Paramount Plus’ Halo series didn’t get off to a great start. The first season, which premiered in 2022, seemed torn between trying to match the action of the games and telling a very different story about Master Chief — which included a very misbegotten romance arc and one of the weirdest sex scenes of the year.
But with season 2 of Halo starting on Feb. 8, and set to take on the fall of Reach, Polygon sat down with Master Chief himself, Pablo Schreiber, to talk about what’s changed. And it turns it’s quite a bit. Thanks in part to the series’ new showrunner, David Wiener, Schreiber seems to think Halo’s best days are ahead. Here’s everything Schreiber had to say about getting rid of romance, making better action, and keeping Master Chief’s helmet on in Halo season 2.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Polygon: How do you describe Master Chief’s emotional journey in this season?
Pablo Schreiber: I think his journey in general, in the second season, is much more tied to the characters around him, it’s much more tied to the relationships he has. We get to meet and learn more about each of his teammates. And that sort of affects his journey. And we learn a lot about him through how he interacts with other members of his team as they begin to differentiate themselves as individuals, we learn a lot about him in how he interacts with James Ackerson, who’s the new boss of ONI, who takes over the Spartan program. And we learned a lot about how he interacts with first the absence of Cortana, and then getting her back later in the season. And all of these things inform us on his emotional state as he goes through the season.
How was that to get to play all of those facets of the character? As he sort of, like you said, learns a little bit more about himself and shows more to the audience through his interactions with all these new characters?
The more we see him interact with new and different people, and the more those characters that are outside of him begin to individualize themselves, the more we learn about him. You learn a lot about a person when they lose things that are important to them. And there’s a huge amount of loss in the middle of the season. And how he and all the rest of the characters react to that is very telling. And you learn a lot about how people get back off the ground when they’ve been knocked down. And there’ll be a fair amount of that towards the end of the season as well.
You’ve talked a lot about the difficulties of acting under all of the armor and the helmet and everything. But I did think the opening of this season in the scene set on Sanctuary is really neat and really affecting, and I’m curious how you feel like you’ve gotten better at kind of emoting and acting under all of that for season 2.
Um, no, I love the armor. I love acting in it, I love acting in the helmet, I love acting from behind the face mask. You know, I think a lot of things have been attributed to me that are misquotes, things I’ve said or taken out of context. I love Master Chief. I love who he is when he’s in his armor. I love who he is behind the mask. I love the process of being in the armor, and the process of acting from behind the mask. It’s invaluable to the character, as we all know. And it’s a great part of the journey for me.
So, how I’ve gotten better? I’ve gotten more patient with people around me, I guess, in terms of dealing with the challenges of it, but it was always a challenge. But it was never one that, for me, was one that I didn’t want to do. In fact, I’ve advocated for keeping the helmet on in situations where it shouldn’t come off. You know, there were a lot of times in the first season where I was asked to take the helmet off just so we could see the face. And for me, that’s not in character; he wouldn’t do that. And we shouldn’t do that. And it breaks us from the character. So for me, it was important.
The people who hired me to do this job, it was important to them to see both aspects of this dual character: Master Chief and John, a soldier who is discovering his humanity underneath the armor. So it was [an] important aspect to see underneath and to see the face. For me, what has been very important in the second season is to keep track of, you know, that the only time we see him under the mask or under the armor is in a time when it makes sense for us to see in a situation. Obviously we’re not taking the helmet off during combat. We’re not taking the helmet off at any point when it shouldn’t be coming off. And we’re really using the time when you see the team in Reach [or] inside the UNSC in preparation — these are elements that you get to see John around the city of Reach outside of his armor. All of these things are opportunities to build the character in a way that you don’t get to when he’s inside the suit.
Do you feel like doubling down on emphasizing all of those things, like when he’s in the armor and the helmet and when he’s not, is something that David Wiener (who came in as the showrunner on season 2) helped out with?
David has a very specific point of view. My job as an actor is to bring to life the vision of the showrunner. First season I was bringing to life the vision of the showrunner I was working with, [and in the] second season, it’s my job to bring David Wiener’s vision to life for Halo season 2, and to do the best job I can of making that the best version of it for itself. He has a very specific point of view as to when Master Chief should be shown in armor and when he shouldn’t. I have a specific point of view. And so it was a conversation about when those things, you know, when it should happen and should not, but yeah, my job is to bring his vision to life.
I know you talked a little bit in an interview recently, and feel free to correct me if any of this is out of context or anything, about your frustrations with the romance plotline from season 1. But I’m curious how you still work that into the character in season 2, even when it wasn’t something that you completely agree with as a direction for the character.
I really liked the character of Makee, I think she’s a great addition. Some people have a hard time with the fact that she’s a human operating within the Covenant. I don’t have a hard time with that, because the Covenant is using her for her ability as a Reclaimer. I think that works perfectly fine within the lore. And I think she’s a great addition in terms of what she does for John. They’re great mirrors for each other. They are people who have been used by the systems that they exist within, and they recognize that within each other.
So everything about what they do for each other, other than the fact that the relationship was then used as a romance, to me is really interesting and had a lot of merits and could have been a very interesting plotline. Romance was unnecessary. It’s fine. It was what it was. Like I said, I’m an actor who’s here to fulfill the vision of the showrunner. That’s what we did. And now you deal with the consequences of that. There’s a new showrunner who has his vision, and he’s going to use those facts to create a dynamic that he thinks is the best version forward out of this. It isn’t romantic. And I prefer that dynamic with the character of Makee. And I think there’s more opportunities for drama within it. And I like his point of view on the dynamic between the characters. So that’s what we’re here for.
Is there anything in particular that you’re really excited for people to see, or a certain part of the season that you really loved or that stood out to you?
Episode 4 is kind of the peak of the season. It’s a major plot point in Halo lore; we’ll get to see it from a new and unique perspective. I’m really excited for people to see that, because of the fact that I think, you know, all Halo fans are familiar with this event. And it’s quite major for everybody. And also, in terms of the filmmaking, there was a lot of… We use a lot of “oners,” which is like, creating a shot that feels like you never cut, even though we stitch together all these shots to make it happen. And it really provides this pace to the episode that just feels inevitable. It’s moving forward so fast, and you almost can’t stop it. And it’s just a really interesting way to see this particular event in Halo mythology.
It looks like maybe the most action the show has ever had, and that seems very exciting.
We had these massive plans for action for season 1, these big set-pieces. There was the episode 1 battle, there’s the episode 5 battle, and the big battle at the end. And we made them these big sets and these events. [And it] took like a month to shoot each one of the things. But the way that we shot them was so inefficient. We just became a lot more efficient this season, so the action feels more visceral. You feel like you’re more in the action because it’s subjective. You’re seeing it from the point of view of the character, [it’s] a lot more handheld, you’re kind of in it, there’s fog and you can’t quite see what’s happening. So all of those elements lend themselves to action that feels more visceral and more immediate and more dangerous. But at the same time, it’s more efficient to shoot and easier to shoot. And we spend less time doing it. So it’s kind of the best of both worlds, right? Everybody wins.