If there’s anything certain about season four of Game of Thrones, it’s that there will be plenty of pain and lots of new faces. One of the most anticipated additions to the cast by fans of George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series is Prince Oberyn Nymeros Martell of Dorne.
Passionate, more than a little angry about the murder of his beloved sister, and super-skilled with a blade, Martell (a.k.a. the “Red Viper”) is being brought to life by Chilean born actor, Pedro Pascal.
We spoke to the actor, who admits he was a super fan of the series before getting cast, about why Prince Oberyn is in King’s Landing this season and how his agenda is going to shake things up for the Lannister clan.
Prince Oberyn is a big player in A Storm of Swords. Did executive producers David Benioff and Dan Weiss ask you to read the book for character prep?
“They never suggested that I read anything. Dave and Dan are pretty amazing because they started with where I started, if that makes sense. I put myself on tape and then they watched that and wrote to me and talked to me about the character. They didn’t go into his background. They immediately began with his human condition and what motivates him on an emotional level. Everything that motivates him is through his passions.”
[Spoilers for the book and series below]
He’s certainly passionate about seeking vengeance for the rape and murder of his sister, Elia, who died at the hands of Lannister knight, Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane. Was it easy to get in that head space?
“I have a sister. She’s two and a half years older than me. We had a very transient upbringing. We were born in Chile and then my parents became political refugees and we ended up as babies with political asylum in Denmark. And very soon after that we ended up in San Antonio, Texas, then California and then to the east coast, so the one person in my life who is a constant and ever present is my sister. It’s a strange coincidence in how easy it was for me to understand Oberyn. I didn’t even have to think about it too much because it was too upsetting to think of something like that happening to my family. That’s the thing that trumps whatever circumstance he’s in because you cannot intimidate him.”
Oberyn makes quite an impression in the books as a free spirit, with a unconventional outlook on lovers and family. Same goes for the series?
“Of course. He has a partner in Ellaria Sand (Indira Varma), who is the love of his life. Interestingly he has eight daughters, four of which are with her, and the first with her he names Elia. I think that’s very telling as well.”
As a self-professed fan of the show, was there a lot of “pinch me” moments acting in the world you love?
“The thing is I never did completely land because it was such a concentrated experience. I was made to feel so completely comfortable, but I was always dialing a place of watching what was happening as it happened and actually having a job too. It didn’t help that there were amazing locations and that the sea in Croatia was even more beautiful in person.”
Your character is a very agile fighter. Was that easy to portray?
“No! I was more physically agile as a younger man. But when I got sent back to Los Angeles, in the few weeks before having to come back to Ireland [to shoot], they set me up with a trainer, Grand Master Hu. He’s a Wushu master which is really complicated, acrobatic martial arts. He started me out with the basics and gave me a tall bamboo stick and started teaching me moves to manipulate the weapon with intricate movements. It was totally unfamiliar and really intimidating because it was about creating a synchronous language with your body and this weapon. When I went to Ireland to shoot, there were pockets of time with intensive fight rehearsals.”
Tyrion Lannister finds himself in some trouble this season and finds an ally in Oberyn. How was it working with Peter Dinklage?
“Peter is a star. He is a rare breed for so many reasons. He gives you so much and you just want to be part of the story he is telling. He is really sharp. He’s very nice, and funny and cool, but he is smart. He will embarrass you kicking your ass in Scrabble.”
Fans of the book know there’s a pretty big battle involving you this season. Should we be excited to see it in action?
“Yes, a certain duel takes place which all has to go to the production team, the director Alex Graves and Dan and Dave who wrote it. They are in as much love with that event in the book as all the fans are. It took us four days to [shoot] the whole thing. It’s the first thing I have ever done where as I was doing it and I’m thinking, ‘Holy shit, what is this going to look like?’ just based on the location and how it was shot. Also being a part of something that could be a very, very memorable presence in the series is really cool to me. And I’m scared! I hope people like it. [Laughs]”
Game of Thrones returns to HBO on April 6.