ABOVE: LUKE PASQUALINO AT THE VICTORIA AND ALBERT MUSEUM IN LONDON. PHOTOS BY VITA HEWISON.
As Paolo on The Borgias (Starz), Luke Pasqualino is given the nickname “Narcissus,” not because of his vanity—his character is far too earnest and naïve for vanity—but because he is a boy so beautiful, he could fall in love with his own reflection. Paolo is a simple stable-hand who dares to love the Pope’s daughter, Lucrezia Borgia (yes, the Pope had a daughter whom he openly acknowledged). Needless to say, things do not end well.
Paolo is not Pasqualino’s first star-crossed lover; there is a certain innocence to the young Italian-Brit’s looks that lends itself to the part of the sacrificial lamb. Before his arc on Starz’s Jeremy Irons-helmed historical melodrama, Luke’s big break came when he played Freddie, Effy‘s boyfriend on the British teen series Skins. Like Paolo, Freddie’s devotion led him to a rather sticky end, this time involving a deranged psychiatrist, a basement, and the wrong end of a baseball bat.
After beginning his career in television, Pasqualino has three films coming up—his first American project The Apparition, with Tom Felton and Ashley Greene; a werewolf comedy Love Bites, with Jessica Szhor; and Snow Piercer, which Pasqualino just finished filming in Prague alongside an enviable cast of John Hurt, Tilda Swinton, Octavia Spencer, Jamie Bell, Chris Evans, and Alison Pill.
Interview recently we met the rising star at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London to take some pictures and discuss first roles, unpleasant deaths, and working with friends.
HOMETOWN: Peterborough, UK
ITALIAN ROOTS: I speak a little bit of Italian, yeah. I understand more than I speak. I speak more of a dialect; my mum’s from Naples and my dad’s from Sicily, so it comes out little a bit of a cocktail of the Italian language. [laughs]
FIRST ROLES AND WORST ROLES: My first role was in Bugsy Malone, and I played Bugsy. It was great fun; I think I was about 10. I did sing, but not very well at all [laughs]. It was one of those things that still really sticks out. One of my cousins was in my drama class with me as well, so he was in it. It was an extracurricular thing; my school never did drama as a lesson—I did one year of it while I was in school, and then it got cut—so I had get my fix after school. I used to go on Monday nights from 5:30 to 7:00. It allowed me to be myself, really, to just be confident. To enter a drama class at that age kind of sets you up for the up-and-coming years.
The worst role [I played] was in kind of a spoof of Peter Pan. It was the same storyline of Peter Pan, but it was written [to be] much more comedic. I joined the drama class midway through the rehearsals for this Peter Pan thing, and me and my cousin got written in as two Italian plastic surgeons. [laughs] That was probably the worst that I’ve done. Does my cousin still act? No, he doesn’t. He’s supportive of me though, but he’s an electrician now. [laughs] He went completely the opposite route.
HIS BIG BREAK: I auditioned for the part of Tony [on Skins] when I was 16, and I obviously wasn’t successful—I went through two rounds of auditions, and it didn’t go any further, so I kind of completely forgot about it. I went back when I found out they were recasting for season three, I withstood the whole audition process, and after nine auditions I ended up with the role of Freddie.
[My life] kind of changed overnight, really. We shot Skins in 2008 and 2009. It was two of the most fun years of my career so far. It taught me how to grow up very quickly—living alone and away from home and not having the home comforts that you’ve been used to for the past 18 years.
The recognition thing started to happen in 2009 when Skins season three had come out and we were on TV. It used to happen much more when we were in the height of our success, but I never really saw it as a chore or anything like that. It was just quite exciting—you had fans. All of the sudden, out of nowhere, literally overnight, you had fans and people who admired your work, or they loved the way you looked.
TO DIE TODAY: I found out that [Freddie was going to die] about two or three weeks before we actually shot. The producers pulled me into a bar and they said, “Do you know why we’ve brought you here?” and I was like, “No.” They said, “Well, episode seven [of season four] is going to be your last episode, because you’re going to die in it,” and I was like, “Okay.” I was quite happy, actually. We had eight episodes in season four, and I did all 10 episodes of the first season [I was in]. I thought, “You know what? Why not? Why not just take it and kind of embrace it and just enjoy it?” This is the first time I died in anything. You have to leave [Skins] at the end of two seasons anyway, so why not go out with a bang and be remembered as the one that popped his clog. What was my reaction when they told me how I was going to die? I don’t think it would have been the choice that I would’ve made if I was in that position, I don’t know if being beaten up with a baseball bat was the way I would’ve gone, but they wanted to go the route of making it quite graphic. I think that was definitely right. There was a bit of uproar about it, but, all in all, it was an exit that will be remembered by the audience.
How would I like my next character to die? Well, I wouldn’t like him to die. [laughs] But if I had to choose, to die of an illness is something I haven’t done before. No more murder. I think there’s a completely different dimension to actually dying by being beaten up by a baseball bat or stabbed or shot or whatever, to actually dying of a natural cause. So, yeah, I’d like to do something like that.
SEX, DRUGS, AND 16-YEAR-OLDS: I think parts of Skins are quite accurate, but I think parts of it aren’t. It’s a heightened version—it never really quite reflected what was happening in my life and that age for me, but I definitely know some people that were living that Skins lifestyle. It was just something that never really appealed to me, I got my kicks from going to watch theater or a movie or just playing poker with friends or stuff like that. I was never really one to go out and be involved with that underaged drinking or anything like that. I think it’s a choice. I do honestly believe that, that it’s something that you choose to happen.
BORGIA BEGINNINGS: The only thing I knew about the Borgia [family] was that Mario Puzo actually based The Godfather on the Borgias. That was all I knew about them. When I found out I had been offered the role, I did a bit of research. A couple of my friends had been offered roles in it as well—Augustus Prew, who played Alfonso of Naples, and Elyes Gabe, who played Djem, the Turkish prince—so we kind of helped each other out, really. We’d have chats and we’d check out websites and send each other links about the Borgias. My character Paolo was an amalgamation of two real life characters during the time when the Borgias were in power, so that was quite interesting to find out.
I loved the idea of going in and doing something period; this was my first period role—and obviously it being set in Italy was also something that really attracted me to it, being Italian myself.
STAR-CROSSED LOVERS: Paolo and Freddie were two obviously different characters, but they both had the strong love interest going on for the women in their lives. It was like a Romeo and Juliet love story, really, in both shows. So I had that kind of connection with them. They both die? [laughs] Yeah, both characters die.
BACK-UP PLANS: My cousin owns restaurants, and I used to work in his restaurants with his chef. I’ve always liked food, and I’ve always been interested in cooking and stuff like that. Before I was an actor, I needed a way to sort of support myself, so I went and learned how to cook in his restaurants. I became a chef for a little while, and then as soon as I got the offer for Skins, I was out of there.
I did enjoy cooking, I still do really enjoy cooking—I make a nice salmon dish, and I’m a huge meat freak, so I love to bang a few steaks on the grill or pasta. Anything Italian, really.
THE APPARITION COMES OUT AUGUST 24. SKINS AND THE BORGIAS ARE CURRENTLY AVAILABLE ON DVD.