Mad Sweeney, the supersized leprechaun of "American Gods," has an uncanny knack for inducing as many punches and blows to his person as he is able to conjure gold coins out of thin air. And actor Pablo Schreiber admits he was clocked with an accidental head-butt himself on the job, but didn't mind taking one for the team.
Schreiber -- who's stolen scenes all season as the brooding mythic being from Irish folklore who's embarked road-tripping with Laura, Shadow Moon's bride who's returned from the dead for the better for the most part (minus the slowly rotting flesh) – revealed the cause of his emergency room trip while shooting Starz's critically hailed new series in a chat with Moviefone, as well as his reasons for signing on the series, which he sees as a standard bearer for the current era of what he calls "WTF TV."
Moviefone: Pop culturally, we have this "Lucky Charms" idea of leprechauns, and Neil Gaiman obviously went the other way. How deep down the rabbit hole of myth and leprechaun lore did you go to wrap your head around where Neil was coming from in the creation of this character?
Pablo Schreiber: Not too far, but far enough. The setup for the character comes from an old Irish folk tale about a king who goes mad and just wants to go to battle, brings his people to battle, and the night before he's about to take his people to battle, he has a vision of his own death, so he flees the battle the next day. So I looked at the lore that this character was based on, the character of Mad Sweeney -- not the character from the novel; that character Mad Sweeney is actually the name of an Irish folk tale, so I read that.
Then the leprechaun stuff was actually not that usable to me in the sense of, I did a little bit of research about what the original leprechaun supposedly came from. The legend is that they evolved from a band of tree people in Ireland that were actually quite tall. That's where Neil's pulling this stuff from about the bastardization of leprechaun lore. But then it was just the reactivity of a guy who feels entirely misunderstood, and that people have false misconceptions of. You can play that from any standpoint.
Since I'm six-foot-five, the idea of people thinking of me as this tiny little creature that you only see on cereal boxes, that's easily served into an infuriating concept.
You take a lot of punishment in this series. Mad Sweeney's constantly getting punched in the face or other body parts. How has making that work on screen been for you? Have you had any mishaps in all the blows he's taken through the course of the series?
Yeah, the big one was the original fight sequence with Shadow that you see in the Crocodile Bar. We ended up having to shoot twice because of various concerns, mostly around they didn't like the set that we shot it on the first time. So we ended up shooting it again at the very end of our shoot after we had been shooting for about five or six months.
On the second go-around, I actually had a head-butt with Ricky [Whittle] that turned into a real head-butt and split my head open, and I was bleeding all over the floor. I had to go to the hospital, get it glued up, and then came back and finished the fight because there was no way that we were going to shoot that one on a third day. By that time, we had already done a whole bunch of reshoots and everybody was sick of doing things over again, so it was paramount that we finished that up. That was the worst I took of it in real life.
Other than that, I think it's just a really rich setup for a character. That's how it was originally sold to me, and why I kind of latched on to it as an idea. It's such a great premise: the leprechaun who's lost his luck. So to get to watch this guy who normally has all the gold in the world at his disposal and anything he wants and everything goes his way, and has sort of been touched by the angels for most of his life, all of a sudden lose all of that and be dealing with what it feels like to live on the other side, just felt like a really fun area to play in.
It plays great on screen, so hopefully the pain was worth it all.
Yeah, for sure. A little head split open was the worst I got. Other than that, I'm okay.
My favorite scenes with you are usually with Emily Browning as Laura.Tell me about that specific rapport between the characters have and finding that with her.
Again, so much of it, to me, just really exists in the setup. It's such a rich dynamic. It was pitched to me when I was offered a job as, a portion of this road trip show would be "Bonnie and Clyde with a zombie and a leprechaun." To me, as soon as I heard that, I was like, "Okay, I get it. I know what you're going for."
It's just so much fun to play. You see two characters that are such extreme a**holes, and so acerbic and nasty, and kind of sick and tired of the outside world. Then they just go at each other.
Underneath it, I think part of why it feels so rich is you can feel underneath for both of them. Even though they are these really kind of awful people, underneath, there's a deep core of humanity to both of them, and that they're both dealing with a lot of guilt from their past actions. They're both hiding a lot of guilt and shame for what they've done.
Even though the book was written so many years ago and you guys started shooting a while back, the timing of the show couldn't have been more serendipitous, as far as feeling as relevant as can be. Tell me about that, seeing this work that you had kind of already been doing, suddenly take on a deeper meaning in our cultural moment right now.
The idea of searching for what America means, and trying to make sense of this crazy experiment we're in the middle of, is relevant and topical at any time. But obviously, we got a real bump from the most recent election, and immigration in particular becoming a catchphrase all of a sudden, and a point of conversation and debate.
That really, obviously, played into our hands in terms of our relevance because this is essentially, at its bottom, a story of how this country was built, and the different voices that collaborated to making this country what it is. When you have so much fierce debate about how this country should go forward with its immigration policy, a clear-eyed look at how it was built and the different voices that it took to build it makes us all the more relevant.
You've certainly done your share of all kinds of television series. Over the last few years, you've been sort of in the thick of this sort of new Golden Age of Television that we're experiencing. Obviously, "Orange Is the New Black" was a vanguard in that, as far as high-quality TV in the streaming format. And now this show is another quantum leap forward in storytelling. What's it been like for you to be right at the center of this great transformation of our television content?
I pinch myself when I think of what I've been able to do in my career and the people I've been able to work with. Yeah, I've been a part of the television movement since the beginning of my career. I think the since my movement into acting coming out of college. I was incredibly fortunate and lucky enough that in my early days of my career I did a show called "The Wire," which essentially built, along with "The Sopranos," the whole idea and lore of HBO, which now kind of leads the way in that front.
Then to get to be a part of "Orange Is the New Black," and what Netflix was doing over there, and now to do this with Starz, this is interesting because I was just talking with someone about this the other day. They said, "What does it feel like to be a part of the age of What the F*ck Television?" I thought about it for a second. I was like, "Well, I don't really know what it feels like to be part of that, but that's interesting."
I think there's something to the idea that it's so hard to grab an audience, it's so hard to be that buzz-worthy show, because there's so many places where people are finding content these days, and there's so much competition, and there's so many amazing writers writing for TV, that it's a very competitive landscape.
So this idea of the age of What the F*ck Television is almost like a natural progression of the fact that we've got so much good TV, and in order to really carve out your place in the landscape, you've got to be the most out-there and ridiculous. But there's a number of shows I think right now airing that kind of fit into that paradigm. It's definitely an interesting progression to that.
But then to more directly answer your question, I just feel so fortunate to have gotten to work with David Simon, with Jenji Kohan, and now with Bryan Fuller and Michael Green. These people lead incredibly, incredibly important stories, and to get to be a part of bringing their vision to the screen, to get to work with those people, like I said, I pinch myself every day that I've been as fortunate as I am.
I've been reading Neil's work since I discovered him in his comic book years. There's definitely a magical sort of quality that he has in his art. It, in ways that are alternately fun and clever and profound, tweaks the way you think. I'm curious how Neil's material, and then what Bryan and Michael have done with it, how has that kind of affected your mindset. It's heady stuff when you put your mind to thinking about it.
Oh, usually, yeah! Just to start with, the basic ideas that Neil is tackling in this, to me, immediately made me want to do it. Regardless of how the project came out or how successful it was going to be, or what it ended up looking like, just tackling the ideas that he's tackling about where we decide to put our energy, the things that we give our time and energy to become real. So where are you putting your time and your energy? That kind of check-in with yourself, to me, was automatically a loan worth joining up.
But I think Neil and Bryan and Michael are like the perfect marriage. Neil's work is so sprawling and already, just reading the book, so visual, and so compelling in a visual storytelling. You can already kind of see it when you read the book. To add specifically Bryan to that mix, who has proven himself to be one of our greatest visual storytellers working right now, you already knew that it was going to be insane, on the one hand, and really visually compelling and beautiful.
So while there was an aspect of reading the pilot script and being like, "What the f*ck is this? How is this going to be a TV show?" You also knew at the same time, because of the marriage of the personalities and their specific work, that something really interesting was going to come out of it.