'Halo': From the Cast to the Story, Everything to Know About the Paramount Plus Series (Exclusive)
By Stacy Lambe
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Adapted from the iconic Xbox video game franchise, Halo is the anticipated live-action, science-fiction saga coming to Paramount+ on March 24. The series is the latest original from the streamer to explore the trials of space exploration after various installments of the Star Trek franchise. This time, however, the fate of humanity is at stake as the series depicts the ongoing conflict between the United Nations Space Command and an alien race known as the Covenant. At the center of the saga is the genetically engineered soldier known as Master Chief (Pablo Schreiber).
From the origins to cast and the story and future seasons, here is everything to know about Halo.
First launched in 2001, Halo: Combat Evolved kickstarted the popular franchise with its first-person shooter game as it followed Master Chief, an enhanced Spartan super soldier, and his artificial intelligence (A.I.) companion, Cortana, as they rescued various survivors on the surface of a large artificial ringworld (Halo) and mounted a counter offensive against a technologically advanced group of alien races called the Covenant.
After the acclaim received by the first game, the second installment, Halo 2, was an instant success, laying the groundwork for future sequels to come. In total, there are 12 follow-ups, with some a direct sequel to the first game and following that timeline while others are set before or after the original trilogy.
According to many in the industry, the franchise reinvented how people think about video games, which has grown into a global phenomenon, having sold more than 82 million copies worldwide and grossing more than $6 billion in lifetime total sales revenue. In addition to the series adaptation, Halo has spawned comic books, novels and various web series.
Developed and written by Kyle Killen and Steven Kane and directed by Otto Bathurst, Jonathan Liebesman, M. J. Bassett, Roel Reiné and Jet Wilkinson, Halowill premiere on March 24.
“Adapting a beloved video game, with 20 years of history and story and character development, is a daunting task. But it’s also really gratifying. So, for us, we really looked at this as, ‘How do we take the essence of the game experience and really express it in our own voice, the show’s unique voice?’” executive producer Kiki Wolfkill explained. “And, so, with that, we set out to build a huge, epic sci-fi [set in the] 26th century world, with brutal aliens, with spartan super soldiers, artificial intelligence, military politics, and ancient mystery.”
“But at the same time,” she added, “against that backdrop, to really try and tell some very personal stories and explore humanity, or lack thereof, and the complexity of our characters.”
As seen in the full-length trailer, the first season’s nine episodes are set to follow the 26th century conflict between humans and the Covenant and will take place in the universe first established in the 2001 game. Amid the saga of the interstellar war, Halo “will weave deeply drawn personal stories with action, adventure and a richly imagined vision of the future.”
“With this season, with so much at stake, we really tried to explore how much of our humanity are we willing to sacrifice in order to save it?” Wolfkill said.
At the end of the day, “One of the biggest things that we have to deal with here is the difference between making a video game versus making a TV show. And we’re very squarely in the Halo universe. It’s a show for people who love the Halo universe, and it’s a show for people who are just discovering the Halo universe,” Schreiber said of the adaptation.
Danny Sapani, who portrays Captain Jacob Keyes on the series, noted that “there’s a lot to draw from.”
“The folklore is, you know, it’s so long. There’s so much in terms of characters and storylines and possible journeys to cover,” he continued. “I think this is a show that really deals with love and loss and all of those great storytelling tropes. It’s trying to come look at how we do in the modern world with all of these ethical issues that are related to the themes in the story.”
“There’s definitely little Easter eggs, for sure,” Yerin Ha, who plays Kwan Ha, said of the show’s callbacks to the video games. “I think that the fans will be able to follow but also I think they’re gonna be really excited about the new story that they are gonna be able to experience. They are gonna be able to see a journey that you don’t really see with Master Chief in the games, and I think they’re gonna be really excited about that too.”
“We incorporate a lot of the lore,” added Jen Taylor, who reprises her role as the voice of Cortana from the video games. “I feel like we tried to remain as true as possible while exploring different avenues, a different timeline, a different story. So, I think that fans are really going to appreciate this and at the same time, hopefully pave the way for people who maybe don’t play video games, who just like a good sci-fi story.”
The cast will be led by Schreiber as Master Chief Petty Officer John-117 simply known as Spartan-117. “As far as the opportunity of playing a character like this, you know, Master Chief is obviously one of the most iconic characters of all time, one of the most heroic characters of all time,” the actor said. “So, the opportunity to get to explore those themes and ideas, the relationship between the warrior and the hero, what are the similarities and where do they diverge, is what was really interesting for me.”
The American Gods star will be joined by Natascha McElhone as Dr. Halsey, the brilliant, conflicted and inscrutable creator of the Spartan super soldiers; and Halo voice actor Jen Taylor as Cortana, the most advanced A.I. in human history, and potentially the key to the survival of the human race.
“Obviously Chief and Cortana have a very special relationship, but the history between Chief and Halsey, played by the wonderful Natascha McElhone, obviously is another central core relationship,” Schreiber teased. “And our work together was wonderful.”
“Everyone knows from the game who she is. And I’m hoping that I’m building on that, and the legacy that Jen also helped to create when she played Halsey for the voice of the game,” McElhone shared, adding that with the series, “We’re trying to sort of deepen some of the other elements of the characters and to try and perhaps, you know, build a few more branches on the tree. I’m definitely seeing her as someone who is misunderstood.”
Dr. Halsey is also conflicted about the Spartans and sees them as more than just enhanced soldiers. “She believes that we’re in a sort of unhappy valley as a species, and that we just haven’t gone far enough in the process to realize [we’re] brutalizing these people when they were kids,” the actress said. “For us, she’s concerned it’s all for the greater good and everyone will understand when they catch up.”
Rounding out the main cast is Bokeem Woodbine as Soren-066 as well as Yerin Ha as Kwan Ha and Charlie Murphy as Makee.
“What can I say about Soren? He’s an enterprising, innovative, hard-working, industrious man, not without some charm, and he’s got his eye on the prize at all times,” Woodbine said.
“Ha is the daughter to Jin Ha [Jeong-hwan Kong], who is a rebel leader,” Ha said of her character, who is from the outer colony planet Madrigal. “We kind of follow her on this journey of filling her father’s shoes and stepping into the leader role and protecting her people and her planet and trying to gain independence from Madrigal.”
When it comes to Makee, she is a character created for the series. “There’s a lot to play with, and Steven has created a very great storyline for me,” Murphy said. “I’m kind of similar to the Spartans, in a sense that my time has been taken away from me, and for me personally, I feel like humans have betrayed her. So that’s a great kind of jumping off point for any actor, I think, to play in a series.”
“Chief and Soren have this very tortured and long history as well, but also very close. And to get to do that with Bokeem was amazing,” Schreiber said. “And to introduce a couple of new characters into the lore was also really thrilling. We got to bring Charlie's character, Makee, in. And I have a lot of stuff with her towards the end of the season that’s really fantastic. And Charlie is amazing. And this incredible new performer, Yerin Ha, who came in and is playing Kwan Ha, which is a brand new character created for our show.”
The actor added, “To get to do all of that, create the history and continuity of the franchise with the game, but also to create these new characters, all of it was such a thrill.”
Meanwhile, Olive Gray will portray Miranda Keyes, a UNSC officer and daughter of Jacob Keyes, a seasoned UNSC commander and confidant of Master Chief's; with Shabana Azmi as Admiral Margaret Parangosky, Director of Office of Naval Intelligence; Natasha Culzac as Riz-028; Bentley Kalu as Vannak-134; and Kate Kennedy as Kai-125.
“Within the center of the conflict is a doctor with the character I play, who is somebody who’s used to giving orders and then she gets almost seduced by the doctor to breaking all the rules because she convinces her it’s for the good of humanity,” Azmi said of what’s to come for her character. “And I think that’s an interesting thing to look at.”
“Riz, who I play, is a Spartan super soldier. She’s part of the lore, albeit hidden away and not really explored in the games,” Culzac teased. “But it’s great to kind of bring out these new characters and see Spartans in another light and deeper than you're used to.”
As one of the Spartans, Kennedy explained why the characters take off their helmets on the series – something that’s not done in the video games. “To be able to see humanity, seeing the tiny changes and emotions, just being able to get to know them as actual beings as opposed to rebels,” she said.
Also joining the cast as original characters are Ryan McParland, Burn Gorman and Fiona O’Shaughnessy.
“I knew the game, I knew the community, I’m a big gamer myself and so, the idea, the notion that you could come from a small village in rural Ireland and be a part of Halo was something that was kind of unrealistic but very surreal and a privilege,” said McParland, who plays Adun. “It was incredible.”
“We always planned on it being a multi-season show but season 1 has its own arc, its own satisfying ending and also, its own cliffhanger that kind of launches you into season 2,” Kane said of Halo.
Ahead of its debut on Paramount+, the creative team confirmed that the series, which was filmed in Budapest, Hungary, will return for a second season. But there will be a few changes behind the scenes. Kane, who replaced Killen as showrunner for season 1, will not return for another installment of the series.
“I never really thought it would be a more than a one season thing, just because of the amount of work it takes. It’s a very challenging show to write and produce. And, so, I came in and sort of redeveloped and fleshed out and did my work. But it can’t be done remotely,” Kane explained. “So, I was in Hungary for close to two years out of the three I was working on it. And as much as I enjoyed every minute of it, it’s a long time to be away from my family. And my kids were in their final years of high school, so I didn’t want to leave again.”
When it comes to season 2, Kane “will take a step back and consult and be available for the new people. We’ll have a new team come in with some fresh eyes to pick up where I left off. Which I think is kind of great for the show, just to keep bringing in new people.”
The showrunner then revealed that the series is talking to Dave Weiner, the producer behind Flesh and Bone and Fear the Walking Dead, about taking over. “Knock on wood we get to that place,” Kane said.
He added, “Our intention is to produce several seasons of the show. There’s a lot of story to tell. And as Pablo indicated, we have so many buckets we can dip into with these pre-existing characters and these new characters and these worlds, literally the universe. Talk about a world-appealing show… So hopefully we'll be doing this for some time now.”