Ryan McPartlin is more awesome than you -- literally
When Ryan McPartlin first read for the role of Captain Awesome, the great-at-everything-he-does brother-in-law of the guy who's in the title on "Chuck," he applied something of his Midwestern upbringing to the character, to his benefit. Where other actors read the character as condescending, McPartlin said in a phone interview, he gave the character more of a good-hearted spin.
"I always saw [Chuck] as more of a little brother that I'm trying to help improve his life," said the actor, who features prominently in the episode of "Chuck" airing Monday at 8 p.m. on NBC.
The character was only a recurring guest star in the show's first season, but McPartlin was made a regular in Season 2 and has stepped up in a big way in the third season, which has seen Awesome attempt to deal with the fact that Chuck is a spy and keep that secret from his wife, Chuck's sister Ellie.
In last Monday's episode, Awesome ended the hour confronting an assassin holding a poison syringe, leaving his future somewhat in doubt (unless you watch NBC promos or know the title of next Monday's episode, both of which pretty much give away the character's fate). No matter what happens, though, McPartlin thinks that the story arc has given the character something fun to play.
"I feel like I'm keeping the essence of the first season alive," he said.
Just as Chuck was forced to keep his secret life quiet in that season, only to grow in confidence as the show went on, Awesome finds himself in a similar position.
"Here's a regular guy that gets pulled into the spy world and then has to balance the secret," McPartlin says, though he adds the deception has proved a difficult thing for the stalwart Captain Awesome to handle. "Captain Awesome has never had to lie about anything in his life." He's also been made more vulnerable, "which was not in the character description to begin with."
Despite that, last Monday's episode finally got Awesome involved in some stunts. McPartlin, though, didn't try to do too much in that regard.
"I did a couple tackles with Adam Baldwin and I had to call my chiropractor the next day," he said.
Before he came to Hollywood, McPartlin was a college football player, and since his breakthrough role on "Passions," the actor's starred as everything from Fran Drescher's much younger live-in lover on "Living with Fran" to Betty Draper's late-night fling in the Season 2 finale of "Mad Men."
But in addition to his work as an actor, he's also a board-certified personal trainer, something that's helpful when keeping his body in perfect shape to play Awesome. McPartlin's advice for anyone looking to get in Captain Awesome shape or just lose those pounds from the holidays? Get some good running shoes and download a personal fitness regimen from itrain.com. Still, when it comes to motivation to him to keep in shape, playing someone who's supposed to be absolutely awesome in every way certainly helps.
"It's a good thing I'm playing Captain Awesome because over the holidays, it keeps me in check," he said.
"Chuck," of course, has had its share of problems with low ratings and being on the bubble for renewal, but it's also been a show that's attracted a devoted and hardcore fan base. While McPartlin says he couldn't handle having "Beatlemania type fans," he loves the fans the show does have, saying that because he comes into their homes every week, fans treat him more like a friend than someone they worship.
"I honestly feel like since we come into people's living rooms, they feel like we're family or friends," he said.
McPartlin also likes that the show has attracted a following among families. Though his own kids, 3 and 6 months, don't watch the show ("They see Dad on the TV, and they try to talk to me," he said), he's been approached by plenty of parents near his suburban home who say the watch the show with their teenagers and love it.
"That to me is telling me much more about the success and the longevity we'll have than anything else," he said.
But in the end, it comes back to the character he plays. Playing such an awesome guy has led the actor to do things the best he possibly can.
"I'll try and go the distance, whether it's learning how to cook a certain dish or changing a diaper or potty-training my kid," he said. "The only thing that I would say is that you gotta make sure you don't hold other people up to that standard all the time. ... You compete with yourself, not with others."
--Todd VanDerWerff (follow me on Twitter at @tvoti)
Photo: Ryan McPartlin plays Captain Awesome on "Chuck." (Credit: NBC)