Pablo Schreiber knows a thing or two about great TV. He started out in The Wire, put in stints on Law & Order and Weeds, then made his name as Greg “Pornstache” Mendez in Orange Is The New Black. Schreiber’s latest job is surely his biggest yet, though, as it sees him take the lead in an incredibly hotly anticipated video game adaptation.
Originally attached to Steven Spielberg, then Peter Jackson, then Neill Blomkamp, Halo has been in the works for almost 10 years. It arrives now as the fancy flagship series for Paramount+, a new streamer launching in the UK on June 22. The story of a spartan stormtrooper who goes rogue to protect a girl with a secret, Halo takes place in the 26th century across the battlefields of an intergalactic war. Here, Schreiber tells us about joining one of the most successful media franchises of all time under the iconic helmet of Master Chief.
Were you a fan of Halo before you got the call?
“I’d played the games, but only in Battle Mode – just running around shooting my friends. I’d never played it as a campaign so I had no idea it was the vast treasure trove of mythology that it is. I quickly learned that there’s 20-plus years of storytelling in the canon, not just in the six mainline games, but also in something like 30 novels, the animated shorts and a couple of live-action features. It’s really beautiful.”
Where did you start with all that then? Did you put in a lot of hours gaming?
“Oh God, I threw myself into them. I played the games to kind of get a sense of what gameplay felt like, but Microsoft also sent me all the cinematic cutscenes, so I studied those endlessly. I read a couple of novels and I watched all the animated shorts and the features, but then I spent a load of time at [videogame developer] 343 in Seattle going through Halo boot camp, which was days of intensive study on the franchise lore.”
What drew you to the character of Master Chief?
“I mean, Master Chief is really the epitome of the hero, right? I loved the fact that the show set out to get underneath his armour, to kind of expose the humanity beneath. The first season is Master Chief getting to know himself for the first time, so we get to learn some of his history, and then to really begin this dialogue between Master Chief, the soldier, and ‘John’, the human who’s inside.”
You spend a lot of time hidden under a great big space helmet – not unlike what Pedro Pascal had to do in The Mandalorian. Was that a challenge, having to keep your face hidden for these dramatic scenes?
“It’s an interesting one for sure. It’s a very small sandbox to play in, and you have a very limited arsenal of weapons as an actor that you can call from. But the more Master Chief breaks out of himself, the bigger the box gets and the more you’re able to add to it as an actor. So, it was definitely a challenge but it was one that I really enjoyed taking on. Also, a lot of other performances I’ve done in the past have been a whole lot bigger, so it was great being able to bring someone very different to life.”
It’s not just the helmet though – you’re also wrapped up in what looks like a really uncomfortable suit of armour.
“Well yeah, the suit was another whole challenge. In Halo lore, that suit is meant to be this piece of future tech that turns you into a superhuman super-soldier. But in reality, it’s just a whole bunch of plastic that weighs you down and makes you completely immobile! The biggest deal for me was training enough to be able to manipulate the suit and make it look authentically capable of doing what it’s doing.”
How tough was that training?
“It was massive. I had to make my body as capable as I could just to keep up with the action scenes. We wanted the fight choreography to feel as cool and boundary-pushing as possible, and we wanted there to be an immediacy and brutality to the fight sequences [so we’d be] really putting the audience in the middle of each battle. When we finished shooting the first season last July, I was able to relax a little bit and I lost about 30 lbs of muscle. Now we’re back on the chain for season two and I’m trying to gain everything back again!”
You got your break in The Wire, which is still cited as the pinnacle of golden age TV. But the scope (and budget) of shows like Halo makes it feel like we’re entering a new era now. Do you get the same sense here of being at the start of something massive?
“I think it feels like an extension of the same thing, but I definitely think we’re entering the new golden age now. In those early days of HBO, The Wire came out shortly after The Sopranos, but I was also lucky enough to be around for Orange Is the New Black in the early days of Netflix. This feels somewhat similar in the sense that Paramount is launching its own streaming service with Halo. So I’ve been lucky. My whole career has coincided with this great television renaissance.”
Those shows all have one thing in common too… Maybe you’re the secret ingredient?!
“No, it was definitely all luck! It’s just a dynamic that’s shifted as the opportunities for long-form storytelling have gotten bigger and better. Most of the great writers now are on TV, and I’ve just been so lucky to get to stretch myself in so many different directions.”
‘Halo’ streams on Paramount Plus from June 22.