Pedro Pascal on how his Wonder Woman 1984 villain embodies that era – and 2020, too
Narcos, The Mandalorian, Game of Thrones: Pedro Pascal knows his way around a franchise by now, though he's never stepped into one quite as gold-plated as Wonder Woman 1984 (arriving in U.S. theaters and on HBO Max this Friday) — and as the storied comic-book villain Maxwell Lord, no less.
Over two conversations, the Chilean-born actor, 45, spoke to EW (spoiler-free!) about the philosophy of greed, the risks of at-home hair coloring, and how he learned to build a Lord worthy of the screen.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: We’re going to get to Maxwell in a second, but this isn’t your first time working with Patty Jenkins, is that true?
PEDRO PASCAL: Yeah, it was actually an incredible pilot called Exposed for ABC that was written by Charles Randall, who wrote Bombshell and got the Oscar for The Big Short. It was sort of a dream job. It was also a character that didn't have a lot to do in the first episode and of course was going to grow and take over the show. So I only worked with Patty like four days on that, and then it didn't get picked up and they became nobodies, the both of them. [Laughs]
Without spoilers, what are you allowed to tell me about Max?
It's definitely a character who encompasses an era and a component of the era, which is “Get whatever you want however you can, and you're entitled to it,” at any cost ultimately. Which I think represents a huge part of our culture and the kind of unabashed — I guess many would identify it as greed? It is f---ing greed, of course! But what's brilliant is to humanize that, to build a whole character around the concept. That's not something that I've seen before.
When I was shown wardrobe and concept pictures of you on set in London I asked, "So is he sort of a Gordon Gekko?" And they said, "Yes, partly, but also there's a lot of Tony Robbins." Were those things that were said to you as well?
Tony Robbins never came up, but Max is definitely a little bit of a self-made guru and a dream seller, you know? Which became such a part of the ‘80s at the height of capitalist culture, where you could kind of sell anything. And we live by so much of that. I mean, just in Los Angeles, whether it be from this kind of therapy, to this kind of food, and that kind of diet, or colonics or whatever — I'm probably dating myself because I don't even know what the current trend is [laughs], but you know what I mean. It’s, how do you be your best self? How do you win? And he's definitely the face of that version of success.
Did you do have to do much research to dig into that?
I was born in '75 so I remember the '80s very vividly, I remember them better than I remember this week, you know? [Laughs] So I think it was about just kind of really nestling back into the tone of that era. And Patty doesn't give a lot of homework, but you need to come prepared.
It must be nice to be seen as the hero onscreen, but it seems like it's usually a lot more fun to play the villain.
I would agree. It depends of course — we are shaping heroes in so many different ways and furthering our definition of what is heroic, so the distinction between the two of them isn’t as completely defined as it has been in the classical narratives of good against evil, you know? But yeah, exploring dark things that shouldn’t be explored in actual life can be a little bit more fun than being the hero. Although I’m sure Gal [Gadot] has an incredible time. [Laughs]
What can you to do to ensure that your bad guy is more than just mustache twirling in a movie like this?
You know, I don’t think that there’s anything two-dimensional in anything that Patty makes. The genre under Patty’s lens is that the human story kind of comes first, which is ironic because it’s arguable that Wonder Woman is even part of the human race, she’s part goddess right? But humanity is behind all of it, which comes with so many layers.
The chemistry between Chris Pine and Gal Gadot in the first movie is an example in that the layering of the chemistry, the comedy between them, the organic emotional bond that was explored shouldn’t be a surprise to audiences, but it was. It kind of elevated the material because it’s unpacking more human dimensions in such iconically shaped characters from a comic-book universe and a hero universe.
What do you think Maxwell's perception of himself is?
I think that he strives to see himself as a part of an ideal, and in a way that so many of us do, whether it’s the perfect body on Instagram or just like the perfect day expressed on Facebook, the perfect job, the perfect life, "living my best life," whatever version of that — which I think in the era that WW1984 takes place is pretty clear to us, that kind of unbridled excess, a very specific definition of success and whatever the quote-unquote American dream is. I think that he strives to be seen that way, is desperate to see himself that way, and is unwilling to see himself for who or what he really is.
He does feel like a very relevant villain for 2020, considering.
Yeah, I think that might scare me a little bit. Because I feel the kind of daily stress that any thinking person is going through in this day and age — to represent any of those, to be relevant in a scary way in terms of what the world is going through now, it scares the s--- out of me. So I really just relied on how delicious the material was, and what a fully formed character I was handed and asked to inhabit.
Were there any other characters that might have contributed to your idea of Maxwell?
See now, I'm so embarrassed to share, but there's definitely ‘80s performances that inspire me. I would say that there's actually two — one has zero influence in terms of my take on Max Lord, but Michelle Pfeiffer's Catwoman in Batman Returns will always be one of my favorites.
That sounds a lot closer to Kristen [Wiig]'s character, actually.
Exactly! But Michelle Pfeiffer and Danny DeVito in Batman Returns, I have a very soft spot for. And then my North star of actors is Gene Hackman and his Lex Luthor. I wouldn't even dare put him into the same sentence with myself.
The WW1984 cast seems like not the worst to hang out with, if you’re going to be shooting all over the world for months on end. How much of that were you along for?
I was actually in all the locations because even where they shot the Amazonian island, they're utilizing it for other scenes. We were in Spain, we were in London, and we were outside D.C.. Sometimes you just get into that sweet zone where you love your character, you love the people you're working with, everyone gets along. I was definitely not lonely on this one. [Laughs]
Did you actually dye your hair for Max? I couldn't tell. Or is that a wig?
That is not my hair color… Do you remember Sun In from the ‘80s? I'd turn my hair orange with it because you just put a bunch of it on then go sit in the sun. So [to Patty] I was like, "It should be that kind of terrible orange because he's dying his hair badly!" And she's like, "No. But you know, sort of." [Laughs]
Last question. Who's an easier costar, Gal or Baby Yoda?
That is a really, really, really good question. Okay. Baby Yoda can't talk back, but Baby Yoda also can't run the set, I mean, Gal is — I wouldn't even know where to begin. I honestly had the best time, and that had everything to do with Gal and Patty. I would take Gal over any creature of any universe. So I guess the answer to that is unequivocally Gal, but Baby Yoda is not too shabby. He is a pretty easygoing scene partner.
And he makes you feel tall, right? What's wrong with that.
[Laughs] He makes me feel very big. And needed.
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Wonder Woman 1984