Every day, ex-Dynasty star Jack Coleman is asked by someone if the mysterious character of "H.R.G." that he plays on NBC's Heroes - this year's top-rated new series - is essentially a good guy or a bad guy. Coleman always answers with authority:
That ambiguous reply also reflects Coleman's (now a new series regular) duplicitous alter ego who has many veteran television viewers wondering if "H.R.G." (or "Horn Rimmed Glasses") is played by the same actor Coleman who stopped hearts in the 1980s as Steven Carrington on the red-hot "Dynasty," which once soared to become the top-rated series.
"Even when I got the pilot script, Heroes ' already had a tremendous buzz behind it in the industry," said Coleman. "There were all kinds of potential for espionage and intrigue. And as soon as I saw myself put on the giant horn-rimmed glasses, it was very scary - I looked like my dad, circa 1968.
"I see my character as someone who could be either good or bad, but definitely creepy. That's the operative word. He's a guy caught out of time, like a refugee from the Cold War in the 1950s. H.R.G.'s default position is to plot - he doesn't know any other way."
Coleman, who is also a writer, admires how creator-executive producer Tim Kring and the creative staff have crafted the character and the direction of Heroes so that the audience is always left guessing -- and craving more clues about the characters.
"They've made H.R.G. even scarier since he loves his daughter (cheerleader Claire, played by Hayden Panettiere) and his family, and thinks he's doing everything for the greater good," he said. "Every time he goes too far in one direction, they bring him back to the other direction. They've woven a rich tapestry and the show creates insatiable hunger for answers that form the journey."
"It seems H.R.G. is the only one to have tentacles into so many other characters, but he might be biting off more than he can chew. And the ultimate question is - who does he take orders from?"
As for himself, Coleman doesn't bother the creative staff to gain insight into what might happen in long-range storylines.
"I feel it's only on a 'need-to-know' basis, just like on Dynasty," said Coleman, who starred on the primetime soap from 1982-88. "It's not mine to know. Things can change due to so many factors. Even my agent says, 'Don't tell me. I want to find out for myself.'"
Nevertheless, Coleman occasionally logs on to one of the many raging chat rooms dedicated to the series and observes what viewers have to share about recent episodes. "I just saw a lot of reaction to the 'Save the Cheerleader' revelation. That got a lot of people wondering what that meant."
Coleman (who describes himself as "blind as a bat," and hence, wears contact lenses), was a young, inexperienced actor from Easton, Pennsylvania who was thrust into stardom virtually overnight when cast as Carrington on Dynasty (which, like Heroes, began its run on Mondays, 9-10 p.m.). "Being in that show was a wild, wild time - like being one of the Beatles in 'A Hard Day's Night,'" he recalls. "There were fewer choices for TV audiences and we had triple the viewers that shows today have.
"I remember that the cast once came to Bloomingdale's in New York for a personal appearance and they had such a riot that they had to shut down the store. We were mobbed in Italy. It was a different world at that time."
Since then, Coleman counts himself grateful for the experience and has worked hard to learn every aspect of his craft. "After a hit show is over, you soon realize this is a very tough business - brutally tough. But I'm a better actor and I have more gravitas than I had at 24 with bleached-blonde hair."
Coleman's resume has included stints on Broadway and guest-starring roles on "Entourage," "Nip/Tuck" and "Without a Trace." In two of his favorite roles, he won a Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award for his performance in "Bouncers" and earned another nomination for his work as Tom Griffin in the play "Stand-up Tragedy" at the Mark Taper Forum. He also wrote, produced and acted in the film short "Studio City," a black comedy centered on the entertainment industry. He also hopes to produce his current screenplay, "Can't Help Falling," a comedic-drama about a family's love triangle.
For trivia buffs, his sixth-generation grandfather is the legendary American inventor-patriot, Benjamin Franklin ("It wasn't until I was 10 that I even knew we were related to him!"). Coleman and his wife, Beth, have a 7-year-old daughter, Tess, who appeared in the Wes Craven film "Red-Eye."
For the time being, he will continue to keep those giant horn-rimmed glasses polished enough to perplex diehard Heroes fans - and keep America wondering if good or evil is at work when he is on screen.
Then again, perhaps Coleman might offer a clue.
"There's so much clarity in the way H.R.G. operates with deliberation in such an ambiguous part," he says. "Because if you've got a show called Heroes - aren't you going to need some kind of antagonist?"
Heroes airs on Monday nights 9/8c on NBC.