Chuck vs. WonderCon   

Joshua Gomez and Zachary Levi talk to reporters and bloggers in the CHUCK press room at Wondercon 2009.Chuck quickly became one of my favorite shows last season, and it’s gotten even better this season, so I was very excited to be able to sit down with the cast and creators at WonderCon. In attendance were Josh Schwartz, Chris Fedak, Zachary Levi, Joshua Gomez, Adam Baldwin, and Yvonne Strahovski. They were split into two groups (two actors and a creator), and we sat with each group for about twenty minutes at a little round table. I was inches away from them! Zach and I both like the chicken salad melt at Vivian’s! But that’s not what you came here to read about.

A tape recorder used in the CHUCK press room at Wondercon 2009.What you came here to read about is Zachary Levi’s reaction to a half-dozen voice recorders on the table. He treated them like poker chips, shuffling them around and joking, “Who’s in, who’s in?” Since Chris Fedak was on the opposite side, when he started talking, Zach pushed all the recorders to his side: “And he’s all in!” Then he would pull them all back when he talked. And push and pull and push and pull. Josh Gomez considered lifting up the table so they would all slide down. It was a real hoot, I tell you, and the crowning moment was when a latecomer plopped down an honest-to-God tape recorder. “WHOA!” exclaimed Zach. Yes, it deserves asscaps; that’s how excited he was. “That’s fantastic!”

All right, all right, the show. A couple topics were discussed at both tables. First, of course, was the “State of the Chuck Union,” as one person put it. (Zach loved the phrase, as it made him feel like Obama…but then he screwed up the catchphrase ["We can!"] and declared himself “Nobama.”) Zach felt “very good” about coming back for a third season, believing that the show was a “very unique product” that could not be recreated—interestingly, he brought up My Own Worst Enemy as NBC’s attempt to do Chuck but darker. He used two phrases to describe the show: his own “action comedy with heart” and Chris Fedak’s “quarterlife crisis with espionage.” Chris said the network and studio were both very supportive of the show, and while he’d love to tell us a story about all Chris Fedak says the network and studio are very supportive of CHUCK at WonderCon 2009.the battles they have, they’ve been making the show the network and studio are excited about. But he did describe the rest of the season as the show “battling its way to a season three.” (He also promised that the rest of the season would be delving more into the “sci-fi underpinnings” of the show, going down the rabbit hole of the mythology of the show, and judging from this week’s episode, he meant it!) Josh Schwartz said of this season of Chuck, “It’s the season of television I’m most proud of…in terms of how well executed it’s been, how well performed.” (So fans of The O.C. and Gossip Girl who haven’t given this show a try…there you have it!) Like Chris and Zach, he was very optimistic about a third season.

The second major cross-table discussion was, of course, the level of geekery. Zach answered with a snapshot of the flight up to San Francisco, which he said consisted almost entirely of them going through Xbox Magazine and discussing the games, especially the two they (I assumed he meant he and Josh Gomez) were playing—Killzone 2 and Halo Wars. And last night, Adam had asked them about first-person shooters, and he had launched into a very critical discussion of first-person shooters. Then, at the table, someone asked him whether he preferred Call of Duty 4 or Call of Duty: World at War, and he answered COD4. And then he got very serious: “Dude, unfortunately, there is a very definitive line between Treyarch and Infinity Ward [the developers who make the games], and Treyarch had tried to implement things that Infinity Ward brought—” And then he noticed Chris’s expression at his digression. Talking with CHUCK stars Zachary Levi and Joshua Gomez at WonderCon 2009.“I’ve gone to a different planet!” he cried…and then continued for a bit more about the perk system and modern weaponry. During the panel, he commented on the wonkiness of Resident Evil 5‘s controls and reassured the audience that they would be fixed. Zachary Levi is a serious gamer, you guys. I want to be his friend!

When asked about the Y: The Last Man poster in Chuck’s bedroom, he told us how he’d actually been introduced to the series by a girl at a signing who said there was an Internet campaign to get him to play Yorick. And, holy crap, he would be a PERFECT Yorick. I support this wholeheartedly! Where do I sign? Anyway, she handed him the first trade, and he was hooked and read the rest of the series that summer, and then he walked onto the set to begin filming season two, and there was the poster. It was kismet, he said. Cue Chris, who revealed that they’d wanted to get the poster for the first season but weren’t able to clear it. He described Chuck’s room as a “clearance nightmare”; sometimes they had to fudge with posters like Yakuza Prep. “These are all movies we can imagine seeing Chuck in, from Dune to Tron (which is really my obsession with eighties old stuff, I apologize for that) to Y: The Last Man.” Zach added that it wasn’t just Chris’s obsession with the eighties; it was everyone’s, really. “I think that’s part of the charm of the show. You guys bring back all the stuff that we all get to relive. Sometimes it’s forgotten in the back of your mind and then a reference is made and it’s like, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s right, I totally forgot about that!’” Zach’s voice during that last part was the essence of squeeful geekery.

CHUCK star Yvonne Strahovski denies being the geek on the show at WonderCon 2009.The same question came up with Adam and Yvonne and Josh Schwartz. “Clearly, I’m not the geek on the show,” said Yvonne. (“What does that mean, ‘clearly’?” said Josh. I’m with Josh! Women can be geeky! I know many geeky women. Yvonne, I demand you let your co-workers’ geekiness rub off on you.) Adam asked his daughter, who was sitting at the other table, to tell us how geeky he was: “Take how much you think he is, multiply it by ten, and that’s how geeky he is.” While we did not get as concrete proof as we did from Zach, we were told that Adam “dances.” Where and wherefore, we were not told, so let your imaginations run wild. (Yvonne may not be as geeky as Adam, but she’s definitely more badass: she does all her own stunts, whereas Adam only does a fifth. She did stage combat in theatre school and learned some martial arts at the beginning of the show, but not anymore. “Now I just know how to kick ass.”)

As one might expect, these geeks are prone to ad-libbing, but Zach assured us that they try to give one take as written. But then, well… “We call it the process of sauce-ification,” said Chris. “These guys bring the sauce.”

Fun fact! The name Bartowski came from a book Chris opened one night while searching for a name…or Atlanta Falcons quarterback Steve Barkowski.

Zachary Levi is just a year older than me, so he is well aware of the quarterlife crisis without espionage. While he didn’t want to make it sound like life as an actor was hard (“‘I’m an actor on a TV show! That doesn’t suck!’”), he did feel a kinship with Chuck: “I find there to be a similar growth. He was this guy, and then he gets thrown into this world that he knows nothing about, that’s completely brand-new, and [he's] trying to find his footing in that. Even though I had worked before Chuck, it was nothing like this. It’s a schedule and a life that is very, very different….It’s a rollercoaster; it’s a crazy thing. So I found myself growing kind of parallel-y—to make a new word up entirely—to that character in our own way.” Josh Gomez, who said he’s nearing his midlife crisis, added that going to things like WonderCon and doing all this press was also new to them.

We got a special peek into the making of the 3-D episode. Chris said that NBC asked everyone if they wanted to do one as part of the cross-promotion with the Super Bowl. “All the smarter shows said no,” he said. “And Josh and I were like, ‘Sure, sounds like fun.’”

“Children of the eighties,” sang Zach.

Jaws 3-D!” said Chris. “We can do it better!” After they determined that doing just part of the episode in 3-D would be far too easy, they set to making sure the whole episode could utilize the power of 3-D. “It was kind of like making a show in the future.” He said that in some ways, it was their biggest episode ever. It was the cool tradition of genre shows—and here he namechecked Buffy episodes “Hush” and “The Musical Episode ["Once More with Feeling"]“—to take an episode and do something different, much like his favorite episode this season, “Chuck vs. Santa Claus,” which was set entirely in the Buy More.

Too soon, our time was up! They were nice guys; we could have talked for much longer! But alas, the talent had to move. Chris, though self-conscious about having his picture taken, was very sweet. Zach needs to call me so we can hang out. Josh seems like a fun guy, but he didn’t speak up very much, letting Zach do most of the talking.

Before Zach left, however, I got him to make his “I’m flashing” face. Enjoy:

Zachary Levi from CHUCK shows off the face he makes when he flashes during the show at WonderCon 2009.

I thought he was overdoing it as a joke, but pay close attention next episode. The moving camera and rising music and flashing images totally distract you from the fact that his face really is that ridiculous.

Adam Baldwin, Yvonne Strahovski, and Josh Schwartz talk to reporters and bloggers at WonderCon 2009.At the table with Adam, Yvonne, and Josh Schwartz, we got a little more dish about where the season was headed. Josh promised some “shocking twists”—so shocking Yvonne was shocked when she read the scripts. “The end of the season is really cool,” he said. “It’s something that we’ve wanted to do since the beginning of season one, and we like to call it a ‘game-changer.’” Like Lost! “It’s going to reframe the show and launch us into season three in a really exciting way.”

But what about the future of Sarah? Well, Yvonne would like to not work in a yogurt store or a wienerschnitzel store anymore. And although she admitted the outfit was better this year, she hoped for a better one next year. She wanted to be someone classy, like a travel agent in a suit. Josh didn’t think that’s what America wanted to see, however!

And Josh clearly had his finger on the pulse of America as he discussed the killer Monday night timeslot and all their competition. Part of the problem was, he said, that the show appeals to a lot of different audiences. “If you like The Big Bang Theory and How I Met Your Mother, Adam Baldwin and Yvonne Strahovski laugh at something Josh Schwartz says at WonderCon 2009.I feel like the comedy of the show and the character side of the show definitely fits with that. If you like the procedural element in House, we have our cases. And if you like The Bachelor, Chuck is a bachelor, and will he choose Sarah?”

The last part was drowned out by our table’s uproarious laughter—the creator of Chuck is a funny guy, who’d've guessed, right?—answered by Zach’s “HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA” from the other table. “We’re having fun over here too!” he bragged.

I asked Josh whether it was a conscious decision to have such an ethnically diverse cast or whether he just liked the actors, since the Buy More is very colorful. Josh Schwartz talks about the diversity of the cast of CHUCK at WonderCon 2009.“It was a combination,” he said, “of wanting to reflect the reality of what goes on in the stores and also loving the actors. At the end of the day, I don’t think there’s a funnier guy out there to play Lester than Vik Sahay, regardless of where he was from.” But why is he a HinJew, Josh? “HinJews are a motif in my work,” explained Josh, whose first pilot, Brookfield featured a HinJew named Kumar Zimmerman played by none other than Kal Penn. But as for Lester, it was mostly an excuse to have him gamble on dreidels. “He uses it conveniently as an out, or to take people’s money in dreidel gambling. I don’t know how serious his religious pursuits are beyond that.”

What do Casey and Sarah do in their spare time that we might be interested in? “Surf the Internet for porn?” quipped Adam. He followed up with a more serious answer, musing that Casey probably goes and practices at the gun range, given that he has one built into his apartment. “He lives an austere existence,” he said. Yvonne guessed that Sarah throws knives and punches stuff and maybe goes on little solo missions on Beckman’s orders. Josh added, “And Lester’s on JDate.”

Adam Baldwin takes a moment to smile for the camera at WonderCon 2009.Again, our time was up too soon! Adam, unsurprisingly, is very quippy, but he’s also very serious about his work and his character. Yvonne seemed a little shy and not as comfortable as everyone else, which was surprising given how funny she is on the gag reel. And Josh is more down-to-earth than you’d expect the creator of three popular shows to be; he’s well spoken and easy to talk to.

There you have it, folks. The cast and creators of Chuck are a lovely bunch of people, and I hope they keep entertaining us for many years to come.

(And, seriously, I need to become friends with Zachary Levi somehow. HE IS SO COOL YOU GUYS.)

[Editorial Note] ETA: Rae here. P-C posted more about his WonderCon 2009 Adventures over at his blog. If you’re interested in what else he did during the convention, check ‘em out:

6 Responses to “Chuck vs. WonderCon”

  1. 1
    afrocurl says:

    P-C: THis is a great recap!

    Thanks for sharing all of it.

  2. 2
    Spadada says:

    Awesome post. Didn’t even know you went. Now tell me how in the world you worked Vivian’s into the conversation!

  3. 3
    Polter-Cow says:

    I opened with “Guess what? I went to Vivian’s on your recommendation.” True story.

  4. 4
    Anita says:

    Great job, Sunil! You did make me laugh even more though when you actually said, ‘it was a real hoot’ HEE. Dork. ;)

  5. 5
    Just Jody says:

    Lucky, lucky you! Sounds like a great time. Love hearing that they’re optimistic for season 3. Thanks for sharing.

  6. 6
    nsfinch says:

    I love how many exclamation points you used in this entry. I lost count—must be two dozen, at least. Best phrase coined: “squeeful geekery.”