Pedro Pascal: From The Mandalorian to Max Lord
It's been one hell of a year for Pedro Pascal.
Not only did his Star Wars spin-off The Mandalorian cement its place as one of the hottest properties of the streaming world, his eagerly-anticipated, much-delayed Wonder Woman 1984 is shaping up as one of the few bright spots in a particularly bleak year for big-screen releases.
But like countless others around the world, the Chilean-born actor is counting his blessings in what has been a difficult year personally and professionally, with COVID postponing releases, shutting productions and a grim winter looming for his adopted home in the US.
"I am a very lucky human in 2020," Pascal says. "I am alive, my friends are alive and healthy and we all have roofs over our heads. I am not going to lie - I think all of our hearts and our minds are very frayed and some by drastically tragic circumstances and lack of means and others simply collectively psychologically experiencing this traumatic year together. It's very hard for everyone."
Wonder Woman 1984 - the sequel to the 2017 hit that made more than $1 billion at the box office with Gal Gadot in the title role - was initially to have been released in June, but was pushed back several times when the pandemic shuttered cinemas around the world. In countries where cinemas have reopened, including Australia, it will now finally hit the big screen on Boxing Day, but will controversially also be released in other parts of the world on fledging streaming service HBO Max the same day.
Having made his name as Oberyn "The Red Viper" Martell in HBO's Game Of Thrones, followed by a season on Netflix's Narcos, Pascal says he's grateful for the passionate fandom of such cult streaming shows, but also says "it breaks my heart that (Wonder Woman 1984) can't open as widely and as massively as it would so people can just go and experience the movie and also just have the big screen experience".
He can't wait to get back to the movies, theatre and live music himself, but says safety trumps everything and he's glad that a movie whose central themes are hope and humanity can be brought to audiences right now by any means available when they most need it. "That's the most important thing ultimately," he says. "It's bittersweet, but even not being in it or anything like that, I would need to see this right now, I would desperately want those two and half hours."
In the 1980s-set sequel, Pascal plays Maxwell Lord, an unscrupulous, dream-selling corporate titan hellbent on global domination. And if the big suit, the big hair, the looseness with the truth, the self-proclaimed TV and business superstardom and pathological fear of being labelled a loser sound familiar, Pascal isn't letting on. "I'm running it through my mind and I just can't think of anyone," he says, deadpan. "I must be out of touch. I don't seem to know who you could possibly be referring to."
Director Patty Jenkins says a certain outgoing president wasn't the inspiration for Lord - and Pascal says his immediate thought was Michael Douglas' Gordon Gekko, from Wall Street - but the character wasn't based on any one person, more the rapacious "greed-is-good" ethos of the era.
"It was more sort of an understanding of the personification that so many different people have contributed to as this power-suit, power-hair, dream-selling success story," he says. "To peel away the very superficial layer and see the dark underbelly of that kind of ideology is incredibly important. What we do lose with this permission for unbridled greed is any kind of moral leadership."
Wonder Woman 1984 isn't the first time Pascal has tangled with the lasso-flinging, Amazon superhero: he was also cast in a 2011 TV pilot written by Big Little Lies' David E. Kelley that was ultimately not picked up. Pascal says the modern day take, which had Adrianne Palicki's Wonder Woman taking on big business and politicians, might have been before its time, but concedes it probably worked out the best for him. If he'd been attached to that, he may well never have landed the part in Game Of Thrones, which still remains a calling card not least for his bloody exit, with Martell's skull crushed in a fight to the death with The Mountain.
"It unequivocally changed my life," says Pascal of the award-winning fantasy series. "I wouldn't be talking about this project if I hadn't been cast as the Red Viper. Those guys, David Benioff and DB Weiss, took a chance on some unknown actor who had done a bunch of off-Broadway theatre and guest starring roles on cop shows and failed pilots that didn't go to series. It changed everything for me career-wise."
And having gone on to the Star Wars universe and now the comic book superhero world, Pascal has achieved a rare geek trifecta and could do the convention circuit for the rest of his days.
"I could retire today, couldn't I?," he chuckles. "I think they are slightly different and they are slightly similar. There is a real thread to fantasy, sci-fi and comics and for good reason. There is so much fantasy fulfilment in terms of entertaining stories but also in terms of moral symbolism and heroes doing the right thing. I think that's what it is more than anything, fulfilling that kind of need for creative and moral leadership."
With The Mandalorian going from strength to strength as the second season draws to a close this week - a third season has already been confirmed for this time next year - Pascal says he saw the potential early. While he pays credit to creators Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni for reinvigorating the beleaguered Star Wars franchise, he also acknowledges the true star of the show - Grogu (aka Baby Yoda).
"When I saw the story illustrations of the project and saw there was this adorable creature with big ears and big eyes and that I would be a carrying him around and I was like 'oh, yeah - people are going to fall hard for this s---'," he says with a laugh.
His over-the-top, swing-from-the-fences performance as Lord in Wonder Woman could hardly be more different from his controlled, minimalist bounty hunter with a heart (who rarely shows his face) in The Mandalorian and Pascal says he relished the challenges of each role. "That was such a delicious thing because they were two completely opposite sides of the spectrum but also still within franchise and large scale genre.
"With The Mandalorian it was similarly fascinating, the level of artistry that comes from all the other departments and then finding a way to frame yourself in that and achieve something that is the opposite of being so broad and exposed, by being completely economical. And the risk of achieving something compelling with vocal tonality or a head tilt. So, it was equally fascinating, to be honest with you."
Wonder Woman 1984 is in cinemas on Boxing Day. The Mandalorian is streaming on Disney+. Game Of Thrones streams on demand on Foxtel
Originally published as Pedro Pascal: From The Mandalorian to Max Lord