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Feature: Heroes

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Starburst catches up with cheerleader star Hayden Panettiere to discuss the show’s first year and its future…

It was the catchphrase that defined Heroes’s first season: “Save the cheerleader, save the world.” As soon as Future Hiro gave the instruction to Peter Petrelli on a Time-frozen subway train, the line became forever identified with the series. For the cheerleader herself, actress Hayden Panettiere, it was just another line from the script.

“I was surprised,” she said. “I was completely taken aback. I had no idea. It was flattering, it was very cool, it was a catchphrase and it involved a lot of people.”

Considering that her superpower is self-healing, it seems odd that cheerleader Claire even needs saving. But when Sylar is after you, there’s no telling what can happen.

“It didn’t really cross my mind until the episode where Sylar comes to the school. I have a scene with Thomas Dekker who plays Zach and he says, ‘You know, you could have died’. And I say, ‘I know’. I started thinking about what happens, how long it really takes before she can’t regenerate any more. Like if they hadn’t pulled the stick out of her head, how long would she have survived before she was unable to heal? You realize that the source of their powers come from their brain, so by Sylar taking their brain, that’s literally taking my power and so I do have the ability to die.”

Those injuries can be pretty graphic: just take the ending of episode three, when Claire is lying carved open on the autopsy table. It’s all in a day’s work for Panettiere.

“It’s not that bad. It can be distracting because you’re usually concentrating on trying to pop something back in or wipe something back off or put something back together. But usually what the scene revolves around, it’s quick and relatively easy for the most part.”

Even the shocking morgue scene – in which Claire was revealed awake, with her chest cut wide open – didn’t phase the teenager. “No, I’m used to it now. It was pretty gross but I’m used to it.”

Those violent situations allow Panettiere to perform many of her own stunts, at least the ones that insurance will allow. She enjoys getting into the rough and tumble. “Both my parents played a lot of sports. I played a lot of sports, when I was younger. I think the whole racing zebras, figure skating, and all that stuff paid off, in that case.”

Panettiere has already experienced what it means to be part of a hit. Just doing the press rounds is a far cry from the attention she received before the pilot aired. “I’ve got many recorders in my face. People have more questions. They want more answers. They are more intrigued by it and they know more about it.”

Not that the success was totally unexpected, but taking any kind of credit for it seems weird to her. “I don’t think you ever really expect that success for yourself but I think everyone deserves it. I think the show is incredible and I almost feel like it’s separate from me. I’m a part of it but in and of itself, it’s amazing.”

by Fred Topel

Read much more on the series in
Starburst Special #83

Photo © NBC Universal Television
Feature © Visual Imagination 2007. Not for reproduction

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