Supposedly, football player-turned-model-turned actor Ryan McPartlin is just Captain Awesome on the comic spy series, Chuck. But talking to him it doesn't take long to see the similarities. Both downplay their talents, both have a good sense of humor about themselves- and both display washboard abs. TV.com spoke to McPartlin about working on Chuck, developing rapport with his co-stars (especially with his now-wife), and helping transform Captain Awesome from background character to would-be spy.
What was your reaction when you first found out that Devon was going to be in on Chuck's secret?
I read it in a script. Nobody really told me about it, because they were afraid I was going to spill the secret in interviews. So when I found out, I was excited and nervous. I knew that the audience was waiting to see one of the people from Chuck's home life or work life find out who he was. And I knew that if I didn't pull it off, it wasn't going to be that big of an ending. And Season 3 was still kind of on the line, so everybody had to buy into the next part of the rollercoaster ride.
Without giving too much away, how much does Devon know about Chuck's world? Will we be seeing more of that as the season progresses?
It's no secret that Captain Awesome gets into the spy world ... and thinks that, without years of training and hard work, that he can just jump in and take it on. And I love that I kind of go over Chuck's head a little bit. It's going to be great.
Devon has obviously developed a lot over the past two seasons. What was your approach to playing him back when he was just Captain Awesome? We didn't know much about him, except that he seemed to be the perfect boyfriend.
My approach was, I called my agent and said, "I don't think this character's going to be around long. [laughs] You better get me another job." I worked hard and I tried to deliver the funny as much as possible in the first few episodes of the series. I had a lot of fun, I could relate to the character. I based him a little bit off of a friend of mine, who literally is Captain Awesome. He wants to be the best at everything, so he'll drink all night and then wake up at 5:30am to train for Iron Man.
Before you were an actor, you played football and modeled. How did you transition to acting?
When I decided to get out of football and become an actor, I hit the treadmill and lost a lot of weight, because I didn't want to play the bouncer or the beefcake. I went from about 250 to about 190. I thought maybe I'd pay some bills by doing some modeling. My brother had done local modeling in Chicago, so I had some photos taken. And I got the Abercrombie and Fitch campaign, and worked with Bruce Weber and a few other photographers, and I just found it to be a world that I didn't fully understand or appreciate.
It was a little bit like Zoolander, where these guys would just be talking about their diets and how they keep the weight off and how they keep their six-pack. And I was like, 'I just want to be around some funny people and do some comedy.' I just never really took myself that seriously, so I gave up modeling completely. I started waiting tables, actually, and it was great for me. I got to develop more personality by waiting tables than you do as a model.
It's interesting that you mentioned not relating to this kind-of-shallow world. Captain Awesome is obviously very talented and good looking, but he's also kind of humble and has a sense of humor. Was it important to you to get that across?
I'm not gonna pat myself on the back, but I don't think [the writers] fully knew what they were gonna do with the Captain Awesome character until I played it. Filming the first couple of episodes, I asked the question, 'Hey, do I know that I'm being called Captain Awesome, or is that something that's behind my back?' And nobody really had a straight answer for me. So I go, 'You know what, I'm just gonna assume that I know I'm being called Captain Awesome. I'm gonna take it as a compliment, but it's kind of a joke that I'm in on.' However, I don't think he's self-aware that his abs are perfect or anything. I think he just innocently and humbly wants to be the best at everything he does, and doesn't give much thought to how he looks.
So do you have any creative control over Devon, or is it more about the choices you make as an actor?
I had some freedom because he was pretty small. They were focused on establishing how Chuck [interacted] with Agent Walker and Agent Casey, and those relationships, so the rest of us kind of got to have some fun. That's why, halfway through Season 2, the writers started noticing the fun the supporting cast was having and tapped into it. And I think the audience ate it up.
Speaking of your co-stars, you're now happily married to Ellie on the show. How did you develop the rapport with Sarah Lancaster that gives you guys such great chemistry?
Sarah and I are totally different personalities. I'm more like Captain Awesome, where I'll come in and be like, 'Hey, how you doin' today? Can I get you a cup of coffee? What's going on? Do you want something to read? You want the paper?' And she's more of an introvert. She likes to read her book, she likes to read The New Yorker, while I'm reading, like, tabloid magazines.
I liked her from the get-go, but I think it took Sarah a little time to warm up to me. I think somewhere in the second season she came to appreciate the fact that I was always looking to make her day a little brighter. [laughs]
Which episodes have been your favorites so far?
I really enjoyed, obviously, "Chuck vs. Operation Awesome." Those two episodes, working with Armand Assante and then Angie Harmon, were just so much fun. But you know, you can't take away from the tango episode. The wedding episode I thought was really solid. "Chuck Versus The Ring" was great. The fact that we have so many great guest stars, from Chevy Chase to Stone Cold Steve Austin and Angie Harmon, it's just unbelievable how many people want to do our show and come on.
Have there been any guest stars you were particularly excited to meet?
I was really excited to meet Chevy Chase. Sometimes you don't want to meet the people you look up to in this business because then you're disappointed. But he's a good dude. Angie Harmon was cool. We hit it off really well. Stone Cold Steve Austin, we got to talking about Ford Broncos. He drove one up on the set. I used to drive one in college. Man, those were the days—I used to drive around in a Ford Bronco and look cool. Now I'm just worried about gas mileage living in LA, so I drive a hybrid, of course. I don't think Stone Cold thought that was cool.
Chuck returns for Season 3 on Sunday, January 10 at 9pm on NBC before moving into its regular time slot on Mondays at 8pm.
Follow TV.com writer Louis Peitzman on Twitter: @LouisAtTVDotCom