There are twists, turns and new characters around every corner in Westeros. And when Game of Thrones returns for its fourth season on April 6, one of the most compelling newcomers will be Oberyn Martell (also knows as the Red Viper), a warrior from House Martell who’s set on avenging the murder of his sister.
Playing the part of the Red Viper is Pedro Pascal, an alum of The Good Wife and Red Widow. The actor, a longtime fan of the series, spoke to DuJour about Wushu training, fighting a strongman and just how Home Depot has contributed to his success.
Hi, Pedro! Where are you in the world today?
I’m in Los Angeles, and it’s a beautiful day, like 75 degrees.
You’re already back in the States and awaiting the premiere of your first season?
We wrapped the fourth season in November; I was done in October. They have all 10 episodes written before the first day of production and shoot from mid-July to November.
How long were you on set?
I had different circumstances than anyone else in the cast because the only other actor out of the U.S. is Peter Dinklage. The rest of the cast is European. I was committed to being there the entire time my character was supposed to shoot, so I sort of lived at the hotel in Belfast while the other cast members came in and out from London, Denmark, Holland and Germany. During my off time, when I wasn’t shooting, we were doing fight training and fight rehearsals and things like that. It was amazing that I had this very concentrated experience: Once I arrived, I never made contact with what was familiar to me until it was all over and I came back to the U.S. It was like it never happened.
What can you tell us about the Red Viper?
He is somebody who does what he wants when he wants and is very uncompromising in terms of his feeling and actions. He’s a good man, he’s a good partner, but he’s a dangerous man. It’s an exciting but very dangerous life, which is why we typically don’t live that way now. This was an opportunity to experience the fantasy of actually living like there’s not tomorrow as each minute passes. Everything that you feel, you do something about it, which is no way to function in reality.
What’s it like to join a show you’re already a fan of?
I had my nerd moments about every 37 seconds that I was there. It didn’t let up because I was an enormous fan of the show, and it’s also shot in a very far away location with a mostly European cast. It was never a show I saw myself having the opportunity to be a part of, so I just watched it from that complete objective place. I didn’t know the casting directors and I was never like, Oh, I should call my agent and get on Game of Thrones. That was never part of my reality.
When it came around, it didn’t seem like an obtainable gig. I had this reaction of just kind of reading the sides for the audition and finding out major things that were going to be happening with the season, and being furious that the season was being spoiled for me.
You did some fight training before you arrived, right? I heard something about practicing with a broomstick in a parking lot across from your house?
To be totally accurate, it was a curtain rod from Home Depot. It was like a 6-foot-3-inch curtain rod, because what they did was set me up with a Wushu trainer. Wushu is an acrobatic martial art from China, and the trainer’s name was Master Hu. He worked alongside Jet Li in all of the Shaolin movies and he is one of the greater masters of the art of Wushu. He taught me the basics of how to propeller a spear like a helicopter and that’s why I got this curtain rod—and subsequently broke a lamp and slashed my knees.
So learning to be a warrior is exactly as difficult as it sounds?
I’m comfortable with the hand-to-hand combat that I’ve learned; I had to do some boxing training for a pervious role and I sort of took to it. The psychical language of it makes sense to me, but I hadn’t worked with a prop before. This was completely unfamiliar territory for me, which was really intimidating.
What sort of changes do you notice in yourself doing that sort of training? Do you wake up one day and look like a gladiator?
I wouldn’t say so, but there’s possibly a slimming effect because you’re constantly moving. I would definitely get very, very out of breath. I remember when we were shooting in Croatia and it was so hot, I was in really cool-looking armor but it was really tight and really warm, and after three days of shooting I must have lost all kinds of weight. That was sort of like a month’s workout concentrated into three days. It was somewhat traumatic.
So does all this mean you’re ready to do battle with the various creatures of the Seven Kingdoms?
It gave me a head start, and then there was all of this extensive training when I got there. But then you meet the actor you’re set up with and he’s a 6-foot-8, 420-pound title-holding strong man, as in the third-strongest man in the world and literally went to a competition in China where he picked up boulders, dragged airplanes, moved cars with his bare hands and then came back to learn fight choreography with me.
I can imagine no one would want to run into you in a dark alley after all of this training.
That’s a good thing to remind me of. Hopefully my body retains some of this training, and I need to remember that maybe I’m a little tougher now. As long as I’m not holding a curtain rod from Home Depot, we’re all safe.