By Scott Huver | June 16, 2017 | People
We caught up with Pablo Schreiber to discuss American Gods, playing Mad Sweeney, and his thoughts on growing up in Canada.
Only in an envelope-busting series like Starz’s American Gods can a 6’5” actor so vividly portray a leprechaun straight out of Irish folklore. And while Pablo Schreiber happily consented to some significant cosmetic changes to play Mad Sweeney—the pugilistic, gold-coin-hoarding fairy on a cross-country road trip with a reanimated dead woman—one thing he didn’t have to alter was his stature.
Schreiber—the younger brother of Liev and a veteran of acclaimed premium and streaming series like The Wire and Orange Is the New Black—reveals the lengths he went to in a bid to construct his down-and-out mythic being for the critically hailed series, and, as an immigrant himself, his thoughts in the show’s of-the-moment commentary on America as a melting pot.
From the outside looking in, this job that you have on American Gods looks like a lot of fun, but tell me about the work of it: what was the hard part of playing this very amusing character?
Pablo Schreiber: From a logistic standpoint, obviously I’m not a redhead! There’s a lot of me in this show that is red [laughs], so there’s a lot of time spent in the makeup chair putting on the wig, and painting the beard, and all that—about two hours every day to get ready.
Obviously, the challenge of figuring out the sounds that Sweeney makes, and figuring out the proper Americanized Irish accent for the guy, was another challenge. Staying in shape, keeping weight on my body. It was such a grueling, long shoot. It’s just hard for me to eat enough food to stay fit. So I lost probably 15 pounds over the course of the season.
Those were some of the challenges. But you’re absolutely right: It’s a ton of fun! I love the character so much. To sit for two hours in the makeup chair felt almost painless, because after that, I would get to be Sweeney all day.
Pablo Schreiber as Mad Sweeney
You have Neil Gaiman’s book as a foundation, and then you have what Bryan Fuller and Michael Green wanted to do with the material on the show. Tell me about finding your own way into Mad Sweeney: what was the hook that made you understand what you wanted to do with him?
PS: We were pretty lucky with the guy, in a way, because he appears so infrequently in the book. He’s really just in two scenes in the book, because the book ends seeing this character when you meet him in the Crocodile Bar, which you see in the first episode, and then down the road you see him sort of destitute and broken and under a bridge—that’s right before he ultimately dies. So, there’s not a ton of material in the book that you have to be faithful to, although what is there really kind of stands out and pops out of the book in a big way.
You wanted to be true to what was there in the sense of he’s described as a seven-foot leprechaun with a big shock of bright, red hair. Obviously, I had to be tall, which was easy, then getting the look of the thing right: He’s described in the book as kind of wearing a trucker hat. Shadow Moon asked him why he doesn’t have an accent. He said because he’s been here for so long. So, those are a couple of things that we, I don’t want to say overlooked, but decided that there were more fruitful ways to go with it. The trucker hat was fine.
Technical Boy kind of got a makeover, because the whole idea of technology is so different now than it was when the book was written. In the same way, I wanted Sweeney to be somebody that you could easily find in some microcosm of American society right now. Where I placed him was in the sort of hipster vibe, that you can easily run into this guy in a bar in Silver Lake or Echo Park or one of the hipster hotspots of LA or New York.
So with that, it was like the kind of throwback vibe. The crazy, red fauxhawk [and] the suspenders—this kind of vintage thing. It also goes with the idea of the guy who comes from the past and has been collecting and bringing his items with him for the last few hundred years. So, all of these things kind of went into building the aesthetics that we eventually ended up with.
Pablo Schreiber as Mad Sweeney with Ricky Whittle as Shadow Moon
You spent some of your early years growing up in Canada before coming to America. Has that given you a specific and unique perspective on America and the immigrant issues that Neil was exploring in his book, and that the show’s exploring now?
PS: Definitely, in the sense that I’m an immigrant, too. I’m an immigrant from a much more similar culture than a lot of people come from. I’m not bringing a ton of Canadian heritage and folklore with me that I’m trying to hold on to. At the same time, I am “the other” that this country is built on. I am one of the other voices that came to this country.
Because particularly, in regards to Canada’s strong socialist leaning in terms of healthcare certainly, and just generally how they deal with the populous, I have a different perspective on this county and how it handles itself than I think I lot of people did growing up. So that colors it for sure.
That being said, I’ve been here since I was 12 years old, so in many ways, I feel like an American almost more than I feel like a Canadian—in that sense of coming from somewhere else and living up here. [On American Gods], the writers are American, the show-runners are American, and obviously Neil’s British, but most of our cast comes from other places. Mostly Britain, and Australia, and Canada. That, to me, also just contributes to this idea of all the voices that this country’s made of.