If you’re watching Apple TV+’s newest hit limited series, Defending Jacob written by Mark Bomback and directed by Morten Tyldum, there’s no doubt at some point you’ve been a little heated towards the man in charge of winning Jacob’s conviction, Neal Loguidice. Masterfully played by Pablo Schreiber (Orange is the New Black, Lorelei), he’s the guy you love to hate, but should you?
Defending Jacob leaves not only our characters making tough decisions, but the audience as well. Who’s right and who’s wrong? I sat down with Pablo Schreiber to delve a little deeper into Neal, who got a makeover from the pages of Landay’s novel in Bomback’s TV adaptation, “I read the book. But I realized very quickly that Mark Bomback, the writer, had made some very obvious changes to Neal as a character,” Schreiber began, “and just the fact that they were interested in casting me suggested that they were interested in making him quite different than the book.” Upon casting, fans of the book could notice a stark difference in Neal’s appearance, “I think he’s described as being very short, overweight, balding, sort of nebbishy and annoying.” But beyond a physical transformation, Neal also underwent a little character development. “I feel it was very important for the character in the series to be much more of an equal of Andy’s,” Schreiber noted. Loguidice lost that almost irksome nature book readers will remember, and between Bomback’s writing and Schreiber’s performance, the character flourished.
Neal Loguidice and Andy Barber’s story came full circle in the eighth and final episode, “After”, of the limited series, which debuted Friday, May 29 on Apple TV+. Read what Schreiber had to say about Neal, his intentions, and why he may not deserve the flack he gets from viewers and readers alike.
Nerds and Beyond: The entire story really navigates a palette of moral shades of gray from all of its characters, but Neal stands out as the one not impartial to his former co-worker. But since the story is being told by Andy, Neal can almost be viewed as a villain despite the fact that the story is about a murder. How did you approach taking Neal on and navigating through who he really is and who the audience is bound to perceive him as?
Pablo Schreiber: Well isn’t that interesting, because that really was the challenge, that really was the thing and part of the reason why I took the job. Because I’ve been asked to play villains in the past, and part of them seeing me in this role was using that history that I have in terms of what the audience comes in feeling about a person. What’s interesting is that, yes, as you say, Neal can be perceived as the villain in this story because he is the counterweight to Andy, he is trying to prosecute Jacob, who’s Andy’s son, and the only reason he really is perceived as the villain is because he’s looking to do something that Andy, essentially, can’t let happen. But, when it comes down to it, Neal is really just, not only doing his job, but doing his job quite well. He’s being an effective prosecutor and that’s really his only crime in this — trying to win the prosecution of Jacob.
Nerds and Beyond: So I talked to a lot of people, all of my friends are watching it, and everybody, of course, dislikes your character, and I tell them to just give you a chance, but do you really think his motivation was solely to doing his job correctly and finding the truth …
Nerds and Beyond: Or was part of it getting the upper hand to take down his mentor, and almost professional nemesis, in Andy?
Pablo: Absolutely, absolutely. I mean, there’s a huge competition streak that runs through the relationship between Andy and Neal, but I wouldn’t call him a professional nemesis. I would say that Andy used to be a mentor and that there was a point in their relationship where Neal realized that Andy was, not a nemesis, but he was in his way. I think Neal wants Lynn [Canavan]’s job, he wants to be, eventually, the next DA, and Andy is really the person in his way for that. But I don’t believe winning Jacob’s conviction is personal, in terms of getting him back or anything like that, I think that he truly believed that Jacob committed the murder, and part of winning the conviction is also showing Andy that he learned everything he taught, because we learn in episode 7 that all of the things that Neal is using against Jacob are things that Andy taught him. That’s another way that we simply learn he’s being an effective prosecutor, Andy is the one who showed him most of these things, and so it’s being good at his job. It’s winning the conviction of the person he believes is guilty, and at the same time showing his former mentor, who has turned into a competitor, that he learned the lessons that were given to him.
And then I believe in the course of the case, which is episode 7, the actual court case, his reality is rocked and completely shook when Patz confesses to the crime and kills himself, and he realizes that he has gone full steam at trying to win the conviction of a teenager, and could have possibly ruined his life. He realizes that he may have been wrong about that. Turns out he probably wasn’t, but he realizes he may have been. I believe in the course of the Supreme Court hearing he’s really trying to make amends for going overboard in that way. What he’s trying to achieve, and we only realize it at the very end in episode 8, is really to get justice for Jacob, and by extension really, get justice for Andy. The fact that it happens to be at the expense of his wife is a sad sack, but necessary for righting all the wrongs.
Nerds and Beyond: I did love those last few moments between Neal and Andy in the hallway, I think you said 3-4 words and I really think that it nailed just what you said, with Neal and how he felt about Andy in the end.
Pablo: I don’t think the last few moments of the series are enough to outweigh the seven or eight episodes of loathing his behavior, it’s not going to change your viewings about him. But, ultimately, the perspective shift should make you question why you hated him so much.
Nerds and Beyond: I want to go back to episode 6. Neal’s comments to Andy about his father in the corridor, were they a calculated move or more heat of the moment?
Pablo: Oh no no no, it was 100 percent calculated. He created that moment from beginning to end and then used it against him in the court. It’s what makes him as shifty and questionable as he is, but it’s also exactly what makes him so good at what he does. Andy admits it at the end, that he did a great job prosecuting the case. When Andy’s given the opportunity to throw him under the bus when Lynn asks him if he’ll come back, he takes the opportunity to commend Neal and say I think you should keep him around, I think he’s got a bright future. He knows what he’s doing, and he does it well.
Nerds and Beyond: In episode 7, when they’re at recess at the court early on in the case, Ben Rifkin’s father accuses Neal of being theatrical, and then Andy immediately follows up in their own conference room and calls Neal reckless, do you agree that he was acting theatrical or reckless, or was it more calculated, or was he a little more heated because he felt like he was losing?
Pablo: I think all of the above is true, I think he was being reckless in the sense that, it was entirely legal what he was doing, but it was stretching the unwritten or unsaid rules of being a lawyer and being a prosecutor and collaborating with the defense, which you’re meant to do. It was reckless in that sense, and it was theatrical in all the ways that being a prosecutor is theatrical. That’s the thing is you can throw these out as insults, but you can also use them to specifically define what makes a prosecutor good at their job. Show me a prosector who’s not theatrical, it’s the definition of the job. You do it in order to create a story, you are telling a story for the jury and so the whole process of being a prosector is theatrical. It just happens that you’re following the story from Andy’s point of view, and so all of the things that feels like losses to him are wins for Neal and they’re ways that he’s done his job well, they just don’t work out well for Andy unfortunately.
Nerds and Beyond: Exactly, like we said earlier it comes across as you being the bad guy but, in reality, you’re probably the good guy.
Pablo: I think that’s the beauty of Mark Bomback’s writing. There are no good guys, there are no bad guys. In fact, if we look into a little deeper as an audience, we’re meant to feel positive thoughts about our protagonist, if you follow the protagonist you want to feel like they’re inherently good, right? But that’s our bias as observers, it doesn’t have anything to do with the actual characters. If you really look at the actions of the characters in this series, what Andy does in the course of this series is far worse than what Neal does.
Nerds and Beyond: Oh yeah, everything is questionable.
Pablo: It’s not only morally questionable, it’s actually legally culpable. Like him hiding the knife, as a prosector to take the knife out of his room and dispose of it, that’s absolutely criminal behavior. But because he’s the protagonist of our story we forgive him and we want to think of him as a good person who’s doing good things, and the person who’s blocking his path, we want to think of him as inherently bad. But none of those things are actually true and it actually just comes down to behavior and moral gray areas.
You can watch Defending Jacob in its entirety exclusively on Apple TV+ now!