How to describe Pedro Pascal’s Joel in HBO’s new zombie survival series The Last of Us? Taciturn, perhaps. Grizzled. Gruff, even. Yeah, but he’s got a good heart, too. If that sounds familiar, it’s because the loveable antihero is one of Hollywood’s most enduring tropes. “Men want to be him, women want to be with him” – so the sleazy old James Bond proverb goes. The antihero can often be found draining a shot alone at a bar, but the alcohol never affects him, such is his hardened experience as a drinker. He can, if needs be, knock out an aggressor with a powerful haymaker, but only if he really must. The allure of the reluctant warrior, weary but ever-reliable in a crisis, goes back decades, but has rarely been played so competently as by Pascal. Perhaps the greatest endorsement of his charm is his selection as the host of Saturday Night Live this weekend, which cements his status as a Hollywood conqueror.
The Chilean-American actor has – somewhat quietly – forged one of the most astonishing careers in the industry. While many actors might feel privileged to star in one major franchise, Pascal has been racking them up like a schoolboy collecting gold stars. His sharp rise is reminiscent of another Hollywood antihero – perhaps its definitive antihero – Harrison Ford. Like Ford, Pascal was in his mid-thirties when he finally got his big break. The actor entranced Game of Thrones viewers as Prince Oberyn Martell, the masterful swordsman and chief shagger of Dorne, AKA the Red Viper, before suffering one of the most memorable TV deaths of all time at the hands of Cersei’s favourite knight, The Mountain.
It was at the same age that Ford transcended mortal status to become Han Solo, Princess Leia’s apathetic hero, in Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope. He went on to play the heartthrob archaeology professor-cum-adventurer Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark four years later. Ford’s magnetic charm and charisma had proved gold dust to Hollywood directors. Similarly, Pascal has jumped from one hot project to another after Thrones, fighting Colombian drug traffickers for three seasons of Netflix’s hit Pablo Escobar drama, Narcos, before landing a Star Wars role of his own as another irascible drifter, bounty hunter Din Djarin, in Disney Plus’s The Mandalorian.
“Understanding the opportunity for complexity under all of the armour was not hard for me,” Pascal said, while talking about his literal armour in The Mandalorian, but he may as well have been talking metaphorically, about any of his characters. From his roles, some might assume that Pascal is a one-trick pony but, like Ford, he always brings depth to his performances.
Robert Rodriquez, who directed Pascal in an episode of The Mandalorian and Netflix’s 2020 kids’ movie, We Can Be Heroes, once said: “Pascal reminds me of Harrison Ford… he’s like this everyman type guy. He can be funny, he can be really intense, he can be very heroic”. But also “very human and warm”. In The Last of Us, Pascal is all of these things – it is his best performance to date.
As Ford famously told NBC’s Today show in 2019, “Nobody else is going to be Indiana Jones – don’t you get it? I’m Indiana Jones.” Could this role, as Joel, be Pascal’s own Indiana Jones moment? He has such a spark in him, so much edge and so much heart, that it doesn’t seem unreasonable to say, “No one else could do it.”