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'Halo' TV show, inspired by the Xbox franchise, looks to bring in fans old and new

The Paramount+ show premiered at the South by South West festival on Monday.
Pablo Schreiber as Master Chief in "Halo."Adrienn Szabo / Paramount+

Warning: This article contains spoilers.

AUSTIN — How does an actor prepare for a role in a live-action adaptation of one of the most popular and lucrative video game franchises of all time?

It’s a challenge that the cast of the highly anticipated "Halo" TV series, which premiered at the South by South West festival on Monday, was up for tackling.

"It was such an eye-opening process," said Pablo Schreiber, who plays the video game's iconic character, Master Chief Petty Officer John-117.

The show, which debuts on March 24 on Paramount+, is a standalone story inspired by Microsoft’s Xbox franchise of the same name — becoming the latest addition to a growing list of game adaptations that are coming to the big and small screen.

The series follows a 26th-century conflict between humanity and an alien threat known as the Covenant, featuring an ensemble cast including John (Schreiber), Dr. Catherine Elizabeth Halsey (Natascha McElhone), Miranda Keyes (Olive Gray) and Kwan Ha Boo (Yerin Ha), as well as beloved A.I. assistant Cortana (Jen Taylor, who reprises her role from the game).

Schreiber said it was "exciting" to learn about the "Halo" universe, "the mythology and the story that's been laid out over the past 20 years, not just through the games, but through all the different mediums that content has been released through — the animated shorts, the live action films and the graphic novels."

"There's just a treasure trove of really deep and well-realized stories and that made me feel like I was really getting to do something special," he said.

To prepare, cast members like Ha, McElhone and Gray said they did research into the "Halo" universe, but ultimately didn't rely too heavily on their background knowledge.

"I read a lot of the mythology books, I tried playing the game, I did all that kind of stuff and then I kind of let it go," Ha said. "It was more for me to just understand 'Halo' law, like how massive that is, the characters and then just being able to go."

That practice "liberated" the cast, McElhone said.

"If we were really coming from the game, and we're embedded in it, it might be very difficult to not be constantly reverential towards it," she said.

Gray echoed similar sentiments, saying: "It's kind of a good place to come from when you don’t have too many preconceived ideas and notions about who that person should be."

"You can just approach it, figuring out who they are, based on the evidence that you have in this script," they continued.

Because she has voiced Cortana since “Halo” debuted in 2001, Taylor said she was able to focus most of her attention on the script.

"It's a character that I'm so familiar with, so I didn’t feel like I needed to do that much research," Taylor said.

After voicing Cortana for more than two decades, Taylor said it was exciting to see the A.I. character finally "come to life" on the screen.

Fans excited to see the game's TV adaptation

The show reportedly went through development hell for almost a decade — garnering plenty of buzz, and anticipation, from avid followers over the past few years.

The premiere was a “special” moment because it marked the first time the cast has reunited since they finished filming its first season, Taylor said.

The show had a fairly positive reception at SXSW, where Paramount+ also promoted it by teaming up with ad agency Giant Spoon to create a drone display in the sky which formed to create a giant QR code.

Fans like Anthony Acord who attended Monday's premiere at the Paramount Theater in downtown Austin said they have been waiting for the TV show to come to fruition since "Halo 3" was released in 2007.

Pablo Schreiber as Master Chief with Kate Kennedy as Kai, Bentley Kalu as Vannak, and Natasha Culzac as Riz in "Halo."
Pablo Schreiber as Master Chief with Kate Kennedy as Kai, Bentley Kalu as Vannak, and Natasha Culzac as Riz in "Halo."Paramount+

"The show was breathtaking," Acord, 36, said. “It feels like a long time coming, to see this massive world everyone knows and love in theaters is surreal."

Marissa Urban, an audience member who has been following the franchise since the 2004 video game "Halo 2," said she was initially worried about the adaptation. But those worries were quickly assuaged after finishing the first episode.

"Once it started, I don't think anyone was prepared, the sheer awesomeness of it all," she said, adding that some people during the screening were in tears.

And no matter the critical reception, both Urban and Acord believe the series will be incredibly successful, citing the game's track record.

"Our goal is to present the people who have loved this universe for so long, an opportunity to experience it in a new and interesting way."

-Actor Pablo Schreiber

"There's so much action, the graphics are over-the-top and the voices and sound design are on-point — the show really did an amazing job," Acord said.

Paramount+ appears to be counting on the game's fervent fanbase, as the streaming app announced it would renew the TV show for a second season ahead of its debut.

Cast members said they hope to bring in fans both old and new with the live-action adaptation.

"Our goal is to present the people who have loved this universe for so long, an opportunity to experience it in a new and interesting way," Schreiber said. "But it's a different way of interacting with it. It's not a first-person shooter video game, and you're not being asked to control the chief and be the chief. You're now being asked to put your controller down, sit back on the couch and enjoy the process of watching the chief go through this universe that you've loved for so long."