There’s a new superhero of sorts — and he is awesome.
Captain Awesome, that is.
He doesn’t have telepathy or any other power, but what Captain Awesome lacks in superhuman abilities, he makes up for in invaluable awesomeness, lovable goofiness, SoCal mellowness and Matthew McConaughey shirtlessness.
“It’s become a running joke now. I’m never going to be able to eat again! Come on!” Ryan McPartlin, Captain’s portrayer on NBC’s Chuck, tells OK! of his character’s shirt-phobia.
That may just be one sacrifice he’s going to have to make to keep playing this fan favorite. Captain Awesome (given name: Devon), nicknamed as such “because everything he does is awesome,” is the boyfriend of Chuck’s (Zachary Levi) live-in sister Ellie (Sarah Lancaster) and is the jock to Chuck’s geek.
But the labels stop there. At first glance, Awesome could easily come off as your typical, mean-spirited frat boy who taunts and teases others, but he is actually quite the opposite — a friendly, supportive “big brother,” thanks to Ryan’s blend of silly sweetness.
“Some people actually mistake him as the dumb jock type but he’s not,” the 32-year-old says, who adds that he was wary of not portraying the Captain in that light. “He’s a doctor, he’s nice and, actually, I have a friend who has two masters degrees, and who runs triathlons, he just finished a marathon, and he’s one of the smartest, fittest guys I know, but he’s kind of preoccupied with what’s going on in his world and not always in touch with how the world operates for other people. So he’s a conundrum of a whole number of things.”
The Captain, who is sometimes just in one or two brief scenes per episode, is definitely a paradox, but there’s something about him that makes him inexplicably irresistible and always leaves viewers yearning for more. A sign of someone making maximum impact with minimal screen time, three weeks into the series, “Captain Awesome” T-shirts were available for purchase online. Ryan, who says he had no clue such a small character would become so huge, can only appreciate the cult iconic status he’s achieved — not just in public, but his personal life as well.
“I don’t even think people on the set know my name as Ryan,” he laughs. “They’re like, ‘Awesome, Cap, get over here.’ So it kind of stuck and buddies even call me that in Chicago. They’re like, ‘Hey Captain, what’s up, man?” So as an actor that’s like the best thing that you can hope for, a name that’s that fun and popular.”
Growing up, Ryan admits he received no such fanfare, saying he was more like Chuck than Awesome — that is until he got to college at the University of Illinois, where he played football. “Things started to come a little easier for me and so I think I graduated into the Captain Awesome stage.”
That doesn’t mean he looks back on his Chuck years with disdain. “I needed the Chuck phase to appreciate the Captain awesome phase because otherwise I don’t think I would have realized the flip side of that coin. I think I needed to see the world through Chuck’s eyes before becoming Captain Awesome.”
Captain Awesome was originally written as a small part but was expanded once Ryan, who honed his comedic chops on the over-the-top soap Passions, came into the picture. Still, the Captain appears in small dosage because “you always leave them wanting more.”
Ryan promises more gradual insight into Awesome’s background and his relationship with Ellie, but with the protracted writer’s strike, time with the Captain may be running out. Thirteen episodes will be shot, and after that, “we’re just keeping our fingers crossed.” At the same time, Ryan understands the dilemma. After all, there wouldn’t be a Captain Awesome without the writers.
“We’re really pulling for the writers. Our show is nothing without the writers. There are no shows without the writers and I think as actors we really appreciate that position,” he says. “They are underappreciated and they do need to get some recognition here.”
And when they do, Ryan can get back to the gym to maintain Captain’s buff bod. These days, the hunk can usually be found breaking a sweat or spending time with his family — he and wife of five years, Danielle Kirlin, have a son, Wyatt, 1, who has “put everything into perspective” for his dad.
“[Fatherhood] is the best thing in the world,” Ryan says. “It’s funny because the pressure mounted in regard to being an actor and getting jobs at first and then it went away because I realized that it’s not that big of a deal and everything takes care of itself and now I’m just very aware of what I do and very aware of what I say and what kind of lessons I’m going to be teaching him.”
Might that include his trademark claim to fame? While the Captain is awesome at everything he does, Ryan says he’s only good at the Cornhole, a tailgating, beanbag tossing game.
“I’m a mean beanbag tosser,” he says, but he stops short at saying he’s awesome.
“Awesome does everything to the extreme and wants to master it. I’m like a jack-of-all-trades but a master of none.”
By Joyce Eng