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Interview: Mark Pellegrino

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A&E just aired the premiere episode of its new series The Returned. The show is an adaptation of the French series Les Revenants, which was broadcast internationally with the title The Returned. The series follows residents in a small town whose lives are disrupted when people who have been dead for many years begin reappearing. One of the stars of the series is veteran actor Mark Pellegrino. The pilot for The Returned was written by Carlton Cuse who also worked with Mark on the hit series Lost.

Mark has certainly built an impressive resume in movies and television that would be the envy of anyone in the business. He’s appeared in such movies as Mulholland Drive, Twisted, Capote and most recently, won rave review for his work as Giff in the independent film Bad Turn Worse. On the small screen, he’s been part of hit shows such as Supernatural, The Closer, Dexter, Revolution and The Tomorrow People to name a few. To say Mark isn’t one of the busiest men in show business today is an understatement.

We sit down with Mark to talk about his new series The Returned, how he enjoyed the “guerilla” style shooting of the film Bad Turn Worse, some of his favorite projects from the past and the upcoming projects he’s working on with his wife.

Pop Culture Principle – Did you know about The Returned before you were approached for the part?

Mark Pellegrino – I did not. All I knew was that Carlton Cuse wanted me to audition for a show called The Returned and at that time I found out it was based on the French series. So, I went ahead and watched the series and got to the eight episode, but haven’t finished it yet. I was working on another series at the time, so I haven’t seen the climax of season one.

Pop Culture Principle – Can you tell us the basic story of The Returned and your character Jack Winship?

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Mark Pellegrino – The Returned is about this miracle that happens in this small town called Caldwell, Washington and the miracle is that people who were long thought dead come back to life. My character is Jack Winship who is a father and a husband and his daughter Camille is the first to return. She was killed in a school bus accident four years prior to the start of the show. Of course, four years ago we were a fairly stable and happy family, but the death of Camille completely transforms the family. In the four years she’s been gone, my wife and I are separated living separate lives and my surviving daughter is acting out and totally alienated from me and her mother; so the family is in total shambles.

Pop Culture Principle – It seems that your character deals with the initial loss of his child with denial. Would you agree?

Mark Pellegrino – Oh yea. He’s emotionally cut off and I think that is one of many things that Jack Winship is going to have to struggle with and hopefully overcome during the course of the show.

Pop Culture Principle – Your character has an off and on again girlfriend who is supposed to be a psychic, but probably isn’t. Do you think this relationship adds another form of destruction and denial in his life?

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Mark Pellegrino – It’s interesting and layered, so you could definitely say that. I think the reason for the relationship is a practical one for her and for my character, aside from the basic physical attraction, she really provides hope and the connectedness that he can’t seem to find in his real life with his family. I think Jack goes there to try and get closure with his daughter and he can’t. The relationship starts to develop and you can’t be close to someone like that without all kinds of other complications coming into the mix.

Pop Culture Principle – As an actor, you must really get excited to play a character like Jack Winship who has so many levels. Would you agree?

Mark Pellegrino – Absolutely and I really like that Jack is relatable. I think that anybody who has lost someone can relate to pretty much every aspect of grief, but denial and the unwillingness to confront your sadness, these are things that everybody can relate to and things that anybody would want to overcome if they could. Hopefully, this miracle of the return of my daughter will enable Jack to do that, I don’t know yet.

Pop Culture Principle – With the return of several people in the series, that will definitely bring positive and negative consequences to the families of the returned. Would you agree?

Mark Pellegrino – Totally. Obviously we have no reference point for something like this happening in our lives. Just as a human being and as an actor, I can look at a situation like this after going through some traumas in my life, and understand that any emotional light or lack of emotional light that you experience under these situations is true. I mean, you can sit from an armchair and say you won’t react a certain way in a certain situation. I’ve been in situations where I have had reactions that I thought were completely the opposite of what I would have conceived of. So, it’s great that this show enables this miracle, this phenomenon to be looked at from all kinds of different emotional angles. The characters are very interesting and are there for mysterious reasons and we don’t know why they are back and what they hope to achieve. That’s one of the many ways I think the show really works is because It just doesn’t have one mystery going. I love that mystery and I am really anxious to see what’s next.

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Pop Culture Principle – The series boasts a phenomenal cast including Jeremy Sisto, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and India Ennenga to name a few. What was it like working on set with those actors?

Mark Pellegrino – I was one of the few characters that got to crossover and work with everybody because all of us kind of have our own interesting, isolated stories in this community and I got to crossover amongst a few of them. It was my first time working with Jeremy and I really enjoyed it. I feel we are like souls in a way; we work similarly and have a similar take on things. I loved India who is so smart and is going to college at the same time she is doing the show. She is a very interesting, together nineteen year old and I loved working with her. Contrary to our on screen relationships, Candy is really kind, fun loving and just a joy to be around on set. Everyone is great and really fun to work with. I’ve been really fortunate in my career that pretty much every project I’ve worked on there have been great people involved.

Pop Culture Principle – What are your thoughts on The Returned being compared to the ABC series Resurrection?

Mark Pellegrino – Well, I never saw Resurrection, so I really have no standard to compare. I mean, to me it’s like comparing versions of Hamlet. It doesn’t diminish my desire to see something else, I am actually interested in seeing how the creative components come together to tell a story that may on the surface seem similar. In the same way I’d love to see what Benedict Cumberbatch or Jude Law would do with Hamlet. Carlton Cuse has his take on this and his creative intuition is taking it in another direction and I’m really anxious to see where that goes.

Not knowing much about Resurrection, I think this show is a really character driven show. It’s not melodramatic and I think about the moments and spaces in between.

Pop Culture Principle – What can fans look forward to with the first season of the series?

Mark Pellegrino – I think they can look forward to the unexpected because this miracle will change people in ways you can’t imagine. My relationships with my family and the significant people in my life are going to take some very interesting turns. So, as you are watching it, try to imagine what you think is going to happen and I guarantee you it won’t go that way.

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Pop Culture Principle – You received rave reviews for the independent film Bad Turn Worse. What can you tell us about your experience on that film?

Mark Pellegrino – I loved everyone involved with that project. Bennett Miller, who directed Capote called me one day and said that Zeke, his old assistant on Capote is going to call you, he has this movie and you’ve got to do it. I thought that was a great endorsement because I think Bennett is a really fine director and he has great taste. So, I gave the script a read and I really liked it and said yes to the project.

It was this little independent film that we shot in this small cotton town about fifteen miles outside of Corpus Christi, Texas. All the cast stayed in the houses of friends of the producer and I stayed in a cotton farmer’s house in the backroom. We filmed guerilla style in all these locations and Zeke and Simon shot this and were very collaborative and creative. I loved that in scenes they had long lenses and didn’t have cameras all in our face which allowed us to have experiences with each other. It’s all scripted, but it did allow us to play on screen. We were able to work in an improvisational style, especially my character that had a lot of words to say. It concerned me a bit because I am one of those guys who likes to talk less and show more. So, I had to find a way to negotiate that territory and not be boring.

I have to say, I enjoyed playing Giff and he is one of the only characters that I’ve played that I can sincerely call evil and that is huge since I’ve played the Devil. For me personally, anyone who bullies kids and rules over other people with that kind of capriciousness and takes joy in the torture and pain he causes other people, that is an evil man.

Pop Culture Principle – You were involved with the short lived series The Tomorrow People. A great series cancelled too soon. What was it like working on that series?

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Mark Pellegrino – It was fun working with those kids. First of all as an actor, it’s just nice to be working period and it’s nice to go to work every day on a set as opposed to having to do something else, so I am blessed to be able to do this for quite a while.

That character was interesting because they were not very revealing to us with respect to Jedikiah’s backstory and whether he was a good guy or a bad guy. I always try to find the good in the bad guy, the human thing the person is striving for that anyone can relate to. With Jedikiah, we found out that he was trying to actually protect his brother and was in a no win situation with the powers higher than him. Imagine being undercover in an organization where they can read your thoughts-you have to lie to your deepest level.

I am not sure how much the writers knew that was going to happen as they were writing the story because it was unfolding as it was going along. For right or wrong, for better or worse, those are the kinds of revelations as an actor you would like to know from the beginning. It seems to work out somehow in the wash; you are acting the scene and everybody suspends disbelief and follows along with it. There were definitely times when I thought to myself certain things would have been nice to know. Plus, I am the best keeper of secrets on the planet because I did Lost and when I would do interviews, people were dying to know spoilers all the time and I wouldn’t say a thing!

Pop Culture Principle – On Lost you played Jacob who was the brother of Titus Welliver’s character. You both worked so well on screen. What was it like working with Titus?

Mark Pellegrino – I love Titus and he’s a great guy. He’s a great storyteller and does some fantastic impersonations. He’s got that Irish storytelling bug that just makes you want to watch him when he’s talking.

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I loved the dynamic of the two brothers on Lost and the values that the brothers had that made them go in the direction they went. The flaws that Jacob had that he needed redemption for in the end like all the characters in the story needed some form of redemption. It was really a surreal experience working on a show like that because just a few simple episodes of a character that was built up for so long, opened up a lot of doors for people to see me from a different perspective that they hadn’t seen before and that was really nice.

Pop Culture Principle – You also played Lucifer for several episodes on Supernatural. What was your experience like on that series?

Mark Pellegrino - You know, Supernatural is a phenomenon and the fan base is really passionate and like a family. The show is great and I love the way they twisted the mythology. I liked the fact that Lucifer actually told the truth and never lied. He was a straight shooter unlike the other angels and he had goodness in him. You got on his side and you saw where he was coming from. When he becomes a figment of Sam’s imagination that is fun to act but it’s definitely a Lucifer with less stature. I kind of dig the guy that rampages through the hotel and kills all the Pagan Gods.

Pop Culture Principle – When you join shows like LOST, Dexter, Closer and Supernatural that have hugely loyal fanbases and have been on air for a while, is it easy for you to fit in?

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Mark Pellegrino - Well, it’s never easy to walk on a set where they have been together for five or six years and are a family and a well-oiled machine. You are the new guy on the block and you have to go to work. I’ve been fortunate enough to have been on shows were they are just really nice people. The Closer is one of my favorite shows to work on. Mary McDonnell is amazing, Kyra is great and James Duff, the executive producer on the show, is one of my favorite people on the planet. The fact that I got to do a character that is a cross between Tim Gunn and Carson Kressley was really fun. A hard hitting, flamboyantly gay attorney was one of my favorite parts to do. I was hoping and maybe that hope isn’t in vain, I would come back as a lawyer on Major Crimes because those guys are just such good people to work with.

Also, Jared and Jensen are great too and I love working with those guys. I know there is a big fan push to bring Lucifer back on the show. I hope that happens because even though I am doing another show, I’d love to get back in there and play with Lucifer again. I’d like to play him as an apocalyptic Lucifer; a Lucifer that isn’t messing around anymore and kick Crowley’s ass.

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Pop Culture Principle – Any upcoming projects that you can tell us about?

Mark Pellegrino – My wife and I have been shooting films for the past two years all over the world. It was her brainchild because I was going to these conventions all over the world and she thought it would be a great idea to write stories about the miscommunications and cultural differences that cause these situations to happen. We would guerilla shoot these films and we just finished that project. It’s going to be compiled as a feature film because they are all thematically connected and the characters kind of intertwine through the stories.

Also, she is starting another film that I helped get funding via Kickstarter through the fanbase called The Last Train which is based on a play by Tony Montes. It’s about two people who meet in the midst of committing suicide and how they connect and how it changes their lives. It’s a really moving piece and I think it will make a great movie.

We would like to thank Mark for taking time out of his busy schedule to sit down and talk with us. You can catch new episodes of The Returned, every Monday night at 10/9c on A&E. If you would like to keep up with all of Mark's latest news and projects, you can follow him on his official Twitter here.

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