Pedro Pascal Goes Behind the Scenes of ‘Game of Thrones’
Pedro Pascal is an actor of many faces. The Chilean-born artist’s exotic-looking complexion and passionate demeanor allow him to mold into any role, whether it’s as FBI agent Juan Badillo on USA’s Graceland, a fierce swordsman known as the “Red Viper” from the southern city of Dorne, part of the fantasy realm of Westeros in the HBO series Game of Thrones, or two very different gay characters on the off-Broadway stage of Maple and Vine, ran by Playwright Horizons.
Pascal’s chameleon-like ways may even render him unrecognizable on the television screen; but that is a testament not just to his mysteriously charismatic looks that change with each character portrayal, but also to his refusal to settle into any one niche. He may not be a big name just yet, despite his many guest-starring roles on shows like CBS’ The Good Wife’ and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, or even teen sensation Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but he will be after this HBO season.
Season four of the fantastically addicting drama series Game of Thrones is set to kick off on April 6, with Pascal filling the heavy shoes of Prince Oberyn Martell, a quick-witted, lustful and cunning character. This adulterer — who has eight bastard daughters known as the “Sand Snakes” — plays a major role when he arrives at the capital King’s Landing, seeking revenge for his sister Elia’s murder, and promising to pay his debts. According to fellow Game of Thrones actors, his character will be the one wildcard this season that will leave fans constantly guessing.
Not only is he successful with television acting and newly familiar to film — he had a small role in The Adjustment Bureau — but the 38-year-old movie buff also has quite a prolific theater repertoire under his belt. After performing in work like Shakespeare in the Park’s Macbeth and Beauty of the Father by Nilo Cruz, his stage talents won him the LA Drama Critics Circle Award and the Garland Award for his portrayal of Phillip in the International City Theater production of Orphans.
Having succeeded in every realm possible of the acting world, Pascal recently pursued directing as another artistic outlet to explore. He is at the helm of the ship in Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre’s production of Yosemite.
The affable, spirited actor took a brief break from all of his endeavors to speak with GALO about his highly anticipated role, and to give us the scoop on working with Peter Dinklage, getting his feet wet in directing, and how frequenting movie theaters with his father made his passion for acting all too clear.
GALO: Before planting roots in New York City and becoming involved in the entertainment industry, you were originally a native of Chile. Although you were probably too young to remember, I’m sure your family has told you their accounts of having to leave Chile and moving to America. That seems like quite a culture shock. Can you talk a little about your history growing up and this transition?
Pedro Pascal: I was just a baby when we were given asylum in Denmark. I was born in Chile and then my parents got into a dangerous circumstance. I was only about four-months-old when we went into hiding for about six months, and then [my parents] snuck into the Venezuelan embassy and were given asylum to Denmark. So we were in Denmark first, and then ended up in San Antonio, Texas. So, I can only imagine what kind of culture shock it was for my parents, who were very young at the time. My sister’s two and a half years older than me — she was about three and a half [years old] when we fled Chile.
As far as my memories growing up, it’s very interesting because there was such a dual experience of being a family on our own in the [United] States and [having] this enormous, caring, extended family a continent away that my parents were, sort of, tragically ripped away from very suddenly. But while they were so young and kind of getting their shit together under such extreme circumstances, my sister and I were actually sent back to Chile when I was about four-years-old for about a year. When I was eight-years-old, my parents were on a list of pardoned exiles. At that point, they had situated themselves in the U.S., but from then on, we went back regularly. It was a big reunion for my parents and their families on both sides. I have 27 cousins, born and raised, still living in Santiago, Chile. From that age on, I was back very regularly, so it was sort of knowing [and experiencing] this big family in Chile, and then [having] your typical public school experience in Texas, and thereafter, in Orange County, California.
To get into how I became crazy enough to pursue a career in acting, oddly enough, my father, being a doctor, was a big movie buff and loved going to the movies. He was very into movies as a child himself, so in the States, my earliest memory from childhood is going to the movies with my dad. We literally would go a couple of times a week throughout my childhood.
GALO: So was that your inspiration right there for pursuing acting?
PP: I mean, definitely. It definitely put those kinds of fantasies into the brain of a child, which sort of happens to all of us, really. It’s really where it began. As corny as it sounds, I can’t remember wanting to do anything else. And my sister always attests to that. She said that by the time I understood what it actually was — that people are actually actors and playing roles in these films — it was what I wanted to do. I feel like I would kind of socialize by HBO and TV by having cable TV in the house. I remember the first time I understood that what we’d been going to the movie theaters to see, I was actually getting to see in my home on a TV, with no commercial interruptions. I was like, ‘This is a fucking miracle! What is happening?!” It was the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen [laughs]. That’s sort of oddly through my father’s influence of taking me to the movies all the time — that’s where I started to get attached to the fantasy of being a part of cinema.
My interest didn’t waiver. And when we moved from Texas, I remember my mom signing me up for my first acting class at a theater in the South Coast Repertory, in Costa Mesa, and then I took an acting course, and, independently, I started to rent all the classics. There was this really awkward period when we first moved to California and we were living in Newport Beach, where I didn’t fit in very well. I had a hard time making friends, so I really occupied my time at this video store and I started renting all these Woody Allen movies, the classics, and watching James Dean and Marlon Brando. I also started reading plays like crazy and it became such a life for me at a very young age, which in a way delighted my parents. They were excited that their kid was into something and not sitting around doing nothing — he was constantly reading shit. I’m not sure when it occurred to them that I actually wanted to pursue it. I think it’s important for a parent that their child is passionate about something. Then in high school, my mother found this performing arts program that was affiliated with a public school in Los Alamitos, which was closer to Long Beach, and that was an environment that I fit into more. Not just among artists, but even Los Alamitos/Long Beach was a mellower environment that I had a much better time fitting into.
And when college came around, I studied theater in New York. So it shaped itself from a place of fantasy and cinema, to being an actual actor, to getting the training and sort of hoping for the opportunity to do material and actually studying these things. Though my knowledge of cinema outweighs – especially, at the time – my knowledge of theater, at that point, I did understand that to be a real actor, it meant being in theater, which is why I ended up going to New York.
GALO: Aside from already being a successful actor on TV shows such as The Good Wife, Lights Out and Red Widow, you have had a very busy year so far. You just wrapped-up shooting the recurring role of Prince Oberyn Martell on season four of HBO’s Game of Thrones. The series’ creators described this role as being particularly difficult to cast because there are so many different elements to the character, and because his look is very specific. Were there any nerves playing a character that has such an infamous role this coming season? I know you cannot reveal the details of the plot, but the “Red Viper,” as he’s known, becomes a major player.
PP: I would say it was definitely the most intimidating role that I’ve ever played. David Benioff and Dan Weiss, I think, ultimately were open to whatever he may look like, as long as it inhabited the emotional truth that they were looking for, which is a man who lives through his passions completely — whether it be love or hate, rage or affection. He’s this kind of uncompromising person who will do as he feels, not what somebody thinks is right, but what feels right. Or by what he sees as a burning hunger in him, no matter how dangerous it may be, no matter what destruction it may cause.
GALO: So he really goes by his emotions, you’re saying?
PP: He goes strictly by his emotions. I think he’s very, very smart. He’s educated, but it’s all about what he’s feeling, and that sort of motivates everything. There’s something in particular that motivates him through this season, which tapped into the raw emotion and which was most important to them, and then with that comes his badass-ry. I mean that’s part of what makes him a badass — that he just doesn’t give a shit. He does what he wants, when he wants to do it. [Everyone else] is very strategic, very calculating, and often very afraid. He lives with no fear, which kind of doesn’t make him sane. He’s not crazy or anything like that, but he does something that we as human beings don’t do because it will make our lives very short — he doesn’t care.