When Halo premieres on Paramount Plus, the TV series will be the culmination of a seven-year battle to bring the hit video games to the screen. It’ll also be the biggest role of Pablo Schreiber’s career. The Emmy nominee for Orange is the New Black has spent years himself working to accurately portray Master Chief, Halo‘s enigmatic and beloved protagonist. At SXSW, Pablo spoke to me about how he went from someone who’d never played the games to a devoted fan of the franchise.
“I didn’t grow up with TV or video games,” he explained. “I had played Halo a handful of times [and] I’d only played it in versus mode, never in story or campaign mode. The process since I got the job about three years ago has been immersing myself in the mythology and really being blown away by how much story was there and how much story has been established over the course of the past 21 years. Not just in the video games but in all the media that’s been released outside of it—the novels, which they sent me a couple that I read, the animated shorts, the live-action films and the graphic novels. [It was] an immense amount of mythology and storytelling, not just the amount of it but how deeply and richly realized it was.”
Pablo is about to add to that mythology by becoming the face of Master Chief in a very literal sense. People have been buzzing ever since it was revealed that the Halo TV series would be the first part of the franchise where the character will be seen without his iconic helmet. There’s a very good reason for that; the TV series wants fans to be able to connect with the character emotionally, which is harder to do if viewers never see his face. But Pablo knows that’s one of a few points on which the TV show differs from the games, and spoke about the way Halo is adapting to a new medium, just like Master Chief adapts to a new campaign.
“It’s been very, very visceral to feel how much people care about this universe and how much people care about the character, how many strong feelings there are about Master Chief,” he said. “It’s totally understandable when you realize that this is a character that for the past 20-some years, we’ve all been playing as when we play the game. There’s a co-ownership we all have over the Chief because we all have our own version of the Chief. He’s a symbol for all of us and he has been kept very vague because it’s a first-person shooter. We are invited to play as him. We fill in the opaque parts of his character with our own personality.”
Now, though he’ll be defining Master Chief physically and personality-wise, the series has achieved a perfect balance between remaining true to its exhaustive universe and carving out a new space that has something to offer even the most die-hard fans.
“I think it’s a world that’s going to be very pleasing for Halo fans because it feels so familiar and it feels so much like the world that we all have come to love for so long,” he added. “But I just as much am excited about exposing this world that I’ve fallen in love with over the past three years [to] people who have never played the game and to show them why we love it so much, why the depth of this story and the amount of mythology and lore that has been established by some really creative and wonderful thinkers is such a wonderful place to be.”
Where other video game adaptations have been hit or miss, Paramount Plus’ version of Halo has reached that rarefied air of a series that transcends the “adaptation” label. It’s a great series that also happens to be based on an incredible franchise. The biggest part of that success is Pablo, whose performance as Master Chief is every bit the larger-than-life heroism the show demands. He’s a talented actor who brings all of his tools to the role along with his towering height, which is another important part of the character.
“I stand at 6’5” outside of my Mjolnir armor. The boots of the suit add about four or five inches, so where in Halo mythology the Spartans are all supposed to be over seven feet [tall], we’re not quite there but we’re getting pretty darn close,” he said. “With the way things are shot on TV, 6’10” or 6’11” in the suit looks pretty close. The Marines that we use are all people who are under six feet, so the height discrepancy between the Spartans and the Marines should feel quite real.”
“The suit has all of its own complications. It’s hot and uncomfortable and challenging to bring alive,” he added. “But the visual effect of being in it is visceral. You can feel it. I felt that the first time the four Spartans that are the Silver team were brought out in front of the crew. You could just see the look on everybody’s faces as they looked up at us—how impressive it was to see us all come in together and that this was actually happening after so many years. It’s been a real treasure.”
Halo premieres on Paramount Plus Thursday, March 24 with new episodes streaming every Thursday.
Article content is (c)2020-2023 Brittany Frederick and may not be excerpted or reproduced without express written permission by the author. Follow me on Twitter at @BFTVTwtr and on Instagram at @BFTVGram.