Pablo Schreiber On ‘Halo’s’ ‘Darker,’ ‘More Dangerous’ Season Two Upgrade

Pablo Schreiber is good at multitasking.

It’s something I become more and more grateful for as we chat by phone about the upcoming second season of his big-budget Halo series. He’s on the road, driving to places unknown, and jokingly prepping me on what to do should I suddenly hear a loud crash. I never do – he assures me he wouldn’t blame me if something had happened – but I get the sense that there’s a bit of a daredevil in Schreiber which makes him suited to roles like that of Master Chief in the Paramount+ video game adaptation.

Filled with gritty, pulse-ratcheting action and political intrigue, the show’s second season is a vast improvement, mostly because it gives Schreiber a chance to wield his imposing physical presence to great effect. With a new showrunner in David Weiner (Brave New World) and cast additions like Joseph Morgan (The Originals), the tone of the show has shifted. Things are darker and more dangerous in a thrillingly visceral way and, while Master Chief can sense the looming threat The Covenant – a horde of militant aliens hellbent on eradicating mankind from every nook and cranny of the galaxy – poses, no one else is willing to acknowledge the planet’s impending apocalypse.

Uproxx chatted with Schreiber about the show’s season two upgrade, gaming fandoms, and what he’s learned after years of playing a tough guy on screen.

It was interesting to see how gaming fans received the first season of the show versus how newcomers responded to it. How did you handle the criticisms of season one?

I handle the criticism in the same way that I handle the love and the accolades. There’s plenty of that too. There were a lot of successes that came out of season one. There’s a massive fan base behind this game with so many different opinions on how it should be carried out. I really love it, to be honest with you. To me, the passion of the Halo fans is something that, regardless of which particular opinion or take they have, it’s still passion, it’s still engagement. I love that people love the franchise so much. I knew going in that people feel very protective of it.

One of the things that dawned on me as I’ve gone through this experience is how much of a personal ownership people have, not just over the franchise, but over the character of Master Chief. Because when they played the game they played along as the character. The way video game protagonists are designed, they’re blank slates that you’re asked to project your personality traits onto so you can feel more like you are the character. Every single person who’s ever played Halo has a sense of ownership over the character and almost feels like there are pieces of him that are them and they’re right.

And that creates a potential cognitive dissonance in trying to then see somebody else as the character. That can be a challenge for some people. And that’s okay too. The biggest thing is a lot of people involved have worked tirelessly to try to make it the best version of itself that it can be. We have a fantastic showrunner named David Wiener who’s come in and taken the reigns and we are working to fulfill his vision of this beautiful universe with a captivating mythology and a wealth of storytelling opportunities inside of it.

You were friends with David Weiner before he signed onto the show. What were those early conversations about season two like?

He made it clear early on that he was interested in making an eight-episode war movie that was as gritty, authentic, and realistic as possible. And I thought that tonal shift was perfect for the places that we were heading this season. It’s a darker, more dangerous place for humanity and to have a more subjective point of view where you’re really thrust into it with the soldiers themselves and getting a sense of what war feels like, I thought was a perfect shift.

How do you work on a show with a friend — especially a show like this with so much pressure on it to perform — and still walk away as friends once the job ends?

Yeah, it was a really intricate process and one that demanded a lot of attention because creativity can be really personal territory. When you’re doing the best work, you are always messing around the edges of some really personal stuff, stuff that feels close to home, stuff that can be emotionally charged. I made it clear early on that our friendship took priority over anything that would happen in the course of this creative endeavor. Because it did get difficult at times. There were times when I quite honestly didn’t agree with what he was doing and I had to let him know that and we had to agree to disagree as it were, and just move forward.

And at the end of the day, it’s his show. Just like in the first season, it was Stephen Kane’s show and the power that I have is really just to offer my opinion and say what I think is the best direction, and if that’s listened to or followed through on, fantastic. If it’s not, I have to accept that and I have to move on and I have to get behind the ideas and the vision of the showrunner. That’s collaboration, right? I had to make a mental break between what work was and what friendship was and just decide that there was nothing that would bridge that gap.

It kind of mirrors what your character is going through this season. He’s trusting his intuition and no one’s listening to him.

[laughs] I told you sometimes art gets really personal. Sometimes it hits close to home.

He’s got some autonomy this season. He’s thinking for himself for the first time.

Yeah, there are glimpses of that. There was so much that he was unsure about and he was being confronted with for the first time in the first season. I think when you see him in the second season, he’s been burned. He’s felt some things and he’s felt the complications of that. He’s a bit of a man on an island in the sense that things are not going well in the struggle against the Covenant and things are not going well for his team in particular. They’re doing work that they feel they’re overqualified for. The rest of the team is grumpy and they’re looking at him wondering why they’re in this position. And then he also is in a place that he never has been before where people start to question his judgment and question his decision-making.

It’s all new territory. One of the interesting things about that arc is that in terms of the first four episodes, you’re wondering about the sanity of your main character, whether he’s losing it or not. And, spoiler, ultimately he is proven to be right. But I thought an interesting way to take that journey was for him to become more and more sure of himself and more clear that what he saw was true. Even as the evidence becomes more and more damning and people are not believing him, he’s sure of himself, which is I think the opposite of what you normally see in that kind of journey. You usually have a lot of self-doubt and questioning.

What’s your response to authority? Are you a rule follower?

[laughs] I believe that people should be respected and when authority deserves respect, I’m the first one to give it. I have a really clear sense of my own instincts and I’m not afraid to share what I believe. So that can contribute to some bumps with authority when I don’t believe that authority is handling its powers in the best way possible.

But it’s interesting, it also dovetails with leadership, which this process of playing this character has also paralleled with my journey of trying to figure out what it means to be a leader and what the best methods of leadership are in terms of providing a good tone on set. How important is honesty, which is really important to me as a quality? When is it necessary and when is it more important to set the right tone? Those are qualities of leadership that I think anybody who’s put in that position has to face at certain times.

You’ve played a tough guy opposite a lot of other tough guys in Hollywood. Of the people you’ve worked with, who’s the real deal?

I’ve been lucky enough to interact with a lot of really tough guys, not all of them actors. I’m talking about special forces people, I’m talking about MMA fighters. I know a lot of people who have the ability to end your life in a second. One thing that seems to be mostly consistent is a lot of these people are actually some of the most humble and gentle people you’ll ever meet. Maybe I avoided having to weigh in about other tough actors, but that’s what you get.

New episodes of Halo stream on Thursdays on Paramount+.