Interview: Halo’s Master Chief Pablo Schreiber on Returning For A Very Different Season 2

Season 2's darker tone makes for a more faithful adaptation of the series, according to Schreiber.

Halo has respawned. Following a successful debut on Paramount+ (despite mixed response from fans), the video game-turned-blockbuster series is back for a noticeably darker and more atmospheric second season. Also returning is Canadian actor and star Pablo Schreiber, who has once again dawned the armor to portray John-117, also known as Master Chief.

Based on the story of the original games but set in its own alternate timeline, Halo follows an intergalactic war between the United Nations Space Command and the Covenant, a collective of alien races hellbent on intergalactic annihilation. In the first season, John discovers an ancient relic that reveals the Covenant’s ultimate plan, to activate a superweapon for ultimate interplanetary destruction known as the “Halo.” Season 2 sees John continuing on his quest, but the stakes have only grown higher as the war has grown more dangerous.

In anticipation of the series’ third episode, “Visegrad,” Schreiber sat down with That Shelf to discuss returning to the character of Master Chief, feeling ownership over his portrayal, and how Season 2’s shift in tone makes for a more faithful adaptation of the source material. Here is our conversation, edited for length and clarity.

Congratulations on Halo returning for Season 2! I imagine stepping into Master Chief’s shoes for Season 1 was a bit daunting, to say the least. Is there a level of comfort going into Season 2, or do you still find yourself healthily challenged in translating this beloved figure to the screen?

Oh, I still find myself healthily challenged in all respects. The Halo universe is a massive canvas on which to paint and so, when you’re dealing with something that is that broad, and that big, and that beloved by so many people, it’s always going to be a huge challenge to do something that does it justice. I’ve been challenged by this since Day 1 and I’ve fought as hard as I could for what I feel is the best direction the whole way, and that challenge continues through press and through everything. And [it will continue] into a third season, if there is one. So, no, the challenge has not gotten smaller, it’s only gotten larger as the stakes have risen and as the threat of the Covenant has gotten closer and more dangerous. The challenge only grows but it’s a wonderful challenge. It’s one that I take head on and am very honoured to have.

Do you recall what your early conversations were in terms of what Season 2 would consist of?

Well, we had a change of showrunner from Season 1 to Season 2, so that was a big shift. David Wiener, our new showrunner, brought with him a whole bunch of new people in the art department, stunt department. Most of the conversations were around tone, how the show should feel, and how to get a more subjective point of view out of the season. So, I think you see that now in the results, especially in the stunts and the action sequences. They’re shot from a more subjective place. The camera is in the fight with you and it feels more immersive and more subjective, so that was a big point of conversation for the second season. 

I agree with you. There’s a darker, more visceral quality to the series’ action sequences and atmosphere and it starts almost right from the get-go. From a production standpoint, what was the biggest change in your experience working with David Wiener and the rest of the crew to achieve this redirection?

Thank you for noticing that, Larry. It is true, we put a lot of effort into achieving exactly those things that you pointed out in your question. We worked hard on making it a more subjective experience and I think that’s what you feel when you feel that change in tone. The camera, the camera angles, the camera involvement in the action scenes are more immediate and more in there. It makes it feel more threatening, more dangerous. There’s always something between the camera and the subject. We used a lot of fog, we used a lot of objects in the foreground. It adds more mystery, it adds more depth, and I think it ultimately makes the show more interesting. 

You have been open about your disagreements over some of the first season’s creative choices, specifically for John. As an actor, how do you navigate expressing your thoughts and beliefs about a character you are portraying and making sure you feel a sense of ownership and portray them faithfully?

I think the unique thing about Master Chief is that we all, as Halo players, feel a sense of ownership over the character. So, anybody who’s played the Halo games has taken their turn in Master Chief’s shoes and it creates a dynamic where, because of the way the character is created for the video games, he’s a bit of a blank slate and we’re invited to fill out the empty paces of his personality with our own. And so, as Halo players we all have a sense of ownership over the character. It has made for a very interesting relationship and audience dynamic because a lot of people have preconceived notions about what the character [is and] how the character should be portrayed and what’s appropriately “Master Chief” because we all sort feel this sense of ownership. I feel the same sense of closeness and ownership with Master Chief because I played the games and have had that experience as well. I also feel a sense of ownership, obviously, because I play the character on the TV show, and that’s just about bringing the pieces of my personality and the pieces of my past history to the character to fill him in as fully as possible and make it feel as authentically lifelike as possible. But I feel a sense of kinship and brotherhood with all of the people who have ever played the game and feel like they know the character as well, because they do, because the character is also filled with aspects of their personality and their version of Master Chief. I think that’s one of the truly unique and beautiful things about the character. 

This season was filmed in Iceland, a stark contrast from Budapest where part of the first season was filmed. What was it like shooting on these gorgeous landscapes?

Iceland was fantastic and both of the locations where we shot were crucial to providing scope and size to the season. So much of it can feel claustrophobic and dark and, you know, not expansive. When we got to shoot in Iceland, and then at the end of the season we went to a really amazing location in the Alps on the Italian/Slovenian border, both of those locations provided the size and the scope that I think the Halo Universe needs and deserves. They were integral to the process of shooting. It was also just a joy to get outside and have some fun and see some huge waterfalls and amazing glacial lakes and rivers. That’s always a nice vibe.

What are you, personally, most excited to share with viewers, fans or otherwise, about this new season of Halo?

The thing I’m most excited about, I think, is the shift in tone and just sharing David Wiener’s vision of the Halo Universe this season because each opportunity to work on a new season of television is really an opportunity to help a showrunner express their vision. This season, I’m living in David Wiener’s world and I think it’s really a unique and interesting take on the universe. I think the tone suits it in a way that maybe last season’s didn’t and I’m really excited for people to get to have that new experience. 

The first three episodes of Halo are now streaming exclusively on Paramount+, with new episodes airing every Thursday.