The Returned: Star Mark Pellegrino on the English Language Remake

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In producing A&E’s English language remake of The Returned, Carlton Cuse cast a very familiar face in the lead. On Cuse’s Lost, Mark Pellegrino played the island’s caretaker, Jacob. Here, he’s Jack Winship, the grieving father of Camille (India Ennenga), who died in a school bus accident along with the town’s other children. Jack’s younger daughter, Lena (Sophie Lowe) wasn’t on that bus, but he’s not living at home anyway. He’s sleeping with a woman who claims to be psychic and receiving messages from his late child when the presumed dead return. Shock spoke with Pellegrino about his new role when A&E brought the cast of The Returned to the Television Critics Association. 

Potential spoilers follow, but only for the pilot, which is similar to the French pilot, though bigger changes are coming.

Shock Till You Drop: Were you aware of The Returned before the American version came your way?

Mark Pellegrino: I was not, and once I found out that I was up for this, I actually broke with my tradition. I’ve done a show or two that was derived from other shows overseas and I never watched the show previously, but this time I did. And I loved it.

Shock: When you broke your tradition and watched the French series, did you feel the American one was written very differently?

Pellegrino: I felt like, as they said, ‘if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.’ They didn’t want to force any changes on the project that shouldn’t be there. Initially there was a great deal of similarity. Of course, it starts branching off really intensely from episode five. They say six, but I see it starting to change before that. So there is a great deal of similarity in tone, but the characters even in that first pilot episode of the American version are a little bit more fleshed out. Their surroundings and their situation is a little bit more clear, as opposed to kind of sparse mystery that we have in the French version.

Shock: The dialogue may be similar, but is your character more volatile?

Pellegrino: Yeah, that was kind of the idea. The character had dealt with his grief by kind of denial. Since he’s alienated from his family and alienated pretty much from everybody, he’s kind of on his own except for his on again/off again girlfriend who he’s with for a particular reason seemingly. He kind of deals with his emotions by not dealing with them. That makes him volatile, but also I think truthful. He’s sometimes the only guy in the room to say the emperor has no clothes. That makes him unpopular unfortunately, but that’s Jack. I think he is different in the sense that the French character was a lot more reserved, and not quite as overtly antagonistic.

Shock: Had his daughter not come back, do you think his relationship with the psychic would have been a healthy way to grieve? Or was that self-destructive too?

Pellegrino: I think he was definitely grasping at straws. He was definitely falling into the same kind of comfort that alcohol gives you. It’s an intoxication. It’s the illusion of connection with another person. And because of what she does for me, an illusion of connection with something that’s done and over, with my daughter. So I think had she not come back, that would have probably stayed the way it was until it died, until it could no longer support itself. I think her coming back and unmasking the relationship for what it really was definitely begins to change the dynamic between her and I.

Shock: As wonderful as it is to have her back, is it too late to save the marriage?

Pellegrino: Well, that’s a very interesting question and it’s one that we get into pretty intensely as the shows go on.

Shock: Does that play out differently than the French version?

Pellegrino: Yes. That’s one of the many ways our show diverges.

Shock: Who in this ensemble cast do you have the most scenes with? Do you have more confrontations with Jeremy Sisto like in the pilot?

Pellegrino: Oh yeah. My character is in a fairly unique position for some reason. All the characters intersect at various points in the course of a show and I get to intersect with pretty much everybody. I don’t know that the other characters are necessarily like that, but I have scenes with pretty much everybody.

Shock: The young actors have a lot to do in this. It could go very wrong if you didn’t have the right kids. Does the cast work together to make sure everyone is at the same level?

Pellegrino: I think they cast amazing people. That’s definitely 90% of the job right there. And the cast is such a huge ensemble that we’re not often in the same area together. It doesn’t feel like we’re a unit, like going out together and rehearsing together unless we’re on the show that day. I’m in kind of a different generation so the young cast does their thing. The older cast, we hang out with each other a little bit, just like life. Yeah, I think the material demands something pretty deep and intense from all the young actors and I think they rise to the occasion very well.

India’s so brilliant. She’s so smart. The first time I met her was at the cast and crew dinner that we had and I was immediately enamored of her. We just talked books and literature because she goes to Brown University. She’s really a very exciting mind. It really felt paternal when I was sitting next to her talking about literature. I loved having that connection with her and I hope it carries on visibly through our work. You never know if these real life connections can actually show themselves in scenes but hopefully ours did.

Shock: Is there as much mystery in this character on The Returned as you had on Lost where week to week you kind of didn’t know what your agenda might be and what you represented?

Pellegrino: I think the mystery that’s akin to that is more with the returned than it is for the people that are struggling with how to deal with this miracle in their lives. Definitely I think they do well to translate the unpredictability of normal life in the show, so you’re there in my blind struggle to figure out what’s going on and how to cope with it and whether or not it’s going to lead to all of us reconnecting or ultimately splitting apart. In that sense, it’s a mystery even to me as a character and as a person. But I think the idea of the island and the mysterious character who’s in command of the island, that is kind of element here, but with other characters.

The Returned premieres Monday, March 9 on  A&E