Heroes Extra: WGA Strike

It’s Tuesday. It’s my lunch break. I’m taking the subway from my office to Universal Studios, where the Heroes staff writers are picketing as part of the WGA strike. A bunch of the cast members are scheduled to show up at noon, a fact which is not lost on me. I haven’t picketed anywhere yet, and it’s high time I did: I think the writers deserve a fair break and a better contract, and I think the AMPTP (Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers) has been, for lack of a better term, buttheady in their dealings with them thus far (the low point being the way they tossed around ultimatums and stormed out of negotiations over the weekend). I’m out of the industry at the present, but I have my degree in screenwriting from USC’s film school, and I’ve worked extensively in television. These are my people by proxy. They have my full support. I also want to see pretty actors.

My goals for today are twofold:

1. Show my solidarity with the WGA.
2. See if Sendhil Ramamurthy is really that beautiful in person.

One of these goals might be somewhat more self-serving than the other.

The protest is held at the base of Universal City Drive, the long path leading up to the theme park and, yuck, CityWalk (I don’t believe CityWalk has officially adopted "Where Fun Goes To Die!" as its slogan, but I’m sure it’s under consideration). I sign in, collect a picket sign from a hot guy named Seamus, and join the picketers, who are gathered in two rough bunches on either side of the drive.

I immediately spot Greg Grunberg. I fall somewhere in the range between introverted and pathologically shy, and I tend to bomb at small talk. I couldn’t network my way out of a kindergarten class. Greg, however, seems eminently approachable, so I take the plunge and introduce myself. He’s friendly, outgoing, and comfortable to be around. Like most of the actors, he seems like he would be a whole lot of fun to go drinking with.

My second, shallower goal is accomplished in a flash when Sendhil Ramamurthy and Dania Ramirez arrive together, looking like an improbably beautiful pair of gazelles, all legs and great bone structure. Sendhil is resplendent in a blinding white shirt and awful pea green sneakers; Dania teeters in tall boots. The light turns against them as they try to cross the extra-wide drive, and they end up sprinting for their lives across the intersection, hair flying in all directions. Traffic stops for them. No surprise there.

Dania is smart, down-to-earth, and a lot of fun to be around when she isn’t weeping inky tears. We kill a few minutes joyously crabbing about how the AMPTP is being totally unreasonable while I mentally revise my opinion of this season: due to the awesomeness of Dania, Maya is now one of my favorite characters, Black Eye Goo of Death notwithstanding.

In his blinding white shirt, it’s easy to monitor Sendhil’s progress as he streaks like a comet through the assembled crowd. I fall into his orbit and approach him. Like so many actors, he’s built on about three-fourths the scale of a normal human being, without an unnecessary ounce of flesh anywhere on him. He seems to be sculpted entirely of spun sugar; when I shake his hand, I’m thankful it doesn’t break off in mine. He’s lovely and gracious. He makes some remark about the good turnout. The turnout, thus far, is not good – it’s surprising not more people are here – and I can’t tell if he’s being polite or brilliantly deadpan. I could stare at his smile forever. And yet, I can’t. I meet, I greet, I move on.

A mystery is solved: you know on Heroes how Mohinder appears tiny next to Matt and Sylar, and yet Monica appears tiny next to Mohinder? It’s not an optical illusion: Dana Davis is built along the general diminutive lines of an Olympic gymnast. She’s also every bit as cute and bubbly as she is when she’s playing Monica.

More people arrive. The crowd fills out. Greg Grunberg accidentally backs into me and gives me a quick hug in apology. I highly recommend colliding with Greg at any possible opportunity. He’s fun to hug.

Cristine Rose is a hoot. She’s as awesome as her onscreen alter ego Angela Petrelli, only not nearly as terrifying.

Jack Coleman: Unexpectedly tall. Unexpectedly handsome, too, clad in an Army jacket and jeans and minus Mr. Bennet’s trademark horn-rimmed glasses. He’s whip-smart and funny; I make a mental note to invite him to every dinner party I ever throw from now until the end of time. We engage in what I’m pretty sure is the world’s most insightful and meaningful conversation about the strike. As soon as I move on, I can’t remember a blasted thing that was said. I realize I’m developing a crush on Jack Coleman, which disturbs me to no end, because I’ve spent most of the past season thinking Mr. Bennet is pretty much a dick.

Ali Larter arrives in a flurry of happy chaos. She passes out holiday cookies, then wins my heart forever by diving into a box of Sees candy. There are few happier sights than a tiny blonde bombshell chowing down on chocolates. If she bears the writing staff any ill will for sticking Niki in a scant handful of episodes this season before giving her a (presumed) fiery death in the finale, she sure doesn’t show it.

I chat with the writers and various strike supporters. There’s a lot of frustration toward the attitude of the AMPTP, and a great deal of enthusiasm for continuing the strike as long as it takes until progress is made. I introduce myself to producer-director Greg Beeman, who used to work over on Smallville before he defected to Heroes. Beeman keeps a lively and informative behind-the-scenes blog about Heroes. He’s also a kick on DVD commentaries. Of the staff members I meet, he’s my favorite.

Masi Oka arrives late. Unlike the rest of the cast, who are gregarious to the point of hyperactivity, he seems a little subdued, though he’s polite and friendly: he introduces himself and makes a point of getting my name right.

The actors pass out T-shirts and comic books. Dania approaches me and holds out a comic. She frowns: "You don’t want one of these, do you?" I kind of love Dania.

The crowd grows. Everyone’s getting their comic books signed or posing for photos with the actors. I don’t want autographs or photos, so I pick up my picket sign and wave it at the passing cars for a while. It is, after all, still a strike, albeit a strangely glamorous one.

Show creator Tim Kring gives a quick speech. The actors are corralled together and forced to sing Christmas carols with the lyrics changed to pro-WGA jargon. Sendhil and Greg mysteriously vanish into the crowd while this takes place. Sendhil and Greg are the smart ones.

Sendhil takes off at the stroke of one o’clock. The last I see of him, he’s booking it madly across Lankershim Boulevard, as though he’s late for a terribly important appointment. If he leaves his glass slipper behind on the palace steps, I don’t find it.

I’m mangling my metaphors. He’s a gazelle, he’s a comet, he’s Cinderella. Take your pick.

I stick around for a bit longer. There’s marching and chanting. It’s still going strong – in fact, it might be building up speed -- but my lunch break ended, oh, an hour ago, and I have a desk job to return to. I catch the subway back to work.

You know what? The Heroes actors are a mighty nice bunch of people, all of them. They’re charming and unspoiled, smart and funny, charismatic and engaging. They don’t have a chance of staying that way: the longer the show goes on, the more publicity they get, the more their private lives are exposed and dissected, the more likely they are to develop thick protective shells, to view events like this as a job obligation, not a fun way to spend a Tuesday afternoon. And that makes me sad, because they’ve got something special here in the way they seem to genuinely enjoy their work and each other’s company.

Here’s hoping they make it last.


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