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An Interview with Ali Larter

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Before Heroes, Ali Larter was That Girl From Varsity Blues in the Whipped Cream Bikini.

And she still is. But she's also Niki Sanders. Below are highlights from an interview the actress gave a few months ago, just as Heroes was taking off:

How did you become involved with the Heroes project? TV was something that I wasn't initially attracted to, because of the schedule and that it pretty much demands that you live in Los Angeles for a set amount of months of the year. When I moved back here [to L.A.] this January, I was ready to base myself here for a little while, and I thought it was a good time to entertain the possibility. I always thought that, especially now, TV has some of the best writers working, and amazing roles that you can play. So this pilot season, I just started reading. Some of the things I thought were interesting, but I didn't feel like, if we were lucky enough to go for many years, that it would be able to hold my interest for that long, and then Heroes came around. It was the first pilot that I actually auditioned for.

Ali Larter Pic When I read the script, I just thought it was amazing. I think that Tim must have locked this little bit of genius somewhere in him, and once it was able to come out, he just ran with it. I think that he created such an extraordinary world. I think that Niki is such a complicated and interesting character, so it was like "This is the one, I'm gonna go in and play ball," and I did the auditioning process like every other blonde in Hollywood. I went in, worked with Dave Semel and the producers.

Then they brought me in for studio, then they brought me in for network, which is one of the hardest things I've ever been asked to do as an actor, to be honest.

Do you feel that Niki might be one of the more difficult roles in the series to play because of the hardships that she has to go through? You know what? I don't look at any of the other characters and compare myself to them. The reason I love playing her is because she is so conflicted. I just think that she's a great multi-faceted dramatic character, and it's within an ensemble of equally conflicted characters. So I can't imagine any of the roles being more difficult than any of the other ones. I just think everyone's so thrilled at the depth and the potential of each of the characters.

Do you think Niki's "ability" may stem from a personal fear that she has of herself? I think that the gift that she has and the sources of all of her anxieties are more complex than we actually know yet, and I think that's an interesting question. If we look into ourselves, are we scared of our own light? I think that's a human question that we can all relate to. But what's happening with her and the powers, and what they've hinted at so far, I think, is leading us into the question of the duality that can live in everybody.

I'm really excited to see where they're going to take her. Where I hope that she's going and what I think would be interesting to explore as an actor is the social conscience, someone who can live without a social conscience versus someone who has to live in the confines of present day society.

Does Niki think that she's crazy? As I've been working all along is, if I don't understand it, and I was in these situations, I would absolutely think that my world is crumbling around me, and I don't know if her mind is trying to protect her from things ... I personally would believe that I was going to crazy, but I would snap myself out of it. She doesn't have the luxury in life to indulge in those things.

Is there anyone in your life that inspired your performance in playing a single mother? There wasn't anybody that inspired it. One of the reasons I was excited to play this mother is that she treats her son like an equal. She doesn't have everything perfectly in order in life, and she sometimes goes left when she should go right, but she is so driven by her love with her son. I think that their relationship is so interesting, because she doesn't have the luxury of going out on dates or having a romantic relationship, so for her, she's up watching Letterman with her son, or going to the movies with him, and she spends all of her time with him.

I think that they really have an amazing chemistry and an extraordinary bond. So, there wasn't someone that inspired that, but I have a lot of friends and people in my life that were raised by single mothers, and the bond that they have, is so incredible.

Did your personal interaction with the young actor who played Micah inspire your performance or chemistry on-screen? Absolutely. He is such a little genius, that one. He's a musical prodigy. I mean, I say that he's a musical prodigy, and he'll say "No, Ali, I work really, really, really hard. I work a lot of hours." He's so sweet.

And he is a hard worker. He does have an amazing head on his shoulders. He listens, he's so prescient; and he also has an incredible mother and an amazing relationship with her. I think that why he is so right for this role, is because of that. He has such an incredible relationship with his mom Whitney.

And the way that she treats to him and she talks to him - she never talks down to him, and I think that that's the similar way that the relationship is written on the show.

Do you know if there are any plans to see Micah's father? Yes. Absolutely. In the future, you will be seeing his father.

Where would you like to see your character go through the course of the series, if it were all up to you? Into infinity with a smile and a smirk. Laughing at life. Where would I like to see her go? I think that one of the things that's so interesting to me is how complicated she is, and not understanding what's happening to her. I've read up to the fourth episode, and it still is not defined what her true power will be. They've told me where it's going, but I love the fact that she's trying to figure it out. So I look at this first season, and I think so much of that will be figuring out what's happening to her, trusting herself, and then wondering whether this is going to draw her into more of a place of good or evil. I don't know. I think I'm just drawn to someone who lives in contrast, and I think that's where she is going.

Do you feel that not knowing where your character is going helps your performance? You know what, it is so hard. I mean, this is my first experience with this. I come from the film world, where you have a script and you can build your arc... you've got a beginning, a middle, and an end. With this, I've had to take an extraordinary leap of faith. When I originally signed on to the show, I had some long conversations with Tim about that, and he just has made me feel so safe in this world that he's creating, and I think that he is so smart. I think that with this kind of journey, you just have to move forward and put your trust in the team that's surrounding you, and I feel like with this show, we have the best of the best.

One of my personal favorite movie roles of yours was in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. Are you still in contact with [director] Kevin Smith, and is he aware that you will soon be playing a "super heroine" in a way? Yes. I've seen him a couple of times. You know, once you get into the Kevin Smith "family," you're in forever. Him and his wife Jen, I love so much. We've talked about it a little bit, and he's just so excited to see the show, and see where it's going. I've asked him for pointers on Comic-Con, and that whole world, but I think he's such a genius, and I absolutely loved working with him.

You've amassed a sizable fan base from your work in film. Do you think Heroes will appeal to fans of your previous work? Absolutely. You know, it's funny, I was talking to a friend last night, and I was going, "You know, I don't know if at the beginning of your career, you ever plan or know which way you're going to go." In the beginning, when you start working, you audition and you get the movies that you get, and that kind of path is out of your hands, in a way.

And as I worked more and more, I think that I've fallen to working sometimes in the sci-fi genre, or the Kevin Smith kind of movies, because the women are strong, and I'm so drawn to strong female characters, and whatever it is within that world, women are allowed to be that, and I think that's why I'm so drawn to it.

Matt Richenthal is the Editor in Chief of TV Fanatic. Follow him on Twitter and on Google+.

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