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Pedro Pascal’s Quick Ascent to ‘The Mandalorian’

Just six years ago, the actor was doing one-offs on police procedurals. Now, he’s the centerpiece of the ‘Star Wars’ universe’s newest experiment.

Disney/Netflix/HBO/Ringer illustration

“I’m ready to do something where, like, I’m sitting,” Pedro Pascal told GQ in March, joking about his future TV and film roles. “My character doesn’t really get up from a chair.” Pascal was wrapping up what’s become a GQ staple: having an actor sit down during one of their requisite press tours and letting them break down the most iconic performances of their career. (Depending on the actor and how much they’re willing to talk about themselves, these videos can be more than 30 minutes long; every minute of the Arnold Schwarzenegger edition is very much worth your time.)

Pascal’s greatest hits have arrived within a very compressed (and busy) time period. And his biggest role yet is on the horizon: He’ll be playing the eponymous bounty hunter in Star Wars’ first live-action TV series, The Mandalorian, premiering Tuesday on the new streaming service Disney+. (It’s safe to assume he won’t do a lot of sitting in a galaxy far, far away.)

Before his breakout performance as Oberyn Martell in Game of Thrones’ fourth season, which aired in 2014, Pascal was the kind of working actor who had extensive theater experience coupled with throwaway roles on network police procedurals like NYPD Blue, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Law & Order, Law & Order: Criminal Intent (yes, he appeared twice, playing different characters), Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, and CSI. As it turns out, showing up on one of the most popular shows on the planet is great for your résumé.

Pascal didn’t just benefit from some precious Thrones screen time, though; he turned the opportunity into a career-defining performance. Oberyn was almost instantly a new fan favorite: an excessively cool, exceedingly horny Dornish prince who arrived in King’s Landing to fight and/or fuck first and ask questions later. Oberyn’s hubris and the innate charisma Pascal infused the role with was so infectious that—sure, of course he would defeat the Mountain in a trial by combat, saving Tyrion Lannister and avenging his slain sister, Elia, in the process. Pascal’s irresistible swagger was enough to make you forget you were watching Game of Thrones. That’s perhaps what made Oberyn’s final moments on screen, even by Thrones’ messed-up standards, one of the most disgusting and devastating things I’ve ever seen. (The real dagger to the heart is that Oberyn finally got the confession he so desperately wanted from the Mountain, but only when his eyes were literally being gouged out and right before his skull popped like a melon.)

One of late-era Thrones’ greatest casualties was everything pertaining to Dorne: the subplots went nowhere, and the other Dornish characters introduced weren’t all that interesting. (If it’s any consolation, the actors all got to sip lots of famed Dornish wine and hang out in Seville.) Showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss may have saddled Dorne with that underwhelming legacy, but it didn’t help that Oberyn’s electric entrance and gruesome exit left viewers with high expectations—while pivoting Pascal’s career trajectory from working man to budding star. The days of randomly popping up in a nondescript network procedural to deliver a few lines were behind him.

The highlights of Pascal’s post-Thrones career include prominent film roles in The Great Wall, Kingsman: The Golden Circle, The Equalizer 2, and Netflix’s Dad Blockbuster opus Triple Frontier, along with a lead role in three seasons of Narcos as real-life DEA agent Javier Peña. (He will also be playing the villain Maxwell Lord next year in Wonder Woman 1984.) I’m not sure if there’s a single non-Oberyn role that particularly stands out, but these projects are a handy compendium of what makes Pascal such an engrossing and likable performer.

The Golden Circle frankly should’ve stood out; the Kingsman sequel amassed a stupid amount of A-list talent (Jeff Bridges, Halle Berry, Julianne Moore, Channing Tatum) and wisely leaned into the fact Pascal looks a lot like the late Burt Reynolds. Alas, the film was weighed down by languid pacing and nonsensical plotting, turning all the quirky things that made the first Kingsman film so charming into frustrating weaknesses. At least Pascal’s extended lasso/whip sequence was undeniably cool.

Meanwhile, Triple Frontier and Narcos allowed Pascal to play the straight(er) man to more volatile characters, all with the express purpose of sticking it to cartels. The actor always seems at ease playing someone who has their shit together—or makes it seem like they do. (In Triple Frontier, Pascal was especially relatable as the most reasonable member of the group who nevertheless gets sucked into his buddies’ absurd bullshit; we’ve all been there, even if our situations haven’t involved robbing drug lords.) And The Equalizer 2, perhaps unwittingly, evoked Oberyn’s iconic death when Denzel Washington’s Robert McCall gouges one of Pascal’s eyes—in a climactic fight sequence that gave new meaning to the word “overkill.”

If Sean Bean is known to die in pretty much everything he appears in to the point of tragicomic exasperation, Pascal might take the crown this decade for the most memorable on-screen deaths. That would be an admittedly weird niche to carve out, but The Mandalorian may save him; you can easily make the case that nothing he’s done after Thrones has been anywhere near as high-profile as his upcoming appearance in the Star Wars universe. As a result, Pascal’s career will now be intertwined with the success (or failure) of The Mandalorian, which may hinge on how much of an appetite audiences have for Star Wars on the small screen. With a reported production budget of around $100 million, Disney certainly anticipates that people are craving more Star Wars content in their lives, Solo’s box office failures be damned.

The Mandalorian rests on Pascal’s shoulders—along with his handsome, Burt Reynolds–looking face hiding under a Mandalore helmet. Based on the past five, extremely busy years of the actor’s career, the show doesn’t have to worry about whether he’ll deliver on screen. As for Pascal, he can take some solace in knowing a family-friendly Star Wars production probably won’t end with his character’s eyes being gouged out.