Pedro Pascal, left, is the villainous Don John in "Much Ado About Nothing." Credit: Joan Marcus
You could call Pedro Pascal a hometown boy made good.
Best known for his portrayal of the late great Oberyn Martell on “Game of Thrones,” the 39-year-old Chilean began his acting career in New York City as an undergrad at NYU. And for an actor in this town, there’s no bigger stage than Central Park’s Delacorte Theater, where Pascal is bringing the drama as the villainous Don John in “Much Ado About Nothing,” part of Shakespeare in the Park and presented free by The Public Theater.
We caught up with the Brooklyn resident ahead of Monday’s official opening to talk being back onstage, the fan response to Oberyn and his “South American shame.”
How did you get involved with the production?
When I found out that they were gonna be doing “Much Ado About Nothing” in the park, I was hoping to be seen for the role of Don John. I was actually in New York (in March) for the premiere of “Game of Thrones,” and there was this tiny window to audition for [director] Jack O’Brien.
“Game of Thrones” and the Central Park stage both feel grand in their own ways.
The part on “Game of Thrones” is the closest I’ve come to achieving that kind of theater-like experience. Because there’s something about doing Shakespeare in the Park specifically — it’s my second time, I had a tiny part in “Macbeth” eight years ago — about being in the Delacorte Theater, outdoors with 1,800 seats. Everyone is there for free, and there’s a generosity that emanates from the audience, and how welcoming they are at the gate is this incredible, untouchable experience that can’t be really compared to anything else.
There’s over 100 productions that have happened with Shakespeare in the Park since 1962 — the historical significance of placing yourself at the center of that, whether you’re doing something small or large, it’s very magical. And that is often something that can be found creatively as an experience onstage, and doing “Game of Thrones” is sort of what came closest to that.
You’re a pretty physical actor. Do you feel better suited to the stage or screen?
My training is in the theater; I’m much more knowledgeable of film as an audience member. There isn’t really anything that can compare to being onstage in front of an audience. It’s always hard to answer this question, because a good role in a good play with a good house is an untouchable experience. But there are definitely really interesting things about doing on-camera work that can’t be achieved onstage as well. So I wouldn’t necessarily be able to choose one over the other. I do love the physical experience of being onstage; it’s a pretty demanding one. I love discovering the definitions of a character through physicality.
Oberyn liked to stir up trouble. Do you share that element of mischief?
Possibly! Many of my friends would probably accuse me of being mischievous. I think that for any actor, mischief is sort of a delicious thing to play: What exactly motivates creating chaos? And those are always really fun things to discover.
The character also had great moments of levity. Would you like to do more comedy?
I love comedy, it’s a very special challenge for actors because I think the key to making it work is to be as truthful as anything. So it takes a lot of skill alongside truthfulness. Humor can be such a reflection of truths and ironies, and the complexities of reality can always translate in such humorous ways.
Oberyn Martell, right, fell to the might of The Mountain in "The Viper and the Mountain" episode of "Game of Thrones." Credit: HBO
What will stay with you about the “Game of Thrones” experience?
This was definitely the best part I’d ever played, and it was the best writing that I’d ever gotten to do on television. The creative experience of getting to sink your teeth into a delicious character, in a project that has found such success, such a blockbuster television show, and what makes it that I think is ultimately really good storytelling. So to be able to play a really great character within something as large as that is something that I’ll creatively never forget. The creative experience of getting to do David [Benioff] and Dan [Weiss]’s writing in that world, and getting into the skin of that character and being in Michele Clapton’s costumes, and all the attention, that’s really special.
What kinds of reactions have you gotten from fans?
People have been really sweet, very enthusiastic and really supportive. And it’s an enormous relief; [Oberyn] was a big undertaking for me, and one that I was pretty nervous about doing because he’s such an extravagant character, and I really wasn’t sure how it would be received. And it’s always nice to be back in New York, where I’ve been for 20 years, and have a stranger on the subway start smiling and giving me a thumbs up and a “Congratulations!” or “I’m so sorry you’re dead.”
The World Cup is underway – as a Chilean, are you a soccer fan?
I’m very unskilled at soccer, it’s sort of my South American shame that I was never any good at it. But of course, I’m behind Chile all the way.
What’s next for you?
I will be going down to Colombia to shoot a series for Netflix called “Narcos.” It’s about the rise and fall of Pablo Escobar, and I’ll be playing a living DEA agent, Javier Pena, who was sent to Colombia on a U.S. mission to capture and ultimately kill him.