Interview date: 11/06/2009
Run date: 11/20/2009
When Bullz-Eye did its last TV Power Rankings in February 2009, the odds were barely hovering in the 50/50 range that we’d have the opportunity to write about “Chuck” again. Thankfully, however, NBC spared the series from cancellation – due in no small part to the folks at Subway (“Eat fresh!”) – and renewed the series for a third season, but even better news emerged a few weeks ago, when the network added another six episodes to the show’s order. Bullz-Eye had a chance to chat with Vik Sahay (Lester) about the saving of the show, his work on the series over the previous two seasons, and got just the tiniest bit of info out of him about the upcoming third season. Given our last encounter with him, however, we’re probably lucky to have gotten what we did.
Vik Sahay: Will, it’s Vik.
Bullz-Eye: Hey, man. How’s it going?
VS: Good. How are you doing?
BE: Not bad. You and I talked at the TCA function.
VS: That’s right.
BE: And if memory serves, I made some horrible comment about you selling stuff on e-bay, and you proceeded to give me the fish-eye for the rest of our conversation.
(Writer’s note: Sahay made a comment about how, due to having a complete lack of any sort of musical background, the idea of performing as a member of Jeffster! was nerve-wracking, legitimately nauseating, and, indeed, may have caused him to wet his pants. I offered a throwaway joke about how there were fans who’d pay good money for those pants on eBay. He laughed nervously, “Uh, no, let’s not do that,” took a step back from me, and the conversation never really recovered from there.)
VS: Yeah, as I recall, you were a horrible person, basically.
BE: Yes. Yes, I am. Glad you remember.
VS: Yeah, that’s how I remember you. But at least you are remembered.
BE: It’s something, anyway.
VS: (Laughing) Yeah.
BE: So, now, are you guys currently at work, or you have worked and you’re soon going back to work?
VS: Yeah, we’re in the middle of work. We’re getting a little bit of time off for Thanksgiving, but other than that, yeah, we’re working.
BE: Awesome. So what episode are you on right now?
VS: We are on episode nine. Just finishing off nine.
BE: Okay. And how’s the vibe now that the extra episodes have been added?
VS: I think that there is a bit of a big exhale, you know? You know, it’s a very odd thing to be in the middle of shooting something, kind of almost assuming it’s going to end. I think at the end of the second season, we were sure we were coming back. And then it literally went away, and then we got pulled back by the skin of our teeth, thanks to fans and whatnot. But when this thirteen got ordered and we were coming on in March, I mean, in my mind, I was, like, “Well, this is it, this is the kind of farewell season.” And here we go. So it’s kind of a roller coaster of exhilaration at this point. I don’t know what it all means, but it’s really good. Let me boil all of that down: good. I feel good about it.
BE: Excellent. So how much Subway are you guys eating on the set these days?
VS: It’s relentless and a nightmare,, but just in case there are cameras around, I eat it constantly. No, I think everything is being integrated incredibly well. You know, they are brilliant writers, and so everything is still nice and subtle; blended in well, I think.
BE: But does Subway contribute to the craft services table?
VS: (Laughing) On occasion, yes. Yes.
BE: So where do we find Lester when the new season kicks off?
VS: Well, you know, I don’t know how to even go into that. Right in front of me is a script that says, “Dear Team Chuck, as you know we expect all of our scripts to be treated with professional confidentiality and ask that everyone be extra aware of keeping any details to themselves. Josh and Chris.” So, you know, I think that you will get me fired if you push this avenue.
BE: No, seriously, come on, tell me what’s going on.
VS: Oh, okay, then I will. Now that you asked a second time. (Laughs, then sobers) No, seriously, I’m not telling you anything.
BE: (Laughs) So I’m sure that’s loads of fun, when you’ve got people constantly asking you what’s going to happen.
VS: Yeah. I mean, at the very least, it means that people are interested. Because it would be worse if people were like, “Yeah, I don’t care.” So at least it is a positive kind of tension.
BE: Well, even if you can’t speak to what actually goes on, how about the guest stars? Because it looks like there’s a pretty cool roster coming up.
VS: Yeah, I think it’s been out there that Brandon Routh and Kristin Kreuk are coming on. You know, I mean, the thing is for me, those two are phenomenal, but most of the guest stars, for the most part, through all of the seasons have kind of existed predominantly in the spy world. And so it’s Tony Hale that is the real joy for me, because I get to bounce back and forth with that maniac.
BE: So is he returning for season three?
BE: Can you speak to who of the other guest stars you get to interact with?
VS: How should I even go down this road? I’ll say a little bit with every one of them.
BE: Who’s been your favorite, or just the coolest for you to work with?
VS: Well, again, I’ve got to say that I think it’s working with Tony Hale, because it’s also been a long-term thing and very cool. I mean, I was living in Toronto, working there right before I did “Chuck,” so I would watch “Arrested Development” constantly. And then to be in a scene where I get to really show him what real comedy is… (Laughs) No, but that has been a really big thrill to kind of sit at the feet of the giant. That to me has been one of the best back and forth. And, then, of course there’s the beautiful models we got to work with last year. Brooklyn Decker, who I have said before, makes me giddy because she is married to Andy Roddick, and I’m a huge tennis fan, so there is that.
BE: Any other favorite one-off guest stars?
VS: Let me think. I mean, when you get to work with someone like John Larroquette, you know, just to get to be on set when he’s there is great. And then on the other hand, Jerome Bettis, you know, great for different reasons. To me, it’s all…just to watch John Larroquette work or Chevy Chase work, you know, they are legends. They’re legends, and to see that you are in fact better than they are is where you really get…no, no. It’s an education. And so those two in particular, I was, like, “Wow, these guys I have seen for so many years doing such great things…” It’s just really…I don’t even know the word. It’s exciting in a kind of really deep way, you know? It’s something to have watched someone that you admired for so many years and then to be sitting down between takes, talking to them about their life and comedy and how they work on a scene and all of that. You know, the nerdy actor in me is just in heaven.
BE: Well, you know, seriously, half the reason I do this job is because I love to ask people about stuff they’ve done that I have loved and have them tell me stories about it.
VS: Yeah, yeah. It’s exactly that. And that’s what I’m doing when I’m on set with them. I’m, like, “So when you did this,” or, “When you were doing that…” You know, and they are, like, “Oh, my God, somebody kill this little boy…”
BE: Given his love of “Spies Like Us,” I had visions that Josh just walked around with Chevy going, “Yes, Mr. Chase; you got it, Mr. Chase.”
VS: (Laughs) Yeah, really. But, no, he didn’t.
BE: What’s been your favorite song within the Jeffster! set list?
VS: A-ha! Well, let’s see. I mean, they have all been interesting. “Africa” was the most daunting, I think, because it was the first one, and it’s a hard song, and I didn’t really know it. “Mr. Roboto” was just bizarre and hysterical to do. But I myself got to pick “Fat Bottomed Girls,” which we did at Comic Con, so that kind of has a special, different vibe when I get to pick the song to do. I just think it’s kind of a brilliant, hysterical, weirdo song. And tough to sing. I mean, the other thing I am gaining enormous respect for is people who can sing. Like, it’s tough. Tough.
BE: Whose idea was it to do the gig at Comic-Con?
VS: It was J.S., Josh Schwartz. And it was just not even an idea, just a fact. That I was doing it, is how I was approached. “You’re doing this, good luck.” Yeah, and then we went back and forth on what song it was going to be. I was, like, “Let’s do this one,” and he was, like, “Okay.”
BE: So were you psyched or petrified at the thought of doing it?
VS: Utterly, utterly, you know, blanched with terror. I literally skipped over the “what a great moment” to “oh, my God, I can’t believe I have to do this.” Yeah, it was absolutely the scariest thing I have ever done. And when I was up there, the people were, like, “Oh, my God,” and they were all screaming and stuff. But I didn’t hear a thing. I was just in my own little bubble of horror and panic.
BE: Did you have any hand in writing your bio on the official Jeffster! page on NBC.com?
VS: No. To be honest with you, no, I didn’t.
BE: Have you seen it, at least?
VS: I looked at it. You know, I’m not good at looking at things of myself. I don’t think I have seen a complete episode of “Chuck,” I’m always fast forwarding. So I’ve looked at it. I mean, yeah, I’ve seen what it says there, some of it, yeah.
BE: I was just particularly curious about your stylistic influences being listed as Morrissey, Kurt Cobain, Bon Scott, Billy Joel, and Madonna.
VS: Right. Well, I mean, obviously, Kurt Cobain and Madonna are practically one in the same.
VS: Yeah, basically, I think what that implies is that he has no vocal influences at all. So when he opens his mouth, it’s whatever comes out.
BE: Also, you are credited with lead vocals and kicking ass.
VS: Well, I mean, I think that’s a given.
BE: So what’s been your favorite episode of the first two seasons? If you can even narrow it down to a single one, that is.
VS: Yeah, it’s tough. I mean, obviously you know, the episode “Chuck vs. the Best Friend,” where Jeffster! kind of emerged, was a great episode because I feel like we got to see the friendship between Lester and Jeff a little more. There was a little bit of almost sweetness to it that you don’t often get to see from Lester. And so that was obviously one of the kind of highlights. But there have been so many. I mean, the run as assistant manager was fun, and the Thunderdome. I mean, the thing is, the things I get to do on the show…I mean, at the very least, it’s not the same bloody thing week after week. I mean, I’m going in and I’m in a harness doing Thunderdome, or I’m singing an insane song, or I’m, you know, throwing a keg party at the Buy More. So it’s pretty tough, but I guess if I narrowed it down, “Best Friend“ was kind of the episode that meant a lot to me.
BE: So Lester is of Indian decent and is Jewish.
VS: Right. Of course.
BE: Have you found that interesting to play?
VS: Yeah, you know, I’m a huge research guy. I love to do research and go into the background of characters. And, you know, as you discover things about the character I, in my own nerdy, obsessive-compulsive way, go into “oh, my God” mode and then go and research everything I can about it. And I have discovered that, yes, there are a little group of Jewish people in India, the Bnei Menashe, and figured that out. But also it was, like, okay, I guess that must mean that his father…maybe it could mean that his father is Indian, you know, his mother is Jewish, and we went back and forth about that. And then just going into, like, researching Hebrew and Yiddish and throwing that in whenever I can. Yeah, it’s been a wild ride.
BE: I understand that you actually auditioned for the role of Morgan.
BE: Are you still bitter at Joshua about getting the role?
VS: Well, there are many other reasons now. It was originally just that reason, but now there are so many other ones. No, I think that the right people got cast in the right way. I mean, Josh is a phenomenal actor and very funny. And, I think, very suited to the role of Morgan. They are, Zach and Josh, and Scott, believe it or not, are very much like their characters. So it’s perfect, you know?
BE: Do you remember if, when you were originally doing the auditions, the role of Lester stuck out to you at all?
VS: Not even a little. Not even a little. When they said the name “Lester,” I had to go back into the script and see who he was, because there was really nothing written for him; a word here, a word there in the pilot. And I was reading it, concentrating on Morgan, so I had no idea. And it came at a moment…the offer came in a moment of, like, utter confusion and heartbreak at not getting the role of Morgan. So I was wiping tears from my eyes, winded, going, “What? What?” And then I found his one word in the thing and was, like, “Okay.”
BE: “I could make this one word stand out.”
VS: Yeah. Exactly.
BE: I’ve heard that there is a certain amount of improvisation that goes on.
VS: Yeah, yeah.
BE: So how much do you think that you yourself have added to the character of Lester? I mean, obviously, there wasn’t much to him at first, so have you been able to add to his character traits personally?
VS: I think so, yeah, I think so. You know, I made a choice very early on that he was not going to be a guy who admired or liked Chuck. And has what I call an unrequited rivalry with Chuck. Unrequited because Chuck almost doesn’t know he exists. But you know, Lester loathes him because he wants to be him. And that’s sort of where I riff from, and I think that the writers have gone with that, and there has been a nice back and forth about that. So, yeah, I think that that’s what has been a great kind of collaboration in creating the guy.
BE: Now, are you guys the kind of cast who hangs out off set as well?
VS: Sadly, we are. We are absolutely…oh, it’s sad. We get along so well, and we have so much fun with each other that, after 14 hours of shooting, we’re, like, “Well, what do you guys want to do now?” So, yeah, it’s a little pathetic, quite honestly.
BE: Obviously, “Chuck” has got a rabid fan base. How does that affect you? I mean, are you actually recognized now?
VS: Yeah, but for other, more sordid things. No, no, no. I am, but it’s a bit of a double edged sword, I think, to a certain degree. I don’t think Lester is the most likable of the characters, and I think in television there can be a blurring between who the actor is and the character. So, you know, my worry is that I am hated, personally, and that’s why I never go on the blogs or anything. But, yeah, yeah, I think that’s quite exciting because when I am approached, because obviously very few people approach me to tell me they hate me. When they do approach, it’s always because they are, like, “We love the show, and we’re so happy it’s back, and congratulations.” Etc., etc. So it’s always with such pure positivity that, yeah, I’m really grateful for that.
BE: Given how tenuous the series’ status was toward the end of the season, had you guys basically just made your…
VS: Peace with it?
BE: Yeah, exactly.
VS: Wel,l yeah. To me, it’s such an incredible job, really, I’m really blessed to be on it. And however long it goes, whatever happens, I’m not going to be upset at a cancellation. Do you know what I mean? I have had the experience of being able to do it and work with these guys, whether it goes one season, two seasons, three seasons…you know, it’s so kind of bittersweet to think of it ending because it’s sad, but at the same time, I’m, like, “What an incredible experience I had.” And, really, at the end of the second season, when we didn’t get renewed right away and all of that stuff, and other shows did, yeah, I think that there was a part of me that was, like, “Well, okay, let’s move on. Let’s figure out what’s going on.” And then this slow rumbling began, and the next thing I knew, they had called us back and…it was just incredibly startling.
BE: So, obviously, like you said, you can’t really speak to season three a whole lot. But can you give us even a hint of the feel of it? I mean, does the thrust change dramatically, given the change in Chuck’s situation?
VS: Well, I don’t know if it changes dramatically in that sense. I mean, certainly something changes. It deepens. I would say that the mythology gets explored more. We go deeper into this world and into kind of how Chuck starts to deal with this new kind of intersect in his head, and the ramifications of that on the people around him. You know, there has been a lot of talk about the budget cuts and what does that mean. Does it do something to the show to have to cut the budget, and, you know, are people are in it less? And to me it’s more…what it’s done is kind of focused the show, I feel. It streamlined it, and made it more potent, in a way. So the episodes are really, really…I find them very strong. They are very poignant. There is not a lot of fat on them. It’s a lean, kind of mean season. You know, I’m struggling not to say any details…
BE: No, I understand.
VS: But it definitely goes deeper into the mythology of…I don’t know, I guess the ordinary man in extraordinary circumstances. Those kinds of big archetypes of rising up to who you are supposed to be and the conflicts and inherent contradictions within that I guess.
BE: That’s heavy stuff.
VS: (Laughing) Yes, well, now you know why people don’t like talking to me. They’re, like, “Just say a joke!”
BE: And, last one, which actually isn’t “Chuck”-related. What would you say is your favorite project you have worked on, excluding “Chuck”, that didn’t get the love that you thought it deserved?
VS: Well, it’s a tough call about what love it doesn’t deserve or deserve means, but, you know, I did a movie…and I have talked about this a little bit…that I shot in India a couple of years ago called “Amal.” And it was a Canadian film, a really low-budget indie film. It’s a very stark contrast to what I get to do on “Chuck.” It was this really dark, gritty, dramatic role that I was doing. And it was amazing. It was one of those things where I could indulge all of my method-y pretentiousness and just get inside the character and not leave it. So it was quite a brilliant experience for me. And unfortunately…you know, it did a great release in Canada, and it’s come out on DVD just now there, but we just couldn’t snag American distribution. And that was too bad, because I would have loved for people here to have seen it, because the movie itself is quite beautiful and simple. So, yeah, in terms of love it deserves or doesn’t deserve…it still got nominated for a Genie, which is a Canadian Academy award. So it got love it that way. It just didn’t get the American distribution, which is kind of the pot of gold, you know?
BE: And just on a whim, I was looking at your IMDb page and saw all your voice-work credits for those “For Better or for Worse” animated specials. Lynn Johnston is actually selling those on DVD through her website.
VS: Oh, my God. Is she?
BE: Yeah, I got an announcement from TVShowsOnDVD.com the other day about it.
VS: Wow. My gosh.
BE: How did you get into doing voiceover work?
VS: I don’t even know. I was so young. I mean, seriously, I don’t know. (Laughs) I’ve been acting since I was a kid, and I barely remember it, to be honest with you. You know, as a kid, you’re kind of walking around as though there are bright lights shining in your eyes. You can’t quite see, and you’re kind of being…I know I went to an audition, I think, and auditioned. I think I even read and was initially playing a friend of Michael’s, and then they switched kind of halfway through filming to where I was playing the son and the other poor actor had to play the friend. So I did a few episodes of that, like, over one summer, I think.
BE: So you remember it fondly but vaguely.
VS: Yeah, fondly but vaguely. Well, it was a while ago, and it’s hard to kind of retain what I must have been feeling in the moment. Do you know what I mean? When I look back on it, I can make things up, but…what could I have possibly been thinking as this kid, kind of doing these lines into a microphone?
BE: “What am I going to do with this money?”
VS: Yeah. “What am I going to buy?” That’s exactly it. “I’ll get a new bike, and I’ll get a new…” (Trails off, laughing)
BE: All right, man, it’s been good talking to you again.
VS: Yeah, great talking to you, too.
BE: I’m sure I’ll see you out at the TCA in January, since I presume NBC will be pumping it up with a panel.VS: And I’m sure you’ll embarrass yourself somewhere along the line once again. (Laughs) Take it easy!