The hot NBC drama marked “my first time being on a really big set,” Pellegrino recalls. “So I was really, really intimidated, and I had the unenviable task of picking on a little person.” Pellegrino’s character — who, for the record, was named “Punk” — was one of a trio of miscreants who are much bigger than the lawyer they string up on the back of a bathroom stall’s door.
L.A. Law (Cont’d.)
The idiots are stopped by a very angry Victor Sifuentes, played by Jimmy Smits. “I remember looking at him, and when he saw the other actor hanging from the hook there, he turned around and looked at me. The first thought that went through my head was, ‘Holy crap, he’s really mad’ — but there was no imaginary stuff. Like, he was really mad and I was a little worried, because he’s a big guy and the very next thing he had to do to me was grab me by my lapel, by my leather jacket or whatever I was wearing, and smash me into this breakaway mirror — which he did with considerable force, I have to say,” he says. “That was like my first real experience of… a really authentic actor having an experience on film. It actually took me out of the moment.”
Doogie Howser, M.D.
“I remember taking a pool cue to the nuts, and I remember having a mullet of sorts, but that’s it,” the actor says of his turn on the Neil Patrick Harris dramedy. Oh, and one more thing: “I remember him being a really sweet kid.”
Pellegrino signed into County General on in Season 2 as an alcoholic who learns he’s gotten AIDS from his junkie girlfriend. Pellegrino remembers that the scene where his character receives the bad news was a challenge, in part because of the subject matter and in part because of the series’ trademark Steadicam sprints. “When they say ‘Action,’ they’re three rooms down from you. You hear the scenes going on in there, and they do it continuously in the hallway, and there’s more scenes there and then in another room,” he says. “It becomes very difficult to remain focused on what your intent and purpose is when you have to time it for when they come into your room.” Still, he remembers, the episode’s director Richard Thorpe was pleased with the winning take. “He looked at me and he goes, ‘I’m going to take credit for that.”
In conversation, Pellegrino is warm, open, funny and friendly — in short, the polar opposite of many of the parts he’s been chosen to play. “I’m wondering if the casting directors see something in me that I don’t see in myself,” he says, laughing. One mean guy role that gets him recognized often is Paul, Rita’s rough ex in the bloody Showtime drama. People will say, “‘Oh my God, you were such an a—hole!,'” he adds. “I take that as a compliment, but why I try to do with parts like that is find the things I can get behind morally. My approach isn’t to judge the character, because then I feel like I’d be playing a caricature of somebody, as opposed to a real person.” Plus, Pellegrino will have you remember, Paul was right about Rita’s secretive new guy. ” He sniffed him out and he knew that there was something really wrong with this picture, and he wanted to protect his wife — even though he was just a mess.”
The details on Pellegrino’s Prison Break character grow fuzzy with time — “I feel like I was an arms dealer or something” — but his reasons for appearing in two Season 4 episodes remain crystal clear. “Matt Olmstead is the creator and writer of the show,” he says. “He tends to use me in everything he does.” In fact, Pellegrino’s recent Chicago P.D. stint was a favor for the producer, who needed to fill a vacancy quickly after another actor dropped out. And even Pellegrino’s having pneumonia didn’t stop him from getting the job done. “I have loyalty issues,” he says, laughing. “If you’ve stood in the gap for me, I’m going to stand in the gap for you — even if it kills me.”
Another Olmstead production gave Pellegrino a bunch of work in the late ’90s/early ’00s. “I was one of only a couple of actors that worked on that show three or four times, doing different characters. We developed a relationship from that, and then I did this weird little pilot called NYPD Blue 2069,” he says. And now, “he puts me in whatever show he’s doing, which I’m grateful for.”
One of Pellegrino’s most iconic roles — that of much-heralded island guardian Jacob — easily could have gone to someone else. His audition for the spooky ABC drama fell on a day with three other tryouts, and the actor informed his wife that he was going to skip it because he didn’t want to go into the experience unprepared. “She was like, ‘Nope. You have to go,'” he says. In a very Lost-like turn of events, he wound up having a great audition and getting the job… except he had no idea who he was playing until he arrived on set. “I got there, went through wardrobe, went on the set, and the first person I met was Michael Emerson,” he recalls. “He goes, ‘Oh, you’re our Jacob,’ and there it was.”
When we bring up the CBS spin-off, Pellegrino obliquely mentions having a little friction with one of its stars — three guesses who it could be — and we eventually get him to talk about when series star/EP David Caruso acted very oddly during an interrogation scene. “He directed me a bit, which is kind of a faux pas, even though he’s the main guy in the show,” he says. Apparently bored by his lack of lines in the scene, Pellegrino recalls, Caruso filled the time that the camera was on the guest star “with an intensity that was not there in the scene when the camera was on him.” It made for an “unpleasant” day. “I’m sure there are good things about him, but it made my experience like, ‘I don’t know that I want to work with you again.'”
The ABC drama’s noirish “Blue Butterfly” episode found Pellegrino playing a 1940s club owner/murder suspect, and he says star Nathan Fillion — “a really smart, big kid” — was the source of goofy fun between takes. “At one point he’s like, ‘Hey Mark… So, did you do it? Did you commit the crime?'” (The series star hadn’t yet made it to the end of his script.) “I said, ‘Let me try it and you tell me if you think I did it,'” Pellegrino says, chuckling.
“I said yes right away” to playing Lucifer on the popular series, Pellegrino says. “I was really happy to discover different mythology about the devil. In this show, they turned it upside down on its head and they made Lucifer’s appeal to Nick so truthful and so gut wrenchingly clear… Anybody, even a man or woman of faith, could sit down with that pitch and go, ‘Wow. You have a point.'” The way Pellegrino sees it, the Prince of Darkness really just has some colossal family drama. Supernatural “is all about the brothers, their love for each other, their loyalty to each other. This was kind of the same thing, a family betrayal where one person refuses to go along with an authority and is kicked out, banned forever for being different, having a different point of view… and standing for something.”
Fun fact: Pellegrino originally auditioned for the role of Tom, which ultimately went to Giancarlo Esposito. Though he eventually came on as Monroe Militia member Jeremy, the memory that sticks in Pellegrino’s mind is of reading in front of series EP Jon Favreau. “I’m not [usually] star struck, but I am with him, because I feel like he’s the renaissance man of film. He’s a great director, he’s a fine actor, he’s a great writer,” the actor says. “I’ve read for some great people, and it really freaked me out a little bit.”
The Tomorrow People
The CW sci-fi series’ cancellation didn’t come as a surprise says Pellegrino, who played the titular group’s adversary. “I was happy that it got 22 episodes and got at least a season… and I really enjoyed working with everybody, but it needed to be straightened out, and I think the guys at The CW were smart,” he says. “They sensed that the issues that needed to be repaired probably couldn’t, within that time frame.”
Pellegrino’s character on Carlton Cuse’s (Lost) A&E series, which is a remake of the French Les Revenants, is the father of a 16-year-old girl who is killed in a school-bus accident… then returns, somehow alive, four years later. “The poignant thing about that to me is, she feels that she inexplicably fell asleep and is now walking back home after a few hours of being away, but four years has lapsed. And in that time, the nuclear family we had, the seemingly happy family we had, has disintegrated because of her death.” Even if you watched the original series, he adds, there’s a lot to love about the American take. “It’s kept the best of the [French] version,” he says, calling the project “character-driven, subtle and mysterious.”