It’s a Monday morning in August and Pedro Pascal, who plays DEA agent Javier Peña on the Netflix series Narcos but, perhaps, is still most famous for playing Oberyn Martell on Game of Thrones, has just flown into New York City the previous night. Here in the Essex House overlooking Central Park, he’s quick to warn that there will be consequences should anyone spoil the latest episode of the hit HBO fantasy series.
“Don’t you f**king say a word about last night because I was traveling; I will beat you down,” he threatens with a sly smile, channeling his tough-guy Netflix character but speaking, it seems, only half in jest.
The Chilean-born actor’s passion for the HBO series is, of course, shared by millions, most of whom would recognize him as the pansexual lothario from Dorne whose head gets crushed in by The Mountain in season four. While he only appeared in seven episodes, it’s a role that catapulted Pascal from relative obscurity – as a working TV and stage actor — to international recognition.
“My life changed,” the 42-year-old says of his brief time in Westeros. “I’ve been getting to see the world.”
After spending time in Croatia, where he filmed most of his Game of Thrones scenes, he headed to Qingdao, China, to film The Great Wallopposite Matt Damon. Zhang Yimou’s Chinese fantasy epic hit theaters in February, and then he was splitting time between London and Colombia as he filmed Kingsman: The Golden Circle, the star-studded British spy thriller in theaters in September, and the first three seasons of Narcos.
With his production schedule taking him all over the globe, Pascal has borne witness to his own rise. “No matter where you go, there’s going to a place where they’re really into Narcos and you’re the guy from Narcos, or the guy from Game of Thrones,” he says.
As you might imagine, the actor has been approached in what he calls some “really, really strange places.”
“I was snorkeling, and this person kept on looking at me,” Pascal recalls of one encounter, adding that he was in full underwater gear at the time. “I remember I got really nervous because I thought there was a shark or something… He’s just, like, coming toward me and without introducing himself or anything, he just pulls out his GoPro and he takes a picture of us.” The fan exclaimed “Gracias!” and it took the actor a moment to realize he’d been recognized, “even floating out at sea.”
“There’s such an international popularity,” he says of the two series that put him on the map. “I think that’s just lucky.”
Pascal’s Agent Peña has been rather fortunate himself, landing at the helm of Narcos’ third season, which premieres Sept. 1, and taking over its narration. (The first two seasons were narrated by Peña’s partner Steve Murphy, played by Boyd Holbrook.) “He’s in this very strange place of having been promoted for breaking the law,” Pascal says of Peña. “I think, personally, for the character there’s a redemption story there, [coming] back to right the wrongs that he was a part of.” Fans will recall that in bringing down drug kingpin Pablo Escobar in season two, Peña becomes involved with the Cali Cartel, who are now the target of his investigations.
The third season finds Peña facing a very different kind of challenge. “With Pablo, you have a king and an empire, and with Cali you have godfathers who usurped what was his and then expanded it. So to fight something like that is a completely different animal, which the character discovers more and more throughout the season,” Pascal says. This is especially true as Peña figures out the extent to which the cartel seems to have the whole country in its pocket.
He may have become el jefe, but that doesn’t mean Agent Peña is on the straight and narrow. “The morality of this world is so elusive, when you start getting into who the good guys are and who the bad guys are,” Pascal says. “There’s almost something self-centered” about his character’s actions, he explains, which take another unexpected turn at the end of season three. “I’m gonna do my own thing,” Pascal says of Peña’s motivations, “and it isn’t necessarily because it’s the right thing to do.”
Before getting started on the first season, Pascal spent some time with the real Javier Peña, a consultant on the show, which is inspired by true events but fictionalized for the purposes of TV. “I wasn’t forcing a lot of information out of him, and he wasn’t forcing any advice onto me — we just hung out.” While the agent is happy with how he’s been portrayed on Narcos — “the actual Javier Peña just dug it,” Pascal says — the actors on the series have been granted freedom to build nuanced characters from scratch.
Narcos’ third season concludes with a pretty clear hint that the series will head to Mexico for season four. It’s a likely assumption, given the history of the drug trade, but Pascal seems to be in the dark for now. “I didn’t know I was going to come back for season three, I have no idea what they’re going to be doing for season four,” he insists. But he does share one bit of (fairly obvious) intel: “I know that by the end of season four, we suggest via the Mexican border that ain’t nobody stopping doing drugs.” Go figure.
In the meantime, Pascal is living his dream. “I’ve been having that fantasy since I was a child,” he says of landing in big-budget action films. “And then I realize that the fantasy is actually just like, being in a trailer, synced into a moment perfectly scored to some cool music,” he says. “Because it’s such incredibly, incredibly hard work. And getting to it at an older age is funny,” Pascal leans in and finishes with a whisper: “Because everything hurts.”