Pablo Schreiber is having a moment. As menacing corrections officer George “Pornstache” Mendez on Orange Is The New Black he stood out among so many amazing characters thanks to his horrifying, and at times hilarious, creepiness. With a simultaneous stint on Law & Order: SVU as serial killer William Lewis, Pablo’s perfected the art of playing monsters. Now he’s stepping out of the dark side to play good cop Virgil on Ironside, NBC’s new cop drama debuting tonight at 10/9c. (The show is actual a remake of one that aired on NBC from 1967-1975.) We chatted with the actor over the phone while he was on a break from shooting Ironside in Los Angeles and talked about fatherhood, fandoms and how Dolph Lundgren inspired that ridiculous Pornstache haircut.
Let’s start with Ironside. It has a very dark, gritty crime-drama feel that’s seems timeless. Had you seen the original?
Yeah, that’s a pretty good description. Obviously we’re working from source material that’s already there in terms of the concept of the show. I think part of what gives it its timeless feel is that it’s a character that’s already established. But other than the detective in the wheelchair there’s pretty much no other similarities between our show and that one. And I’d say gritty and dark is pretty much the best description of the world of our show. It does feel quite gritty and dark.
Because of the wheelchair there’s so much movement in all of the scenes; Blair’s [Underwood] always on the move and therefore the cameras are always on the move, so the show really flies along at a good pace. I really like that. It kind of mirrors the hustle and bustle of NYC, which I love as well.
It seems like your character Virgil is going to be a good guy. After SVU and OINTB, is it nice to be on the good side of the law this time around?
Yeah it’s more than nice [laughs]. It was absolutely important. It was the reason I’m doing this job, because the last two things that I came off of were harsh characters doing terrible things. I was really interested in getting back to something a little closer to me. I have two kids at home; this character has two kids, both of us have two boys. So [I was excited] to get to play a father who takes his job very seriously and is battling the dark forces within himself, versus all of his good impulses to be a protector and a father.
I have two kids as well and I now find certain things incredibly hard to watch in movies and on TV. Does being a dad influence the roles you now take or don’t take?
I don’t think it has! Maybe only in terms of pushing me further to do more drastic things. If I was going to find any pattern it would have to be after the fact, it certainly wasn’t a conscious choice. But after coming off of OITNB and SVU I can definitely look in my rearview mirror and say I did some pretty extreme things. So it doesn’t seem like having children made me soften my choices [laughs]. If anything it seems to have pushed me in the opposite direction, maybe because I have such a normal and calm and healthy existence. It forced me to want to play in the dark edges in my spare time.
So it lets you act out in a safe way?
Yeah certainly my life over the past four to five years has been very safe and gentle and loving and kind – all of the things that the last two characters I played are not. This is only looking at it in retrospect and trying to find some pattern, but if I was to look at those last couple of choices, I could definitely see that there may have been some desire to do something that was really far from the life I’m living. That’s always my impulse as an actor is to try to play characters that are as far from my existence as possible, and to play characters that are as far from each other as possible.