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[Warning: Spoilers ahead for Sunday’s episode of Game of Thrones, “Two Swords”]
The Red Viper has been unleashed.
Game of Thrones fans were treated to a sensual and violent introduction to new breakout character Oberyn Martell in Sunday’s season premiere, which let fans of the show who haven’t read the books see what all the fuss is about.
One moment Prince Oberyn (Pedro Pascal) is choosing lovers at a brothel, and the next he is putting his dagger through a man’s hand. The series of scenes demonstrates Oberyn’s facility for dispensing both pain and pleasure — aspects Pascal says are key to understanding the character.
“There are a lot of fantastic qualities to the character in the way that he loves and in the way that he fights and lives his life in those extremes,” Pascal tells The Hollywood Reporter.
In a conversation with THR, he also reveals why “getting naked with a bunch of strangers” during his first day on the job didn’t phase him and what working with the “phenomenal” Peter Dinklage is like.
What was it like shooting the first scene in the brothel?
I had already broken the ice with a different scene on my first day of shooting. Strangely, the scene that I had to shoot on my first day was a really, really important one in terms of the character’s arc. That was a lot scarier to me than getting naked with a bunch of strangers. (Laughs.)
What was it like getting to work with Peter Dinklage on your first day?
When it’s just you and another actor, it’s like a sport – like tennis – versus the solitude of being a swimmer. There’s more focus on you. The more ensemble a scene can be, the more you are in it with other people – especially something like the brothel – we’re all kind of jumping into the water together. It was the same way working with Peter on my first day. There was pressure I was putting on myself, but I wasn’t alone, because I was with Peter Dinklage, who is a phenomenal actor and a very intelligent person who sort of in an instant made me feel like I was telling a story with someone.
What did they tell you about the character of Oberyn before you were cast?
When I self-taped my audition, to my enormous surprise, [showrunners] David [Benioff] and Dan [Weiss] got in touch with me via email. They started talking to me about the character, about what motivates this person emotionally, and the way that he lives his life and how linked it is to a specific event in his arc. You’ve seen the first episode, so you know he makes no qualms about why he’s there and how he has vengeance in his heart and blames the Lannisters for the rape and murder of his sister.
Oberyn really pops off the screen in this premiere – even more so than many of the main characters. Why do you think that is?
David and Dan direct the first episode. I think they introduce the character of Oberyn very lovingly. I know that’s a funny word to use, but just in terms of how they decided to usher him in pretty strongly has so much to do with their eye as writers and as directors.
Did you have a sense Oberyn would be the focus in this way?
I feel really grateful for that because there’s often times where as an actor you want to do your best and give it your all, but you’re not in control of what they do in postproduction – what takes they choose, the way that they shoot it. You leave it completely up to them on how much attention they want to put on the nuance that you are trying to create.
What specific qualities about this character did you latch on to as an actor?
There are a lot of fantastic qualities to the character in the way that he loves and in the way that he fights and lives his life in those extremes. David and Dan immediately started communicating with me about how all of that is shaped emotionally.
What was it like when you watched the premiere for the first time?
I was a fan of the show before I ever became a part of it, so there was this weird aspect of seeing what was I going to look like within the bigger picture. Then there was just that part of me that was impressed by the premiere episode and really impressed by their work as directors.
What have you gotten out of working on Game of Thrones?
There’s too much to go into because on so many levels the people I get to work with, the amount of fun I am able to have on and off set, the locations, the richness of the storytelling and ultimately the company of the cast and the crew – I certainly know it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and I’m really grateful for it.
Game of Thrones airs on HBO Sundays at 9 p.m.
Stay tuned to THR.com/GOT for everything you need to know about the first episode and beyond.
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