Mark Pellegrino is a bad guy. He has lied. He has killed. He’s literally been sent to Hell. Most recently, he threatened his own nephew’s life. What kind of person does that? Well, for starters, an actor who is way too good at being oh so bad.
Odds are, if you’re a television fan, you’ve seen Pellegrino before. And if you’ve seen him, there’s a good chance he was playing a villain of some sort. From his roles on Dexter and Supernatural, to Lost, Being Human, Revolution, and now, as Jedekiah Price on The Tomorrow People, Pellegrino is not the hero of the story. Nor does he want to be.
“I think knowing nothing about the story from a writing point of view, only from an acting point of view, for me, the antagonist kind of is the story in the sense that he is the one, or she, pursuing an end passionately to the point even of death. That’s how passionately they want what they want,” Pellegrino said. “And they force the other characters in the story to either rise up and meet them with contrary values or physical force. The antagonist is the one who brings out the heroic nature in the hero, I think. So I like that. I like being proactive, even more proactive than I may be in life. I get to not only believe in a cause being the antagonist, but to wholeheartedly throw myself behind the cause.”
As a man who has played Lucifer, which is arguably as bad as you can get, crafting a villain starts with reading “out of the script, not into it,” he said. And believe it or not, Pellegrino doesn’t focus on his mannerisms, his voice, or anything physical. For him, being evil comes from being human. “I try to find the human element in the character’s problem,” he said. “And often it is, even if the struggle is grand and on a worldwide scale, the problem is very personal. And so I try to find that personal human thing, and if I can find the personal human thing, it makes the quote-unquote bad guy likeable and at least understandable if you don’t like the way he’s pursuing what he’s pursuing. At least you get it because he wants to reunite his family, or his father betrayed him, or he’s, in Jedekiah’s case, struggling to save humanity.”
Once the human element is established, how is it that Pellegrino then takes that character and gives us unforgettable moments, even something as simple as Lucifer quoting “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” in Supernatural‘s season 5 finale?
“You have to let your instincts kind of take you wherever they take you in the moment. And if you’ve done your homework, it will have a fullness and a life. And the rest is up to you. I think you come to the TV set with a suspension of belief and a desire to immerse yourself in that world and that does a lot of it for you. Those inflections, they happen, in my opinion, accidentally because you’re just in the moment with the other actor. And it comes out how it comes out. I wish it were conscious and direct,” he said. “I always experiment and try different things and leave it to the bigger brains in the edit room to tell the story even better by picking out which of my experiments works.”
From there, being bad is all about fully committing and … being good? “I almost never feel like I’m the bad guy in the scene. I feel like there’s a lot of people who don’t want to cooperate with me for crying out loud and they need to be set straight,” Pellegrino said laughing. “But you know, the fun part about being the quote unquote bad guy is you get to explore parts of yourself that you could never do in real life. You could be that full-on narcissist in a sense without concern necessarily for the consequences of the actions, and [you] experience no consequences of your actions and that’s very liberating I think when you’re working. You can kind of go almost anywhere.”
With limitless possibilities ahead of him, Pellegrino isn’t against playing a good guy “as long as the character’s complicated,” he said. However, he’s less focused on his ideal character and more on a certain deadly sin he’d love to explore, whether it be in his current role on The Tomorrow People or in future roles.
“You know who I wouldn’t mind playing is either Richard III or maybe Iago. You can’t get any more evil than Iago or Richard III. Those guys are bad,” he said. “And Richard III revels in his evil, and Iago’s just full of envy, and I’ve kind of been interested in exploring that envy route more. Because envy, to me, is not just jealously. Envy is the hatred of the good for being good. That’s a profound anti-life point of view. I’m interested in exploring that, even just exploring it for homework, as well, for my character on The Tomorrow People.”
Envy or no envy, when it comes to executing his next “bad” performance, Pellegrino will come prepared with his not-so-secret weapon: Focusing less on that sinister grin of his and more on acting like the good guy. “That’s it. Because he is the good guy. In his own mind, he’s the good guy.”