When Pedro Pascal was offered the role of Max Lord in “Wonder Woman 1984,” he’d been working almost non-stop since his breakout performance as Oberyn Martell on “Game of Thrones.” In just a few short years, the Chilean-born actor had bounced from shooting the Netflix series “Narcos” to action franchises “Kingsman: The Golden Circle” and “The Equalizer 2” to a memorable (and uncredited) cameo in the acclaimed drama “If Beale Street Could Talk.” By the time he landed in Hawaii for pre-production on the Netflix thriller “Triple Frontier,” Pascal was, in his words, “a little work weary.” But the opportunity to be directed by Patty Jenkins as the main villain in a giant superhero movie was simply too enticing to pass up.
With reviews singling out Pascal’s performance — “This year has not offered up a lot of reasons to just smile, but every second of Pedro Pascal’s performance made me do this,” raved Uproxx’s Mike Ryan — “Wonder Woman 1984” could catapult the star of one of the year’s other standout hits, “The Mandalorian,” to even greater career heights.
In this excerpt from Pascal’s interviews for Variety‘s October cover story on the actor, the 45-year-old revealed over Zoom the surprising methodology he used to attack the role of Max Lord, a self-described “television personality and businessman” whose desperate drive for constant success puts him at odds with Gal Gadot’s Diana Prince. Pascal also discussed his childhood consuming American pop-culture, his appreciation for Jenkins’ ’80s-soaked aesthetics for “WW84,” and his first experience on a “Wonder Woman” project: David E. Kelley’s ill-fated 2011 TV pilot.
Maxwell Lord in the comics has a very storied history, one of these sort of villainous characters who weaves in and out of a lot of different storylines. Were you familiar with all of that when when you got the role?
No, I didn’t know. I think that once I started to research, it started to ring a small bell. But my first introduction to the character was Patty and Geoff’s script, and there was such a very specific vision to the kind of character that he is in this telling of “Wonder Woman.” And then I started to understand the different, generational versions of Max Lord, and which ones to lean into. Obviously, in this case, the ’80s version in this, like, you know, brilliant…
[Pascal looks down at his table, and his eyes go wide. He picks up a bound copy of his "Wonder Woman 1984" screenplay that he's refashioned into a scrapbook, filled with photocopies of Max Lord from the comic books that Pascal manipulated through his lens on the character.]
Oh my gosh, it’s sitting right next to me. Listen, I promise you that I did not plan this. But I just got it out of storage, strangely. I remember feeling a little work weary going into “Wonder Woman,” but I also knew that to work with Patty, you can’t be weary, or you use that weariness and push it to its ultimate limits, so that there’s always this sort of like brimming vulnerability to working with her. It’s like the best kind of demanding. I loved it. But one of the practical ways that I chose to focus, essentially, was making like a ridiculous sort of book out of my script. I literally had it like bounded.
[Pascal flashes some of the pages in the scrapbook, including a page with Max surrounded by text bubbles into which Pascal has written, over and over in tiny lettering, “You are a fucking piece of shit.”]
Oh, wow. Did you write all that?
Yes. It’s just a way to sit and sort of like meditate on it. You know what I mean?
Was this a character exercise for you, or more of an artistic exercise?
It was more sort of like a process exercise, realizing that there isn’t any one thing that I always do. What threw me off in the best of ways was that I saw a real creative challenge, which isn’t necessarily what you would expect if you’re going to do a superhero movie. And so I knew that ultimately you’re gonna have to make big choices and act your ass off in some instances. So I feel like I had to wake myself up again in big way. And this was just a practical way of, instead of going home tired and putting Netflix on or something, it was like, actually deal with this physical thing, doodle and think about it and run it.
So from everything you’re saying and what Patty Jenkins has also said about this part, it seems safe to assume, if we’re talking about an acting spectrum standpoint, what you’re doing on “The Mandalorian” is on one end, and what you’re doing as Max Lord is very much on the on the other.
Yeah. And yet, just as much of a mask in a way — more than I’m used to doing.
This movie is set in the ’80s, and there’s a certain kind of big acting that was done in big studio blockbusters at that time, from the Christopher Reeve “Superman” movies to something like “Robocop,” where the villains especially were just huge.
Good example, I fucking love “Robocop.”
So how much did you think back to your own childhood seeing all of these movies with your family when you were working out this performance?
I don’t know if we’re close to the same age…
Okay. Well, as you get even further into your 40s, I’m catching myself, a little too much so, feeling nostalgia. As far as Patty’s vision is concerned, what she went after was capturing the experience of our childhood imagination that felt so limitless — and also shaped by all of the things that were around us, as far as television and cinema and style. I wasn’t a kid who wasn’t allowed television. I wasn’t a kid that wasn’t allowed all of the things that decorate the experience of this movie. I was a sponge to all of it. I was being literally raised and shaped by it to a certain degree. Which I wouldn’t necessarily be able to relate to interpreting the character. I think that it’s two totally separate things. But I understood her mind, and that was exciting. That was a real wave to ride. So all I needed to do was make a fucking coloring book and follow her direction.
What it was like to grow up in San Antonio, taking in all this pop-culture?
I really loved it. San Antonio, for one, is very, very multicultural. All of Texas really is. Being South American — although it can be all so different from one another — there’s still such connecting fabric for the Latino community. So my direct influence even before I started to visit Chile more regularly was that of Mexico and Mexican American culture. I was in the public schools there, and I didn’t fare very well. I was in trouble a lot. I just remember school being kind of a nightmare until high school, where subjects just got a little bit more interesting, I guess.
Were you just, like, restless and not paying attention?
I guess. But summer would hit, and there were no limits — it seemed at the time, like, just absolute magic. A lot of being babysat by the TV if there wasn’t a babysitter. VHS rentals. Going through TV Guide and trying to find the horror movies at a point where my parents were already asleep, and I would watch just to scare the shit out of myself, at as low volume as possible. Get dropped off at the multiplex to play video games and watch multiple runs of “Poltergeist.” My mom didn’t know. She’s like, “That looks scary, I don’t know about that.” And I said, “It’s PG!”
When did you decide you wanted to become an actor?
I knew that way early. So much so that, I mean, I remember lying to kids and telling them that I was in “The Lost Boys.” Seeing Christian Bale’s silhouette in a poster for “Empire of the Sun” and the children in “Poltergeist” when I was in San Antonio and Henry Thomas in “ET,” all around the same age — it’s just like, I want to live those stories, too. So it started out that way. Then it’s actually something that you can do in a practical way, which satisfied my parents. It took the place of swimming as an extracurricular activity and kept me out of the fucking house, wanting to watch TV all day.
One of the more delightful things that I realized in my research was that you were in the 2011 “Wonder Woman” TV pilot that David E. Kelley produced, starring Adrianne Palicki.
You’re right. Ed Indelicato, LAPD detective.
He’s like Diana Prince’s friend?
He was her liaison to the LAPD.
So what was that experience like making that show?
It was like a dream come true. David E. Kelley’s influence on television when I was freshly out of college was so huge, and I watched every episode of “Friday Night Lights.” I also thought that whether it was good or not, it would definitely get picked up. So that would change my financial situation significantly, even if it was half a season before it got canceled. But it didn’t even get picked up. I went back to procedurals, you know, “CSI” and such. Had a pretty bad year after that interest in terms of like very sporadic work.
So when “Wonder Woman 1984” came around, did you wonder if they knew you’d done this pilot?
It didn’t actually occur to me, which is kind of crazy. They must have either not have known or not cared. Yeah. I’m not sure, but it is sort of like an anecdotal thing that completely flew past them.
How did Max Lord come to you?
[Whispers] It was a fucking offer. It will never happen again. I did a brilliant pilot with Patty that Charles Randolph wrote called “Exposed,” with this unbelievable cast: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ben Barnes, Brían F. O’Byrne, Fran Kranz. It was so well written and it didn’t get picked up, but I got to work with Patty for like three days or something and then thought I’d never see her again.
This was in…?
This was 2014. I shot it before “Game of Thrones” started to air. I was a real Patty Jenkins fan. And I didn’t even know she remembered me from that. Then I worked with [producer] Chuck Roven on “Triple Frontier.” He was the first person to call me. I wasn’t really grasping that Patty wanted to talk to me about a part that I was going to play, not a part that I needed to get. I couldn’t compute that. I wasn’t able to totally accept that. And so, I talked with him. And then I talked with her. And then they were flying me to London from Hawaii to meet with her and to be with Lindy Hemming, the costume designer, and Jan Sewell, the makeup artist, and start building the portrait of this character. It was unbelievable. I hadn’t even read the script. Patty was, like, frustrated that it hadn’t gotten to me before we sat down to talk. I didn’t care. I didn’t care at all.
You just you mentioned that you think an offer for a role like this is ever going to happen again. Why do you think that?
I guess [pause] because [pause] it felt so special. It turned out to be one of the best experiences I’ve ever had, with a cast, with a director, with a crew, with a role.
This interview has been condensed and edited from two conversations.