It's good to be a hero.
Robbie Kay recently returned in the TV series Heroes Reborn on NBC. “It’s my best project to date,” says Kay, who plays Tommy Clark, a typical high school student who has been on the run with his mother. Labeled an Evo (a human with special powers), he must hide to avoid persecution in a world full of Evo-hating humans.
He added that from a production perspective, Heroes was his first serious regular show. “I learned more about US TV than ever before,” said the UK-born Kay. “We had a massive ensemble cast and great writers. Every new script was like Christmas! It was a really fun, exciting time. Getting a chance to play a hero was out of this world, really. It’s a brilliant project.”
Kay shared that his experience working with the cast and crew of Heroes was full of camaraderie. “It was a privilege to go on set. It’s a family of its own kind. Every day is hilarious and you come in with a smile on your face.”
While Kay enjoys playing a hero, the 20 year old actor has developed a varied background in the business, starting at age 9.
“I went to a casting call with some school friends [for The Illusionist]. I had no real interest [in the business] at the time.” However, he got the opportunity to read for a speaking part and spent five days on set. “Those were the best five days of my life up to that point,” he said. His scenes were cut, but he was hooked.
After small roles in Hannibal Rising and My Boy Jack, a Canadian production company cast him to play the part of Young Jakob in the drama Fugitive Pieces after auditioning over 150 boys. At 10 years old, Kay was well-received for his portrayal of a young Holocaust survivor.
This led to a role as the lead character in Ways to Live Forever, a drama about a young boy diagnosed with leukemia. “I played a 12-year-old in the film and had the leading part. It was my biggest learning curve at the time. It really fueled my passion to portray this person who was real, vulnerable and had been through a lot.”
His research and portrayal affected him deeply; he continues to do charity work for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society to this day.
Kay’s first foray into fantasy was an appearance in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, as the Cabin Boy. There, he developed a taste for stunt work.
“We took sword fighting and rowing lessons and learned to use the rigging,” he said, and noted he’d like to do more stunt work in future action films, such as those involving explosions where he would learn how to fall correctly and convincingly, among other things.
As an actor who has touched everything from drama to fantasy and action, Kay shared his insights about how he prepares for his roles. “I look at every project as an entirely new world. All roles require research, the ability to get into the mind of the character and making [the performance] distinctive and unique,” he says.
Perhaps Kay’s best-known leading role was his portrayal of Peter Pan in ABC’s Once Upon A Time. Playing an evil version of a typically beloved character presented a new creative challenge for the young actor.
“I was given a lot of control over the character development in that project,” he noted of the villainous version of Peter Pan. He’ll return for the 100th episode early this year.
Once Upon a Time was the turning point in Kay’s career. “It was a six-month stint, not something I could do part time alongside my education, and it helped me decide to make a living of this.”
His former roles were shot over the summers, breaks or for short periods of time, making it possible to graduate from school. “Now,” he says with a laugh, “I think I can make a go of it.”
As his career takes off, Kay looks at his many friends who chose college in the US or UK. He said, “I hear about what they’re doing and [what I may be missing in University] is often in the back of my mind. But I looked at my life and, bloody hell; look at what I’m doing! It’s monumental what I’m getting out of life right now.”
Having worked in both TV and film, Kay confesses an affinity for the big screen. However, he says “The gap has closed in the last few years between the two. The quality of TV has improved with larger budgets and more special effects. Game of Thrones, for example, is literally film. It’s almost unjustified looking at it on a TV screen!"
Kay hopes to do a major action film, but he’s also diversifying his interests beyond the acting world.
“In this business, I don’t know where I’m going to be in three months,” he said, so he has started to look into real estate investments on the side. “Given the inconsistency of work, I feel comfortable having a factor in my life that is stable. In real estate, you can work from anywhere in the world.”
For now, though, the projects are still coming. On the film front, Kay will be seen starring as Ben Redfield in the indie thriller Cold Moon, based on the book Cold Moon Over Babylon. It stars Josh Stewart, Rachele Brooke Smith and Christopher Lloyd and is slated for a 2016 release.
Given the acting projects and business interests, Kay muses about his future and how he’d like to be remembered.
He turns thoughtful and mentions his grandfather, who was displaced in World War II and forced to work for the Nazis. He escaped to the UK, met the love of his life and often worked two or three jobs to get by for a time. “I respect that immeasurably,” he said.
“I want to be remembered not so much as an individual, but would like to bring something to my name and the family name. Something they can respect. Family legacy is very important to me. Years down the line I hope my family will be proud of what I did.”