for you both?
Park:
The first day on set, bumping into Milo (Ventimiglia) and Jack Coleman, it was just overwhelming, but also I was a big fanboy, you know, because I get to watch these guys on TV, and now I'm working with them. And, you know, sharing scenes with Robert. And, you know, actually it was an embarrassing moment with me -- I was so in awe of what was going on, you know, I completely took myself out of the scene and it was like I was watching a ginormous TV screen in front of me as Robert and I were rehearsing. So it was pretty funny, but embarrassing.

Knepper: Well, Ray, you know what's really sweet about you, though, Ray, is that you -- this is exactly how he is, I mean he is so friendly and so complimentary on the set that at first, you know, I don't -- I never watch anything, I never watch television, I hardly see movies because I have a little kid. If you'd name a Pixar movie, then I would know it. But other than that, I really don't see anything. And Ray's -- forgive me if there's other things, Ray, I don't know. But one of the most famous things you've done is that guy you had with the red face, you know, that little character that people don't talk about very much in Star Wars. But I didn't know you played such an iconic character, and you come on the set, and you literally were at first like just a fan. "Oh, they got this really nice guy to play him." You don't carry your ego at all, you're the most humble guy to work with.

Park: Thank you.

Knepper: And you've got some chops, man, you've gotten some pretty hefty credits to your name, so I just wanted to say thank you, for you and your way of acting on the set, too, because you're so humble. No one would ever know.

Park: Oh, thank you, Robert, you're a pleasure to work with, too.

Does playing an iconic character, like you both have, help you or does that hurt you when you enter a new project like this?
Park:
Sometimes it sort of helps, for the fan base for other things that I've done, but at the same time there's a lot more expectation for certain things that I've done in the past. But this role is great because I'm a big fan of the show myself, so it really sort of transfers -- it really is all the same sort of fans in that sort of genre, if that makes sense.

Knepper: Yeah I would agree with that. I think, look, it's nice to be on the map, it's nice that people know you. And it's nice to feel that they're smart enough to realize the difference between one role to the next. I don't know about you, Ray, but I get asked a lot, "Well, how do you feel about being stereotyped now as a bad guy?" And I'm like, "I don't know, I just prefer being stereotyped as a working actor." I mean, I just work all the time now. And Prison Break definitely helped that for me. So each role is different. This is hopefully different enough from that one where people go, "Wow, the guy's, once again showing that he can act." You know my elevator story don't you?

No!
Knepper:
It happed at the Magnolia Hotel in Dallas. It was the second season of Prison Break. I had come a week early to find a home for my family, and I was staying on the sixth floor, I think. And waiting for the elevator to come, the door opens up and there's this beautiful young couple inside, both blonde, blue-eyed. The elevator music should have been playing John Denver's "Rocky Mountain High." I mean they looked like the idyllic Denver, Colorado couple. And they're kissing and snuggling away, and she's kind of got her head buried in his neck. And she turns because the door opens up. She turns to see, you know, who's going to get in, and there I am. And she doesn't see Rob Knepper, she sees T-Bag. And she screamed finally. She didn't even have a moment to exhale, it was this long, drawn-out scream. I mean the poor thing turned red. And then like a nanosecond later, instead of getting off, she just had the wherewithal to realize, "Oh my God, what am I doing, that's the actor playing that part that creeps me out on TV every week." And then she just, you know, profusely apologized. I got on the elevator and we had a good laugh and we rode down together.

If you could have any super power of your choosing, what would you want and why?
Park:
Every time I get asked that, I always walk away and go, "Oh, I should have said this, I should have said that." You know, when I was a kid I wanted to be like Teen Wolf and be able to sort of turn my eyes red and scare people away, because it seemed like the most non-physical way of doing something without putting a finger on someone. But as I got older and you think, "Oh, it'd be nice to be able to read people's minds or move objects with my mind." And so I just try and live it through TV and film, you know, and try and be like Peter Pan and try and make believe and, you know, let the kids believe that I can have those special powers.

Knepper: I wish I had said that, that's like the perfect answer. I have two thoughts and, sorry, they're just immediate thoughts; one of them is I'm sitting in my messy office; I wish I had the power to, whenever I wanted to, just be able to go, "I'm going to clean my office," and it's clean. Because that's the last room in our house that gets the least amount of attention. And damn it, I deserve it and I'm worth it; I should be able to have a clean office, but it's up to me to do it. And the second thing is that I would love to have the power to be the eternally perfect husband, so my wife would always be happy. That would take me to heaven if I could figure that one out.

Heroes Season 4 premieres Monday night at 8/7C on NBC. Discuss this interviee in our Heroes forums!

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