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03.26.14

Meet the Red Viper: Pedro Pascal on Game of Thrones’ Kinky, Bisexual Hellraiser

He’s hedonistic, fearless, and wants the Lannisters’ heads on a platter. Get to know the man behind your new favorite character on HBO’s bloody and sexy saga.

There’s a scene early on in Season 4 of Game of Thrones, the wildly popular HBO-stewarded goulash of blood, sex, and swords, that epitomizes Oberyn Martell—a seductive, mysterious new character on the series better known as “the Red Viper.”

Oberyn is laying in bed naked with his de facto lover, the striking, bodacious Ellaria Sand, as well as his newly appointed piece, a strapping young man.

“Everyone has a preference,” the man says, probing Oberyn about whether he prefers the company of a man or a woman.

“Then everyone is missing half the world’s pleasure,” he replies.

Of the thousands of characters in author George R.R. Martin’s throne-chasing universe, the Red Viper has emerged as a fan favorite. He’s the Freudian Id personified: a non-stop pleasure-seeker that makes the lascivious Tyrion Lannister look like a choirboy by comparison. To play the character, showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss cast Pedro Pascal, a journeyman Chilean-American actor.

And if the name doesn’t ring any bells now, trust me, it will soon.

Pascal sat down with The Daily Beast in New York to discuss his delicious character the Red Viper, how he factors into the complex Game of Thrones universe, sex scenes, and more.

How were you cast as Oberyn Martell/the Red Viper?

I was asked to self-tape an audition and they sent over scenes from the season. I did it with my iPhone and a friend came over, propped his left hand on my dining room table, and read the scenes with me and filmed it. It was a totally wobbly, badly lit audition that David and Dan somehow saw and were forgiving enough to let me tape it more professionally.

What scene did you audition with?

We did a scene from the first episode, and the third episode. So that audition was sent in, they got in touch with me, and sent me this really, really generous and articulate email describing the character and all his different layers.

What did their email say about the Red Viper?

They talked about him being a person who lives uncompromisingly and does what he wants when he wants it, and that living life like that isn’t necessarily very sane. While it doesn’t make him crazy, he’s still aware of that and chooses to live his life as dangerously as he possibly can—because he wants to. And he also doesn’t fear anyone—or anything—which is also not very sane. We talked about that stuff, and then I taped it again well-lit and mic’d, and they told me to come out to Belfast to meet everybody. I was under the impression that I had to go there and nail it and convince them that I’m the dude, but they had already made their decision. There was a weird miscommunication where I didn’t know that I had gotten the job, so I got there thinking I was going in for the final round of auditions and I came in and they said, “Congratulations! We’re so glad you’re here!” So I spent the entire day with my head in the clouds going in and out of costume fittings.

Do you have a ritual to get into Red Viper mode?

I go out on the street, go up to strangers, talk a bunch of shit and tell them, “These are your options: do you want to fuck or fight?” [Laughs] But it’s basically just living the fantasy of being somebody who chooses not to have any fear and is capable of living his or her life that way. But he’s not dumb. And this fearlessness is also shaped by this tragedy that’s happened in his family that he’s out to avenge. He’s this big, enormous badass, but it all stems from a tragedy and a rage that’s burning inside him.

It’s interesting because there is this rage burning inside him, but he’s not sneaky about his hatred of the Lannisters. He flat out tells them he’s out for revenge.

He just doesn’t give a shit. He’s not trying to hide anything. He’s just fearless. He shows up and says, “This is why I’m here, this is what’s going to happen, and if you have a problem with that… you know my name is the Red Viper, right?” But that’s the amazing thing about him: he’s capable of such hate, but he also really knows how to have fun. That’s his philosophy in life: what the hell else are we here for but to do what we want? He’s also a prince so he’s in a better position than most to be able to do what he wants, so he seizes the opportunity to do just that—to go after the people that have wronged him, or to enjoy the “company” of anyone.

Oberyn Martell has an interesting backstory that isn’t shown onscreen. His sister was raped and cut in half, then he has these eight bastard daughters, and many lovers, including his main squeeze, Ellaria Sand.

He has many lovers but he’s settled with one that really leads the way in a lot of the fun that they have. He’s found his match. But I think his backstory is just part of the richness of the character. It comes from the books, but David and Dan also find creative ways to implement the richness into just scenes of two people talking. He’s a very dangerous person but I also, in a way, find him to be a really good person. As a prince, he’s had these eight daughters out of wedlock and could have abandoned them, but he raises them and loves them. The fascinating thing about Game of Thrones is that none of the badasses are just badasses, and none of the wimps are just wimps. A coward will surprise you with courage, and a very powerful person will blindside you with weakness, and the most evil person is capable of the most compassionate moment.

How did you capture his accent and look? He’s a bit different from the books in that he’s got short, cropped hair, and has this exotic, vaguely Hispanic accent.

The way he sounds and composes himself is just something I went with on instinct from reading the scenes from the show, and I used an accent in my first audition tape because I figured he seemed like a different character from everyone else we’ve come to know on the show, and that it would be valuable for him not just to look different, but sound different.

“He’s this big, enormous badass, but it all stems from a tragedy and a rage that’s burning inside him.”

He’s also one of the few royals on the show that isn’t white.

There you go! He comes from another land. He comes from the punk rock area of Westeros!

There’s a great scene in the premiere, and I won’t give it away, but it involves you casually disrobing some women. Where do they find all these nude extras for Game of Thrones?

Just a flick of my finger and dresses fall to the floor! Well…they’re actors that the casting directors find that are brave enough, and very well taken care of. It’s set up to be very scary and intimidating, but it turns out to just be loads of fun. That stuff was particularly fun.

The Red Viper is fascinating because sexual preference doesn’t even exist to him. It’s great to see a character on TV who is completely pansexual. He’ll do anything and anyone.

To have a gender preference doesn’t even make sense to Oberyn Martell. It’s his logic, and the way he lives his life without compromises. He doesn’t understand why anyone would limit experience in his or her life—especially if it’s the experience of pleasure: the pleasure of beating somebody in battle, of bedding somebody—anybody—who’s just beautiful, tasting the best wine, eating the best food, and fucking the best people.

You’ve got an interesting background, having been born in Chile during the Pinochet regime.

Yeah. My family was in hiding because they were involved in the opposition movement against the military regime, got wind that their lives were in danger, so they snuck into the Venezuelan Embassy and claimed asylum. We became refugees and I wasn’t even 1. We were in Denmark first and then we moved to San Antonio, Texas, and then Orange County, California.

What was it like growing up in Texas?

I have really fond memories of Texas. By the time I was eight, we started to go back to Chile very regularly, and many family members came to visit us because we couldn’t go visit them. I just went to your typical public schools and my Dad would take us to the movies every week, or he’d buy scalped tickets to San Antonio Spurs games. I remember I was four or five years old and my parents, who were very young, took us to see The Police in Austin and Iggy Pop opened.

You eventually ended up at Tisch. What was that experience like?

I had very, very transformative experiences. The acting training in school was great, but it was mostly fun being young and in New York. Because my upbringing was so transient, New York ended up being my home. I’ve been living in New York longer than I have anywhere else in my life.

You’re 38. How much sweeter does it feel now that these juicier roles are finally coming your way?

Oh yeah. I have the cliché “struggling actor” story. I was waiting tables in New York, went out to L.A. soon after graduation to get some jobs, but it didn’t work out. I wanted to cut my teeth in professional theater, so I came back to New York. It made my journey a longer one, but I really wanted to excel in the theater.

You’re starring in an upcoming ABC pilot too, Exposed.

It’s really good. It’s written by Charles Randolph and directed by Patty Jenkins, who directed Monster. It’s about government conspiracies and military surveillance. It centers on a journalist, played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who uncovers stories, there’s a whistleblower on the lam, and we’re journalists at a Rolling Stone-type magazine. I play her boyfriend and I’m a war journalist who’s been covering tough stories—kind of a rock star journalist.

Things have really been popping for you between the parts on The Good Wife, Homeland, Graceland, and now Game of Thrones.

Those were very successful TV shows but the roles were smaller, and I continued anonymously going from job-to-job. What the experience to me seems like is: survival. You just want to get to the next job so you can continue supporting yourself, but the work is also more important to feel fulfilled, and to do what you think you know how to do. At this point in my life, acting is the only thing I know how to do. I’ve lost my skill sets in other areas—if they even existed in the first place. [Laughs] But this is my first role that has this kind of size, and the fact that it’s a really cool character. Those two things have finally come together: a great show that’s really popular, and a cool role that’s really juicy and delicious.