A conversation with Staton and Quinto

Carnegie Mellon alums return to emcee kickoff

Diana Wong Oct 26, 2008

This year’s Homecoming was marked by B There, Carnegie Mellon’s capital campaign kickoff. Encased in a gigantic tent with floors, a robot, food, and music, the event was hosted by two notable Carnegie Mellon alumni: Aaron Staton, otherwise known as account executive “Ken Cosgrove” from Mad Men, and Zachary Quinto, who plays the super-villain “Sylar” of Heroes. Staton (Class of 2004) and Quinto (Class of 1999) are both graduates of CFA’s School of Drama, and made their way back to their alma mater to emcee the effort to increase Carnegie Mellon’s endowment by $1 billion.

While their entrance was much anticipated and very exciting, it was definitely scripted and contained an Oscar-worthy montage and incredible amounts of cheesiness. During the event, Quinto noted, “This school is entering an entirely new era and we’re all really excited about what that means.” Staton spent his time wondering if venture capitalists had spent time investing in them. Even President Cohon later called them “quasi-funny,” but joked about their time here at Carnegie Mellon. Staton, who used to work for Alumni Relations when he was a student, was jokingly asked to ”come back to work tomorrow”; however, Quinto was told to stay away, with Cohon saying, “You’re too scary.”

The Tartan met up with Staton and Quinto after they spoke, talking about everything from their time at Carnegie Mellon to politics to Halloween.

How does it feel to be back on campus kicking off the billion dollar capital campaign?
Zachary Quinto: A billion dollars is a lot of money. Aaron Staton: It’s not that much money... Zachary Quinto: [laughs] No, yeah, I mean I grew up in Pittsburgh. It’s always a pleasure to come back.

Did you ever think you would be coming back as a celebrity?
ZQ: [laughs] I don’t think I would have ever imagined that, no. But it’s a great honor, and it’s really exciting.... Yeah, it’s great to be back and I feel like it’s a really exciting time and the university has changed so much and grown so much in the 10 years that I’ve been gone.

How has it changed? ZQ: Well for one thing, we had all of our classes as drama majors in the CFA and MM [Margaret Morrison] building, and now they’re all contained in Purnell. AS: I was in Purnell, but that was ... because I was young. I graduated 2004, so that means I started 2001, so that was two years after you graduated? ZQ: Yeah, I was one of the last classes not to be in Purnell.

What was it like coming out of Carnegie Mellon and going into the working world? ZQ: I had a very traditional experience, in terms of graduating and moving to L.A. and waiting tables and cobbling jobs together for a couple years, and then I started to earn a living as an actor. My experience was very traditional, very sort of textbook almost. I’ve been in L.A. for almost 10 years and it took that long to really get to a place where I felt like I can relax a bit, for at least a minute... I had been unemployed for like six months which was the longest amount of time I had gone without working in L.A. It was really hard and I actually think that it had something to do with getting the role in a sense: My struggles ended up informing my work, as is often the case, so I was able to draw on that challenge and channel it into my audition experience for the role.

Zachary, you play a lot of roles that are very popular within the Carnegie Mellon community, first Sylar on Heroes and now Spock in Star Trek, two very sci-fi roles. ZQ: I was saying, you know, someone was asking me when we were coming back from [B There] and all these people were following us and taking pictures of us and she was like “Is that normal for you?” and I was like “No, that’s Carnegie Mellon! These are my people, in more than one way.”

Do you think being here at Carnegie Mellon has influenced the roles that you play, and the roles that you like to do and choose? ZQ: I feel like what CMU has given me was a foundation to be able to sort of digest anything that gets thrown at me, and it just happens that these two jobs are firmly rooted in science fiction… As an actor I feel really capable of many other things that I hope to explore and intend to explore as well. I feel like being here prepared me for anything that I end up doing. I wouldn’t be where I was if it wasn’t for Carnegie Mellon, that’s for sure. AS: I have to say ditto. It’s just the truth, it’s true.

What was your favorite Carnegie Mellon tradition? Do you have any specific memories? AS: I never participated in anything, but what I had forgotten about and was sort of funny to see, was the Fence. I never painted the Fence but I sort of saw it every day and I was saying to my wife it’s sort of a difficult thing to explain. What people do, is they sort of stake it out and then you have to stay there for 24 hours and have somebody guarding it! ZQ: Did anyone paint the Fence for Obama?... I was here in April and had the great honor of telling people about the election and Senator Obama and am really cautiously optimistic about how it’s going to work out.

Are you still campaigning for him now? ZQ: It’s been more difficult. I’m going to try to do some campaigning this weekend, and I’m having a calling party, for people to come over and call swing states. I’m a pretty passionate supporter. AS: I don’t, I really don’t know who I’m going to vote for, but I do think Barack Obama is going to win. (Zach has got some more campaigning to do, I guess.) No, I think that Barack Obama is going to win... but, I just don’t know. ZQ: You’re an undecided voter.

Moving on, it’s Halloween coming up! ZQ: My favorite holiday, by the way. It’s a tradition with me and my brother that we usually gallivant about the town and party hop on Halloween. AS: What about the sweets? ZQ: No no no, not so much the candy. More the parties.

Do you guys know what you’re going to be this year? Do you have a favorite costume from years past? ZQ: [My brother and I] are going to be Bert and Ernie, from Sesame Street. I’m Bert. Bert has the unibrow. AS: I have a favorite costume. It was the last time that I dressed up for Halloween, in my sophomore year of college, when I was here. I cut these holes in my sheet and my roommate and I were ghosts. ZQ: Very simple. AS: We went around saying “Boo scary who.”

What does it feel like seeing people dressed up as your character? I know there are people here planning on dressing up as Madmen and some as Sylar. ZQ: Really? Whoa, that’s really — I haven’t seen any of them! If anybody dresses up as Sylar that is an automatic pass to party with me all night… We’ll have a good time.

Last question: If you could have anything on the Fence what would it be? ZQ: Obama ’08. AS: Bring The ‘O’ back. I liked the ‘O.’ ZQ: Bring the O-bama back!