Vik Sahay is a native of Ottawa, Canada and landed his first acting role on You Can’t Do That on Television. Since then he has appeared in a couple of TV series and several films. In 2007 he appeared in the role of Lester Patel in the NBC series Chuck, a character that has skyrocketed in popularity since the show’s pilot. I talked to Vik in November about the show’s return for its third season, the character he plays and a few other things.
PCZ: How far along are you guys on shooting the season?
Vik Sahay: We’re on episode ten. When we got picked up for our back six we were closing in on the thirteenth episode. It’s an incredibly sweet moment.
PCZ: Does it feel at all odd that you’re so far into shooting yet nothing has aired yet to get any kind of feedback on?
VS: It feels odd, I suppose, to some people. There’s a part of me, just because of the way I’m built, that enjoys just being able to concentrate on the work, putting that in the can and then putting it on rather than it happening simultaneously. I’m not good at watching myself at all, I try to stay away from any of that. Not being self-conscious about that at all and working in a kind of bubble, of sorts, for me has been nice personally.
PCZ: Bearing that in mind, have you been able to watch any of the first few finished episodes of season three?
VS: No. The only time I see what I do is when I have to go in and do ADR (Automated Dialogue Replacement) or re-dub something. I don’t think I’ve seen a complete episode of Chuck yet. I watch it at home by myself and fast-forward through my scenes. So…no, the answer to your question is no.
PCZ: I’ve promised my readers I would ask if there are any new hits we will see Jeffster perform this year.
VS: (laughs) Well, you know, I’m not really allowed on any level to reveal much about season three, but, suffice it to say, I’m doing my musical scales.
PCZ: It’s not too much to reveal that the Buy More is back if all of you guys are back.
VS: Yeah. I hope I’m not breaking “the code,” but, yeah, the Buy More itself is back for sure.
PCZ: Along those lines, have you ever gotten any feedback from anyone like, “Dude, I work with Lester!”
VS: Sometimes I do and obviously that’s a real tragic moment for that person. When I started working on Lester I did my Buy More equivalent research and Lester is based on… kind of an amalgam, but definitely on a guy I met in Toronto in a Buy More/Best Buy type place who was just a jackass. I was like, “There’s the guy!” So, they are out there, sadly.
PCZ: So, going back to the beginning, what did you think when you first read for the role of Lester?
VS: Well, I didn’t read for the role of Lester. I read for the role of Morgan, to be honest with you. I did the whole audition process and it came down to me and Josh [Gomez] and I think he got it. (laughs) No, he obviously got it and I was howling at the moon and weeping in the horror-shock of upsetedness when they called a couple of days later and offered me Lester. I didn’t know who that was, [the character] was one little sentence in the pilot and I was like, “I don’t want to do that” because I was so upset. Luckily my manager stepped in and said, “Who are you to say no to anything?” So, I had such an incredible experience shooting the pilot. I began improvising and ad-libbing and having fun working off of Scott [Krinsky] and Zach [Levi] and Josh. It was nearly three days. I was living full time in Toronto still and I flew back, I had no idea what was going to happen.
Then I heard the show got picked up and they called and asked me to fly down to LA and do the first episode. That’s when I began my insane, obsessive-compulsive research, like I said, and figured out who this guy was going to be. Then they said, “Ok, you’re going to be in the next one, the next three, the next four…” and I was staying in a motel learning about my future inch by inch. Then we did thirteen and the writer’s strike happened and when we went into our second season they put me under contract.
PCZ: What were your initial thoughts when you found out that you were eventually going to have to sing?
VS: Oh, man. I have to sing? Just a free-fall off the cliff horror show! I’m obviously not a singer, I suppose I’ve sung in groups when I was doing theater. That being said, I thought it was one of the most inspired choices that the writers made for these two people to want to be wannabe rock stars. It’s insane and out of left-field, yet such a perfect choice for Lester and Jeff to have a band…for the love of god.
PCZ: When you record that, do you do the singing separately or are you belting it out there on stage?
VS: It’s both, it’s both. I go into the studio and record it and what I try to do is literally sing it and record it once so that it sounds as live as possible. On set you’re doing so many takes they’ll have a backup track, but I’m also belting it out and I think that’s the one that gets used. Sometimes.
PCZ: I know Jeff and Lester have the ambition to be a major rock band, but do you think they’d ever really leave the Buy More?
VS: No, I think the thing about Lester in particular, and perhaps Jeff too, Lester is a guy who fancies himself a superstar, fancies himself a rock star, he sees himself as some kind of champion of the world and yet absolutely does not have the nervous system to back it up. Anytime he’s put in any kind of position where he can be the authority, like when he was the assistant manager or certainly singing for the first time as Jeffster, he plummets, he fails. He just cannot handle it. So I think there’s a big divide between what they want, what they think they should have and what he’s capable of doing.
PCZ: So, Jeff got his moment to sort of be drawn into the spy world with the Missile Command episode. Do you think there will ever be a moment like that for Lester?
VS: I don’t know. I would love for that to happen. I obviously love exploring this guy and what he would do with that if he was aware of it or what would happen to him in that kind of environment. At this stage in the game, I’m not sure. Right now he lives in his own bubble of a universe. Even at the Buy More he’s in his own thing, so I think we keep chipping at that and maybe some how on the other end it will connect to the spy world.
PCZ: Is there any hope that we will see any sort of life for Lester outside of the Buy More?
VS: Well, you know, I think that is just some kind of weird kaleidoscope of horror out there that would have to be constructed very carefully and methodically. I hope so. It’s a funny thing working on a TV series, you’re fed information like droplets from an IV. There’s been little hints about his mom and this and that as to who he is outside of work and I think if that’s ever exposed that would just be a brand new universe of terror and insanity.
PCZ: You must know by now that Lester and Jeff are in danger of eclipsing the title character in popularity on the show.
VS: No, that can’t be true.
PCZ: I don’t know, your performance at Comic-Con…
VS: That was a very, very, very special moment. Well, you know what? Again, because I’m so afraid of myself I don’t go online much and look that stuff up and, like I said, I don’t even watch full episodes. If that’s even remotely one millionth close to being accurate that’s stunning and beyond flattering…and kind of sad because Lester’s not a good guy! So, those that like him, that’s saying something about them perhaps.
PCZ: So, do you think Lester would be even willing to sell out Jeff if he thought it would get him ahead in the world?
VS: Oh, it’s so sad. I think he’s so desperate and afraid and needy that there would be a moment where he would put Jeff down the river to have some kind of glory for himself. It’s horrible and it hurts me to say, because Jeff has been nothing but utterly benevolent towards Lester. He’s stepped in and saved him and said good things about him and Lester needs that so badly from Jeff, but if the tables got turned I think that there would be a knife in the back of Jeff, sadly.
PCZ: That’s sad to hear!
VS: I know it is. I’d like to think maybe Lester would then also take him to the hospital to have that knife wound repaired.
PCZ: Or at least drive by and dump him out in front of the ER.
VS: Yeah, and be like, “Listen, man, I’ll be at the bar. Let me know when you’re done. And hurry it up.”
PCZ: Ok, since you don’t watch yourself in the finished product, what kind of criteria do you use to judge whether or not something worked as far as the humor or the jokes?
VS: Well, I guess it’s my sense of the music of the scene. I guess comedy is about rhythm and about timing and about music and so you kind of have an internal feel for that stuff, I think. And I’ve built a kind of backstory and world of who Lester is, so I feel like as long as I can get as subjective as possible in that kind of universe and that viewpoint of what he wants in every scene then I’m being true to it. I also rely on the outside eye of the director and the writers and producers to give me any feedback if they like something’s not working or what have you. So far, so good I guess!
PCZ: Any ambitions on your part to do any writing or directing?
VS: I know so many phenomenal writers and directors that I almost feel like it’s ridiculous for me to say I could do any of that. There is a desire towards a certain level of autonomy in the business, creating your own stuff that I think a lot of actors want. As an actor you are sort of at the mercy of others and it would be nice to get to the position where I can write and maybe direct and create. Certainly maybe produce, in the sense of being like a shepherd and bringing together writers and directors to create something in which I can act. A curator of sorts, I suppose, of great talent.
PCZ: Along those lines, do you give any input as far as Lester or do you just trust the graces of the writers?
VS: Well, those are two different questions. Trust them? Uh, no! Input? No. I’m kidding, of course I trust them! Input, to a degree. I have on certain occasions gone, “Y’know, wouldn’t Lester…”, but I haven’t gone so far as to suggest storylines or full-on ideas. In the moment I might go, “I feel like if this happened, Lester would actually lean this way on this or feel this way about this.” And they are good about taking that and going with it. At this point I just take it as it comes and then do my little improvs and ad-libs and fill it out, put my blood into it as much as I can and leap.
PCZ: It just occurred to me that as revenge for making you sing you could always go back and suggest an all musical episode of Chuck.
VS: (laughs) Yeah, exactly! The sad thing about that is then everybody would be phenomenal. The really talented singers on our cast would get exposed and Lester would be left in the dust. So, I’m actually not going to suggest that.
PCZ: Fair enough! Between seasons was there a chance for you to work on any other projects?
VS: Well, it was tough because we weren’t sure for so long when we were coming back or what was going to happen and so there are a couple of things that have gone into development that haven’t finished filming or have been put on hold. There’s a play in New York. There’s this independent film that I have begun development on. There’s this writer/director in Toronto, she’s written this project for her and I, actually that we were going to shoot, but then I came back early. So there are a few things that are coming up, nothing I’m going to officially name just for superstition reasons. There are things that are brewing.
PCZ: And in a an ideal scenario, if Chuck comes back for a season four you’d definitely be in?
VS: Oh yeah! I mean, look, I said this before, you cast your net wide as an actor starting out, especially in LA and you’re kind of willing to do anything. For Chuck to be a show that has come in for me to get me going, it’s a real blessing. I thoroughly enjoy doing it to a really, really deep level. I love the character, I love playing Lester and so, yeah, absolutely, I’m on board, man!
PCZ: Excellent! So, lastly, any chance there might be a Jeffster CD in the future?
VS: (laughs) Does anybody actually really want that? I mean, it would sell hugely within my family, but outside of that I can’t…I mean, it’s just so out there an idea…look, I’ll tell you this, as terrifying as having to sing for Jeffster was and is, it is something I’m more and more getting a hilarious joy out of so, if for some bizarre reason, somebody said let’s do an album I’d be like, “You know, I’m putting this blindfold on and I’m jumping off this cliff.”
PCZ: I really do think it would be huge, oddly enough.
VS: Well, you said it, “oddly enough.”
PCZ: On that note, that is all I have for you. Thank you very much for your time.
VS: Absolutely my pleasure, man!
Thank you very much to Vik Sahay for taking the tie to speak to me. Catch the two episode season premiere of ‘Chuck’ on Sunday, January 10th at 9:00 PM, followed by another episode Monday, January 10th in its regular time of 9:00 PM.