Human connection. It’s vital. Especially in a year like 2020. Especially for Pedro Pascal. So it’s ironic that the 45-year-old’s highest-profile success to date is working with an adorable animatronic puppet, inside a chrome helmet he famously can’t take off. "It is why I wanted to do this show. Selfishly, I knew [the Child, a.k.a. Baby Yoda] was likely to make people fall in love with the show," says Pascal of tackling the title role on The Mandalorian, the Emmy-nominated hit Star Wars series, which returned for its second season on Disney+ in October.
The Chilean-American actor has an eye for choosing projects where he’ll stand out, from popular network procedurals including The Good Wife, The Mentalist, and Law & Order to his breakout roles as the charming — and horny — Oberyn Martell on Game of Thrones and, soon after, DEA agent Javier Peña on Netflix’s Narcos. But it’s the stoic bounty hunter safeguarding a frog-egg-eating 50-year-old toddler that’s made him a household name. The new season of The Mandalorian followed Pascal’s galaxy-traveling warrior as he searched for the home of the Child, generating countless memes in the process.
Playing the Mandalorian has been one of the hardest and most unique experiences of Pascal's career to date. At this point, it's no secret that he wasn't physically under the helmet as much as he would've liked in season 1 and recorded his dialogue in post-production to match what his doubles, stunt actors Brendan Wayne and Lateef Crowder, did on set in the armor. Giving a largely vocal performance was a challenge for a physical actor like Pascal, who is almost unrecognizable when you compare his turns on The Good Wife and Game of Thrones, for example, because of how he carries himself. Yet, being on set way more in The Mandalorian season 2 didn't make his job any easier because he still had to figure how to make Mando compelling while also being as economical as possible in his physical movements and vocal performance.
"I'm not even sure if I would be able to do it if it weren't for the amount of direct experience that I've had with being on stage to understand how to posture yourself, how to physically frame yourself into something and to tell a story with a gesture, with a stance, or with very, very specific vocal intonation," says Pascal, who believes his collaborative relationship with creator Jon Favreau and executive producer Dave Filoni, a.k.a. his "Mandalorian papas," also helped him inhabit the role in season 2.
Speaking of collaboration: Working with comedian Amy Sedaris, who plays gruff Tatooine mechanic Peli Motto, was one of the highlights of The Mandalorian’s sophomore season. “I followed Amy Sedaris around like a puppy. [I was] like, ‘Hey again. I’m not leaving your side until you wrap,’ and she’s like, ‘Cool,’” Pascal says. “I love the Child — it really is adorable — and it is so fascinating to see it work, but somebody who makes you spit-laugh right into your helmet will always be my favorite thing."
Pascal longed for those kinds of interactions during quarantine, which proved difficult for the actor who was living alone in Los Angeles. But he lights up, is even giddy at times, when the conversation turns to bonding with the Community cast right before a charity table read back in May (he filled in for Walton Goggins), or FaceTiming his friends to celebrate Joe Biden and Kamala Harris' election victory on Nov. 7. "Ahhhh! Ahhhh!" Pascal exclaims, reenacting the joyous calls with buddies like Oscar Isaac that Saturday morning. "It was screaming and jumping and dancing and crying…. I very arrogantly took screenshots of everything and [shared them], like, 'I am a part of this!'"
His appreciation for those around him has only grown during the pandemic. Before flying to Budapest to film The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent with Nicholas Cage, Pascal leaned on his bubble for support. Community's Gillian Jacobs, for example, hosted him for an outdoor socially distanced pizza night every Saturday in the early weeks of lockdown. (He suspects that's why he was recruited for the sitcom's table read when Goggins couldn't participate.) "The friends that got me through it are absolutely everything to me and very beautifully marked in my head. I've got old friends and new friends that literally did nothing short of parent me through the experience," says Pascal, who has "survivor's remorse" for being in Europe right now. "I feel guilty not being [in the States] with my friends through [this tumultuous time] but also grateful that, individually, I was able to gain a little bit of separation from the stress of it."
Those tight bonds helped redefine, or at least clarify, what success means to him. "I want to make sure that my relationships are right, and I want to make sure I'm nurturing meaning in a sustaining way, and that won't necessarily be related to getting good jobs and making lots of money," he says. But he'll take them — as he did for both of his 2020 projects, about which he's thrilled. And how could he not be, starring in two of the year's most feverishly anticipated properties?
Besides The Mandalorian, Pascal appears in Patty Jenkins' superhero epic Wonder Woman 1984, which has endured a Homeric journey to its release (read: several pandemic-related delays). Thankfully, the odyssey is almost over because Warner Bros. recently confirmed that it will open in both theaters and on HBO Max on Dec. 25. Pascal is stoked audiences will finally see his turn as the villainous Maxwell Lord because playing the greedy dream-seller pushed him out of his post-Game of Thrones action role comfort zone.
But Pascal felt he was up to the challenge because everything he needed was right there in the screenplay, which Jenkins co-wrote with Geoff Johns and David Callaham. "I didn't have to take something and figure out how to put more flesh onto it. I had to achieve getting into the skin of what was being presented to me," he says, contrasting the experience with playing a DEA agent for three seasons on Narcos. "For me, Colombia was almost the central character, and then I was allowed to make him depressive and to tonally interpret what the character was. And in this case [on Wonder Woman 1984], there was just so much for me to meet rather than to invent."
He continues: "That was an incredible delight and challenge because Patty Jenkins is a director who loves actors and when she sees she can ask for more, she does. And there isn't anyone better, in my experience, to give more to."
In 2021, he rejoins the good guys as an aging superhero and father in Robert Rodriguez's kid-friendly Netflix drama We Can Be Heroes. The inherent optimism of the Netflix film's title also complements Pascal's hope for the new year. Says Pascal, ”If [fear] can take a little bit of a backseat and not be the main character in everybody’s life, that would be great.”