(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Pedro Pascal: The rise of a star

From the New York theatre to Game of Thrones and Wonder Woman 1984, the actor has honed his craft, owned his choices and emerged a winner.
By Rohan Naahar | Hindustan Times
UPDATED ON JAN 08, 2021 07:28 PM IST

Pedro Pascal seems to genuinely care. In an age when actors are quick to distance themselves from duds, Pascal, faced with a swathe of negative Wonder Woman 1984 reviews, declared on Twitter: “I love movies and I love Wonder Woman 1984.” He added a couple of dancing emojis for good measure.

The film’s treatment of Pascal and his Trumpian villain, Max Lord, aside, it’s rare to see an actor go down with the ship in this way. Unlike directors, who have a more intense relationship with their movies, actors — unless they’re also producers or the lead — have less at stake. Pascal was neither in Wonder Woman 1984, although his is the film’s most memorable performance. So in fact it would’ve been wiser, his agents would’ve advised, for him to weather the storm in silence and move on to his next project.

But in praising the irredeemable superhero sequel, even as the tide was turning against it, Pascal displayed a rare quality. “I don’t care what the world thinks,” the 45-year-old seemed to be saying. “I own my choices.” It is this honesty that attracts audiences to certain actors, and aids their evolution into, some would say, a dying breed — movie stars.

Born in Chile to parents opposed to the dictatorial regime of Augusto Pinochet, Pascal moved to the US as a child. In a 2014 Reddit AMA session, he said he considers himself a New Yorker. After years of taking on small roles in TV shows – easy rent money, perhaps, to sustain a career in theatre, though he only made his Broadway debut in 2019 – he broke on to the scene around 2014, as the doomed Oberyn Martell in Season 4 of Game of Thrones. It was a small role, but GoT was the most popular show on cable TV. Millions were captivated by his performance, week after week.

That seven-episode run on Game of Thrones put Pascal on a path that would, less than a decade later, end with him being crowned the undisputed (and unlikely) King of the Geeks. His work on GoT scored him a lead gig on Netflix’s wildly popular crime drama, Narcos.

His performance in Narcos compelled director Matthew Vaughn, struck by Pascal’s Burt Reynolds vibe, to cast him in his Kingsman series of movies based on the comic books.

 

“The smallest of opportunities kept me going,” Pascal told The New York Times in 2017. “So much so that I resolved to struggle until I couldn’t walk anymore.” Even though he had, by most standards, made it in Hollywood by then, Pascal hadn’t forgotten where he’d come from.

He followed up his high-profile work in television with a series of big-ticket films. Between 2016 and 2019, Pascal appeared in the legendary Chinese director Zhang Yimou’s American debut, The Great Wall; the Denzel Washington action sequel, The Equalizer 2; and Netflix’s ambitious B-movie, Triple Frontier. Combined with the hefty gross of Kingsman: The Golden Circle, these movies made nearly a billion dollars worldwide. That’s over Rs 7,000 crore.

But just when the world was beginning to recognise his face, Pascal chose to hide it. The Mandalorian is by far the biggest project of his career — it’s the first live-action Star Wars series, which Disney debuted as a launch title on its new streaming service in 2019 —and Pascal is in virtually every scene. But his face, for essentially the entirety of the show, is hidden behind a chrome helmet.

This isn’t a Batman situation, just to be clear. You can still identify George Clooney and Christian Bale behind those cowls. For Pascal, The Mandalorian was basically a voice gig — he wasn’t even present on set for all his scenes; the crew, instead, relied on stunt doubles. This changed in Season 2, but Pascal’s increased physical involvement brought with it new challenges. For instance, it’s difficult to convey a largely silent character’s emotions when your face is invisible. And for that, Pascal fell back on his experience on the New York stage.

“I’m not even sure if I would be able to do it if it weren’t for the amount of direct experience that I’ve had with being on stage to understand how to posture yourself, how to physically frame yourself into something and to tell a story with a gesture, with a stance, or with very, very specific vocal intonation,” he told Entertainment Weekly in 2020.

What Pascal achieves on the show is quite remarkable. There are scenes in which he barely moves, but is able to communicate — sometimes with no more than an almost unnoticeable twitch — pages worth of emotion, particularly in the paternal moments involving the show’s breakout character, Grogu.

There is a scene towards the end of Season 2 in which Mando, indoctrinated his entire life to never reveal his face, finally decides to take off his helmet. It is a powerful moment, one that symbolises the arrival of Pascal himself.

AGENT, PROVOCATEUR

His role as Oberyn Martell in Game of Thrones (Season 4; 2014) propelled Pedro Pascal to household name status. As the charismatic but vengeful Red Viper of Dorne, Pascal had memorable scenes with which to make his mark. And his storyline concluded with one of the most shocking moments in the show’s famously provocative run.

As drug enforcement agent Javier Peña in Narcos (2015), one of the show’s three lead characters, Pascal was the only one who returned for all three seasons, before the show was spun off into Narcos: Mexico. As the show struggled to find new ways to evolve, Pascal moved on to bigger and better things.

Before being lassoed into submission by Diana Prince in Wonder Woman 1984 (2020), the actor played the lasso-wielding Jack Daniels aka Agent Whiskey, in director Matthew Vaughn’s satirical spy film Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017). It was a brief but flashy role, and Pascal managed to stand out alongside Colin Firth and Julianne Moore.

As the failing businessman Maxwell Lord, clearly modelled on a young Donald Trump, Pascal embraced the kitschy tone of director Patty Jenkins’s Wonder Woman 1984. He has admitted in an interview to being inspired in some scenes by the master of hamming it up, Nicolas Cage.

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(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Pedro Pascal: The rise of a star

By Rohan Naahar | Hindustan Times
UPDATED ON JAN 08, 2021 07:28 PM IST
From the New York theatre to Game of Thrones and Wonder Woman 1984, the actor has honed his craft, owned his choices and emerged a winner.
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