Best known for his powerful and scary mythical characters, Mark Pellegrino is just plain scary as an escaped murderer on this week's Breakout Kings (Sunday, 10/9c, A&E). The good-natured actor filled TV Guide Magazine in on his latest role and some of his favorite non-humans (Lost's Jacob, Supernatural's Lucifer and Being Human's Bishop) as well as peek at his new Fox pilot
TV Guide Magazine: So who is Virgil Downing, the latest escaped con that the Breakout Kings have to haul back to prison?
Pellegrino: He's an enigmatic assassin, an efficient killing machine. The Kings are trying to figure out why he's on a murder spree and what his victims have in common.
TV Guide Magazine: Why are you cast so often as villains?
Pellegrino: I like to think of them as misunderstood. People are a little daunted by me because I'm 6' 3" and 235 pounds and I'm a little physically imposing, so their first impression is that I'm probably hiding something and I want to harm everybody.
TV Guide Magazine: Why is Virgil a perfect Mark Pellegrino role?
Pellegrino: The more mysterious and enigmatic the character is, the more interesting they are. And the more the audience has to fill in the blanks and guess what's coming up next adds to the suspense and the terror quotient that you feel. The character I play in Kings is just that.
TV Guide Magazine: How did you get the buzzy role of Jacob on Lost?
Pellegrino: It was kind of luck. I was going to skip my audition for Lost because I had four appointments that day and had no time to study three pages of dialogue. I went anyway, even though I felt like I wasn't as prepared as I wanted to be. And they really liked me. I didn't even know that the part was Jacob because it was a different name. When I got on set, I found out it was Jacob, this character that they had been building up for a long time and that just brought me into the sci-fi radar. It's been really good. I really love the genre.
TV Guide Magazine: Lost's Jacob was opaque and mysterious even for that show. What helped you really get that character?
Pellegrino: I was just as lost as everybody for a while. Jack Bender, an executive producer, gave me a clue when he said, "Play it like Jesus the carpenter," the idea of a messianic but human person who knew you and loved you. Jacob was a saint who had elements of sinner him.
TV Guide Magazine: Will your "misunderstood" Being Human character, Bishop, the power-hungry vampire with the bad hair, return?
Pellegrino: I hope they bring Bishop back from the dead — but with a different hair-do! I had my hair colored for another project and we had to keep matching it. It did look a little bit weird. I was a very frumpy vampire.
TV Guide Magazine: You played the biggest baddie of all, the fallen angel Lucifer, on Supernatural. He certainly wasn't Jesus.
Pellegrino: No. [Laughs] But myths usually explain human issues, so I looked at it as a son betrayed by his father and wanting revenge. I felt that Lucifer was standing up for justice and reason.
TV Guide magazine: God loved the flawed humans more than his angel son?
TV Guide Magazine: Will the Big Bad return?
Pellegrino: I'm sure Lucifer will come back but he could be in a different meat suit — that is body.
TV Guide Magazine: You have a role in another supernatural project, the Fox pilot Locke & Key, based on a comic book series by Stephen King's son Joe Hill. Good or evil?
Pellegrino: In the pilot, Rendell Locke is a happily married guidance counselor and father of three. Like most of my characters, there's darkness but there's something morally valid underneath.
TV Guide Magazine: You actually play a real person, the writer Max Eastman, in the upcoming HBO movie, Hemingway and Gellhorn. How different was it playing the intellectual?
Pellegrino: Not so much in one respect. The scenes are mostly fights between Eastman and Ernest Hemingway [Clive Owen]. They had a critical disagreement and actually came to blows in Hemingway's editor's office rolling around on the floor punching and kicking each other.
TV Guide Magazine: OK. Not so different.
Pellegrino: I originally auditioned for this Russian general who's drunk and also gets into a fight with Hemingway. The director, Phillip Kaufman, told me, "We absolutely love your Russian general but we had to give it to Bobby Duval." [Laughs]
TV Guide Magazine: Is it fun that people still remember you for that thug who beat up the Dude in The Big Lebowski?
Pellegrino: [Laughs] Yeah, it is kind of funny. It's amazing that the movie has become iconic and that my character has a little place in cinematic history. It is also funny that I'm remembered as the Blonde Thug.
TV Guide Magazine: You're so good at being menacing. Did you hang out at prisons when you were young?
Pellegrino: [Laughs] Can't say I had that privilege, but I do watch addicting prison reality shows like Lockup and Jail. They're great character studies!