February 17, 2017
Pedro Pascal’s rise in the Hollywood ranks is the realisation of his childhood fanatasies. Picture: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images
“It’s a good comparison to how I’ve been doing my career,” the 41-year-old says.“I’ve just been blindly stepping in the direction that’s being set for me so far and it’s been lucky that the projects have been as good as they are.”Pascal has returned home from Colombia, where he’s partway shooting the third season of Netflix series Narcos, to discover himself and Matt Damon staring down from a billboard advertising their movie The Great Wall just a stone’s throw from his apartment.The actor was thrilled by his first ever billboard, until, he says, “my former employer pointed out I was on a billboard for the sixth season of Game Of Thrones. But I told them it didn’t count because I was already dead,” he laughs.
It’s been almost three years since Pascal swaggered into Game Of Thrones as Oberyn Martell, the flamboyant Dornish prince who could spin a spear and pierce an opponent with panache ... until The Mountain crushed his head like a watermelon.Pascal had used every ounce of his hustle to get the role and as his episodes went to air in early 2014, he could feel his career changing by the week.“I was doing a play in New York, which is my stomping ground,” he remembers.“I was doing Much Ado About Nothing in Central Park that summer. And more and more Game Of Thrones fans started coming to the show and waiting afterwards for me with pictures. “My routine in New York is very set — I ride the train, I live in Brooklyn, I walk around ... So to feel the world change, as people on the train started smiling at you for no reason or asking to take a selfie ...”
His phone line cuts out again, but his point is made.Pascal’s first post-GoT job offer was Narcos, which follows the real-life DEA agents who brought down Pablo Escobar. So he was soon on a plane to Colombia. Then came the “dream come true” offer to shoot The Great Wall with revered Chinese director Zhang Yimou in Beijing.Pascal was just a baby when his parents fled the Pinochet regime in Chile and found asylum in America. There, Pascal became a “movie nerd” and fell in love with foreign cinema — Zhang Yimou’s Raise the Red Lantern in particular.“Going to the movies as much as I did was very much about escapism and nurturing my imagination,” he says.“The fantasy of being in films started very, very young. And it was just that — a fantasy. It’s just one that never went away.“Wanting to do it and doing it is all I know.”
If Pascal was overwhelmed to work with Zhang and Damon, the huge, practical sets that awaited him on The Great Wall only blew his mind further.“These sets were massive,” he says.“It could be one of the only experiences I have where the scale I felt in doing is exactly what it felt like in the movie.”A Chinese/American co-production, the fantasy epic sees Pascal and Damon playing 12th century soldiers of fortune, who’ve heard tales of a black powder held by the Chinese and set out to steal some.But what the men find when they reach the wall is an army like they’ve never seen before, fighting a once in a generation battle against mythical creatures.
While Damon’s William comes to respect the unified mentality of the Chinese warriors, Pascal’s Tovar remains very much about “about self-gain”.Between all the flying arrows and swinging axes, the best and most surprising element of The Great Wall is the comic double-act going on between Damon and Pascal.“That was pretty spontaneous,” says Pascal.“That’s something we built on the chemistry that Matt and I had together, which was really cool. I do hope it translates because we did have a good time together.”So good, in fact, Damon has joked his family adopted Pascal during their six-month stay in China.“There’s 100 per cent truth to that,” Pascal laughs.“It’s nice of them to say they adopted me; because I would shamelessly say that I invited myself into their experience.”THE GREAT WALL IS NOW SHOWING