Game of Thrones
Credit: Helen Sloan/HBO

Pedro Pascal was really upset. The Chilean actor was a Game of Thrones fan who previously had arcs on CBS’ The Good Wife and USA’s Graceland, but never thought he had a real chance of landing the coveted role of Oberyn Martell — a bold sexy Dornish prince seeking vengeance against the Lannister family for the rape and murder of his sister. So when Pascal taped his audition last year for the new season 4 role, he was dismayed to find his 17 script pages were full of spoilers.

“I was actually really upset the season was spoiled for me,” he recalls. “I was a true audience member of the show and when this audition came around, it still seemed unattainable. So, I put myself on tape with my [iPhone] and I sent it in. It’s impossible not to care because the writing is so good. You just kind of get into it, whether you think you have a chance for it or not.”Then the call came. “I was really, really surprised when I heard back.”

Fans, too, were shocked by the casting (He’s too pale to play Oberyn! whined the Interwebs), but producers piled on the praise. “This is a role we were the most nervous about casting as Oberyn embodies so many characteristics,” showrunner David Benioff tells EW. “He’s a favorite character from the books, he’s got the swagger, he’s smart, he loves his family, and he’s sexual in all sorts of ways. And Pedro is just phenomenal.”

Pascal recalls: “When the announcement was made, it did scare the s–t out of me. It was like, ‘The guys love him, the girls love him, he’s the most amazing human being in the world!’ and I was like AHHHHH! Thanks a lot. Set the bar a little higher.”

Having seen the first three episodes, we can likewise assure Pascal and fans: He rocks it.

Oberyn, aka “The Red Viper” (because every Thrones character must have a cool nickname), arrives in King’s Landing in the April 6 premiere along with his similarly omni-sexual paramour Ellaria Sand (Rome‘s Indira Varma). With an affected Spanish-esque accent created by Pascal that will remind you a bit of Mandy Patinkin’s revenge-seeking Princess Bride character Inigo Montoya, the actor fearlessly pokes the Lannister lion in his quest to make the royal family pay for their wartime sins. “He just doesn’t care,” Pascal says. “He’s not calculating, he’s out here for revenge and doesn’t try to hide it at all. He goes up against Tyrion and Cersei and interestingly, he seems to be the only person who doesn’t care what Tywin thinks, or how Tywin may react to what he says or does. In fact he wants them to know what he’s here for. It’s kind of amazing.”

That said, expect Oberyn to find some sympathy from fan-favorite Tyrion. “I think he recognizes sort of a kindred spirit in Tyrion,” Pascal says. “I don’t think it’s hard for him to understand that obviously this guy grew up being marginalized just because of the way he was born. But still, being a Lannister, [Tyrion is] still guilty by association.”

As if all the pressure of joining one of TV’s hottest shows wasn’t enough, Pascal’s first day on the Thrones set was a hugely intimidating seven-minute crucial scene with Tyrion, who is played by Emmy-winner Peter Dinklage. “It was just intense pressure for a guy who hasn’t been on the show before, and he’s coming over and doing a brand new character and this is his first scene,” says Benioff. Fellow showrunner Dan Weiss jokes: “Welcome to the show, here’s your costume, now summarize the emotional apotheosis of your character — go!” and then more seriously adds, “It took a long time to convince him that he actually had gotten it more than right.”

After hitting that scene, Pascal says playing in some of Thrones‘ signature sex romps was easy. “Indira and I instantly got on really well,” he says. “We just had fun with it. It was not one of the harder things to do.”

EW’s Game of Thrones Pre-Season 4 Coverage. Catch up on what you’ve missed:

Still to come: Once the season starts we’ll have our popular recaps (find them here) and post-episode interviews with cast or producers each week.

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Game of Thrones

HBO's epic fantasy drama based on George R.R. Martin's novel series A Song of Ice and Fire.

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