Halo Star Pablo Schreiber Is More Than the Tough Guy
For more than 20 years, Halo has been a video game institution, selling (as of last year) close to 100 million copies and inspiring spinoffs in multiple media: books, soundtrack albums, and live-action films on VOD. At the heart of the franchise stands John-117, better known as Master Chief: a Spartan super-soldier tasked to defend 26th-century humanity as it wages war against The Covenant, aliens determined to triumph in a genocidal holy war. Master Chief is not just a tough guy but the toughest of guys. So it makes sense that, for its new series adaptation of the game, Paramount Plus cast someone who’s already played a crooked stevedore on The Wire, a multi-episode villain on SVU, and an ex-Marine turned heist mastermind in Den Of Thieves: Pablo Schreiber.
Halo, which concludes its first season May 19 and has already been renewed for a second, is the linchpin for Paramount Plus’s hopes of defining itself as an essential streaming service. But it’s only one project filling out Schreiber’s busy spring: this week, he also co-stars in Hulu’s Candy, a scripted docudrama about a notorious true-life murder case. The titular Candy (Jessica Biel) is accused of murdering her friend Betty Gore (Melanie Lynskey); Schreiber plays Allan, Betty’s husband and Candy’s former lover. The show will drop each of its five episodes on consecutive nights, making Candy a classic miniseries event befitting its late ’70s and early ’80s setting.
Schreiber told GQ about both of his big spring TV projects, the earlier roles he’s most known for, and the unexpected challenges of bringing an elderly pet to shoot overseas.
GQ: Let’s start with Halo. I don’t know which I would find more harrowing, the regimen that you had to do to get into condition for the role, or leaving your dog in Budapest for two weeks of quarantine that ended up being seven months. Which was harder for you?
Pablo Schreiber: I guess they were equally harrowing, in the sense that I had no idea going into it that either would happen. I didn’t know how crazy the regimen was going to be. I didn’t know how much of a toll the suit [Master Chief’s heavy battle armor] would take and just how tough the whole thing was going to be, but in the best possible way. And then, when I was leaving Budapest for the beginning of the lockdown, I left my dog there, because we were told we were taking a two-week hiatus and coming back. She got stuck in Eastern Europe. Good news was, she was very happy and very well-fed. She’s been deaf and blind for about five or six years. Other than not being able to smell me, I don’t know if she could tell that much was different. She’s actually in Canada with my mom right now.
What do your sons say when you go through big physical transformations for roles like this?
For my 10-year-old [Dante], me being the Master Chief is the pinnacle of his life so far. He’s just about as excited about that as anything else in his life. He really likes it when I’m working out, and have those muscles. Timoteo, who is 13: he liked it the other way. He was really excited about Candy, and the fact that I had lost all this weight and looked different. He’s like, “You’re always the tough guy. I really want to see you do something different.” I was like, “Well, I don’t know if that’s the best recap of my career since you haven’t been able to watch everything, because none of it is child-appropriate. But yeah, maybe you have a point, son.”
Halo is not the first time that you’ve stepped into a story that has really rabid fans — American Gods, for example, was another one. How do you decide when it’s worth it to take on the weight of those expectations?
Honestly, it’s just kind of noise. I don’t know that it really factors into the decision. It’s about what you respond to in the story, and the setup, and then really going to battle for those things, being a stickler for quality, and trying to elevate everything in the best way that you can, being there for your teammates.
I don’t put too much thought into how it’s going to be received, or what people are going to expect, or any of those things. I know they are factors. So much of the creative process is about focusing on instincts. And then, you open it up to the public. So much of how they react is based on their own preconceived notions or expectations about it. There’s nothing I can do about that. There are a lot of people that I think had harsh reactions to the show at the beginning, and who are becoming converts as it goes along. Some people, maybe, we’ll never win over, and that’s okay too.
You mentioned in a recent interview on the Bingeworthy podcast that you’d had some conversations about joining the MCU, which also has a lot of opinionated fans. How did that come up, and are those conversations still going on?
No, it was totally blown out of proportion, as all these things are the moment you mention Wolverine, or anything like that. Somebody asked me who my favorite superhero was, and in interviews I’ve said Wolverine a few times. I grew up with him. The follow-up was, “Would you ever be interested in playing Wolverine?” Of course, who wouldn’t be interested in that? “Have you ever had talks with Marvel?” I was like, “Yes, of course. We’ve had talks with Marvel,” because we have been talking with Marvel since the beginning of my career. Every time I do something new, they’re watching, they’re interested, and we’ve been looking for different things to do.
There were never any actual conversations about Wolverine, the character, as it pertains to me, and as far as I know, there is no plan for a Wolverine sequel. That’s a franchise that was closed so well. The last installment was literally nominated for an Oscar. I don’t know where you really go from there.
You do also have to say that Wolverine is your favorite superhero, since you’re Canadian and he’s one of the few Canadian superheroes.
Exactly. Alpha Team, and the Calgary project. Yeah, I am very Canadian. You have that small complication of Wolverine in the actual Marvel Universe being, I believe, five foot three, and I’m six foot five. It’s a small difference. But again, it’s not anything that there’s any real conversations about. I’m sure something will come up in the Marvel Universe at some point, and we’ll just see what that’ll be.
Back to Halo. What is your favorite weapon, either as a player or for your character?
The character prefers the assault rifle. Chief and his assault rifle are synonymous, and inseparable. I would also throw the Warthog in there. It’s not a weapon, it’s a vehicle, but he looks so good in the Warthog. From a character perspective, I would say those are my two favorite toys from the Halo universe. My favorite weapon, personally? I really love all the Covenant tech. The Plasma tech is pretty fantastic. I’d say maybe the Needler, just because of the pink mist, and how it can vaporize people.
The show’s already been renewed for a second season, so you’re going to be going back to Budapest soon. What are some of your favorite things to do in the city, or do you have to be still pretty locked down when you’re there?
It all depends on what’s going on with COVID. I think there’s a little bit of an uptick right now, but I don’t think anybody is planning on going back to the glory days of when we were over there shooting, and it was 5pm curfew, and you had to be in your apartment all night until the next morning. Even if the situation is a little worse than it was, I think it’s much more open now than it was then. I just love the city. It’s a great walking city. Aesthetically, it’s very beautiful. The architecture is really stunning.
Városliget [City Park], near Heroes’ Square, is a big Central Park-like space in the middle of the city. I like to go there on the weekends. There’s a volleyball court there, and we get into some pickup volleyball games. A few times, we would get all the stunt people out, and we’d just do sports days on the weekends. Those are always fun. When we’re there in the summertime, the swimming is always nice. Balaton on the weekends is fun. And then, it’s just a long hunkering-down for the winter. Warm clothes, and getting up early, lifting weights, going to work, and coming home and doing some cardio.
Volleyball is a perfect segue into Candy. We see your literal bare butt pretty early in this season of Halo, and yet, I don’t think that moment objectifies you as much as a real sweaty volleyball scene in the second episode of Candy.
Thankfully, I’m not alone. There’s a whole cast of people being sweatily objectified in that scene. Nothing like some 1970s, ’80s volleyball shorts to objectify a fellow or a gal. It’s a pretty fun scene. The thirst, from Candy’s perspective, is real. That scene is from her perspective, and there’s a lot going on for her at that point. Allan just happens to be the lucky guy in the crosshairs. I guess he’s just the guy who hit the ball the hardest that night, and got himself right into an affair.
We’ve been told we’re having a Short King Spring this year, but between you and Timothy Simons, that’s like 15 feet of actor in Candy alone.
Tim Simons [who plays Candy’s husband, Pat] and I have been hard at work on a Candy spinoff called The Choirboys. It’s just us in the choir, singing really badly, and sleeping with each other’s wives. No, Tim is great. He’s such a funny guy. I love his work in the show. His relationship with the kids is so good.
You were just a baby when Betty Gore was killed, but did you have an opinion about the case and its outcome going into the shoot, and did it change over the course of making Candy?
I was just a little Canadian baby. A Texan murder story definitely didn’t reach my soft ears. When I started asking people about it, I was surprised at how many people were very aware of it, and remembered it distinctly from the time. I encountered it for the first time when I got this role, so I read up. It was interesting — my first thoughts in reading it was, how the hell did this happen? How did a jury of people find her innocent, based on the evidence of the case?
Hypnotism played such a big role in her innocent verdict: she got hypnotized and told this story of childhood trauma. I don’t think anything like that would come near holding up in court today. The fact that it was the testimony that essentially got her off was kind of shocking for me. I guess that’s still how I feel now.
At the end of the day, the miniseries is not really about, is she innocent or is she guilty, and what will happen in court? It’s about the people, and the relationships, and how these events — so horrific, and so salacious — could actually happen, in a time that was very different than ours, and a culture that was very different than ours. And so, while the details of it are grisly, I don’t think the project is at all. I think it’s a very thorough and deep exploration of some pretty interesting themes.
You already mentioned the production design. I’m a little older than you, so there definitely were pieces that I recognized. I think we had the same Corelle dishes that the Gores have in this. My grandma definitely had those Tupperware glasses. Are there any pieces of set dressing that really took you back to that period that you can recall?
Yeah, the frozen orange juice. What a ridiculous concept that was. Why did we do that? What a horrid, horrid idea. But everybody had it. Up in BC, we had the same thing. I remember so vividly peeling the top off, and popping it, and then banging on the juice jug, scooping it out. It wasn’t good orange juice, either. It’s like, why not just get fresh orange juice, guys?
That’s all we ever had, too.
I think I saw it the other day in some remote corner of the grocery store. I was like, “Wow, they still do have concentrated orange juice. Who buys this?”
You were in GQ at the end of your first season playing Pornstache in Orange Is The New Black, in an article in which you rated your favorite facial hair of 2013. Where would you rank Allan’s mustache among the facial hair of 2022?
I try not to compare myself to other people, so I’d have to compare it to myself, and my own historic mustaches. I’d rate it as the top Pablo mustache ever, and that’s going above Pornstache, only because for Allan Gore: that was just a completely self-generated mustache, whereas Pornstache was a glue-on. Here I am at the delicate age of 44, finally able to grow my own mustache without embarrassment. Life is a process, and we’re just getting better on our own. Number one. Number one for me.
Your first major TV role was in the second season of The Wire, one of the most acclaimed shows of the 21st century. Were there lessons on that production that you’ve carried into your work since then?
Oh my God, so many. So many. First of all, how lucky was I, on the positive side. On the negative side, I think it spoiled me a little bit for a long time. That was my model for what things should be like, and for a long time it was pretty darn hard to find something that measured up to it. But I think the biggest lesson of all is a respect for the material, a respect for the writing. The writing is always first. And so, throughout my career — and especially recently, as I’ve gained more responsibility on set — my biggest goal has been to encourage a real focus on quality material, starting with the best material you can. Because it all comes from there. You can elevate shitty material. You can elevate shitty writing. You can make shitty writing into something good. You can’t make shitty writing into something great.
Between Den Of Thieves, a real favorite for me, and then Skyscraper, 2018 was your year of heists. Is this a genre that you’re drawn to as a viewer as well?
No, strangely! Both heist movies and science fiction, which have made up pretty much my entire acting catalog over the past five years — neither of them is my go-to genre. But at the same time, I would say that my major goal as an actor is to work across all genres easily, fluidly, and comfortably. I love being able to move around in different genres. The biggest joy of my career has been discovering what’s next as it comes to me. Discovering this whole science fiction period, with American Gods, and now Halo, has been a joy, and one that’s opened me up to all kinds of possibilities within material, and things that you can do in the genre that you can’t necessarily do in straightforward drama. Heist took me for a little ride in the same way, and it was fun to learn about what might make that successful. I feel like I’m always studying, and trying to figure out how best to do what I do.