TV: Halo star Pablo Schreiber talks about master chief role and the game's 'intense' fans

·6-min read
Pablo Schreiber as Master Chief
Pablo Schreiber as Master Chief

Taking one of the most iconic video games to the small screen is no easy job. We speak to stars of Halo, launching on Paramount+, about the journey.

As far as gaming characters go, the protagonist known as Master Chief, or John-117 from the Halo franchise, is one of the most iconic on-screen personas.

So taking that character from the world of gaming to the television small screen is something that's going to get a lot of eyeballs on it.

And the person who knows that only too well is Canadian-American actor Pablo Schreiber.

The 44-year-old actor, who rose to prominence in series like Den Of Thieves, takes on the role in the Halo TV series based on the hit video game franchise.

The series is one of the many new shows launching in the UK and Ireland on the Paramount+ streaming service on June 22.

The US media giant's platform will feature content from the firm's range of studios and brands, including Paramount Pictures, Comedy Central, MTV and Nickelodeon and will also be home to original shows including Star Trek: Strange New Worlds and the new TV adaption of The Man Who Fell To Earth.

But for Schreiber, whose half-brother is Ray Donovan star Liev, it wasn't a daunting proposition to tackle.

"I think maybe I was a little naive getting into it," he says over Zoom ahead of the UK launch of Halo, which made its debut in the US in March, and brings to life the game storyline which is set in the 26th century and depicts the conflict between humanity and the alien species known as The Covenant.

"It didn't feel that daunting when I got into it, I was just really excited. I had some experience playing Halo in my college years, so I had a peripheral sort of relationship with it, but I'd never played it in story mode or campaign mode.

"So I only knew it as this first person shooter challenge game where you could go in and shoot your buddies. And so the process for me of getting the job and then learning about it was getting exposed to this just treasure trove of mythology and story that has been established over the past 20-some years."

The original trilogy of the Halo games were release in 2001 and the franchise grew from strength to strength, with the latest title, Halo Infinite released last year and dubbed by American site IGN as being the game that has "absolutely brought Halo's single-player campaign back into contention as one of the finest out there...".

For Schreiber, whose character Master Chief is a super soldier known as a Spartan, it wasn't until he was cast that he realised just how intense and dedicated the fan base is.

"I immediately fell in love with this world and this universe and obviously, the opportunity of getting to play such an iconic character as Chief," he muses.

"And so I think I was not really tuned in to the scope of the fan passion for the project. I was warned that there's as many opinions about Halo as there are Halo fans and prepared in all those ways.

"When I was cast, I definitely got a sense of the importance for so many people and the passion. But it wasn't till it came out (in the US) that I really, really felt how huge this was for so many people, how excited so many people were to get to have this as a live action show finally, after so long and how complicated the community is as well."

Someone who knows the fan base only too well is Kiki Wolfkill, executive producer to the series and also the person oversees the Halo gaming franchise.

"I love bringing people into the universe. I'm a gamer, I've been a Halo fan since the very beginning, since the first game," she says passionately.

"And one of the things that was really important to me in doing this, and maybe for selfish reasons is, I have a lot of people around me - friends, family - who don't understand my love for Halo, because they're not gamers.

"And it is this incredibly deep and vast universe with so many different kinds of stories and characters and elements. And so the opportunity for this show to be a vehicle where people can share the thing that they love, which is Halo, with people who aren't gamers, is incredibly gratifying."

The opportunity to explore such a vast sci-fi universe was also irresistible for actress Natascha McElhone, who plays Dr Halsey, the creator of the Spartan super soldiers.

She explains: "One of the things that interests me is playing a scientist because scientists are held to account, most of their work only works if there's proof.

"Unlike the rest of us who can waffle and get away with quite a lot or I speak for myself as an actor, you know, as a creator. I think good scientists, they have to ignore conventional wisdom.

"They have to make a special effort to break from it in fact... you need a brain that is in the habit of going where it's not supposed to, other than reflecting reality which you know, as an artist, often you are called to reflect and ruminate on our lives as they are.

"What I like about sci fi, I suppose is, it represents life as we don't yet know it. It's a way of thinking about what we can't yet conceive of".

British star McElhone, 50, the star of titles like Ronin, The Truman Show and Solaris, gained a huge fan following for her role in US TV series Californication, which saw her starring opposite David Duchovny.

She muses: "It's funny what can become cultish after a while. I remember Californication was only airing on Channel 5 or something back in the day, and no one saw it.

"No one knew what I was going to America to do every summer for three months... no one had a clue.

"And now I mean, literally every single day I get someone coming up to me, and often kids, you know, God knows how old they were when it came out, sort of saying 'oh I love that'.

"So I think these things have a much longer shelf life than we imagined. And because Halo is so beloved, and it's been played by a few generations now, it's been out there for years, I'm intrigued to see whether the show has the same hook."

Halo launches on Paramount+ on Wednesday with the first three episodes available on launch and new episodes weekly (every Wednesday) after that.