Mark Pellegrino – Counter-culturist. Daytime philosopher. Natural villain. Meet the man who plays the devil.
Seated on the outdoor patio at Newhall Refinery, Valencia resident and actor Mark Pellegrino squinted into an overcast afternoon sky as he searched for just the right words. Immediately recognizable as a bright yet pensive individual, Mark has a lot going on under the surface. His answers unfold in layers, and he’s intent on getting to the crux of things.
“I would love to play a villain who, in 100 years, turns out to have been the hero the whole time,” he said, turning his gaze straight ahead and leaning forward. He further considered his dream role. “A character who seems villainous now because he doesn’t fit in with the current values of society – but he’s probably the Messiah you’re looking for. He’s ahead of his time.”
Mark has crafted a career out of playing complex, often sympathetic villains, usually in supernatural or science fiction television series. With roles from Jacob in Lost to Lucifer in Supernatural, he’s gotten very good at it – he’s tapped into something. By finding the humanity in supernatural characters, Mark makes them complicated and, consequently, relatable. Lucifer, for example, isn’t just an angel who’s fallen from grace; he’s a rebel with a dark past who’s fighting for justice as he sees it.
“I like that, today, the good guys and the bad guys are kind of mixing with one another,” Mark said. “Their characteristics are almost indistinguishable. The difference is in their values.”
Though Mark strives for depth in a performance, ironically his signature role was built around a snap judgment.
“First impressions are fairly important in this business,” Mark said. “People just seem to get that villainous vibe from me when I walk in a room.”
Standing 6”1’ in nearly head-to-toe black, Mark’s pensive and analytical nature could easily be taken as mystery. His constantly furrowed brow looks sinister from behind a lens, and his sturdy stance communicates a certain power. It’s no leap to imagine Mark’s transformation into a threatening, brooding bad guy.
“They said, ‘Cast him as the bad guy,’” Mark said, “and that’s how it went.”
Though he fell into his signature role, Mark welcomes and enjoys the challenge.
“The villain usually drives the story. He’s usually seeking something out,” Mark said. “Without the villain, the hero doesn’t become a hero. There’s something to be said for that opposition.”
He takes his characters seriously, seeing beyond the script and creating a life for the character. A complex hero, after all, deserves as nuanced of a rival.
“I’m trying to find the human themes within some pretty big characters,” Mark said. “I’m trying to fit myself into it, so I can get behind what the character is doing – because sometimes my characters do really horrible things.”
So how does Mark step into such dark, often gruesome roles?
“I like to build a life, so I feel like the character is coming from someplace and going someplace – like what you’re seeing on screen is actually an interruption of a whole life. I think it was Samuel L. Jackson who said he likes to know what his chracters eat for breakfast.”
Even when playing evil roles, Mark says the one thing you can’t do is judge the character.
“Because then it becomes a caricature,” he said. “Your character deserves more than that. As an actor, you deserve more than that.”
With this approach, Mark’s characters really began to evolve as he delved into each one. In Dexter, Paul Bennett, an abusive husband and drug addict, is an excellent example.
“Paul is clearly a horrible guy, but he’s a complicated character because his intentions are good,” Mark said. “That was the first time I got to play someone with that kind of dimension. I got to bring something different to the bad guy than the twirly mustache and malevolent chuckle.”
Following Paul, Mark tried on the benevolent villain with Jacob in Lost. Now in its 11th season, Supernatural has given Mark his hallmark character. As Lucifer, Mark gets to know his character deeply, working to humanize an immortal so the viewer can connect and, ultimately, sympathize.
“The writers made Lucifer sympathetic,” Mark said, “and you identify with Lucifer’s plight. He’s got a real issue with justice, and he needs to be heard. Since he’s not being heard, he’s gonna burn everyone down.”
Sometimes, Lucifer even wears off on Mark.
“Last time I was on Supernatural, I started becoming very mischievous in life, and it would drive my wife crazy,” Mark said. “I would prank her or mess with her – just sort of subconsciously. I started inhabiting that part of Lucifer that I really like.”
More of the job than just an uptick in pranks has crept into Mark’s daily life, however. In fact, Mark looks at the world much like he looks at his characters. On and off screen, Mark takes very little at face value. He seeks alternative perspectives – in politics, economics, science, technology, society – and endeavors to make them relatable to people.
“I have a very countercultural take on things,” Mark said, “and there’s very little out there that I identify with.”
Now dabbling in writing, Mark has messages to share.
“I’m working on a sci-fi script, as well as a more political one,” Mark said. “I’m trying to come up with projects that express my values. People learn from the stories we tell, and that makes artists part of the conscience of culture.”
Photos by Renee Bowen • hair & Makeup by Jami Cox