Pablo Schreiber’s Defending Jacob character, Neal Logjudice, took quite a trip over the course of the Apple TV+ limited series. For most of the show, the pit bull of a prosecutor appeared much like a villain, rather than a mere antagonist to Chris Evans’ ex-Assistant District Attorney Andy Barber. With the finale, though, it became clear that Neal was working toward another objective (in flashback form) all along. Barber’s son had been cleared of murder charges, only to be accused of claiming a new victim during a celebratory family vacation. Then yet another terrible tragedy struck, and we saw that Neal was fighting for justice for the formerly accused, young Jacob Barber himself.
Of course, Pablo was no stranger to difficult roles before he landed this character-driven thriller series. He’s also a man of many different styles of acting and facial hair. Many people remember him as George “Pornstache” Mendez from OITNB. He’s also played a “leprechaun” with fabulous sideburns on American Gods, and he shaved it all off for Den Of Thieves. Pablo has also terrified viewers at times, including his portrayal of one of the evilest guys in Law and Order: SVU‘s lengthy history. He’s been somber on The Wire and funny as heck on Weeds. He can do everything, including confronting Chris Evans on Defending Jacob. Pablo was gracious enough to discuss the series finale with us and what it’s like to take on such a variety of roles.
First off, I hope you’re doing okay and staying safe during the time of quarantine.
Yeah, of course! I’m spending time with my kids. I’m actually a pig in sh*t if I can say it so crudely. I’m quite happy to be home. I was working in Hungary for about six months before the pandemic hit, so when we got shut down, I came home, and it feels like a real opportunity to be with the kids and taking care of their education. As harsh as the reality is in so many ways, there are definitely blessings in disguise, and one of them is spending time with your family when you didn’t think you were gonna get to.
A lot of us are switching up grooming habits as well, so I have to ask this question, since you are known for a few facial-hair roles. Are you experimenting with any of your old looks?
I’m fluctuating between just letting myself completely go for short periods of time until I have to do some kind of basic upkeep. I would say that I’m probably close to like a Den of Thieves. I try to shave or buzz my head every few weeks, and when my beard goes crazy, I trim it down. I’ve been tempted to just let it completely go. That was where I wanted to go, but then I just completed a few on-camera interviews, and probably nobody wants to see that.
Do you think anyone wants to see the Pornstache look again?
I’m sure lots of people would like to see that, but it’s not something that I wanna see at this point. [Laughs]
You’ve done a lot of anti-procedural (The Wire) and procedural (Law and Order: SVU) roles, so how did you settle upon doing Defending Jacob?
The writing. It was one of the most complete and well-written pieces that I’ve read in my career, really. When I got it, I got all eight episodes intact, and I thought Mark Bomback had done just an incredible, extraordinarily beautiful job of fleshing it out in a way and telling a story that really had to do with the moral complexity of being human, and to me, the way that he pulled back the curtain on the good-versus-bad stereotype to me was very sophisticated and beautiful. And so, the rest was trying to fulfill that vision. When it’s working, it does a really good job of that, and other times, it probably falls short, but I was really drawn to the writing.
I was going to ask how much of the script you saw going in, since we didn’t know why you were deposing Chris Evans’ character until the very end.
Yeah, exactly. I think especially for this role, to get somebody ready, you’d have to show them the ending to make the beginning work. You’re looking at Neal through a very different lens at the beginning than the end, and it really isn’t until the very end that he gets even just a smidge of explaining. Because you follow the Barber family and specifically Andy so closely, Neal’s at different times an annoyance or a complete force for evil. And it’s not until the very end that you realize that he’s really fighting and has fought since the court case. He kinda went a step too far during the court case, but in the New York Supreme Court deposition that you’re witnessing in periodic flashbacks, I think he’s trying to make amends for some of his overstepping of the bounds and really driving for justice for the kid. But you don’t realize that until the end, of course.
Do you check up on social media reactions while a show airs? There were some strong reactions to Neal, though they praised your performance.
Ohhhh well, if I was squeamish about that, I would have left this business a long time ago. I’m used to that. That’s okay, I’ve played various characters that you love to hate, and so my job is to fulfill my job within a story, and Neal felt like an opportunity to play someone who was viewed one way but only really because of perspective and point-of-view. At the end of the day, he’s actually just doing a really good job. He’s being a very successful prosecutor and doing everything that he needs to do to get justice with the information that he has at the time.
So, this show has a super, super cast. Was it an odd experience to pretend to intimidate Captain America?
Oh, Chris was a pleasure to work with. He’s quite clearly done incredible work in this series, the best of work of his career, I think, and that’s saying a lot. He’s done fantastic work across his career. I think his work in this is getting more subtle and more nuanced than a lot of stuff in his past, and it’s palpable, you can feel it. It was great fun to work with him and to create. Also, Cherry Jones is from my alma mater, Carnegie Mellon University and also a very classic theater actress. I started my career in the theater, and to get to spar with her was really, truly one of the highlights of my career. I’ll remember those days in the courtroom for a long, long time.
We don’t get too much backstory on Neal, probably intentionally. Did you know more about him?
Of course, you always wanna flesh out your backstory, and we see a little bit of that between characters. We learn that Andy and Neal, well, there was a mentor relationship, which actually goes a long way toward explaining a lot of the behavior and was quite — in terms of Andy being the person who taught Neal all of the things that he eventually uses on him — it’s a bit of a chickens-coming-home-to-roost situation. But besides the things that you see, you always wanna flesh out with history, or you get a non-complete human.
Do you have hopes for where Neal goes in his career?
Well, where I want him to go, and where I think he’s heading, might not be the same thing, but prior to the conclusion, when Patz confesses and kills himself, and the case gets dismissed, it’s a real turning point for Neal. I think prior to that moment, he was very political and wanted very much to be the [Assistant District Attorney]. He viewed himself as the next in line, and I think was doing everything possible to get himself in that position. And the moment when Patz confesses and kills himself, and he is faced with the fact that he went all out, to prosecute a child, who (at that moment) appears to not be guilty, I think it really rocks him to his core, and he questions everything that he was doing. And I think the idea of career politics becomes much less real for him, and we learn [later] that he’s decided to move on and go into private practice. So clearly, in my mind, his actions through the deposition, you realize that he’s been doing that all to get justice, but you see the lengths that he goes to make amends. And then in my mind, the idea of going into private practice for Neal — a guy who already has a loose hold on his own moral compass — the writing’s kinda on the wall. He’s going to become a very high paid [private attorney], and his moral compass is probably not going to be trained to true North at all.
Does a role like this go home with you at night? You’ve played a lot of heavy roles, even more than this one.
Yeah, I would say that this is less impactful than the heavier characters I’ve done in terms of me bringing it home and it affecting my life. Because of some of the heavier themes that I’ve dealt with, I feel like I’m well prepared to leave it at the door.
Do you prefer serious roles or the broad comedy that you sometimes do?
I wouldn’t say that it’s not an either-or situation. I wanna work in as many different colors as energies as I can. It’s really a great gift for me as a storyteller to push myself as many different places and be with people doing many different things. The variety of what I get to do is the biggest part of the attraction. So, comedy or drama for me, it’s “let’s do it all,” and they all have their own perks and interests. It’s a little bit like asking whether you prefer theater, film, or TV. They all have their own amazing strengths and unique qualities, so I’d hate to be forced to choose.
Well, you’re definitely doing it all. You’ve made me laugh and given me nightmares, so thank you for both of those.
Thanks, I appreciate that. I really feel grateful and very happy to get to do what I do. And to know that it has an effect that is wide ranging is probably the best compliment that I can get, so thank you.
The entire ‘Defending Jacob’ limited series is now available on Apple TV+.