Transcription by Katrina King. Katrina flashes on transcription emergencies and has the mad skills to handle them without breaking a sweat.
When the new season of Chuck premieres, fan favorite characters Jeff and Lester (together they are the great band Jeffster) will have been on the run as suspected arsonists, accused of burning down the Buy More. Joe caught up with Vik Sahay (Lester Patel) to talk about last season and where Lester and Jeff might be mentally going into season 4.
POP CULTURE ZOO: So first of all, congratulations for coming back for season 4.
VIK SAHAY: It’s a miracle! It’s some kind of bizarre, skin of the teeth miracle. I can’t believe, with this roller-coaster that we’re on season 4! It’s amazing.
PCZ: Well, it seems like as part of season 3, NBC just sort of stepped back and said, “you guys do whatever you want and we’ll see what kind of response we get!”
VS: Well, I don’t know about that! It may seem like that-I don’t know if NBC or Warner Bros would ever say ‘do what you want’, but yeah, it seems like that there are certain people who are fully believing in the show a little bit more… and putting it on… as schedules and networks revamp their schedules, Chuck seems to be a part of the fabric of the landscape at this point, so hopefully it will continue for 14 or 15 more years…
PCZ: Oh that’d be wonderful! We’ll be there…
VS: Yeah, 14 or 15.. oh great! [laughter]
PCZ: [laughter] Maybe by then, Jeff and Lester will be running for Congress?
VS: I think they’d still be at the Buy More.
PCZ: Well, and leastways, if it wasn’t the network letting you guys do whatever you wanted, it seemed, almost that the uncertainty of whether you would go past season 3 revitalized everybody creatively.
VS: Now why do you say that? That’s an interesting comment… where does your sense get that things were revitalized?
PCZ: My Spidey-Sense was that it just seemed, story-wise, the writers were willing to push things and resolve things, but yet leave things open as opposed to, well, hey we may have a couple years of this, let’s not rush into anything.
VS: I guess, (that’s an interesting observation with your Spidey-Sense there) I guess what I’ve always felt is that there’s been a kind of general ambition and boldness in the writing that has just continued. I think what I’ve always admired about the writers is that they have their hand on the heart of Chuck and they want to push things forward. They’re not afraid of resolving things and pushing of that. And they’re not afraid of leaving things open and allowing that mystery to exist. Yeah, I think you’re right, I think that what was felt, maybe between season 3 and season 4, was perhaps, and y’know I’m merely an actor in the game, a kind of like “ok, here we go, let’s just move forward – NBC has said yes, Warner Bros said yes” so we’re moving forward without so much of the angst that we had between the previous seasons of whether we were gonna come back or not. And maybe that’s what you’re observing as a kind of liberation of that angst.
PCZ: Season 3 of any given show seems to be sort of the slump year.
PCZ: You know, can we get past this year?
PCZ: Chuck did not feel like that. I mean, it felt like this is the show we’ve been kind of leading up to the last two years.
VS: Ah, okay. I see what you’re saying. So you felt that season 3 was actually quite a great season, despite the fact that there was that angst or what have you?
PCZ: Right, and like I said, that seems to be the year that shows get comfortable and almost stuck in a rut, but you guys progressed and improved and it was your best season yet!
VS: I think you’re right, and I think we’re just beginning to write them. I think that there’s a great ability on all of our parts, or all of the powers that be on Chuck to block out the noise, and to tell the story, and not relent from that. To absolutely push it forward and allow it to get dark, allow it to get emotional, allow it to be zany. [The writers are] tireless, they believe in their story so strongly, and their mythology and in that world, that you’re right. There’s always a kind of fresh-faced excitement at going in to the work.
PCZ: And now obviously, the season 3 finale had many great moments, many huge moments…
PCZ: …but let’s be honest, the biggest moment had to have been the Blaze of Glory video.
VS: Well, let’s be honest, shall we?
VS: Yes, in certain peoples’ worlds, that was the biggest moment of the season finale. Y’know, what can I say about that horror show that you brought up?? I feel at this point, with playing Lester, I get to explore things that I never thought that I would explore in my acting world. Making an insane video for a Young Guns II soundtrack song by Jon Bon Jovi was not something that I imagined myself doing, but yeah, man. I mean from the last time that we chitchatted he was just getting his feet wet as the front man for Jeffster at that point.
VS: I think that last season, yeah, I put on Lester’s shoes, laced myself up and headed onto set and into the recording studio. Basically, the season felt to me about living the character through this strange series of musical trials, for lack of a better word. Oh, you can do a folk song, can you do old school rock? Ok, you can do old school rock, can you do a rock ballad? Ok, now can you do a video? What happens when Jeffster puts on a video? And on and on it went. Actually, I felt Lester gained confidence through this process. He was still treading water professionally at the Buy More but he has this other life now and a challenge that he kind of really rises to, in his own warped, insane, violent, at times, way. I know that I actually feel differently playing him, having done that. That’s something that he has that no one can take away from him. And it culminated in that… what would be the descriptive word that you would use to talk about Blaze of Glory video?
PCZ: Oh, wow, so many words come to mind. I mean almost just beautifully and perfectly cha- horrible! [laughs]
VS: Yes, absolutely! [laughs] You’re right! And you were right in that word you almost said, Chaos! It was pure-let’s mix all of this paint together and just throw it at the wall and not cut anything out! And that’s what we get when we have those two put together a music video.
PCZ: And you know at some point, somebody (if they haven’t already) is gonna compile a discography or playlist of Jeffster and analyze the characters through the songs they’ve chosen.
VS: Well, first of all, that would damage that person for a long, long time to go into that exploration. But, yeah, that would be an interesting thing to put together. I mean, I do, as you know, take the character very seriously, and where his point of view is very, very seriously. And each time there was a different kind of song, I would sort of adjust his internal world as to what he’s going through in that moment.
PCZ: Well, it’s interesting you say that, because it would be so easy to make Lester almost a caricature, but the fact that you play him and take him so seriously is what makes him even funnier.
VS: Oh, well, I really appreciate you saying that. That means a lot to me, because I don’t, for better or for worse, I don’t think of him as a joke. As an actor the job is Empathy and Curiosity, right? It’s just about being able to step into someone else’s shoes and then personalize it, and kind of understand that person’s point of view. Sure, objectively, I look at his behavior and shudder and run away from and cannot believe it, but I think that for Lester, this bluster, this arrogance, this bravado is covering up for a delicate, broken, busted-up, breakable heart. He’s lashing out at a world that he sees as hating him. And so I need to kind of just get in that subjective stream and, as I’ve said to you before, and work from that.
PCZ: Well, there’s little insights amongst his perverse zaniness, occasionally, like he’s very passionate about his faith and being Jewish and he depends on that. It’s not something that you’d expect from him.
VS: Yeah, yeah! It’s not something that you’d expect, I like that a lot, too. He’s obviously of two different ethnicities and his mother, I feel, was Jewish and that’s kind of been put in a little bit. I play Lester a lot of the time in a relationship to his mother. That’s who I think he has a very strong relationship with, which I think is where a lot of that broken, busted up insides of his comes from. There’s a very bizarre lack of relationship perhaps, and I think that’s what thrusts him to his faith and what he believes in. He’s trying to prove himself to his mother, perhaps.
PCZ: The other big event in the finale-Jeff and Lester constantly plan and have all these ideas that they fail to do anything about really, so you guys finally get to live a big dream of blowing up the Buy More without actually doing it!
VS: Right, right, right! Well, as far as they’re concerned, they did it without knowing they did it. There was a third kind of divine intervention that came in, and through their will, allowed it to happen! So yeah, the rest of the story, as we go between seasons and into the opening of season 4 is perhaps their response to all of that.
PCZ: I think a big fear of a lot of viewers was that this seemed to be possibly the way to write Jeff and Lester out of the show, but I take it that’s not the case?
VS: Well, I hope I’m not betraying the writers by saying that’s not the case, we’re still in the show. We’re back. In what capacity is the big question. The where… what will happen.. how will everything.. if everything…that’s the big questions. But it’s interesting, for me again, even between seasons as we were wondering if we were going to come back, I was thinking about this and where will Lester go now? The Buy More is literally, in their minds, up in smoke. And it’s a kind of cool cross roads. The mother ship, the motherland is gone, they’re sent out into the wild world as these suspected arsonists on the lam and the word I like to use is that their own kind of strange diaspora. They have no place to punch a time card, their homeland is gone, and y’know with the webisodes we kind of explored that dislocated time. And I think it was a cool opportunity to tell part of the story that, in its own way, we wouldn’t necessarily have time for in a full episode. So, yeah, I think the diaspora is where-in what feral qualities will be growing now in Lester. I think that’s my job, to kind of plant that madness in.
PCZ: I sort of picture them on this madcap cross-country trip of playing these sporadic shows in Holiday Inns or something like that, just for money or something.
VS: Yeah, oh yeah! No, it would be the absolute low end of the low end. Y’know, meeting the stray cat women and meeting in all these strange bars, and low end hotel bars, and then living together in this van, which, my god… all I can say is my god!
PCZ: That’s almost a missed opportunity for a mini-series or spin-off series, right there I think.
VS: Yeah, exactly, let’s hope it’s not missed yet. There’s still the possibility that that could occur maybe in 14, 15 years, as we say, after Chuck ends!
PCZ: Yes, there we go! [laughter] You may obviously already know the answer to this question, but does this experience of being on the lam and being an accused arsonist going to change Lester any? Or make him grow up any?
VS: Well, change and grow up are two different questions! I do know the answer to that to a certain degree, but I’ll answer it this way in terms of not wanting to reveal anything. I took it as my responsibility as an actor to make sure there is some kind of a journey for him, that there is a kind of growth from season to season as to where he’s going. This season is no different, but there are different plot elements. I think that living with Jeff on the road, on the lam, it can’t help but change a person. Deeply and forever. So as I said, those kind of wild animal, feral qualities, are something that I would always want to bring now into whatever happens to Lester, as we go into the fourth season. It’s just my crazy way, as it were.
PCZ: For the fortunate few that have seen perhaps the first episode, or perhaps the first few episodes of season 4, and I’m assuming that’s network and some of the bigger press people, what sort of responses have you guys gotten back so far?
VS: It’s pretty incredibly positive across the board. It’s been met, from what I’ve heard, with quite a bit of giddy excitement. This is the season that I think in the grander scheme of the show, is about Chuck and his mother, right? That can’t help but have a very particular heartbeat to it. I’ve read the first few episodes and people have seen it, and it’s playing pretty beautifully. I think it bodes well for the future of Chuck. I think, like you said, the quality seems to be getting better and better. They’ve found their rhythm, they’ve found their storytelling, and it’s exactly the right time for that kind of thing to happen. I think the networks and the studios are responding to that very, very positively.
PCZ: Now, if I was a betting man, could I put any money down on a Jeffster performance in the first few episodes of the season?
VS: Well, listen, that is something that I cannot, and should not, and would not, and may not reveal. That’s beginning to get into revealing the plot and I can’t do that. But we’ll see! We’ll see what happens! We can only see!
PCZ: I understand, the snipers have you in their sights right now as we speak!
VS: Yeah, they’re watching me right now. They’re in front of me in fact, please… call the police.
PCZ: Well, fantastic, that’s all I have for now, I’m very excited for season 4. Glad you will continue on the show, and I’m looking for the next epic Jeffster song!
VS: Awesome man. I appreciate that! And listen, it’s been too long since we talked, so call more often man.
PCZ: Yeah, absolutely, we’ll talk as the season progresses, and see how Jeff and Lester are doing!
VS: Okay, for sure.. take it easy.
Thank you once again to Vik Sahay for his time. Chuck returns on Monday, September 20th at 8:00 PM on NBC!