If you don’t already follow Pablo Schreiber on Twitter, you should. One, because he has a cute picture of himself on a hammock as his background. And two, because if you were to point something like that out to him — which his followers often do — he’d probably retweet and gently chide you for it. It’s funny! And fitting, given that he plays the insults-slinging corrections officer in Orange Is the New Black. We spoke to Schreiber about developing that character (who, jokes aside, is much more sadistic than any human should be); re-teaming with creator Jenji Kohan, whom he worked with on Weeds; and acting alongside so many women. [There are occasional spoilers, noted in advance, if you haven’t watched all thirteen episodes.]
I was sad it see on your Twitter that the mustache isn’t real.
Well, what’s real, Patti? You know? It was glued to my face every day — that felt pretty real to me.
Did you try to grow one out but couldn’t?
No. I had no interest in wearing that thing on my face other than when I was shooting.
I like that you’re appropriately judgmental of Twitter followers who ask you for things like mustache rides.
[Laughs.] Wouldn’t you be, Patti? Wouldn’t you be?
Yes. Pornstache is gross. Were you expecting the sort of reaction you’ve gotten to him?
No, you know, there’s been this really split reaction to the character: Obviously, as you mentioned, he is gross. He also can be hysterically funny because of his lack of self-awareness. So there’s been this split reaction of people who absolutely hate my character with a passion and want him to die, and this really strange contingent of people who seem to be titillated by him. And I’m just doing my best to navigate a stormy sea, here, Patti.
Were you ever considered for the role of John Bennett?
No, I was not. I did Weeds with Jenji and because the character on Weeds was this very sexualized character — there was a kind of oohing and ahing on the Internet about how sexy the character was and blah blah blah. And so part of doing this role for me was about messing with people’s expectations. Because there was this desire to peg me as the sexy guy, I really wanted to turn that on its head. And so when I saw the script for Orange Is the New Black, I was actually considered for Larry [played by Jason Biggs], strangely enough. Jenji was like, “Oh, I’d love to work with you, we have this character Larry.” Then she’s like, “I don’t really think that’s right.” And then I read the script and I saw this guy, Pornstache, and thought, This is a way to mess with people’s perceptions. And then I read the book and the guy was this completely sadistic pig, and I knew right away that he was mine.
As viewers, we got all thirteen episodes at once. But how did the story unfold for you? How much did you know about your character going in? [SPOILER] Did you know, for example, about his involvement in Tricia’s overdose?
No, no I didn’t. Towards the beginning of the season, all I knew was that he was a very sadistic correctional officer who was power hungry, likes to make people suffer, and that he was bringing drugs in for blow jobs. And probably when we were shooting maybe the fifth or sixth episode, people started to tease some things to me like something really dark was coming up. And then maybe a couple of episodes before we shot it I was told that that was going to happen. Also, you know, they didn’t want Tricia’s character to know that she was going to die. So they were being careful about how much they would tell me because they didn’t want me to tell other people.
You kill it with the one-liners and insults. Do you ever help the writers come up with them?
The writers did a delicious job with all of it, but I was given a lot of free rein with the guy. A lot of the stuff that ended up there was mine. The whole thing that Mendez goes into about Sudoku and it being connected to 9/11, that was stuff that I improv-ed.
Where did that come from? That’s weird.
I don’t know, I have no idea. It was a free license to basically be as absolutely ludicrous and crazy as I wanted to be. It’s every actor’s dream. It’s ended in this shitstorm of Twitter hate and pervy come-ons, but the beginning of it was an actor’s dream. What was another one? “One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish” — whatever that Dr. Seuss rhyme is that he says — that was mine. There’s a lot of things that I just threw out, and Jenji was really open. She’s pretty protective of her writing, but because we worked together on Weeds and because she trusted me as an actor, she was open to me just doing things.
What about the thing you said to the shop guy: “You ought to be relaxing after an exhausting weekend of prostate stimulation and blow-up fuck dolls”?
Absolutely, that’s mine. See? You’re picking out all my best work. The second episode, where he’s showing them all the things you could do with the pipe [and how different objects could be used as weapons] — all of that is improv. And that was really the start of it, I think. Jenji had a little paragraph on the dangers of prison stuff, and then I basically just went with that and went all over the place. And I think that was kind of the day that they saw the potential of the character. It allowed me a lot of freedom later on.
Why did you give the character a Southern accent? Or it’s kind of Southern. You say thing like muss up.
I never spoke to Jenji about this, but Mendez, to me, was from Texas. He was a guy who was working up in New York with all these Northerners, and he was the kind of out-of-place Texan. I didn’t go too strong with the accent because he’s not the guy who just moved there or whatever, he’s been there for a while. But I wanted there to be an outsiderish thing about him. So that was my choice. I never have said that to Jenji, so I don’t know where she thinks he’s from.
Will we find out his backstory in season two, with a flashback episode? Or how will this work given that you’re on contract with another show [NBC’s Ironside]?
I’m not sure how much I’m supposed to say here. My answer to your question will have to be: You’ll have to wait and see next year.
[SPOILER] If you do come back, maybe we’ll see Pornstache and Bennett fight over Daya?
Maybe. They’re definitely going to wrap my story line up. I just don’t know how it’s going to be wrapped up.
Matt McGorry [who plays Bennett] can probably hold his own against you. You might be like a foot taller, but he has those workout videos. You might have met your match.
Fuck, no. Matt McGorry is a fucking pussy, dude. I’m serious. Do you think Pornstache would ever admit that somebody could take him? Hell no. Pornstache has nunchakus, okay? I see your muscles and I raise you nunchakus.
Have you seen his videos?
He sends me his workout videos as a form of intimidation, but it doesn’t work.
You guys are two of a handful of male characters on a show that’s about women and stars so many women. Do you ever feel like outsiders on the set?
Absolutely. Well, not so much outsiders. I guess you can say outsiders. I have never been on a set that was more estrogen-filled and more ruled by insanity and emotion than that one. And I also had that mustache, so I was walking around and people were as horrified as you were watching, just being near me. People were totally terrified of me. I was kind of my weird island within the show.
What do you mean, “ruled by insanity and emotion”? Are you picking on women?
I’m not picking on them. But I am married, I do have a wife, I think I know them pretty intimately, and I think they are not ruled by logic and the sound, calm decision-making we as men are blessed with. No, I love the show, I love Jenji, I love the fact that it is such a woman-heavy show. The fact that Netflix has given that kind of opportunity to so many women is fucking phenomenal.