Editor's note: Aaron Sagers is a New York-based entertainment writer and nationally syndicated pop-culture columnist. He has specialty knowledge in "paranormal pop culture," has lectured at conventions across the country on the topic and is a media pundit on supernatural entertainment. He covers pop culture daily at ParanormalPopCulture.com and can be found on Twitter @aaronsagers.
Spoiler alert: Here there be spoilers. If you choose to read ahead, you might learn a few things about "Being Human."
If the apocalypse does occur in 2012, it’s a safe bet that Mark Pellegrino is somehow involved.
As an actor, he has played multiple roles so significantly tied to the survival or obliteration of humanity one can’t help but wonder if his agent is reading the Book of Revelation in between scripts – or if Pellegrino might actually perform on a stage at the end of the world.
Pellegrino is not a god, but he has played a few memorable ones on TV. He is respected for notable roles like Rita’s wife-beating ex Paul on "Dexter"; Gavin Q. Baker, a flamboyant attorney to cops on "The Closer", a character worthy of his own spinoff; Tom Dempsey, an old-school mobster on "Castle". But the actor is better known as Jacob, the godlike protector of the Island on mythology-heavy "Lost."
Other viewers know him better as Lucifer, the fallen archangel-cum-devil on another mythology-heavy show, "Supernatural" – a role he just returned to on the February 17 episode "Repo Man" as a vision to Sam Winchester.
Still others might know Pellegrino best as Bishop, the undead (and later very dead) leader of Boston vampires on Syfy’s reboot series "Being Human". In "Being Human," which airs Mondays at 9 p.m., Bishop is yet another character in Pellegrino’s rogues gallery with a god complex. Bishop has designs on wiping out much of the human race, and turning the remainder into slaves.
And because death can’t keep a good bad guy down, Bishop returns in tonight’s episode of Being Human to torment his vampire son Aidan (Sam Witwer), who is experiencing a bit of parenting problems himself
Mark Pellegrino joined us over the phone to discuss Bishop’s return, his career as angels and demons, and even his love of video games, zombies and a possible role on The Walking Dead.
Aaron Sagers: So I’ve spoken with your Being Human cohorts, and I heard you’re a big gamer with your vampire son, Sam Witwer. Is that true?
Mark Pellegrino: Oh yeah. I'm kind of expanding my horizons a little bit in that realm. I used to be just the zombie apocalypse guy, but I'm starting to go outward into horror games and even shooter games, in general. I'm quite a fanatic about it.
Sagers: What kind of zombie apocalypse games do you really enjoy?
Pellegrino: Well, Left 4 Dead is my favorite. I like the first one the best because the characters are just pretty damn cool. I've been getting into the second one. Me and Sam play versions that are downloaded. There are these special games you can play on Left 4 Dead 2 that incorporates Left 4 Dead and those characters, and that's always really fun. [laughs]
Sagers: Are you a big fan of sort of the zombie genre in movies or just video games?
Pellegrino: I do like the zombie movies! In fact, I'm wearing a shirt right now my son gave me that says "Z-E-A: Special Agent, Zombie Emergency Agency." It looks like an FBI logo, but it's got all the bells and whistles of zombies. Yeah, I do like the zombie movies quite a bit. I know there are purist zombie guys that don't like the running zombies, but I dig the infected thing. I think that's a scarier incorporation of an element into the genre.
Sagers: Well, it's funny. I could see you actually fitting in well with The Walking Dead folks. Has there been any talk of that?
Pellegrino: Well, you know, first of all, I read every single one of The Walking Dead graphic novels. Twice. And Sam Witwer, is friends with Frank Darabont. So one evening, I was over at his house, we were playing zombies, and he said, "Come on, I want you to go to dinner with me." He took me to dinner, and in walks Frank, and we all sat down and ate together.
You know, it seemed at the moment at that time that there was a possibility of me going in to work for the show, but you know, of course, things happened with Frank and the show. Who knows where I stand now? I have a good friend who works on the show, too, so maybe one of these days I'll get to be a survivor.
Sagers: Who do you know who works on the show?
Pellegrino: It's Jon Bernthal who plays Shane.
Sagers: Now there are rumors that it sounds like Jon Bernthal is maybe out of the show, right?
Pellegrino: Really? I haven't spoken to him in a little while. I saw him at the premiere, but I haven't spoken to him in a while. It looked like the show was going in that direction. I think he knew that kind of from the beginning. I don't think that's a new development, unless you know something I don't.
Sagers: Everyone seems to like zombies for different reasons. What is your connection or theory as to why they are popular?
Pellegrino: There's a lot of speculation on what the zombie apocalypse thing means. I have a feeling that it's kind of an expression of our subconscious fears. I think we know that something big and impossible – some enormous crash, equalizing crash, whatever – may be coming around the corner. I think that that is a specter that finds some psychological release in these zombie movies.
I also kind of have a different interpretation than even Romero, the originator of series, would have. I think we kind of live in a bit of a cannibalistic society. Subliminally, the movies show the cannibalism of the many against the few. You know, we kind of have an ingrained, parasitic society. We kind of think it's okay to eat your neighbor.
Sagers: You've portrayed a few characters that are apocalyptic-minded. What is the appeal of characters like that; these scary guys with a lot of power?
Pellegrino: People like that drive a story and test heroic values, so I think just speaking from the literary point of view, they're just phenomenally interesting. But I think people are enamored of power and somewhat fascinated by one who has this quality of amorality. There's something kind of frightening because it’s an animal that many of us don't understand – but they're so liberated from so many of the things that hold us back that they also fascinate us.
I think that's what also bleeds over in less literary, less sophisticated ways to some of the reality-TV shows where you see interventions where people are just off-the-hook train wrecks with no regard for the sanctity of anything, let alone their own lives. There's something about that psychology that is interesting, in a way.
Sagers: Jacob, Lucifer, Bishop: These are all charismatic characters who get people to follow them. Did you ever think, "I'm playing a cult leader here"?
Pellegrino: If I looked at it, I think that in fact is what I am. But if I look at it that way from an actor’s point of view, I have so many judgments about that kind of character – a cult leader – that are negative that it would make it impossible to act something like that with any sympathy. I usually have to find out the human inside. For me, I relate to what makes me get morally behind my guy.
For Bishop, there were a number of issues that I think any person could relate to. I think what was going on between Aidan and I was very much biblical in the sense of the story: The prodigal son and the father intervening on behalf of his son, who is going down the wrong path and I’m attempting to bring him back into the fold where he'll be happiest. And there's also – on a micro level, on a backdoor level – I think Bishop is attempting to liberate his people.
He's attempting to free an oppressed minority, to come out, to stop hiding in the closets. Integrate is the nice word, but I think he eventually, of course, wants to conquer because he has very, very Darwinian feelings about vampires and human beings. The sense of justice about a more-powerful being is that there's something higher up on the food chain that’s treating itself with such injustice and disrespect. I think he has such a high regard for his people that he wants to advance them.
Sagers: So Bishop is a family man with ambition?
Pellegrino: I tried to put positive ambition and a kind of family – a sense of family connective-ness into Bishop's character – which I thought was there, and is something I could morally get behind. Same with Lucifer. I don't focus so much on the anti-life aspects of Lucifer, but on betrayal from those that he loved and alienation from god, as punishment for an injustice and wanting revenge. Does that sound weird [laughs]?
Sagers: I mean, it may be weird for somebody that catches this conversation out of context! We know Bishop is going to be back in Being Human after getting killed off by beheading. How do you survive that? Are you coming back as a zombie vampire?
Pellegrino: [laughs] Well, you know, I kind of don't know what I am when I come back – if I'm a ghost or a figment of Aidan's imagination. So there's speculation as to whether or not they're going to have me back some more, or under what conditions and circumstances because there's definitely a lot of space to bring me back in.
Sagers: Do you find it funny that out of all these characters you've played – where many people have died at your characters' hands – that Paul from Dexter is the guy who gets most of the bad-guy attention? I mean, a lot of people have died at the hands of Lucifer and Bishop, but people focus on Paul. Granted, he did awful things, but compared to the devil? Do you ever chuckle at that?
Pellegrino: I feel bad everybody kind of sees Paul as this horrific person. You know, again for me, it was about getting my family together and this usurper comes in that is trying to steal what's mine, and you know, I leave it up to the audience to judge. And they have judged harshly whether Paul does it effectively or in an appropriate way.
But yeah, it's very funny. I think the more iconic a character, the more distance there is from their deeds and, in a way, the more acceptable they become. You know Paul's just an everyday, blue-collar guy, and so I think he's much more intimate.
Sagers: From the perspective of fans, what's the character most people recognize you for?
Pellegrino: I've been going to Supernatural conventions, so they tend to be big Lost fans and big Supernatural fans, but it's usually for both of those. Walking on the street, people are really, really into Lost. But on the conventions circuit it’s Lucifer.
Sagers: It's been nearly two years since the series ended (the finale was May 23, 2010), so are you still getting questions about Lost that people expect you to answer?
Pellegrino: Yeah! They expect me to explain the entire show to them. And it's a little bit shocking to them when I tell them, "You know, it's anybody's guess." Nobody believes I'm as informed as you are about things. You're just going to have to come up with your own solutions the way I did. [laughs]