When Pedro Pascal was a 26-year-old struggling actor, he moved into a cheap, one-bedroom apartment in Red Hook, Brooklyn. For much of the past 15 years, he strung together rent in the time-honoured New York tradition of waiting tables and booking the occasional guest spot on Law & Order.
By his mid-30s, Pascal, who studied acting at New York University, was finally gaining steam with recurring parts in The Good Wife and Brothers & Sisters. But the real tipping point arrived when Pascal was cast as sexually voracious swordsman Oberyn Martell in Season Four of Game Of Thrones, a part he found out about when a young actor he was mentoring auditioned for it. Pascal put himself on tape and sent it to his friend Sarah Paulson, whose best friend, Amanda Peet, happens to be married to Game Of Thrones showrunner David Benioff.
The part opened up a wave of opportunities for Pascal, born in Chile but raised in Texas and California.
The 42-year-old can be seen in an expanded role as DEA Agent Javier Pena in the Netflix drama Narcos and as Whiskey, a lasso-wielding secret agent in Kingsman: The Golden Circle. After careful consideration, Pascal finally gave up the dilapidated Red Hook apartment last year.
You spent your adolescent years in Orange County, California. What was that like?
I had a really hard time in Orange County. I was a nerd. I was watching foreign cinema when I was 13 and talking about how Hope And Glory should be a foreign film. We got HBO when I was seven. My parents would be in bed, Children Of The Corn would be on at midnight and I’d watch it on mute.
I was so obsessed with film and actors that I wasn’t a very good student. I was always in trouble, but my father would always take us to the movies. I wanted to do that since I was a little kid.
The story of how you got cast on Game Of Thrones is pretty amazing. What made you so sure you were right for Oberyn?
He was dangerous. I’m not dangerous, but I have a sharp nose. I will probably be playing bad guys forever because of my face. There was something so sexy about the character. I loved stepping into that fantasy.
I loved him as much as (showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss) did, and they saw that. So it didn’t matter that the casting director had never heard of me, HBO had no idea who the … I was. They knew what they wanted and they made it happen.
Has working on Narcos changed your understanding of the war on drugs?
The specific Colombian history of these violent years breaks my heart a little bit.
These are incredible people who feel that they can’t really escape this association of being a narco-state. The experience of living and working in Colombia is in complete contrast to the story we’re telling.
I don’t like the idea of advancing a sensationalist portrait of the drugs and the violence and the extravagance, though I know it fascinates and should be told as authentically as the budget can afford.
But the violent association with Latino culture is an intense contrast to what it is to be Latino. It’s not part of my experience at all.
Filming on location in Colombia, did you ever encounter resistance because of what the series is about?
There was never any kind of protest. What you would get is like a middle-aged woman taking her mother out for a walk in the evening as the breeze was beginning to set in and flirtatiously asking, “What are you guys making?”
And you’d tell her it was a show called Narcos. And she’d go, “Tell a nicer story.”
As a Chilean American, how do you get along with Colombians?
Nobody likes Chile. We’re the dorks of Latin America, isolated by the Andes and the Pacific, so we don’t even know how to dance.
But Colombians are the most polite. They won’t talk (badly) about other countries.
I remember Chile was playing the Colombian football team and we were shooting a scene on an airbase and I had to step out of a plane.
There were a lot of crew members and extras around. I stepped out and went, “Viva, Chile!”
And it was just death stares from everybody. That’s where they drew the line.
Kingsman looks like it was a lot of fun to make.
It was a very surreal blast. I had a complete magical love affair with London. I was in trailers next to Halle Berry and Julianne Moore and Jeff Bridges. It was too ridiculous to be terrifying, although it was a little terrifying.
There couldn’t be anything more glamorous than that cast, and there couldn’t be anything less glamorous than being in a harness for a week being spun around a rigged gondola and you have to go to the bathroom so bad.
So what’s hardest to handle – Whiskey’s lasso, Oberyn’s sword or Pena’s gun?
The lasso was … impossible. You feel like a fool. I wanted it to be good enough for a couple of seconds of a frame, but you’d be surprised how long it takes to get that good. – Los Angeles Times/Tribune News Service/Meredith Blake