Heroes ’ flying politician Nathan Petrelli comes down to Earth to talk to SFX
Some guys eat pain for breakfast. Take Nathan Petrelli. In only two seasons of Heroes , he’s lost his political seat and his family, become a drunk, found out he has a secret daughter, got shot in the chest and learned he’s a genetic “freak” who can fly. Lesser men would disintegrate but not when you’re Nathan Petrelli. As the eldest brother in the clan at the centre of the series, Nathan just keeps coming back for more misery, perhaps in penance for serving his conflicting masters: endless ambition and love of family.
And it takes an actor just as strong to not only keep the insanity plausible but to sustain the elusive dance of having audiences love and hate Nathan at the same time. “I come home to my wife [Natalie Maines, Dixie Chicks lead singer] sometimes,” Pasdar relates a little incredulously, “and she’ll ask ‘How was work?’ and I’ll say, ‘I don’t know where to start.’ Like today I jumped off a bridge and saved somebody. I’ve been blown up and saw my future brother in 2012 and then my dad came out of a coma,” he chuckles. “All of that sounds so dramatic and then I have to remember it’s just a television show. But it’s a weird balance we’re striking here.”
Luckily, Adrian Pasdar is a pro at striking a balance even when he’s making the wicked look charming. From Near Dark to Profit , all of Pasdar’s past characters have been building towards his work as Nathan, an anti-hero battling against familial duty. It’s dark terrain but Pasdar knows that’s his bread and butter. “The dark stuff is always a bigger draw,” he smiles. “People like conflict and it’s inherent in the darker side we’re trying to explore. He’s an involving guy that is interesting to play and people seem to like watching someone fall. You see it in all the magazines. Watching a star pick a boogie and wipe it on his pants has become news, so watching someone like Nathan climb far up the political ladder… the bigger ascension, the bigger the fall. But then audiences also love the underdog!”
And that works in Pasdar’s favour as Nathan spent season two (“Generations”) climbing out of his hole of self-loathing to save Peter, earning the fans’ support again. It’s that push/pull between the Petrellis which gives Heroes plenty of its epic juice and Pasdar says that relationship has become core to the show. “What works well is that what exists between Peter [Milo Ventimiglia] and Nathan is a biblical struggle for acceptance and approval – from a man they thought was dead, their father, and from their mother, the existing maternal side of the Petrelli family.”
Pasdar says the conflict appears so real because of his actual connection to Milo, whom he now considers a brother in real life. “Milo and I get along so well,” he explains earnestly. “We feel like family off screen. And at this point, we’ve had more off screen experiences than on screen really. I think that combined with what the writers wanted to do… you know that sometimes on set and off set relationships are so well drawn that what they manage to write, in a weird way, is not too far parallel from the real affection Milo and I feel for each other. When those two things merge you get a very interesting dynamic on the screen and it’s become central. If you look back at season one, all the clues were there and they’ve just exploded the relationship from the nucleus that it was in the beginning.”
It’s a dynamic that stands out so strongly from the rest of the ensemble’s stories that it even helped Pasdar get over the worry of how his “assassination” would turn out in the opening volume of season three (“Villains”). “It’s funny and I don’t say this out of arrogance but the relationship that Milo and I have had is so central to my experience of what this show is about that I couldn’t see it not going forward. It wasn’t finished and they are very good about beginnings, middles and ends around here. But it felt like even if it was finished, my relationship with Milo wasn’t going to be over. I felt like I had already gotten so much from this show that if I were not to be part of the continuing saga, the most important part – my relationship with Milo – would still go on. I felt like my life had been so enriched by the making of this series regardless. When you approach it from that angle, that’s the healthiest.”
As it turns out he had nothing to worry about. The Petrellis take centre stage this volume, unearthing more of their family skeletons. Pasdar says the family storyline feels especially invigorating and fresh to him. “I can’t wait to see what people think! Will they like it? I know they will but how much… and who will they root for? Who is heroic and who’s villainous? Especially,” he adds, relishing the chance to be ominous, “in this day where heroes are supposed to be heroes but act like villains…”