August 2011

C2 Exclusive: Mark Pellegrino Opens Up!

Author: Lindsey Hawkins | Photographer: Krisztian Lonyai

If you’re an avid couch potato for the last two decades or even the last two years, you might be racking your inner DVR brain for the answer to the question, “I know that guy from somewhere, but what the hell is his name?”

My guess is that you are a fan of this dark, sometimes sadistic, and quirky character who is so effortlessly dynamic in the near 100 television and film roles he’s played and that you may not even realize how many times you’ve been intrigued by his performance, not to mention his timeless face.

Enter search engine. Do any of the following quench that thirst for that name dangling on the tip of your lazy, couch ’tater tongue? How about calling him Bishop from Being Human, Jacob from Lost, Lucifer from Supernatural, Vaughn from The Mentalist, Paul from Dexter, Dick from Capote, or random guy from NYPD Blue, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, ER, Grey’s Anatomy, Criminal Minds and every other hit show from the last 10 years.

This summer you can call him Gavin on TNT’s The Closer, the final season, but for now, let’s just call him by his real name, Mark Pellegrino. “I think the end of the world is coming,” Pellegrino laughed, mocking the crazy California weather outside of his home in Burbank. “Perhaps the Mayans had something right.”

As CH2 sat down to get to know Pellegrino—the role he plays in life—it was immediately apparent that he is no average Hollywood celebrity or pseudo-intellectual. Pellegrino, now 46 years young, is a true student of the craft, who, while in his early 20s, studied under the great method actor and coach Sanford Meisner. But what is more interesting than any credit he gives others for his chance career is his insatiable desire to accumulate knowledge, understanding and reasoning for the world he lives in and the people here with him.

“We’re floating away from reasoning and becoming more intuitive and emotion centered and losing the things that I think will help us to understand the world in a way that will help us live in it. Both reasoning and intuition are important together to understand the universal principles of why things happen,” Pellegrino so eloquently said while justifying his lack of interest in his short lived college career.
“School became memorizing professors’ words and thoughts and didn’t really have what I thought it would. Only one class for me was learning, and it was a philosophy 160 class on social ethics. I thought it was interesting, and I got an “A” when almost everyone else failed. But when it ended, I had to take s*** classes before I could take something else interesting. So instead, I fell in love with this girl and decided to live this crazy vagabond life for like a year while working at a gas station and playing rock and roll music with friends,” he said.

The way Pellegrino tells the story, he fell into acting because he was bored and decided to take a commercial workshop down the road from his quickie mart job because it was free. But one has to wonder if this guy’s brilliant but humbly public career was an act of shopping mall discovery by a commercial casting agent, or just a written act of destiny. Certainly there aren’t many 10-year-old children who are capable of making nine dollars in one summer by charging one cent per guest to come and see their first neighborhood performance repeatedly.

“I think just as a kid you have a greater facility to be imaginative and live in imaginary circumstances. I remember when I was a little boy and I got all of our friends together and I made a haunted house and made every character up. I had the haunted house record that Disney used to put out. I had a flare for fixing the place up and putting makeup on everybody and making it scary, and I think back then something was really speaking to me that you can’t realize at that age,” he said.

But chance as it might have been, Pellegrino ended up following the advice of his commercial agent and taking acting classes, again down the road from his quickie mart job because it was the closest and it was cheap. Just so happens he walked into Sanford Meisner’s acting studio.

“I walked in there and I watched people working on stage and I was blown away for the first time in my life. I saw what acting could be, and his work was so inspired. He had learned and obtained all of the knowledge from people like Adler and his work would just sort of spill out and it inspired me. And that became my school, because I realized I didn’t want to do anything but this,” Pellegrino said.

“I had no guidance from a father growing up, and my mom was more my friend than my mom, so I had no idea on some things at that age. I learned from this place and this group with Sandy Meisner, to have roots that I always looked for and that grounded me and made me feel responsible to the craft that I never really knew existed or took seriously until I started studying,” Pellegrino said. “So I have a whole lineage of great people that I had to behold it to and meet the expectations of these people who founded it.”

And so began the intriguing career of Mark Pellegrino.

If you’re starting to understand how Pellegrino seems different from the average glorified actor/ celebrity, it’s probably because you are relating to him as a real person. Ironically, his ability to study people and his method of acting by living truly under imaginary circumstances is what makes him so talented. Listening to Pellegrino interview is like listening to a person think aloud. When asked about the roles he’s chosen, which tend to be villainous in nature, he describes his characters as if he wants you to understand who they are, but more importantly why they are the way they are. Because that is what he tries to achieve with each new character he plays.

“I like quirky roles. I like looking at guys who a lot of people think are bad guys and turning it around a little bit and putting it on its head. Like, a lot of people thought Paul in Dexter was a bad guy (a domestic abuser). I thought of him as a guy who just wanted to get his family back together and have him react as any man would react under the circumstances,” Pellegrino explained. “I let the audience judge the morality or immorality of the character, but for me everything I do as the character has to be right or justified. Otherwise, I wouldn’t do it. Even Lucifer [Pellegrino’s character portraying Satan on Supernatural], even that character was right,” he said.

“Think about it,” Pellegrino pitched. “He has spent his life devoted to virtue to whom he emulates in the highest virtue, and at some point, that person whom he emulates says, you are to serve, let’s say, Charles Manson—someone who is barely human, despicable. And if I don’t, the punishment is to be forever banished, forever cut off. And so for siding with justice and not obeying, I am punished. So Lucifer is not the prince of darkness; he is the son betrayed by his father, which to me gives Lucifer an edge of sympathy.”

Pellegrino hasn’t sold everyone on Lucifer’s case as being one of justice, but he tries to explain and believe the injustice that character thinks he is experiencing, to become the character, and in that is a true actor. Hence, Pellegrino should have no problem giving a believable performance as Kyra Sedgwick’s lawyer in the upcoming final season of the critically acclaimed television series The Closer, out this summer, although you could never ask him what he thinks about any of his performances.

“I don’t watch TV. I never watched Lost, I never watched Dexter, I never watched Supernatural, I never watched The Closer, and I won’t watch myself in it. I let my wife do that. She tells me if she likes it, and if she does then I know it’s good. She’s more objective and has a bigger brain,” he said.

For someone who is so good at role playing bad, you’d think he’d be a real piece of work in life. But refreshingly, when Pellegrino is not on set, you can find him being a dad and teaching at least once a week at Playhouse West in North Hollywood, helping aspiring actors find their voice and drive from within.

“In this industry it’s not a sprint, it’s a long distance run,” Pellegrino said. “So above all, be patient with yourself; you are your own obstacle more than anyone else out there. Our careers are dependant to a degree on whether or not somebody else accepts us. But more than that, it’s us that we have to accept and to live with and work with and to love ourselves in the work and be patient. It’s cake, no matter how long you work, if you can do that.”

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