Exclusive Interview with Shadowhunters’ Paulino Nunes

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Freeform’s Shadowhunters hit a new tension last week as the Lightwood matriarch, Maryse (Nicola Correia-Damude) finally came home to bring the hammer down on her children Alec, Isabelle and Jace for their unsanctioned rule bending on Clary’s behalf. On tonight’s episode, titled ‘Of Men And Angels’, the other half of the parental unit joins Maryse at the New York Institute with some unsettling news. I had the exciting opportunity to chat with Paulino Nunes about his role as Robert Lightwood, along with some of his favorite career moments so far and what he’s up to when he’s not wrangling young Shadowhunters back into line.

Paulino is best-known for his work on “Cra$h & Burn”, “XIII: The Series”, “The Firm”, “Bitten”, “Gangland Undercover” and “The Strain”. Read his interview below!

You have an impressive slew of unique characters under your belt – from officer to gang president, werewolf to vampire slayer, and migrant dealer to shadowhunter. What has been your favorite character to play so far, and why? 

Yup, I’ve been doing this for 24 years now and I’ve had the good fortune to play some 130 roles!

Two characters stand out for different reasons. Playing the chapter president ‘Schizo’ in Gangland Undercover was great fun because he’s really so much unlike me. I’m not a violent or nasty person, so it’s a bit of a guilty pleasure being able to indulge those baser impulses. Plus, I got to look pretty badass and ride a Harley through the Phoenix desert, so there’s that.

The other fella was named ‘Gord Papo’ in a series called Cra$h & Burn. Papo was a complete mess, a corruptible insurance adjuster getting bribes from crooked mechanics and putting a lot of it up his nose. But he was loveable nevertheless, in his loser kind of way. A highlight was when Papo set the company spokesman on fire during a company retreat while he was smoking meth in his hotel room. It’s great fun to play such crazy stuff, but I also got to go to some serious, dark places. As an actor, it’s very rewarding to have the opportunity to explore situations and feelings that you don’t ever want to be faced with in real life.

Is there something specific you look for when choosing a role, or are your projects something you are drawn to instinctually?

Being a working actor usually demands that choices be made of necessity rather than preference, but when I do have options, I’m drawn to those characters that are more complex; not just functionaries for a plot. No human being is all good or all bad or all one thing of any kind. I appreciate roles that are well written and articulate that type of complexity.  I enjoy working in all genres and pride myself in a level of versatility that allows me to do so.

What has been your proudest career moment to date?

It’s difficult to pinpoint one moment – my career has been more of a steady build than a series of big highlights. One moment that does stand out was the day I auditioned for XIII: The Series. I landed the role of Frank Giordino over dozens of other actors, many very good, very experienced actors including an Oscar nominee. I was proud of the fact that it was my preparation that won me the role. I found an interesting way to play the scene and when I was done, the director leapt from his chair and excitedly told me that I had just shown him something in the scene he’d never seen before. I was pretty chuffed.

Mostly I feel proud of the way I’ve conducted my career when I step on to set and receive warm welcomes from the crew and other cast. I’ve worked hard to establish myself as a thorough, dependable professional and that reception is the best affirmation of I could get.

What can you tell us about your upcoming role on Shadowhunters?

Robert Lightwood is the patriarch of the Lightwood family. He runs the New York Institute along with his wife Maryse. His children Alec and Isabelle and adopted son Jace are expert Shadowhunters and the little Lightwood, Max, is learning. Robert is a soldier, dedicated to doing what needs to be done. He loves his family and is loyal to the Clave, but he’s made some missteps in the past and will have to suffer the consequences of some bad decisions as time goes on. To find out exactly what, you’ll have to tune in! 

You’ve also worked previously with Nicola Correia-Damude on The Strain, and now the two of you have been teamed up as husband and wife on Shadowhunters. Was there anything creatively you decided on together in portraying these characters?

The first time I met Nicola was in Havana, Cuba while we were shooting an independent movie called “Havana 57”. In it, her character assassinates mine with a bullet to the head. So we figured that we’d be less antagonistic in Shadowhunters! Before we shot any scenes, we had a good long chat about the world of the show and the dynamic between Robert and Maryse. It’s mostly dictated by the script, but we established a good basis for the fundamental relationship and discussed the past events that shaped it.

Fans of the Mortal Instruments series know that Robert isn’t the most approachable guy around. Is there something in the way you’ve played him that may make him relatable to the audience?

I think that Robert’s past actions in TMI have made him one of the more unlikeable characters in the story, but as the fans know, the series diverges from the books in some ways. As with any role I play, I’m looking for the human element of the character that everyone can relate to. We all make mistakes and if I can dig deeper and illuminate the motives behind those poor decisions, perhaps I can make that character more sympathetic. As an actor, I’m always looking for the facets of a personality that may not be immediately obvious.

You have quite the clan of children on the show with Alec, Isabelle, Max and Jace. Is there anything you can tell us about the way Robert interacts with or regards them?

(laughs) Not much without swearing you to secrecy!

What do you hope to see Robert do if the show is picked up for a second season?

I hope to see Robert be forced to deal with the secrets of his past and redeem himself with his family and the rest of the Shadowhunters world.

I wouldn’t mind seeing him get his hands a bit dirty in the demon fighting realm as well!

What’s next for you?

I’m currently shooting Brooke Shields’ Hallmark Channel series “Flowershop Mysteries” as well as playing Capt. Frank Kowalski in season 3 of The Strain. I’ve also got some writing projects on the bubble. Hopefully, I’ll be back at it this summer for season two of Shadowhunters.

What is your favorite Gandolf quote?

“You cannot pass, I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the flame of Anor. You cannot pass. The dark fire will not avail you, flame of Udûn. Go back to the Shadow! You cannot pass.”  Dude was badass.

Favorite movie? 

Impossible to pick one. I’ll pick 5: Lord Of The Rings, Magnolia, Taxi Driver, Big Fish, and Traffic.

Favorite Sci-fi TV series on & off air?

Does Twin Peaks count? Geek quotient: I once owned a copy of “The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer” and I carried a little voice recorder around, starting my entries with “Diane…”

Favorite comedian?

Ricky Gervais.

Favorite superhero?

David Bowie.

Favorite video game?


Favorite place to eat in Toronto? 

Parts and Labour.

Catch Paulino tonight on Shadowhunters at 9pm/8c on Freeform, and tomorrow internationally on Netflix.
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