Mark Pellegrino is known for a variety of roles that span over three decades. He’s appeared in such movies as The Big Lebowski, National Treasure, Capote, and The Number 23. He’s appeared on many popular television shows in a range of roles, including The X-Files, Dexter, The Mentalist, and those he’s probably most known for, Supernatural, and Lost, among many others.
In Lost, Pellegrino played the role of Jacob, the mysterious, almost god-like character on the island, who seemed to have all the answers.
Pellegrino sat down with Jamie Ruby for an exclusive interview to talk about Lost and his other projects.
Pellegrino came into acting by accident. “I wanted to be a marine biologist and went to school for awhile for that, and then just kind of got bored with college, believe it or not, and dropped out for a bit and took a commercial workshop class just on a lark. I think I was doing some modeling and I just wanted to see what this commercial class was all about, and the guy thought I had some ability and set me up with an agent, and I started working before I even really knew what acting was, or whether or not I wanted to be an actor. And then I hooked up with a theater company, thank God, and a mentor who was really, really important to me and introduced me to the craft and that’s where I feel like I started from that point on, even though I had already been working.”
Even when auditioning for Lost, Pellegrino did not even know it was for the part of Jacob. “It was [for] a part called Jason, and it was in a scene on the beach with a guy named Samuel, and it was a guest star part with a possibility of recurring, and that’s all I knew when I went in there. And I almost didn’t go in there, because I’d had three appointments that day and I almost had to ditch that one, because I had no time to work on the material at all, and I was, “I don’t like going into an office unprepared,” but my wife said, “You’ve got to go in.” And I went in, prepared or not, and the rest is in TV land."
Pellegrino may have landed the role of Jacob at the time, but he had actually auditioned for Lost much earlier. “I had actually gone up for the pilot. I don’t remember the character I read for. But at the time that I went up for it, it was in treatment form, so it wasn’t even a full script, just twenty three pages of a basic outline, and it was a really good outline. I knew from reading the treatment that the series was going to be great. But, you know, I got busy afterwards and that kind of just got filed away in the back of my mind.”
Pellegrino was left in the dark about his character sometimes and had to learn with the fans. “I was flying in the dark. Cartlon Cuse wasn’t there and Damon wasn’t there on the set to guide me. Jack Bender, one of the executive producers, gave me little bits and pieces of information as I went along, but information like, “It’s really important that he understands this so make sure you make this clear to him.” Or he’d say, “Yeah, that’s right, that’s very interesting. Jesus, the Carpenter, the man among the people; I like that.” And those were the only little hints that I would get. They would tell me that I was doing and going in the direction that they wanted me to go.”
One of the most challenging parts of the process for Pellegrino was not knowing all of the details ahead of time. “You find something out two episodes down the road that you kind of wish you knew, because you think that that little detail would inform you, but it’s perhaps so subtle that maybe nobody would even notice anyway. But it’s still nice to know certain things, that’s for sure. So that is hard. It is hard, but I think the hardest thing that I had to do on the show was speaking different languages. That was terrifying, because, literally, the first show I did I had to speak a blessing in Korean, which was pretty much a whole page of Korean dialog, and then I had to talk in Russian, none of which I was familiar with. And I hadn’t had a chance to prepare long in advance, I only had about a week with it, and I was pretty nervous to go up there. But everybody was so nice and they made it really, really, really easy, even though I was nervous about it.”
Not knowing all the details makes it important for most part to stick to the script. “They’re open to little things here and there, but the script is pretty locked. You can improvise little things, but I mean, everything is a piece of the puzzle and you don’t want to deviate from that really. And, you know, I’m sure a lot of effort went in to Damon and Carlton putting those words on the page, so you try to be as faithful to them as you can.”
Even though Pellegrino didn’t have all the answers, he had his own ideas and theories. “I thought I was kind of a messianic figure. So, on my origin episode [Across the Sea] I was shocked, as I guess you should be with all good writing, to find out where I actually came from, because you don’t envision a Christ like figure being so flawed. You kind of imagine him coming out of the womb enlightened, so I was shocked to see that I had such a shady past and that my whole life is kind of, there’s a lot of ambiguity and a lot of gray area morally. Which I think is unfortunately part of the job that I undertook. So I was less messianic then I thought I was, but I definitely approached it like “Jesus the Carpenter.” ”
Another challenge for Pellegrino was walking through the jungle. “It’s kind of hell, because even on the beach you think, “Oh, it’s a beach; it’s nice sand.” No. There’s thistles and thorns. There’s this particular kind of thorn bush that grows in the area that they like to film in, and these thorns are like three inches long, and they’re embedded in the sand and sometimes broken off, and all over the place. So, literally, you’re walking through a bed of nails. And in the jungle it’s hard of course, because you’ve got the bamboo thickets and in the streams you have the slippery rocks which you have to run through half the time, which is no easy task. The moleskin offers a little bit of protection, but not much, and it is hell to take off. It’s like literally removing a second skin. You’re peeling off a layer of skin as you’re peeling off the moleskin. I eventually graduated from the moleskin things to these little shoes that had toes and were flesh colored. And I had to do it barefoot by accident, because I had a pair of sandals that were these rope sandals, I guess period appropriate, but they caused blistering, and my feet were bleeding from them, so they didn’t fit well…I said, “I’ll just go barefoot,” and so by accident the Jacob character is barefoot through the entire thing.”
Pellegrino has a hard time choosing his favorite part of the show. “It’s hard to say what my favorite part was. I think I really liked my final episode [What They Died For] a lot when I got everybody together. And I have a long scene with everybody kind of giving them the skinny on what’s going on and what’s going to happen. And the reason I liked that so much is because I hadn’t really met the whole cast before. I’d met some of them…and to see the dynamic of the whole cast was really kind of phenomenal because they are really, really good actors, and to see them working together was very interesting, but also, they’re really generous actors and to see them giving everything that they have, and the camera’s not on them, but on me or on somebody else. It’s pretty spectacular to see that, because an actor’s working fifteen hour days, and to give it everything, every take, no matter whether the camera’s on you or not is a rare phenomenon. I was really, really, really proud of them and grateful for their generosity towards me…And everybody just brought something totally unique, their unique personality to it, and it was really special. That’s my favorite episode I think.”
Lost has had quite an impact on Pellegrino’s life. “At least once or twice a day there’s people that come up to me and say, “Hello,” and they want to just either say “Thanks for being on the show,” or want a picture and autograph or something. Which is nice, and so far things have been real pleasant and polite, and I get it pretty much every day.”
Pellegrino will take a lot a way from his experience working on Lost. “The whole experience was kind of a very illuminating experience for me, just because I became a part of this family, this kind of dynasty of people for a time, and the show itself taught me something about giving, and relationships to people that I think I’m going to take away from it, that we all need each other to get where we need to go. And I think that was kind of the moral of the story.”
Though flawed, Jacob was a good man for the most part. Pellegrino, however, has played a variety of roles, including those with much less moral characters. “I do like playing bad guys to be honest with you.” One such example was the role of Lucifer in Supernatural; however, Pellegrino still approaches them all in a similar manner. “I see all of my characters as good, because I have to get behind them, and I have to act them, and I have to believe in them. So I let the people who are watching, the audience, be the judge of whether or not I’m good, because in my own mind I’m good. I’m pursuing what I need to pursue. I’m doing what I need to do. And in the story, Lucifer is different from Jacob in that Jacob is a made up mythology, you know, and the story of Lucifer has the mythology readymade for me to know and look at, and it’s part of our culture. And that mythology’s a very human story about betrayal and revenge, and so I just made it about that.”
Pellegrino was working on Supernatural and Lost at the same time. “Working on the [Supernatural] set is fun, you know, I had to go from extremes from Hawaii to Vancouver and I was shooting both almost simultaneously with little breaks in between. And you know, Jared [Padalecki] and Jensen [Ackles] are real fun guys and really cool to work with. So far I’ve been lucky. I haven’t actually worked with jerks, so, it’s nice when you have an arc on a show that’s for a long period of time and you actually like the people you’re working with…I really liked working with [Jared] and was pleasantly surprised, because I’d never really watched the show, and was pleasantly surprised at how spontaneous and emotional and full he was…and I thought he was great. And Jensen was fun to work with too; I’m glad I got to beat him up a little bit. Wish I could have beaten up Jared though.”
Supernatural was one of his favorite shows to work on. “I love Lucifer a lot. It’s been one of my favorite parts…And some of the times you’re working on something and it’s the experience with the other actor that’s really great, it’s not necessarily the role, but you’re working with Joel Schumacher and Jim Carrey, and they’re just really interesting and amazing people to talk to. Or you’re working with David Mamet or somebody that you just really admire. Or Phillip Seymour Hoffman, you know, and Catherine Keener, and Chris Cooper in Capote. It’s like every day going to school, except fun, you know. And so I’ve had tons of those kinds of experiences.”
Another character with questionable morals that Pellegrino has played was the part of Paul Bennett in Dexter. “The audience feels that Paul’s an asshole and a bad guy, and I just feel he’s a guy trying to get his family back together and trying to do the right thing, and trying to protect his family from this imposter, this weird guy who’s come in to take over, and I just get, you know, put against him, because I sense something with my ‘Spidey’ senses that something is very off here, and I am right. And that’s why Dexter ends up breaking his code a little bit and getting me put in jail and hurting an innocent person. But, that was a fun show to work on.”
Another popular show that Pellegrino played a less moral character on was The X-Files with the character of Derwood Spinks. “I think Kim Manners was directing that episode, [Hungry] the late Kim Manners, and he was a real cool guy. He’s the kind of director that sets everything up in advance, knows exactly what he wants to do, knows exactly what he wants you to do. I remember my first experience on the set was, he kind of tells me what I’m going to do, which is unusual. Often times a director will let the actor kind of figure out where they want to walk, what they want to do, and they’ll kind of place the camera according to what they find in the rehearsal, but Kim is the opposite. He kind of knows exactly what he wants, and he’s telling you, “Here’s what you’re going to do, you’re going to move here, then you’re going to move there, then you’re going to end here, OK?” And I thought about it for a second, I said, and I don’t remember the exact conversation, but I said, “Kim, wouldn’t it be more logical if I did this, and this, this, and just kind of did this over here?” And he thought for a second, he goes, “You’re right, but we have thirty-four setups to do, so you got to do it this way.” I ended up just kind of finding a way to do it with, the way that he set it up, which turned out to be fine anyway. And that’s an iconic show, and I’m glad I was a part of that too, a part of a really weird, scary, interesting episode.”
Pellegrino’s dream project would be one in which he could work with the stars he grew up watching. “I’d love to work with all the folks that I grew up watching. I mean there’s tons of actors and actresses I’d love to work with that are my age and younger, but I hope I get a chance to work with someone like a Pachino, or a Deniro, or a Duvall, or a Streep, before they’re gone. I was hoping to get that change for Brando.”
Pellegrino isn’t just interested in acting. “I have a little production company that I just started, my wife and I, called The Play is the Thing, and she’s written something. She’s on her third draft and pretty much done. She submitted it to a few contacts; it’s really good. It’s called, Natalie’s Lie, and I think she’s going to direct that. And I’m finishing up a horror movie, because I’m a big fan of the horror genre, and I’m about ten pages away from finishing that one up, and hope to produce it and put it up too.”
Pellegrino has some new projects coming out soon. “I just finished a little independent film called Joint Body. We shot that in Missouri and Illinois, and that’s in the editing room now, hopefully it will be coming out to a theater near you…And I did a little test shoot for the Cormac McCarthy book Blood Meridian, which is a pretty brutal book about the old west. And hopefully that came out well, because I played the judge, which is a really sinister devil-like; I think he’s the devil. But not nice, doesn’t have those kind of bones in him the way Nick [from Joint Body] did, you know, and Lucifer did, in Supernatural. He’s crazy and twisted up all the way through.”
You can see Pellegrino in his upcoming movie Joint Body or on the sixth season of Lost coming to DVD and Blu-ray in August.