Mr Pedro Pascal’s Big Moment
The star of Kingsman: The Golden Circle on finding fame in his forties
As Mr Pedro Pascal slumps in a chair in the Soho Hotel in London, he tells me a story. Two days before leaving the set of his current project in Seattle, an indie film called Prospect, the summoned driver didn’t recognise him and dismissed him as one of the city’s homeless. “I was wearing a loose flannel,” he says. “I was wearing comfortable clothes to travel.”
The actor blames his collapsing luggage – held together by duct tape after stints in Colombia, Croatia, China, Belfast and London – rather than his attire. Still, that embarrassment speaks of the frayed-at-the-edges madness of the 42-year-old’s life these past couple of years.
Wearing his living-out-of-a-suitcase civvies – white T-shirt, blue jeans, black sneakers – his circadian rhythms are out of sync due to jet lag. His brain throbs from a Saturday morning of press appointments. And as far as his body is concerned, well, let’s just say any physical aches are nothing to do with post-gym burn. “Do I look like I gym?” he says, proffering a flabby upper arm.
I ask him to sum up the past two years in one sentence. Mr Pascal thinks hard, sipping his black Americano. He tries to wriggle out of it. Eventually he responds, “Ouch, my back.
“It’s funny that I can’t come up with an answer,” he says. “That failure has so much to do with the go-go-go aspect of the past two years. You never feel like you’re catching up. It’s the irony of getting what you’ve worked so hard for. You do have to stop and look behind you and assess what’s happened. And there’s the weird reality that loads has happened, and it’s all on film.”
Indeed it has. As Mr Pascal reached the end of his thirties, he finally put two decades as a jobbing player behind him and claimed Next Big Thing status. As Ms Sarah Paulson, a friend from their days as young wannabe actors in New York, puts it, “Most people don’t get to be in their early forties and have their lives changed, work-wise, in this business.”
First there was a memorable run in season 4 of Game Of Thrones. Mr Pascal played Prince Oberyn Martell, the all-fighting, all-fornicating Red Viper of Dorne (his exterior scenes were shot in Croatia, the interiors in Belfast). The adoptive Los Angeleno’s time on the show began with an access-all-areas-and-sexes orgy and ended with his head being crushed like a watermelon by Cersei’s favourite knight known as The Mountain.
Then there was a switch to the big screen for The Great Wall, the would-be blockbuster that Oscars host Mr Jimmy Kimmel larkily dubbed Mr Matt Damon’s “Chinese ponytail movie”. Then back to the small screen for Narcos, the Netflix series about Colombian drug cartels in the 1980s. In what amounts to something of a homecoming job, Mr Pascal plays Mr Javier Peña, a real-life field operative with the US Drug Enforcement Administration. Narcos shoots for six months of the year in Colombia, and the recently wrapped season three launched this month. There is blood, corruption and cocaine, mountains of it, with Mr Pascal once again at the heart of the action. But no Pablo Escobar.
But for now, it’s back to the movies. In Kingsman: The Golden Circle, the explosive follow-up to 2015’s box-office triumph Kingsman: The Secret Service, director Mr Matthew Vaughn cast Mr Pascal as one of his Statesman. They’re the rootin’, tootin’, six-gun-shootin’ American counterparts of the stiff-upper-quips British secret agents led by Messrs Colin Firth, Mark Strong and Taron Egerton. Mr Pascal plays Agent Whiskey, a “suited and booted cowboy” working with Mr Channing Tatum’s and Mr Jeff Bridges’ “rancher cowboy” agents.
“Matthew Vaughn has his finger on the pulse of nostalgia,” says Mr Pascal. “He takes us back to our childhoods in a naughty way. There’s such a wink there. And it’s really quite edgy – it’s rated R.” He credits Mr Vaughn with seeing something in his performance in the first season of Narcos (“And let’s be honest, I was quite marginal in that first season”) and hanging on to that vision of “this Burt Reynolds guy”.
“And 20th Century Fox could have said, ‘Who the f**k is Pedro Pascal?’ And Matthew was like, ‘That’s who I want.’” His self-doubt only added to his appeal. “[Pedro] had the swagger and confidence,” Mr Vaughn has observed, “but at the same time, such vulnerability of expecting to be rejected.”
“That’s a very accurate summation,” says Mr Pascal. “I think Matthew expected me to roll in and just be like, ‘’Sup? I’m The Guy.’ And I’m not like that. I have no confidence in terms of needing to meet a certain expectation of any kind, really. If Matthew was expecting some badass cowboy to walk in the door, that’s not me.”
Going spur to spur with Mr Tatum and Mr Bridges, then, was there a small voice in the back of his head whispering, “Pedro, you’re not worth it”? “There is something for me that’s so surreal about sitting a foot from Jeff Bridges and being invited to be a part of an ensemble that includes him, Colin Firth, Halle Berry, Mark Strong,” he says. “I didn’t grow up watching Channing Tatum, so that felt a little safer. But he’s still a star. It’s weird when you’re a fan, a young fan, of these other actors, and suddenly you’re their equal. So I think I kind of nestled into who I really am, as a fan, and just let that be.”
If we want to get all amateur psychologist and unpack that refreshing lack of ego, Mr Pascal suggests we consider his cultural status. “I’m not even first-generation American,” he says. “I was born in Chile and was already almost two when I came to the States. There’s something to that. It’s just rude if you’re not respectful. Because you’re a guest. And also, don’t draw too much attention to yourself. And you have more to prove, and that can’t be done through anything demonstrative or arrogant.”
After General Augosto Pinochet grabbed power in Chile in 1973, Mr Pascal’s parents fled the country. First, they hid in the Venezuelan Embassy, then they were given asylum in Denmark. After his fertility doctor father secured a laboratory job in the United States, the family emigrated, first to San Antonio, Texas, then to Orange County, California.
It was a comfortable, arts-filled childhood for Mr Pascal, his sister and two brothers. In film terms, he was a self-proclaimed early-adopter “nerd”, falling hard for horror films. Aged six, Poltergeist came into his life like a brick through a window. Exploiting the fact that his mother was otherwise engaged completing her PhD in child psychology, he watched it twice a day, every day, for a whole week of the summer holidays.
“Once Poltergeist rolled around, I already knew what I was,” he says. “And so when I saw trailers for that, honestly that was the primary seed of this kind of fantasy. My imagination developed so much from that movie, which is a little disturbing I guess.”
The Pascals were enthusiastic concert-goers, and took their children to see The Police, Iggy Pop and The Pretenders. Did they have such a lust for life because a dictatorship had nearly cost them theirs? “Well, they were young,” he says. “And in a way, they saw it as, ‘This is what you do as a family in America.’ So my sister got tickets for Madonna’s Like A Virgin tour for her birthday, and we all went. Yeah, wicked!” For his 12th birthday, he saw U2 on their Joshua Tree tour. “And when I was 14 I saw The Stones’ Steel Wheels tour, with Guns N’ Roses opening. Their imperial years. It was like travelling to Africa. It was something that was burned into my mind.”
He’s ashamed to concede that, these days, he’s more disconnected from gigs and trips to the cinema. He’s a “curmudgeon” who can’t be bothered with the queuing and the effort. “I sit in a hotel room and I watch Netflix.”
Mr Pascal is single. When was his last serious relationship? “Oh gosh,” he says. “Three years ago? Yeah, yeah, we’ll see if I die alone.” This, he agrees, is probably the downside of the itinerant madness of the past few years. “If I was to stop and think about dating, I don’t know how that could be managed with the schedule I’ve had,” he says. “I suppose that sounds a bit arrogant. But if I want to get involved in something, I want to pay attention to it, and I want to nurture it. It takes energy to be with someone – physical energy, emotional energy – and you want them to be happy. So I haven’t had time. Thank God for the internet.”
And, he adds, brightening, thank God for London. He loves coming to the city, not least for the stage productions on offer. Theatre seems to be one of the few pleasures he actively seeks out. This evening he’s going to see Angels In America, Mr Tony Kushner’s epic two-part meditation on AIDS and homosexuality in the US in the 1980s. “My friend Russell Tovey is in it,” says Mr Pascal. “He’s a great guy. And he’s so on it. He got me tickets to both parts. Tony Kushner said it’s the best production he’s seen, which pissed me off. You can’t give that to the Brits. That’s not fair. This is Angels In America. There’s a clue in the title.”
Mr Pascal’s agents are making him fly straight back to the States, he harrumphs, otherwise he’d have tried to get tickets for Mr Sam Mendes’ acclaimed production of Mr Jez Butterworth’s The Ferryman. “This trip is so mad dash, I’m not even pretending I’m here,” says Mr Pascal. “I’m already thinking what I have to do on Monday in Los Angeles that I could put off so I can stay and see that play.” Surely, though, on the rare occasions he’s home in LA, he goes out. “Yeah, sure, but I’ve got pretty boring in my old age. I’ve got to be invited and I’ve got to get myself out. Friends are giving me a hard time about it.”
He cheerfully refers to the disconnect between the parts he plays and the life he leads. “You leave really the wrong impression with the public. I see people and I see how hard they can go, but I just don’t have the genes for it.” So, no, he’s nothing like the swashbuckling Mr Peña in Narcos or Game Of Thrones’ Oberyn, an epicurean who’s savouring life and “who’s ready to f**k everything”. That’s not him? “No, it’s not. It’s not the case at all. Possibly in my imagination,” he twinkles. “I’m certainly capable.”
So that’s a snapshot of Mr Pascal’s busy, giddy, globetrotting early forties. Before he goes, does he want to have another go at that summing-up sentence? The actor frowns, fidgets and flounders. His publicist, hovering like publicists do, suggests this: “The joys and the perils of getting everything you ever hoped for.”
It’s good, better even. But, finally, a lightbulb moment from the weary man himself. “Oh, there’s a quote from James Baldwin: ‘Be careful what you wish for because you most certainly will get it.’ That’s the last two years,” he says as he rises from the table. “But you should still put in ‘Ouch, my back.’”
Kingsman: The Golden Circle is in cinemas from 20 September