From Weeds creator Jenji Kohan, Orange is the New Black tells the heartbreaking and hilarious stories of the women at Litchfield Prison. In Season 1, Piper Chapman’s (Taylor Schilling) wild past came back to haunt her, resulting in her arrest and detention in a federal penitentiary where she finds unexpected conflict and camaraderie amidst an eccentric group of inmates. In Season 2 of the popular Netflix original series (Season 1 is also currently available on Blu-ray/DVD), shocking revelations and new arrivals shake up the lives and relationships of the prisoners, in ways they never could have imagined.
During this recent exclusive phone interview with Collider, actor Pablo Schreiber (who plays Pornstache) talked about going into this show with zero expectations, how the reaction to the show was immediate, his rather unusual fan requests, how the success of the series changed the vibe on set for Season 2, and how satisfied he was with the way things played out for his character in the second season. He also talked about his half-hour comedy series The Brink for HBO, and the experience of working on The Moon and the Sun, about King Louis XIV and a mermaid. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
PABLO SCHREIBER: No, zero. Acting careers are very interesting things. They come with a lot of ups and downs. You just have to ride the waves and bide your time during the lulls, and enjoy the high times when they’re there. When I started doing Orange, it was a very slow time for me. It was one of those sit in the boat and wait for the sea to kick up again time periods. So, when it came around, I was just thankful for the work. I was thankful for the job, and I was thankful for getting to work with Jenji [Kohan] again ‘cause we had done Weeds. It was a very small role in the pilot. It was one scene in the pilot. I had some inside information that the character was going to be used a little bit more as the season went on, but I really had no idea what to expect with where the character was going to go and what was going to happen with the show. I had very low expectations because it was such a niche thing, on a distributor, with Netflix, that nobody really knew anything about yet. It was all very undefined, as to what the experience was going to become. It was wonderful to just ride the wave and go with it as it took off.
When did you start to realize that it was having the reaction that it had?
SCHREIBER: It was immediate, as soon as it was released. The moment it was released, Twitter went crazy. We all had our followers multiply and go crazy. The reaction of people liking it was immediate. The reviews started coming in and it was pretty much, across the board, well received. There was very little negative feedback about it, and the fan response was huge. The way Netflix does their marketing and the release of the season at once contributes to that, too. Rather than one episode at a time coming out and people slowly catching on, they dump the entire season at once and people watch it right away, so they’re either hooked or they’re not. In this case, people seemed to be hooked very fast. It just steam-rolled from there.
As the reactions started coming out, you must have gotten some very strong reactions to your character.
SCHREIBER: Oh, yeah. It was strong and across the board. There was so much variety. Every reaction that’s possible to have towards a human being was had by that character. He elicited very strong responses with people, in all respects, whether positive, negative or erotic. It was a very, very strange experience to go through on social media. Before that, my social media life had been very tame. I had only just dipped my toes in the world of Twitter and was throwing out a tweet, here and there, of very boring and normal stuff. All of a sudden, Pornstache just turned my world upside down.
Was there anything that particularly stood out for you, as far as the reactions you got?
SCHREIBER: Requests for mustache rides were the big common theme, around the time of the release of the season. People were saying how much they hated him, obviously, and how they would kill him or choke him. There were just all kinds of things. You name it, I got it.
What sort of reaction do you get from people when they see you and you don’t have the mustache?
SCHREIBER: The beauty of the character is that it’s like camouflage. It’s the best costume ever. I rarely get recognized as Pornstache when I’m out in public. Most people recognize me as the Law & Order guy, when I’m out in public. It’s not good to be recognized as him because he’s awful, too, but I don’t often get the Pornstache. People don’t stop me on the street and throw things at me. But I’m aware of what that dynamic is, so whenever people react strongly to a character and say that they hate me, I take it as a job well done. And for most people, there’s a sense of removal. Most people are not saying, “Oh, my god, I hate you!” Most people that have reactions say, “I love to hate your character.” There’s usually a sense of humor about all of it. It is what it is. I had two characters that were equally detestable, in very different ways, that hit the airwaves, at the same time. It was a very interesting year in my career, in that way. But I have no fear, on that note. I have a new project for HBO, where I’m going to play the good guy. That’s going to be fun and exciting, and shift the paradigm a bit.
What is the HBO show that you’re doing?
SCHREIBER: It’s called The Brink. It’s a half-hour comedy for HBO. Tim Robbins, Jack Black and I are the three leads, and it’s on the brink of the apocalypse. The world is about to fall apart and there are three characters that are tasked with saving the world. At least in the first season, it seems, there’s not too much interaction between the three characters. It’s three separate storylines that follow their own paths, but it is fun to watch because each of those characters are so different, and us, as actors, are obviously so different. It’s a really unique show with a great tone. I saw the pilot and it came out really well. It’s really well written and funny, and everybody in the show is really good. I think it will be popular. You never know with that stuff, but we’ll hope.
Did the success of Season 1 of Orange is the New Black change the vibe on set, at all? Did the atmosphere feel different, now that you know there’s a certain expectation level?
SCHREIBER: Yeah, it was way different. It was different in good ways and in bad ways. People were enjoying their success a little more, which was wonderful. We had no idea what it was going to be when we were shooting the first season. We were just operating in a vacuum and throwing stuff out there to see where it would go. By the time we came back for the second season – and I didn’t come back until well into the season – it was established that we were successful and that people liked the show. Everyone was aware, and that awareness brought positive things, in terms of people being more confident and taking more risks. On the other hand, the expectations are raised, so you know you have more to live up to, and you can feel that in the air. Everyone knew it was on them to bring their A-game and make sure that the second season is as successful as the first.
Do you have process that you follow for finding each character that you play?
SCHREIBER: I let each character develop naturally, as it comes. One thing that I do like to do is write out a character bio, before I start working, for who the guy is, where he comes from and what his past history is, but I didn’t do that on Orange because there was very little information. It would have really been just me, making up a bunch of stuff. And then, I took that freedom and decided to use it. I wanted to just be surprised about where things went. So, I put a lot of faith and trust in the writers’ hands, and I think they rewarded me well. They wrote a really complex and compelling character, who’s funny and scary, at the same time. And the shifts that he took, as the season went on, had I known what was coming up ahead, I have no idea how I would have planned for that. It was really wonderful to get to discover all of that stuff, as it came up, especially falling in love with Daya and him becoming vulnerable. That was a wonderful twist, and really great to discover while I’m sitting and reading my script, rather than being prepped beforehand. One of the greatest qualities about Jenji’s writing is that she really knows how to build up expectations about a character, and then pull the rug out from under you. She did it with a lot of the characters in the first season. Most of the characters had a shift, in one way or another. It was more dramatic for some of us and more subtle for others, but that’s her deal and I appreciate that.
SCHREIBER: Yeah, I was very satisfied. I had a lot of fun playing the scenes that they wrote for me in the second season. It was really great. I came back for a pretty brief and bright moment, in the middle of the season. It’s not a ton of stuff, but it was a lot of fun. I really enjoyed it. I haven’t been unsatisfied by anything that I’ve been given on that show. I really appreciate what the writers are doing and respect everything that they do. So, I was satisfied, for sure.
How do you personally view Pornstache?
SCHREIBER: I just have a lot of fun playing him. Everybody else sees the actions more than I tend to think about them. The actions are an unfortunate by-product of his insecurity and fear. But for me, the best of playing the character is how fun he is. There’s really no boundaries or limitations when I play him. I can really do whatever I want, and I’m not even exaggerating. Anything that I was to do while playing this character would be considered acceptable because he’s such a loose canon and so out there. The more grotesque and awful that you can make him, the better. There’s so much freedom in that. It’s so fun, as an actor, to get to just throw away your inhibitions and be as awful as you can. With my arc on Law & Order, it was hard to play someone who was capable of such hideous and terrible things. But, I didn’t think about that too much on Orange is the New Black because it’s a different tone. I was just having fun being awful. I didn’t have fun being awful on Law & Order. That was a little harder. But on Orange, it’s just a blast. Playing Pornstache is like dancing on a razor. He fulfills two really important parts of the story, or at least did in the first season, being absolutely terrifying for the inmates, on the one hand, and on the other hand, he was really funny. His brand of humor is one of the main things that identifies this show as what it is and what the tone is going to be, which is more of a heightened reality. It’s that throughline of not taking him too seriously that will establish how you watch the show.
SCHREIBER: It’s a period piece costume drama about Louis XIV and a mermaid. It’s pretty awesome. I’ve been having a lot of fun. We got to shoot for a month in the palace of Versailles, which was outrageous and gorgeous and such a pleasure. And then, we’ve had a month in Australia. It was wonderful to do something so different. That’s why I do what I do. Pornstache was decidedly different from anything that I’d done before that. That’s the spice of life. I decided to become an actor because I would get to change my location and my character, every few months. Based on the project, I would get to be doing something different. For me, that’s gone to the extreme. I’m just trying to do things that are as different as possible, and it’s a blessing that I’m able to play in that way and it’s a lot of fun.
Who are you playing in that?
SCHREIBER: I’m playing a character called Dr. Labarthe. Pierce Brosnan played Louis XIV, William Hurt plays his religious advisor, and I play his medical and scientific advisor. William Hurt and I are opposite sides of the coin and different sides of the debate.
Orange is the New Black is available on Netflix, and Season 1 is also available on Blu-ray/DVD.