When you’re as talented and in-demand an actor as Pablo Schreiber, you can afford to be picky about the roles you choose to take.
The Emmy winner for “Orange Is the New Black” stars in at least five upcoming films, so taking on the role of Mad Sweeney on Starz’s “American Gods” really had to make sense for him. In fact, he turned down an audition for the role originally.
“During pilot season, they were given a straight-to-series order, so I got sent the pilot script and they asked if I would audition for it,” Schreiber told Business Insider when we met him in New York City recently. “I think my agent said, ‘No, he’s not going to audition, but you can offer it to him.’ But they wanted to see the actors, because it’s such a wild character they wanted to see it on tape.”
The role of Mad Sweeney then went to Sean Harris, a British actor who stars in the “Mission Impossible” movie franchise and previously, the Showtime series, “The Borgias.” But after a week of filming on “American Gods,” Harris left the production last year for “personal reasons.”
“Whatever happened happened and they came back and said we’d like you to do it and then they offered,” Schreiber said. “[Executive producers Bryan Fuller and Michael Green] sent me six of the first scripts and I got a sense of the arc and where the character was going. They talked to me a lot about their plans for using Mad Sweeney in the story and how he was gonna be used to drive the plot, which was important for me. And I’m 6-5, so I don’t know if I’ll get asked to play a leprechaun again, so I said yeah.”
“American Gods,” which is already renewed for a second season and airs Sundays, is adapted from Neil Gaiman’s popular 2001 novel of the same name.
The show tells the story of Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle), an ex-convict who meets Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane), who hires Shadow as his bodyguard. Shadow accompanies McShane’s mysterious character on a cross-country journey to recruit the multicultural gods of history who were brought to the US by immigrants for a war with the new gods created out of our modern worship of technology, media, drugs, and celebrity, among other things.
Mad Sweeney, a leprechaun brought over to America with Irish immigrants, has since become a grifter who yearns for the times in which his lucky charm was sought after.
With the offer in hand for Mad Sweeney and without having to do an audition, Schreiber had one more request of the show’s producers before taking the role. He wanted to make sure he would look right in the role.
“My character is described as being a massive man who also calls himself a leprechaun and as having bright red, fire engine red hair. So those are things we just weren’t gonna turn our back on,” he said. “So the wig and the beard were very important to nail. Part of saying yes I would do it was first I had them fly me out to Toronto to do a hair and makeup test to make sure that we could come up with something that looked good and that we were all happy with.”
That wasn’t the easiest of jobs. Since the production was already in full swing, they tried to use the previous actor’s wig on Schreiber, but that wasn’t going to pass muster.
“Wigs are really specific to people. It’s important,” said Schreiber. “So they tried it on me and it wasn’t working very well, so they changed it to fit my head. But really it kind of took off and really started to look like something after I said, ‘Hey, let’s cut the sides out and make it a mohawk.’ So we did that and I think, for them, the character started to come to life. So, I went to Toronto and did the hair and make-up test, then the offer was accepted.”
Fans of the novel may be wondering why there was so much fuss to make sure all the elements were right for Mad Sweeney, a character that only appears in the novel just twice. But Schreiber has news for you.
“If you’re an avid reader of the book, you know the character really well and you know those two scenes,” the Canadian-born actor, whose half-brother is “Ray Donovan” star Liev Schreiber, tells us. “But as a tv series, now we get to fill in everything that happened to Mad Sweeney in between the time when you first met him and when you see him at the end. So, you’re essentially taking a character that’s beloved that everybody knows and you’re filling in the time that’s not written in between the two things. And they did that specifically with Sweeney.”