I grabbed some coffee today at the Renaissance Hotel bar in Midtown with actor Vik Sahay, who plays angry Buy More employee Lester Patel on NBC’s cult show “Chuck,” which is set to end its five-year run this fall with 13 episodes.
Sahay is going to be Stiffler’s boss in the upcoming “American Pie” sequel “American Reunion,” shot here in Atlanta and scheduled for theaters in the summer of 2012.
“This is an important movie for a lot of the actors,” Sahay said over coffee. “But the atmosphere is really loose and relaxed.” Although he was not there in 1999 for the original movie, he said he felt welcomed by the likes of former Atlantan Alyson Hannigan, Jason Biggs and Chris Klein.
As Lester on “Chuck,” Sahay typically only gets a minute or two of airtime each episode, usually as comic relief with his workmate Jeff Barnes (played by Scott Krinsky.) While all this espionage and spy stuff goes on around them, they remain blissfully unaware of Chuck and John Casey’s actual professions.
To make matters worse, Lester hates Chuck (Zachary Levi) with a passion, partly because Chuck has a hot girlfriend (the fetching fellow spy Sarah) and doesn’t understand Chuck’s charms. “He feels he should have that life,” Sahay said. He is also enraged that Chuck seems to get away with being out of the Buy More for extended periods of time with no ramifications. (That’s TV for ya.)
“Chuck” is pure escapist fun with appealing leads but has never developed a particularly large viewership. It draws about seven million viewers a week if you count DVR users. But its fervent fans have kept the show alive far longer than most shows of similar ilk.
“I’ve never been part of something that has such a will to survive on a Darwinian level,” Sahay said. “The heart of it is the fans. “They carry this up Mount Everest year after year. They got us to five seasons.”
The “Chuck” writers now know the end is coming so they can close it out clearly, which is always preferable to getting axed in the middle of a great storyline, which happens frequently on dramas.
Given that Sahay has a lot of time to think about Lester, he keeps a notebook packed with his back story, much of which we may never see on TV. He rationalizes that Lester is so self-involved, he can be blind to the spy-related shenanigans going around him. “He’s not clueless,” Sahay said. “He is unaware of anything going on that doesn’t involve him. He lives in a bubble.”
His outward arrogance is a cover for inner rage. “He hurts before he can be hurt,” Sahay said. “He has no ballast.” So even though he has some desire to move up the Buy More administrative chain, his nasty persona keeps him stuck in his current job – at least until the show ends. Sahay does feel bad, though, when Lester lashes out at Jeff, his good friend, simply because Jeff will take it. “I tell the writers to once in awhile have Lester be protective of Jeff and they’ve done that a few times,” he said.
Does he think Lester will ever learn the truth behind Chuck’s secret life and Buy More’s inner spy sanctum? Sahay isn’t sure.
Already, the writers threw fans a curve in the season finale last month by giving Chuck’s best friend Morgan (Joshua Gomez) the “intersect.” The fact you’re reading this means you probably know that’s the CIA-fed mental brainpower originally given to Chuck that not only enables him to know all the world’s bad guys but also instantly do karate and other necessary fighting methods when need be.
By Rodney Ho, firstname.lastname@example.org, AJCRadioTV blog