As Oberyn Martell, the foreign Prince on Season Four of Game of Thrones, Pedro Pascal is cocky and clever; smooth and seductive. Though he only appeared in seven episodes, Pascal’s Red Viper stole the season. His demise—unexpected and ultraviolent—is permanently seared into the memories of fans, which, on a show as perilous as Game of Thrones, is quite a feat.
Pascal didn’t come out of nowhere; the Chilean-American actor and NYU grad began acting in films, theater, and television since the late ’90s. His role on HBO’s most cinematic series, however, made him famous and sought after. He is currently living in Colombia filming Narcos, the new Netflix original series about the Medellín drug trade co-starring Boyd Holdbrook. Here, he talks to one of his oldest and dearest friends, American Horror Story actress Sarah Paulson.
PEDRO PASCAL: Do you have at least two questions? Have you done your research?
SARAH PAULSON: I’ve known you since I was 18, is that enough research? I think that’s enough research.
PEDRO PASCAL: [laughs]
PAULSON: I do have questions. They’re all written down. Are you ready for this? Where are you sitting right now?
PASCAL: I’ve just come up to my room to the exact same spot where we were Skyping about 12 hours ago. I have a beautiful view of Medellín, Colombia. The sun is shining.
PAULSON: I think people are very curious—and by people I mean, like, one person in the entire world—about how we met. Do you remember your first impression of me and do I remember my first impression of you? Was there a particular bonding moment? Did we ever go through a period of estrangement? These are the questions I have.
PASCAL: [laughs] I have answers to all those questions, I just don’t know if you want to hear them. I met you, Sarah Paulson, in September of 1993, my first month in New York City. I was really lucky because my first friend at NYU lived in Brooklyn, Kristen, and went to high school with you, so your guys’ posse kind of adopted me.
PAULSON: And do you remember the names of the people in that posse besides Kristen?
PASCAL: I remember everybody! There are a couple of things that I probably shouldn’t say about all of us—we were 18-year-olds in New York City in 1993. [But] I remember all of us going to the Upper East Side. I insisted that we all go see that movie Fearless.
PAULSON: Yeah, Fearless. I’ll never forget it as long as I live.
PASCAL: There were eight of us sitting next to each other and, as I remember, we were all sobbing by the end of it.
PAULSON: Then we walked into the park and saw Woody Harrelson. Remember that?
PASCAL: Yeah, that’s right. We were the two people who knew exactly who he was and fanned out a little bit. Nobody else cared. We had our little celebrity sighting moment and that, in retrospect, was our first step towards bonding, which cut to, I’m pretty sure that night, drinking 40s, me being on Romi’s shoulders running down Fifth Avenue, and getting knocked down by a cabbie. [laughs] I think you were on somebody’s shoulders too.
PAULSON: I sure was. I remember that so clearly. It’s a wonder we survived. When I think about the debauchery, the things that we did, the kind of shit we were pulling and the way we were behaving, I don’t even know how we made it to the next morning, much less 20 years later.
PASCAL: Do you remember your perfect Wednesday Addams costume on Halloween that you added fangs to? I bet you don’t remember that.
PAULSON: I don’t really remember it. What did I do? I wore a button down? What did I do?
PASCAL: You had the perfect braids. You had the perfect Wednesday Adams outfit. But then your added element was fangs—the cool kind that attached to the teeth.
PAULSON: That’s so boring; you’re an idiot.
PASCAL: I liked it.
PAULSON: Did we go through a period of estrangement? I think we went through a period where we didn’t talk as much, but it was never because we were fighting.
PASCAL: You were the first of all of us that started working and never stopped. You went to Los Angeles, and we didn’t reconnect until a few years later.
PAULSON: Until you came to Los Angeles.
PASCAL: I came to L.A. for a bit and then went back to New York. Even after going back to New York, we somehow went into chapter two of our friendship that—we attached to each other and haven’t been able to let go.
PAULSON: That is for damn sure. I think when you get knocked off by a cabbie and you see Woody Harrelson and you see Fearless all in one day, you’re either bonded for life or you’ll never see each other again.
PASCAL: It’s a very powerful seed. Think of everything that we’re actively editing in our minds. [laughs]
PAULSON: Oh yeah. That’s just not ready for consumption by masses of people—or the one person that will read this, no offense. [laughs] Here’s my question. I didn’t know this about you, or if I did, I forgot it. Apparently you acted out scenes from Poltergeist (1982) as a child. Is that true?
PASCAL: Yes, it’s 100 percent true. I tricked my parents, my poor parents. Back when Poltergeist came out in movie theaters, PG-13 did not exist. PG-13 didn’t come into form until after Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Doom (1984).
PAULSON: Ladies and gentlemen, Pedro Pascal the film buff and the MPAA all-star.
PAULSON: Nerd alert!
PASCAL: Steven Spielberg’s name was all over Poltergeist and E.T. was out the same year, which every single parent took their child to. So despite Poltergeist being a horror movie, I convinced my parents to let me see it. It was terrifying. I guess this says a lot about me as a six-year-old, because I loved it. [laughs]
PAULSON: The number of horror movies that you’ve taken me to is copious. You have a problem. No matter how bad they are, you drag me to them.
PASCAL: I don’t take you to the super gory ones!
PAULSON: On the nights when I’m like, “Ugh, what do you want to do?” And you’re like, “Let’s go see a movie,” and there are 17 movies I will not see, you want to take me to all 17 of the ones that I don’t want to see. I’m not going to say the titles because I don’t want to offend people, but you know exactly the two that I’m speaking of specifically.
PASCAL: But those two were super gory.
PAULSON: It’s not even that. It’s just the idea that you thought it might be good. You really tried to convince me that it would be good.
PASCAL: [laughs] I’m going to take you to a scary movie one of these days.
PAULSON: You were like a master manipulator since the time you were six and it still happens. “It’ll be fun, I promise!” And it just cuts to me throwing popcorn at you.
PASCAL: What about all the horrible movies you’ve made me see?
PAULSON: No! Nuh-uh! I don’t think so! I don’t know what you’re talking about. You’re going to have text me and explain what you’re talking about. But I have a question about the Poltegeist thing. Was that the moment, or was there a moment that preceded that, where you thought, “I want to do what they’re doing?” I know that happened to me with a movie I saw when I was young.
PASCAL: I think ’80s-era Steven Spielberg definitely shaped a lot of [my] fantasies. I particularly focused on Poltergeist. I just found it so fascinating; it got inside my imagination. Even if you watch it now, it really holds up. There’s not another horror movie that is actually a family drama. But it was definitely around that time. I would go to the movies very often with my father, because he just loved to go to the movies. He wouldn’t really play by the rules—my parents were so young and they were Chilean immigrants in San Antonio, Texas. It was all about going to movies, rock concerts, and Spurs games. And the primary influence in my life was movies. It was an interest that never went away. The first fucking thing that we did when we met was go to the movies.
PAULSON: Yeah, exactly. Was there anything else in your childhood that you thought about doing besides acting?
PASCAL: No. Can you believe it?
PAULSON: I can believe it. I wanted to be a veterinarian or a marine biologist. Then I realized that I’d have to a, be a doctor or a scientist and b, I’d have to cut animals open and euthanize them. It ended pretty quickly.
PASCAL: When we realized that we would actually have to be smart…
PAULSON: [laughs] Exactly! I’d have to use my brain other than the creative part. Do you remember any moment when everything kind of clicked and it became clear that you would pursue acting as a profession?
PASCAL: When I was in middle school, we had moved from Texas to Orange County. I didn’t fit in and it was pretty lonely. The way that I was occupying my time, I started reading plays and renting the classics. I was 13 or 14—before I could get a driver’s license and drive to somebody’s house or to a party. My parents had to have been worried because that was all I did. That’s how I ended up seeing Mike Nichols’s movies—Who‘s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and The Graduate.
PAULSON: How funny. I had a Mike Nichols thing too. That was one of my early entrances into film. I don’t know how we’ve never discussed this.
PASCAL: Do you remember seeing Who‘s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and just having your face melted off?
PAULSON: Yes! I do. I just watched it again because I’m absolutely obsessed with Sandy Dennis. One of my first jobs ever, [someone] told me that I reminded him of her. I didn’t know who she was and I was so embarrassed that I didn’t know who she was. But that’s not why I’m obsessed with her. She’s genius. Her performance in Virginia Woolf is beyond. Did you have an imaginary friend ever?
PASCAL: I never had an imaginary friend, just imaginary circumstances. I was so into the Indiana Jones movies and I would constantly reenact circumstances. I broke my left arm three times, two of which were me trying to be Indiana Jones. The first time, I tied sheets together and tried to climb the side of my house after I saw Raiders of the Lost Ark. The second time, I was riding a horse and trying to gallop as fast as I could, like Indiana Jones, and got thrown from the horse. The third time I was bit older and it didn’t have anything to do with trying to be Indiana Jones.
PAULSON: Do you remember your first audition?
PASCAL: I remember perfectly. It’s going to date me in such a hardcore way.
PAULSON: Everyone knows how old you are anyway so go ahead. There’s no hiding from that.
PASCAL: I know. My first audition was for Primal Fear (1996). Do you remember that movie? With Edward Norton.
PAULSON: I remember you auditioning for it. I remember you telling me all about it.
PASCAL: I was totally in over my head. I auditioned for that in New York and then I went to L.A. for it. I didn’t get it and was unemployed for about 10 years.
PAULSON: [laughs] That’s not true. You did Buffy the Vampire Slayer early on. What were the other TV shows? Didn’t you do more than one?
PASCAL: Didn’t we both do a Touched by an Angel within a year of one another?
PAULSON: I sure did! [laughs] That was back when Touched by an Angel was almost a version of Law and Order, it was a rite of passage; everybody was on Touched by an Angel. I remember also they paid well. But do you remember, when you were on Buffy, feeling some kind of excitement that you were on this show that was so watched?
PASCAL: Buffy was one of the first jobs that I got. I was so excited to be on it, mostly because people in my life that I respected so much, my best friends and my sister, were obsessed with the show. Obsessed with it. I wasn’t watching it at the time. I have [since] introduced myself to the whole Buffy experience. It was cool because it was the fourth season premiere; Joss Whedon directed the episode. I always die. In everything. Even to this day, all these years later, I still die.
PAULSON: The way you die in Game of Thrones is really memorable. I don’t remember how you died in Buffy, I’m sad to say.
PASCAL: Buffy fans remember.
PAULSON: I know the answer to this, but I imagine that people are interested on some level: How were you cast in Game of Thrones? Was it a long audition process?
PASCAL: I found out about the role and I taped [an audition] with my iPhone. I told you that the fourth season was absolutely ruined for me because I had just taped the 17 pages audition for this amazing new part. You said, “Send that to me immediately.” You showed it to Amanda Peet, who is one of your best friends. The two of you watched it, liked it—
PAULSON: No, we more than liked it. We flipped out.
PASCAL: Why don’t you tell the story then?
PAULSON: [laughs] You can’t say this about yourself because it would make you a total asshole, and I don’t think you believe this about yourself anyway, but it was so fucking brilliant. I sent it to Amanda and she showed it to David [Benioff; Peet’s husband] right then. The rest of it has to do with casting directors and auditions and other things that happen.
PASCAL: They had to see a ton of other people.
PAULSON: We watched “The Red Wedding” at my house—I had seen it and you hadn’t seen it, and I made you watch it with me.
PASCAL: I don’t know how you watched it a second time. I could not have watched it alone.
PAULSON: I almost threw up. I remember what a rabid fan you were of the show. When you found yourself on the set for the first time, when you had watched the show the way you watched it, what was that like? What does that do to your brain? Besides make your head pop off. [laughs]
PASCAL: [laughs] It was so surreal it made my head explode! I’m not expecting to have something be as weird as that anytime soon. It was the strangest of circumstances where all of a sudden I am stepping onto the set and talking to Charles Dance while he’s sitting on the throne.
PAULSON: That is so crazy.
PASCAL: My first day [we shot] one of Oberyn’s final scenes, which was this long scene with Peter Dinklage.
PAULSON: That’s just so insane.
PASCAL: It was all downhill from there.
PAULSON: Besides Oberyn, who is your favorite Game of Thrones character and who do you think should rule?
PASCAL: This is Interview making you ask me these questions right?
PAULSON: People want to know about it.
PASCAL: Can I ask you who your favorite character is on Game of Thrones?
PAULSON: It’s Arya. Do you have a problem answering the question because of your personal feelings for the actors playing the parts—how much you love them and you don’t want anyone to feel bad?
PASCAL: That does sort of distract me, but also there are so many goddamn characters and I like so many of them.
PAULSON: Okay, then let me change the question then. Who would you like to play on that show? Male or female.
PAULSON: Yeah, me too. Do you think she should rule the throne?
PASCAL: There are obvious answers. I love Arya. I think Arya and Tyrion are brilliant characters. I think Daenerys is a brilliant character. I think Cersei is a brilliant character.
PAULSON: Those are predominantly women. I like it.
PASCAL: Isn’t it interesting that so many of our favorite characters are female characters and Game of Thrones gets a lot of criticism.
PAULSON: I think some of the most powerful women on television are on that show. And by powerful, I mean they are three-dimensional female characters. Who do you think should rule?
PASCAL: Tyrion would be the greatest ruler of Westeros. That’s a no-brainer.
PAULSON: [laughs] What was the day of your death scene like? Was it somber?
PASCAL: There wasn’t any part of it that was somber. Everyone thought it was hilarious that my head was being smushed like a watermelon. Everyone was so fascinated by the special effects of it. We had a lot of fun. It was me clowning around with a guy who was seven feet tall and 200 pounds in this beautiful location in Dubrovnik.
PAULSON: How has your life changed since the show? What can you feel acutely and what can you feel in a more general way?
PASCAL: There’s a side of it—like leaving the apartment and running into someone who wants to take a selfie with you where they’re crushing your head.
PAULSON: [laughs] And shaking it where you can feel them shaking.
PASCAL: [laughs] You’ve obviously been exposed to that sort of attention much earlier than I have.
PAULSON: It wasn’t until American Horror Story.
PASCAL: I would hold the camera so often for people—I would be taking the picture for you guys. I got a more intimate impression of that type of attention through you. [But] it’s been nothing but positive. It’s opened doors for me that had been closed for many years.
PAULSON: Can you talk to me a little bit about Narcos? How long have you been shooting?
PASCAL: We literally just started. It’s a series directed by José Padilha—really great guy. It’s partly this story of the U.S. mission to capture or kill Pablo Escobar, played by Wagner Moura, who’s amazing.
PAULSON: I really have one more specific question: is there anything a person must possess in order to be a good actor? Do you think you can learn to be a good actor or is it something that you’re born with?
PASCAL: This is something you and I talk about every few years. Generosity is key, in my experience, to fulfilling the potential of a part or a story.
PAULSON: Do you think you can learn to be good?
PASCAL: I think a person can learn. Basically, I think anything is possible.
PAULSON: So the more present you are in your life, the more it can inform your ability to do a good job in your work?
PASCAL: Yes. What you are re-enforcing to me, all the time.
PAULSON: What are you talking about, you nut bag?
PAULSON: You do the same for me, dodo.
PASCAL: Alright, birdbrain.
PAULSON: Okay, listen, ass-munch.
PASCAL: Snake penis.
PAULSON: A big penis? I’ll take it.
PASCAL: No, an actual penis that belongs to a snake.
PAULSON: Oh a snake’s penis! There’s nothing weirder than trying to wrap up an interview with someone who’s your best friend.
PASCAL: Goodbye, I love you. Goodbye Interview. Goodbye, Sarah Paulson.
PAULSON: Goodbye, Pedro Pascal.
NARCOS COMES OUT IN 2015 VIA NETFLIX.