For five seasons on "Chuck,"Chicago native Ryan McPartlin has been awesome—Captain Awesome, that is—as the brother-in-law of computer geek-turned-superspy Chuck Bartowski (Zachary Levi).
McPartlin's rotation as Dr. Devon Woodcomb ends at 7 p.m. Jan. 27 with the two-part series finale of the NBC comedy. The little show that could has become the little show that did, going out as creators Chris Fedak and Josh Schwartz and the cast wanted—with an ending McPartlin says should satisfy a loyal fan base that saved it from cancellation many times since its debut in 2007.
“It's going to be great,” McPartlin, who grew up in Glen Ellyn, told me Wednesday. “Even though fans will be pleased with how it ends, they’ll say, ‘I wish I had more “Chuck.’ ” And that’s how it should be, always leave them wanting more.
“I wish I could sit and watch it with all the fans out there; that would be great.”
The finale focuses on Chuck and his wife/fellow spy Sarah (Yvonne Strahovski), who has lost five years’ worth of memories as a result of dastardly doings by baddie Nicholas Quinn (Angus Macfadyen). But the supporting characters get good screen time as well, McPartlin said, including Awesome and his wife, Ellie (Sarah Lancaster), who have “a big life decision to make.”
McPartlin has been making life decisions since shooting wrapped on the series. He’s signed on for a multi-episode arc on CBS’ “CSI: Miami,” where he’ll play an assistant state’s attorney. He’s also been reading pilot scripts, but is being “selective.”
“We’ve built up some good feelings [with ‘Chuck’] and I don’t want to blow those and do the first thing that comes my way,” he said, laughing. “I’m just trying to change things up a little bit from what Captain Awesome was ... maybe stay away from comedy for a little while.”
Calling the pilot script process a “weird, strange place to be” after five seasons on “Chuck,” he does have his eye on one particular project that could bring him back to his hometown. NBC has ordered a pilot for the drama “Chicago Fire” about a group of Chicago firefighters.
“If it shoots in Chicago, that to me is a no-brainer, knowing guys growing up who were Chicago firefighters who I looked to as these heroes, these gods,” he said. “That pilot to me is a standout ... but you never know what people have in mind for you.”
On Thursday, McPartlin and his “Chuck” friends will get together again for a special screening of the finale at Mann’s Chinese Theater in L.A. It should be less emotional than when filming ended.
“I told my wife ... ‘I’m not going to cry at all,’ ” he said of his final day on set. “I couldn’t keep my [bleep] together.”
I joked with McPartlin that I was going to miss having drinks with the cast at San Diego Comic-Con each year, and he suggested that maybe they should have a reunion there each year. Sounds like a great idea to me. What do you guys think? Below you'll find more from the interview, including his top memories and favorite moments, as well as a few odds and ends, like what he's call the bar he hopes to one day open in Chicago.
TOP 5 “CHUCK” MEMORIES
I asked McPartlin for his top memories, he thought it’d be tough list to make. Then he rattled these off quickly, telling me they are in no particular order.
Walking onstage at Comic Con for the first time
“We sold out the biggest auditorium there every year and just seeing that reception, going, “Oh my God, I had no idea, like we are a hit show in this little world.” It must have been like Apple in the early years when they were being outsold by other computer companies, but the fans who loved them that were at Mac World were going nuts and they go, “We’re like the Beatles here, this is unbelievable.”
Cutting up with Josh Gomez
We were about to go into overtime, which anybody who knows union rules knows its costs the production thousands of dollars. … I wasn’t even on camera. It was Josh’s coverage and I could not stop laughing to the point where I had to turn my back to him and read the lines off the paper. I could not keep a straight face and it was the stupidest thing. He just kept giving himself a milk mustache and saying what a grownup he is as he’s drinking from hot cocoa. He’s like “Yeah, I'm grown up.” He’s talking about how he’s matured in life and then he’s just sitting there with his milk mustache and I just couldn’t keep a straight face.
I did that a lot with him actually. I got the giggles and they just were like “We can’t work you guys together anymore because you’re going to cost us too much money.”
The Adam leaf
Oh man, when the Awesomes dressed as Adam and Eve for Halloween. And I had to put that leaf on. I used to have nightmares of showing up to school with no clothes on, totally naked, and I go, “Now I'm making a living at it.” In between takes they’d bring a robe over. I was like, “You know what, don’t even bother. I don’t care anymore.”
The Season 2 pickup announcement
The announcement that we got picked up for a second season happened right before the writer’s strike, but we were onset in the courtyard by the water fountain and the whole place went nuts. We go, “Oh man this is amazing; this is unbelievable that we’re going to get to do more of this.” It seemed too good to be true that we were picked up to begin with and then when we got another season and then it just kind of kept going like that.
What most people don’t know is I really tanked the audition for Captain Awesome. I totally blew it when—the first time I did it really well and it was on tape. But when Schwartz and Fedak and then McG came in the room I melted down when I was reading with Zach. … I had a friend in common with McG and I was like, “Oh, do I bring that up?” So I was thinking, “Should I say that, should I not say that?” Then I totally lost focus and couldn’t remember my lines.
So I got about halfway through and then I said, “All right guys, that’s all I got for you.” And they’re like, “Well dude, you can hold the pages and just read it off the page if you want. You did this before, just do it like that.” I go, “No, I'm kind of losing my mind right here and that’s all I got for you, so thanks for the time guys.”
I just thought there is no way I’d get the role and I and I said good-bye. I could see on their faces, they’re like, “What the [bleep]?” I called my agent and I was like, “Well that sucks, I blew that one,” and I told her exactly everything that happened and she goes, “Well you go the role.” I was like, “Really, you had to wait that long and let me tell what a mess it was and then tell me that?!”
TOP 5 AWESOME MOMENTS
I asked for five, but McPartlin kept thinking of more throughout the rest of the interview. “There was a lot of stuff going on that was great, very fun for me,” he said. Again, no particular order. (Click the episode's title to see a clip of the scene, if I found one. Enjoy!)
“Chuck Versus the Colonel”
Season 2, Episode 21
Most people would think it would be when I found out that Chuck was in Intersect for the first time, but I think my fight with Casey was pretty awesome. This was right before I found out Chuck was the Intersect and I thought Casey was stalking Chuck. I thought that was great when I hit him over the head with his own Ronald Reagan statue. That was classic.
“Chuck Versus Operation Awesome”
Season 3, Episode 4
I had to stab Brandon Routh [playing Agent Daniel Shaw] in the chest with a hypodermic needle, basically the “Pulp Fiction” moment where it brought him back to life. That was amazing. And having to convince Angie Harmon [playing Ring agent Sydney Price] that I was a super-spy.
“Chuck Versus the Ring, Part II”
Season 3, Episode 19
In the car when Morgan and Awesome when we had to save the day and we used Casey’s car to like do rocket, blow up the armored car that they were trapped in. That was pretty amazing watching those stunts go down.
“Chuck Versus the Tango”
Season 3, Episode 3
The tango had to be right up near the top. That was early on, but teaching [Chuck] how to tango—but he learned the female version—that was fun. He couldn’t lead. He had to have her lead.
“Chuck Versus the Push Mix”
Season 4, Episode 13
“Chuck Versus the Ring”
Season 2, Episode 22
I think the wedding and the baby were both really sweet emotional moments for Awesome when the baby was born. He just let out an “Awesome” when baby Clara was born through the tears. I thought that was pretty cool. And the wedding moment, too, I thought that was a great montage with Chevy Chase being shot to death during our wedding vows. That was a great back and forth.
“Chuck Versus Santa Claus”
Season 2, Episode 11
With Big Mike I tackled and just totally laid out the gunman [hostage taker Ned Rhyerson]. That was another Christmas at the Buy More story—those are all good ones
“Chuck Versus Operation Awesome”
Season 3, Episode 4
The bear story! Telling Ellie that I had to kill a bear with my bare hands is definitely a top moment right there. Put that toward the top. I couldn’t lie and she was like, “You killed a bear?” and I'm like, “Yeah, with my bare hands.” That was great.
Here's a collection of AWESOME clips.
Was it kind of a sad day on the set, the last day?
Yeah, I told my wife, I was like, “I'm good. I said my goodbyes 20 times and I've shed enough tears every time we left. I'm really happy now that we’re getting a final farewell, so I'm not going to cry at all.”
I couldn’t keep my shit together! I mean it was real depression around that set, real mourning and it wasn’t the loss of a job because everyone knew that this was over. Everyone was grateful that we had 13 episodes and we were all going to go work again on other stuff, but it was just the loss of being around each other—the cast and the crew and the special thing that we had.
It’s like I think that feeling that the fans have, that mourning that they’ll have when the show goes away on Friday night. We really experienced that with them like telepathically on the set. So it wasn’t just us saying goodbye to each other. It was us saying goodbye to our fans and everything and just all these emotions were so overwhelming. We could barely get through our scenes.
Did you take anything home with you on the last day, like Awesome’s workout clothes or possibly the Adam leaf?
[Laughs.] No. I should have. I’ll regret not taking one. I just took the top of my director’s chair, the name that said “Awesome” on the back. Really I'm not one that’s sentimental for souvenirs. I wish I was because I know later in life I'll want to open a bar in Chicago and have “Chuck” memorabilia around, but I will just have to track it down at that point I guess from Warner Bros.
What would you call your bar?
What would I name my Chicago bar? You know what, I’d try and not be too cheesy with the Awesome stuff because everyone else is, so I would probably have to do something a little more obscure like Woodcombs or Woody’s … I don’t know. That’s a tough one. It would have to be something that only diehard fans would recognize, so maybe I’d even put it up for a vote, like what should I name my bar in Chicago and find out what the most hardcore, diehard fans would want and serve Subway sandwiches out of it.