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Summer 2013 has been a good one for the Schreiber fellas: older brother Liev and his "Ray Donovan" co-stars are the best reason for tuning in to Showtime these days, while his younger half-brother Pablo is a standout in a series full of great performances, Netflix's dramedy "Orange Is the New Black."
In the series about an upper class woman sent to a women's prison in New York for a drug-related crime she committed a decade earlier, Pablo Schreiber plays George Mendez, a bullying prison guard whose defining characteristics are his sheer enjoyment of being nasty to the inmates and obsessing about and discussing with his fellow guard his sexual philosophies.
And then there's his mustache. If there were an official TV Mustache Hall of Fame (and we're officially saying there should be), Schreiber's thick upper lip fur would be inducted right alongside those of Tom Selleck, Nick Offerman, Jason Lee, Pat Harrington, Alex Trebek, Ted Lange, and Dennis Franz.
[Photos: Great TV Mustaches]
Schreiber, after all, is the only guy whose facial grooming has earned him a nickname: Pornstache.
With the Netflix smash — it's been watched more than "House of Cards" and the "Arrested Development" revamp — in production on a second season, and Schreiber also starring in NBC's upcoming "Ironside" remake and reprising his role as the psycho rapist from last season's finale of "Law & Order: SVU," the actor talked to Yahoo! TV about the surprising reactions to "OITNB" and Pornstache, why he thinks the mustache has its own fan base, and why he loves playing a "terrible" man.
Warning: Minor spoilers ahead if you haven't watched the entire first season of "Orange Is the New Black."
"Orange Is the New Black" is officially more popular than the Emmy-nominated "House of Cards" and "Arrested Development" relaunch; were you surprised?
I think everyone is a little taken by surprise at how big it's become, but everyone's incredibly grateful. We had such a great time shooting the show. And everyone involved with the show is just aces. [Series creator Jenji Kohan] comes with a certain cache. But on paper, I don't think it really looks like the kind of thing where people were going, "Oh, this is going to get a huge reaction," no question about it. I think there was a lot of doubt. And with Netflix releasing the information that it's been [watched] more times than "House of Cards" and "Arrested Development," I don't think anybody would have expected that going in. So yeah, the passionate fan base that has come out of people being able to binge watch ... I think that's what has taken everyone most by surprise.
And what's the bigger surprise in the reaction to your character? That he's so unliked by some, or that he's so passionately liked by others? You've got a Twitter feed full of feedback from fans who find Pornstache very attractive and aren't shy, or delicate, about expressing it.
(Laughing) I think the attraction is the biggest surprise. It's shocking to me, because I was doing everything in my power to make him the least attractive person ever played on TV, and yet, there's still this kind of outpouring of bizarre titillation and fascination with the guy. So, you know, I guess there's no accounting for taste, right?
See Schreiber in "OITNB":
You've confirmed the mustache is not real, but did you have a hand in choosing exactly which mustache you would wear?
I had a hand in it only in the sense that I came and sat in the chair and expressed my opinion. But my opinion was outvoted, and I'm happy about that, because the mustache we ended up with is deliciously perfect. When I went into it, I initially had in mind sort of a handlebar thing, down to the chin, but now that I've seen it, the one we went with is just perfect.
Why do you think Pornstache's mustache has become such a pop culture hit this summer?
I think the nickname is part of it. When you have a character who's called "Pornstache" ... in the closed captioning of the show, every time he speaks a line, it says "Pornstache." So I think that the fact that the character is called that provides an entry into the fascination with the mustache. And I think there's also some hipster cred to it right now, in that what's popular right now is things that have been really unpopular. Through the '80s and '90s mustaches were outré, and now, with the new hipster irony that's going around, everything that was outré is in. I think the mustache has this kind of perverse sense of irony. I don't know ... I guess some people wear the mustache for real and think it's an attractive thing. It wouldn't be my choice, I can tell you.
Pornstache was a bully for most of the season, but at the end we see some vulnerabilities. How much of that did you know going in?
That these vulnerabilities would be exposed later in the season? I knew none of that. But it didn't surprise me at all, because Jenji is great with pulling those unexpected twists with characters. She did it with Crazy Eyes, too, how she came from this middle class, white background, which was the last, last thing you'd expect. And that's what Jenji does. She wants to be constantly surprising you, not letting you get comfortable with your expectations about characters.
And I think we were also developing things as the season got going. I know they didn't have really clear, set ideas on how everything would pan out. They had a general idea of the shape of things, and I think, towards the middle of the season, we really hammered home the idea of Pornstache as a nasty guy. I think as it got towards the end of the season [Jenji] was feeling the need to give him some redeeming quality or some look into his internal workings, so you could understand why he was as nasty as he was. By the end of the season, we see he's a really lonely guy. He operates out of insecurity and loneliness.
Would you have chosen to play anything any differently if you had known what was ahead for him?
No, no I wouldn’t have. I think it all came out in its own perfect way. The only thing for me ... there were a number of scenes where Pornstache and Red are in the kitchen, and to me it got a little repetitive in the use of him as that antagonist to Red. So if I could go back and change anything about the arc of the character, it would be that, that there [would be] a little more variety in the ways that he appeared and the use of him with other characters.
When you play a character who has some villainous aspects, do you have to find something about him to like to play him or enjoy playing him?
I don’t really look into it as whether [a character] is going to be likable or not. I do want to play characters that have redeeming qualities, that are likable, for sure, and I have in the past, and I will again. But to answer your question, I don't have to find something to like about a character as much as I have to find a way to identify with them, which is a small difference, but pretty distinct. I need to understand why they behave the way they do, and I think through understanding the behavior and where it comes from, there's a sympathy I have with the character, and it doesn't have to go into full-on like.
To tell you the truth, I love Pornstache. He's a despicable man. Terrible. I would never do the things that he does. But as a character, a character I get to play, and a character I get to watch, I love him with all my heart. So I don’t know if I need to have that, but it certainly helped my enjoyment of playing the role.
In another interview you said there were some opportunities to improv a little bit, or add to what was already written. How much of that did you get to do during the first season?
I'm glad you asked that, because I'd like to clarify that a little bit. I really want to give a lot of credit to the writers, because they're an amazingly talented bunch. They create a world that is just unparalleled. And they did give us free reign to kind of add some things in the moment. But it's a joy to get to say the words that these writers wrote. Nine times out of 10, there was no need to add anything to what they [wrote]. And it was never about improving anything. It was more about adding something to the feeling of being in that world. I am very appreciative of the freedom I was given to ... mostly, add some one-liners. I would get the script the night before, and take it home, and I would find these little opportunities where [Pornstache] might be able to say something really in the outrageous and grotesque realm of things, and then I would just throw them out there. And they ended up using some of those.
The character is really there for shock value, so, in creating him, it kind of came down to, how gross could he be, how awful could I be to the prisoners, so I was invited to bring my worst to the character, and sometimes the worst things I could come up with were the things that ended up [on screen].
What's one of those, or your favorite?
I guess the thing that Pornstache says to [Joel, who runs the electrical shop at the prison], "You ought to be relaxing after an exhausting weekend of prostate stimulation and blow-up f--k dolls." And when he says, "This s--t, that s--t, bulls--t, bats--t." That one kind of made me happy, too. Those are my faves.
Because you were playing this kind of character, who was so nasty, and in such a, as you said, gross way, to the inmates, did it affect being on set with a mostly female cast?
It affected me in terms of the dynamic on set. Because I was the disgusting guy, it created this dynamic where I was kind of on my own little island on the show. Matt McGorry, who played [prison guard] Bennett, was much more involved with the women and their day-to-day lives, and they kind of embraced him a lot more. I was not afforded that.
Did that make filming tough then?
No, no, not at all. At the end of the day, when our season's over, we go out and have drinks and it's all fun. But the look of that character, and the power dynamic that he represented, definitely kept me separate from everyone else, but that worked out for the show. I would have had it no other way. That's what the script called for.
His storyline is left up in the air at the end of the season. Can we assume we will see him in Season 2?
I think you can assume you will see him. Beyond that, I can't really speak about what will happen to Pornstache and everybody else.
Who is Virgil, the character you're playing on "Ironside"?
Virgil is one of the team of hand-picked detectives that Robert Ironside, who's in a wheelchair, assembled to help him. Basically, they kind of have free reign inside the city of New York to solve special cases and look into various special crimes. [Virgil's] been in trouble with the department before for excessive violence, and so he's the guy Ironside has brought on for the purpose of providing some muscle. But he's also a family guy. He's got two boys. And I think one of the challenges for the character is going to be reconciling the violent nature of the job with his family and home.
Watch a preview of "Ironside":
Is it fun to get to play a heroic cop after playing Pornstache?
Yeah, yeah it is. And it's just fun to get to play a cop, because of all the training and stuff we get to go through, and to learn some really cool things. And in terms of getting to play a different kind of character. That's what gets me really fired up about my job, the chance to keep getting to play different characters, not repeating the same thing from one [project] to the next.
Season 1 of "Orange Is the New Black" is streaming now on Netflix.