The Viper Prince

Orange County school of the arts alumnus Pedro Pascal auditioned for an uncompromising role on ‘game of thrones.’ He got the part. Now will he survive?
Photograph by Kyle Monk
Photograph by Kyle Monk

Movie outings were a family ritual when young Pedro Pascal lived in Newport Beach. So it was no surprise when the teenage Pascal made “a seamless transition from ‘I want to be Indiana Jones’ to ‘I want to play Indiana Jones.’ ”

His latest transition was equally seamless. The veteran stage and TV actor already was an avid fan of “Game of Thrones” when he got an audition for the hugely successful HBO medieval fantasy series. Pascal snared the role of Prince Oberyn Martell, aka the Red Viper, debuting last month amid great secrecy and anticipation.

It’s one more sign that the 39-year-old Pascal is much in demand. He recently portrayed an FBI internal-affairs officer on USA Network’s “Graceland,” now is shooting episodes of CBS’ “The Mentalist,” and is co-starring in the film “Bloodsucking Bastards.”

As for “Thrones,” which he shot last summer in Northern Ireland and Croatia, he’s proving to be a smooth scene-stealer—and not just because his character is an equal-opportunity lover (bedding men and women). What’s ahead for Oberyn? He quips: “An HBO SWAT team will come down on me if I say too much.”

Oberyn Martell is from the land of Dorne. And you?
I was born in Santiago, Chile. But my family left when I was 9 months old. We were given political asylum in Denmark. It was the mid-’70s and my parents were young and liberal. It was a dangerous time, and they were lucky they got out with their lives.

How old were you when you moved to Orange County?
I was 11. I went to middle school in Corona del Mar and to high school in Los Alamitos—so I could attend the Orange County School of the Arts.

You also trained in New York.
Yes, and I lived the typical struggling actor’s life there. I came back to L.A. after attending the Tisch School of the Arts at NYU. But mostly I’ve lived in New York.

You’ve done some name changing as an actor. You were Pedro Balmaceda
in early TV and stage credits. And, briefly, Alexander Pascal.
Balmaceda is my father’s last name; Pascal is my mom’s last name. After she passed, I took her name. When I started out, I was struggling with not necessarily fitting into what a “Pedro” might look like to some casting directors. There wasn’t the familiarity with the vastness of Latino culture that we now have. But, my name is Pedro. And whether it was going to limit me or give me opportunities, it was something that I had to risk. It was my name.

You’ve done a lot of episodic TV work: “Buffy,” “The Good Wife,” “C.S.I.,”
“Red Widow.” Do you play a certain type?
I can’t say that I have too identifiable a type. Most times I’m glad I don’t, because I get to play very different characters. There wasn’t anything charming about the lawyer on “The Good Wife.” He was a pretty sleazy guy, but he was also suited and very clean-cut. I’ve been a military commander in Colombia, a lawyer for the state’s attorney office, and on “Homeland,” I was majority counsel for the Senate.

And you’re a vampire.
Yes, in “Bloodsucking Bastards,” which is a very broad, gory comedy—sort of “The Office” meets “Fright Night.” It’s about corporate office drones taken over by vampires. I’m the corporate takeover guy—and the head vampire.

Do you get to have fangs?
I get to do it all, from wearing fangs to full-on horror. I’m only getting my feet wet in film. I’ve done little parts here and there. This is my first major film role.

“Game of Thrones” is also major. How was the audition process?
They cast out of London. I was in California at the time, and was asked to put myself on tape. A friend of mine hand-held my iPhone while he read the scenes with me. The audition was seen by the show creators, David Benioff and Dan [D.B.] Weiss, who  sent this really articulate email asking if I would be willing to record it again with an acting adjustment. I decided to take the process a bit more seriously at that point and paid somebody to do the audition with proper lighting and with proper sound. [He laughs.] A few weeks after my first audition I found myself in Ireland, shaking hands with the creators of the show and two executives from HBO. I thought they’d brought me over for another audition. Even after a costume fitting and a stunt rehearsal, I still hadn’t understood fully that the part was mine. When the trip was over, I called my agent: “Did I get the part?”

You were quoted as saying Oberyn is a lover and a fighter.
It has more to do with the way he lives his life. He’s all passion. Whatever he feels, he does. He’s uncompromising and he doesn’t care what consequences he may face because of his actions.

The show is famous for its nudity among other things. In the episodes we’ve seen, you’re bare-chested. Are you gonna show even more skin?
The great thing about the character is you can never know what to expect because he’s a man who does what he wants, when he wants. So in one moment, he can start a fight with you, or ask you to go to bed with him, offer you some wine, or smash a fresh bottle against a wall. [He] flips on a dime. So whether or not we see more skin or blood is totally up for grabs.

You’ve said your character has a “noble agenda,” seeking revenge for
his sister’s death. But in Episode 3, he’s offered the chance to be an advisor to the king, who represents the enemy.  How do you explain that?
I think for Oberyn Martell, to get as close to his enemies as possible is nothing but advantageous. But the seduction of power, for anyone, is inevitably dangerous, no matter where a person’s “integrity” exists at the start. That’s the thrilling aspect of the show that keeps everyone on their toes. Because as fantastical as the world is, the characters are all written as human beings, flaws and all.

Will your character return in Season 5?
Oh, I can’t tell you that.

Any plans to visit Europe this summer?
You’re looking for spoilers.

School Days
Pedro Pascal ‘s  mother helped him apply to the Orange County School of the Arts He auditioned, and made the cut.

Getting There
“My family lived in Newport Beach so I got an interdistrict transfer [to attend the school, which then was in Los Alamitos]. There was a lot of carpooling, a lot of different kids coming from different districts. I remember there was this drop-off point in the parking lot of South Coast Plaza. And I would sit with my parents and wait to be picked up. Once I got my driver’s license, they were so relieved.”

Life at OCSA
“When I was there, the school did not have an independent campus. They had trailers on the grounds of Los Alamitos High and had this abandoned middle school that was close enough to walk to. It was all very makeshift and innocent at the very beginning, which is kind of cool,” says the 1993 graduate, who visited the Santa Ana campus last fall to do an alumni master’s program. “I was so floored by the new facilities—and by the students.”

Favorite Place in O.C.
“The beach at Little Corona. It’s so tiny, and the tide pools are so beautiful.”

 For a clip of Pedro’s introduction on Game of Thrones, click here.

Photographs by Kyle Monk
This article originally appeared in the May 2014 issue.

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