Pedro Pascal was a little lost.
He exited the Liverpool Street train station, staring at the glowing blue Google Maps dot on his iPhone screen. And that is when he nearly had an ending much like that of Oberyn Martell, the character he played on “Game of Thrones.”
While crossing the street, he looked left when he should have looked right (classic error of the tourist in London), and a double-decker bus came thisclose.
He barely had a moment to compose himself when he was spotted.
“Pascal Pedro!” said a young man, getting his name almost right. “Can we get a photo? We love your character in ‘Game of Thrones.’ ”
A little later, someone driving a white van in the narrow streets of Shoreditch hit the brakes. “Agent Peña!” he said, referring to Pascal’s character in the Netflix series “Narcos.” “Excellent, mate.”
At 41, Pascal is far from a household name, but fame is rushing at him. As he described it, he has gone from decades of anonymity to becoming the “Aren’t you the guy from … ?” guy.
Soon enough, fans may even get his name right. In addition to his role on “Narcos,” Pascal appears in “The Great Wall,” a big-budget fantasy filmed mostly in Beijing that will be released in the United States on Feb. 17, after its splashy China debut. He will also have a lead role in the “Kingsman” sequel, set for release later this year.
After years of making ends meet with TV work and a prolific theater career, Pascal is not about to waste his chance. “The smallest of opportunities kept me going,” he said. “So much so that I resolved to struggle until I couldn’t walk anymore.”
As the actress Sarah Paulson, one of his closest friends, put it: “Most people don’t get to be in their early 40s and have their lives change, workwise, in this business.”
The change in his success means that Pascal has seen little of his apartment in West Hollywood the past few years. He was in Europe for “Game of Thrones,” Colombia for “Narcos,” China for “The Great Wall” and London for “Kingsman.”
And that’s what brought him to a London shop on an afternoon before Christmas. He would be flying to Chile the next day to visit his family, and now, with the big paychecks coming in, he could spend a couple of hundred pounds to get Aesop soaps for his brother and adorable pajamas for his sister.
“I like to spoil her,” he said, noting that he could never do it before.
Pascal was born in Santiago, Chile, and raised in San Antonio and Orange County, in California. He grew up dreaming of movies, which did little to help his social life. “I was the one who wouldn’t shut up about ‘Empire of the Sun,’ ” he said.
His parents fled Chile in the 1970s during the military junta and worked out a life of comfort in the United States. His father was a fertility doctor, and his mother, a former child psychologist, handed him the keys to her Volvo when he turned 16.
His cozy adolescence was upended after he decamped to New York University, when his father, Dr. Jose Balmaceda, was ensnarled in a headline-making scandal involving the Orange County fertility clinic he ran with two other men. Pascal’s father, mother and two youngest brothers went to Chile. (Many people said Balmaceda fled the country; Pascal contends his father did nothing wrong.) Soon afterward, his mother died.
Pascal and his sister did not join the rest of the family, sharing a shoebox apartment on Elizabeth Street in Manhattan as he pursued acting work. Theater assignments piled up, as did a few TV roles, including one-offs on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Touched by an Angel.” Money was tight. At the Manhattan Theater Club, Pascal brought in about $515 a week.
“The TV stuff means you’re getting, in about three to eight days of work, more money than an entire run Off Broadway,” he said. “And that’s not even a lot of money. You want ‘Law & Order’ so badly that you just want to die.”
Asked if he was ever typecast as a Latino, he said, “I was desperate to be typecast so I could get a job.” On the stages of New York, he said, he played a series of masculine gay men and vaguely ethnic characters. But breakout roles, both onstage and on television, proved elusive, and there were plenty of times when he was ready to quit.
Grabbing his chance
Things changed about four years ago, thanks to a bit of hustling.
While Pascal was mentoring a student at the University of Southern California, his protégé was preparing to audition for a role as a late-30-something bisexual Lothario in “Game of Thrones.” The student, in his 20s, was too young for the part, and when Pascal read the script, he was blown away. The role seemed made for him.
He put together an audition tape, which he failed to mention to his younger friend. (For the record, the student, Francisco Garat, said in an interview that he was thrilled for Pascal’s success.)
Pascal asked Paulson if she could possibly, maybe pass along the tape to her best friend, Amanda Peet, who is married to the “Thrones” co-creator David Benioff. Benioff, Peet and the show’s other mastermind, D.B. Weiss, watched Pascal and the reviews were ecstatic. Paulson called to tell him.
In 2014, Pascal became a fan favorite on the show as the swaggering Red Viper, a role that ended after one season, when his head was crushed by a character called the Mountain. But Pascal wasn’t out of work for long. He was quickly cast in “Narcos,” a drama about the Colombian drug trade.
When the director Matthew Vaughn was watching “Narcos,” he kept thinking, “Who’s this Burt Reynolds guy?” He asked him to audition for “Kingsman,” an action movie he was about to direct. The actor Vaughn saw before him was shaped by years of obscurity and missed chances.
“He had this swagger and confidence,” Vaughn said, “but at the same time such vulnerability of expecting to be rejected.”
Soon Pascal was fighting computer-generated mythical beasts alongside Matt Damon in “The Great Wall,” a Zhang Yimou epic that the Chinese film industry has positioned as a global blockbuster.
Early box office returns have fallen short of expectations, but no matter. When Pascal started to reflect on his sudden star turn, he recalled a moment during his 40th birthday, when he was filming in Beijing.
Damon and a producer asked to have a word with him. For an actor long accustomed to coming up short, it was an unnerving request. As they led him off the set, the cast and crew surrounded him. Next thing he knew, a giant birthday cake was being rolled out and fireworks lit up the sky.
“I’m turning 40 and I’m in Beijing,” Pascal said. “I am absolutely fine with experiencing my birthday anonymously and with a day at work. And, instead, I got a big freaking cake and fireworks. I was like, ‘What the hell is happening?’ ”