Nerd Herder: Interview with Chuck's Scott Krinsky

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Mitchell Hasseth/NBC

Scott Krinsky as Jeff Barnes in Chuck

If in the real world you have a problem with your computer, a phone call to a certain big name electronics retailer will put you in touch with the Geek Squad. This group of like-minded professionals will likely be able to sort out your technical conundrum. A similar type of support team, albeit fictional, also exists on NBC-TV’s spy dramedy series Chuck. Called the Nerd Herd, they operate out of the Buy More store chain. One of their “senior” techies is Jeff Barnes, a 40-year-old alcoholic, video game guru, self-proclaimed ladies’ man, aspiring pyromaniac, and skilled stalker who carries a card that reads, “My name is Jeff and I’m lost.”

Throughout Chuck’s run and up to the show’s current fifth and final season, Jeff has unwittingly been caught up in some of the spy exploits of coworker Chuck Bartowski and his fellow undercover government agents working at the Burbank Buy More. Jeff is played by actor/comedian Scott Krinsky, who despite Jeff’s less-than desirable traits has succeeded in endearing his character to audiences. It was Chuck co-creator/executive producer Josh Schwartz who had his eye on the actor for the role of Jeff.

“I worked on the final season of [the TV series] The O.C., which Josh produced,” says Krinsky. “It started out as a one-episode costar role which turned into a recurring role that went until the end of the show. When The O.C. was canceled, Josh was creating Chuck with [executive producer] Chris Fedak and offered me the role of Jeff. So I got really lucky. I did end up having to put a little bit of an audition on tape for the network people because it was a new show and they just wanted to see my work. It all worked out, though, and before I knew it I had the job.”

Krinsky made his Chuck debut in the show’s pilot episode, “Chuck Versus the Intersect,” which aired back in September 2007. “My first day of work on the show was, I believe, at a CompUSA store, which stood in for Buy More at the time,” recalls the actor. “When I first read the script I thought it was a very original show and that it had a really good chance of sticking out from the pack just because it was so different. It was a comedy, it had action, there was the idea of Chuck [Zachary Levi] ending up becoming a spy - everything about it was so original and I had a good feeling about it right from the start.

“During the first season a few of us weren’t series regulars yet, but we wound up being in every episode. At the time, though, I was thinking that if the show went a full season that maybe I would be in every third or fourth episode, so everything about this was a surprise and a unique gift for me.

“As far as Jeff, there was a flashback episode [season two’s “Chuck Versus Tom Sawyer”] involving him and he was kind of a pretty cool blue collar-type of guy who in some ways was also a bit of a stud,” says Krinsky with a chuckle. “He was a video game champion and had all the ladies around him. Jeff’s history at Buy More is that he’d already been working there for 18 years when the show started. They alluded to his substance abuse and drinking as well.

“I can relate to a guy like Jeff just from people I know and who I’ve come in contact with, and my own feelings of having dreams as a young man and pursuing them but they don’t always come true. Sometimes they do, but it takes a while. Then there was the idea of Jeff working in that store. I’ve tried to use my own personal experiences of going to, say, a Best Buy or similar type of store and seeing how the employees interact and carry themselves. You sort of ‘absorb’ their likenesses and that’s what I’ve tried to bring to my portrayal of Jeff.”

While Krinsky’s character could have easily become your stereotypical nerd with emotional/psychological baggage, the show’s writers opted instead to play with Jeff’s quirky nature and Krinsky ran with that. They also developed Jeff’s friendships with Chuck and best friend Lester Patel (Vik Sahay), with whom he formed the cover band Jeffster!

“I think his friendship with Lester certainly has helped Jeff grow as a character,” notes Krinsky. “If you’ve been watching the show this season, I couldn’t be happier about what has been going on with Jeff. I don’t want to give too much away, but, again, he’s older than some of the other characters on Chuck, and what’s been happening with him lately sort of gives you hope that a person can get out of their funk and get it together.

“Again, I think that’s a reflection of real life. I’ve known people or been around people who seemed to be at a dead-end place in their life. Then all of a sudden they’ve had this moment of clarity and done something with their life. So where we’re currently at now with Chuck, there is the potential for Jeff to have that same moment of clarity. Knowing where the show is going to end up, I’m really pleased with Jeff’s story arc and what the writers have done with the character.”

In the aforementioned “Chuck Versus Tom Sawyer,” Chuck must convince Jeff to come out of “retirement” and use his skills as a gamer to access launch codes hidden inside the Mission Command videogame that will prevent a real-world terrorist missile launch. Not surprisingly, poor Jeff becomes the target of a terrorist who wants to kill him before he can retrieve the codes. Krinsky counts this among his favorite Chuck episodes.

“I really like this episode because it explores Jeff’s background, and there are some nice moments with him and Chuck where my character is able to reflect on his past and sort of get in touch with his true feeling and where he’s at in life,” says the actor. “I enjoyed that because it was a break from the funny business. You have a lot of those breaks with Chuck and Sarah [Yvonne Strahovski] but you don’t always get that with the Buy More characters, so I was thrilled to have that balance with Jeff as well.

“I was very nervous filming ‘Chuck Versus Tom Sawyer’ because at that point I hadn’t done that much on the show and this was my first time doing a lot of different things with my character. All I could think was, ‘Oh, my God, maybe I’ll get fired. They’ll knock on my trailer door and not walk me to set, but instead straight off the studio lot.’ When you do anything for the first time with your character you’re sort of setting a precedent in some ways. This was the first time we were seeing this side of Jeff, so there was a lot of weight on my shoulders with that episode to get it right. I think it turned out good. I’ve seen it and I love it, but it was definitely an experience shooting it.”

Last month Krinsky and the rest of the Chuck cast and crew bid farewell to the show when they finished filming the series finale, “Chuck Versus the Goodbye.”

“I had wrapped the day before, but everyone was there on that final day of filming, just hanging out, partying a little bit and reminiscing,” says Krinsky. “I think it’s so great that we got to have this final season and an ending for our fans as well as us. It’s a real closure, too, instead of the show just being cancelled and having a sort of general ending like we’ve had every season. It was wonderful to know that the producers and writers had prepared for this.

“For me as an actor, this was my first regular role on a television series, and I just felt such a sense of accomplishment. It really hit me that I was there for the first episode and I was also there for the final one. That’s rare. There are so many actors who never get that opportunity, so you can never take something like this for granted.

“The comedian side of me is going to miss the comedy of Jeff. He was so much fun to play and I love the crazy stuff he did. There was the time he chloroformed himself, and the antics involving him and Lester and all their own little spy missions. Then there were the funny lines and dialogue that the writers came up with about Jeff’s mom, who we never met. I’ll always remember when Jeff and Lester were spying on someone and my character said, ‘My mom told me that knowledge is powder.’ I thought stuff like that was brilliant and so much fun as an actor to say.

“I’m going to miss our cast and the crew, too. The fans don’t know the crew like they know us actors, but the crew is such an important part of the show and the whole family bond we had. I’m going to miss seeing everybody. I kind of liken it to when you’re a kid and you and your family move. You’ll still see your family but it will never be in that house.”

Born in Washington, D.C., Krinsky attended Salisbury University and majored in communications and broadcast journalism. He also studied at The Epicurean School of Culinary Arts in Los Angeles before deciding to pursue his true dream to become an actor and stand-up comedian. Like so many others in his profession, Krinsky started out doing TV commercials. That was followed by roles in such feature films as The Dry Spell, Love Made Easy and Transformers: Dark of the Moon. Prior to Chuck, he guest-starred in an episode of Without a Trace and played the recurring role of Darryl in The O.C.

“Darryl was a sweet, likeable homeless guy and I can totally relate to him, not that I was ever homeless, but there are homeless people where I live as well as throughout Los Angeles, some of whom you see all the time,” says the actor. “They hang out in the same places and you develop a friendship because you see them every day.

“That was Darryl. He started off on the show in the Thanksgiving episode and after that began popping up all over town. He’s another character I had a ball playing and they wrote some funny dialogue for him, too. In fact, it’s like Darryl cleaned himself up, got a job, got his life together and sort of evolved into Jeff on Chuck.

“As an actor you want to play different characters, but you also want to entertain people. One of the things that I’ve taken away with me from Chuck is that we entertained and touched people. I couldn’t feel as rewarded about what I do if I didn’t get the feedback that people are affected by what I do. Having an audience that appreciates your work makes it all the more meaningful to you.”

With the New Year comes new opportunities, and Krinsky is looking forward to his next role. “Pilot season starts soon out here, so that whole adventure begins again for me,” he says. “I’m kind of excited about that, and it’s easy to be excited knowing that I’ve left something amazing like Chuck behind.”

Please note, all photos above copyright of NBC-TV.

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A native of Massachusetts, Steve Eramo has been a Sci-Fi fan since childhood, having been brought up on such TV shows as Star Trek and Space: 1999. He is also an Anglophile and lover of British TV. A writer for 35 years – 17 of those as a fulltime freelancer – Steve has had over 2,500 feature-length…

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