When Pedro Pascal met Denzel Washington, it was his first day on the set of The Equalizer 2. As often seems the case for Pascal, he was coming into an established universe. The film is a sequel to the previous Equalizer, which, in 2014, was borne from the longtime collaboration of Washington and director Antoine Fuqua. A thoroughly adult and R-rated picture, it marked the first franchise in either the lead actor or director’s career.
On the day when Pascal, a newcomer to the series, joined the presumable movie mayhem, it was an actor who showed up at the door to Pascal’s trailer, as opposed to an action star.
“I thought he was one of the production assistants coming to take me to makeup, and it was actually Denzel Washington,” Pascal says. Noting they spent 20 minutes breaking down the scene they were about to shoot later that day, Pascal marvels, “The rest of the next hour we talked about stage because I come from the theater as well.”
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Washington has famously said he considers himself a stage actor, and that theater will be his first and last love; it’s something Pascal vouches for after seeing Washington in August Wilson’s Fences on Broadway. But it was their ability to connect as actors—as opposed to action figures in an elaborate franchise of stunts and explosions—that made working with Washington and Fuqua unique.
“That was what was so surreal,” Pascal continues. “Here I am working with one of the greats, and I was more nervous than I’ve ever been and, consequently, more prepared than I had ever been. And yet, once we started rolling, it felt like I was with a classmate.” He adds with a chortle, “A superior classmate.”
Despite any self-effacement, Pascal has more than proven himself in recent years. Appearing as something like a franchise disruptor, writers and directors have learned a little secret: All stories seem to benefit from throwing Pascal into the proceedings and seeing what magnetic chaos ensues. Much a citizen of the world, Pascal cut his teeth as an actor in New York University’s coveted Tisch School of the Arts and the many regional theaters of New England before he helped create the last genuinely amazing new character on Game of Thrones, Oberyn Martell.
Appearing only in the fourth season of the HBO fantasy flagship, Pascal made such a striking impression over eight episodes that the show mourned his loss by trying (and failing) to recreate his dead prince’s energy in the next season with the misguided introduction of his character’s daughters. For Pascal, it led to landing—through extensive audition processes—the chance to shake up one movie franchise after another. Prior to The Equalizer 2, Pascal played a whiskey-swigging American spy in Kingsman: The Golden Circle, and he’ll appear in an undisclosed role in Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman 2.
“I’m all about the sequels, huh?” Pascal says with a sheepish chuckle. “Everything in threes, I guess.” But it makes sense because, like on Game of Thrones, Pascal’s energy can re-contextualize what viewers might have otherwise taken for granted.
In the case of The Equalizer 2, it is by providing a new vantage on Denzel Washington’s enigmatic take on Robert McCall (an ex-CIA spook/full-time fixer who was created by a 1980s TV show of the same name). Returning to Boston—a homecoming Pascal welcomes after his years of regional theater there—Pascal plays McCall’s ex-partner and protégé from the agency… one who has been led to believe McCall is dead until the mentor shows up on his doorstep with information that their handler (Melissa Leo) has been murdered.
“What’s so cool about Equalizer 2 is that, in the first one, you don’t know anything about this guy, and, in the second, [some of] his past is revealed to us; I am a part of that past,” Pascal says. “I’m a friend, mentee, and colleague on the battlefield, and he’s sort of like my best friend who has disappeared on me.” While reconnecting with Washington’s character is a source of joy for Pascal in the film, it also is a reminder of his character’s grief. It is, in fact, something tangible for the actors to play with, which is why Pascal jumped at the chance to work with Fuqua in the first place.
In this vein, Pascal confides he was all too eager to go through the rigorous audition process for this part, as he has been a fan of Fuqua’s gritty aesthetic ever since he made an early exit from a screening of Legally Blonde in 2001 and wandered into Fuqua and Washington’s first collaboration, Training Day. “Nothing against Legally Blonde or anything like that, but I guess I wasn’t in the mood, and I walked out of Legally Blonde and walked into Training Day when it was out in the theaters, and it was one of those completely unexpected moviegoing experiences that I’ll never forget.” A fan of Fuqua ever since, it is that director’s humanist touch that makes his action movies stand out from the pack.
“There’s plenty of humor and violence,” Pascal says of the first Equalizer. “But there’s really good performances from really talented actors that are cast in this movie, so I think that that’s something that sets Antoine’s movies apart from other commercial fare… [Look at] how good Chloë Grace Moretz is, and David Harbour and Marton Csokas. It’s some of their best performances in these supporting roles.”
It’s also something Pascal is likely intending to carry into the sequel, as well as his other projects. After all, during our interview, the actor was headed to the Hawaiian set of J.C. Chandor’s Triple Frontier. Following that, he is shooting Wonder Woman 2, which finally reunites him with Patty Jenkins after she directed Pascal in a pilot that was not taken to series (one of the most “haunting” collaborative losses of his career). And perhaps while in London for that superhero sequel, he might even get to say goodbye to Game of Thrones one more time.
“I plan on trying to make it over to Belfast, because we’re going to be shooting Wonder Woman in London, and I want to see if I get there in time before they wrap so that I can just go and insert myself into the closing of one of the greatest television chapters in history.”
Of course, he already has, and considering the caliber of “acting classes” he’s come up with over the years, there is still more history yet to be written.