Chilean American actor Pedro Pascal is having quite the moment.
He’s currently starring in two of the biggest shows. HBO’s The Last of Us has topped the charts every week since premiering on January 15. Based on the beloved video game, this prestige show follows Pascal’s Joel who’s trying to survive a fungal-zombie apocalypse by getting 14-year-old Ellie (Bella Ramsey) to someone who can analyze and duplicate her immunity in order to save the human race.
Disney’s The Mandalorian recently returned for a third season with Pascal as the titular character. We rarely see Pascal’s face in this one but his voice and vibe are unmistakable. And that he can deliver such a strong performance in what is essentially a space Western, and behind a mask too, well, that’s pretty remarkable.
I’m honestly a little surprised Disney didn’t hold The Mandalorian a little longer. It’s been more than two years since season two—what’s another month or two? I’d think they’d want to wait out the end of The Last of Us because the characters are so similar. They’re both men of few words with a hardscrabble edge who become reluctant but excellent father figures. That’s pretty specific.
Pascal’s ability to inhabit these paragons of healthy masculinity is certainly part of his appeal. But that doesn’t quite explain how he became the internet’s favorite obsession. I’m talking viral content about his viralability.
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He’s so famous right now, he’s meta-famous. A lot of the online obsession with Pascal hypersexualizes him to his apparent discomfort. I suppose the appeal is his modesty in an industry full of oversized egos. But, honestly, the plethora of thirst traps read creepy to me, especially when I think about the ways Latinos have been historically reduced to the Latin Lover trope.
There’s no denying Pascal’s handsome but, clearly, he’s more than that. In fact, I think the real reason so many people seem to have fallen in love with him in the last few weeks is because of the slippage between his public persona and his characters.
First, both Joel and Mando are fundamentally good guys. Their moral compasses are strong (“This is the way”). And Pascal’s appears to be strong, too.
For example, when he was first paired with then-17-year-old Ramsey, he reportedly called her mother, feeling it was inappropriate —and it is!— for a grown man to be calling a teenager.
realized something about THAT age gap pic.twitter.com/kqikZCkot6
— simone! (@parasocialyte) February 7, 2023
While he shares something fundamental with his characters, he’s also different from them in pretty important ways—the first being his sense of humor. His recent gig as host of Saturday Night Live reinforced his comic abilities. My favorite moment was when, as a Latina mom, he threw away the food his son’s girlfriend brought over, but saved the paper bag, folding it methodically.
Then there was his turn opposite Nick Cage in last year’s The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent. In the film, Pascal needed to be believable as a ruthless cartel boss and hyper-silly Cage superfan —simultaneously— and his ability to toggle between warm and ruthless, goofy and dangerous, is remarkable.
It’s this combination that makes him stand out. It makes his turn as Joel and Mando feel like one masculine ideal hiding an even more appealing one. The layers are distinct and compelling, the stuff that internet sensations are made of.
Oh, and he’s Latino, of course. As he says in his SNL monologue, his parents fled Pinochet when he was a baby, bringing him to the United States. Like so many children of immigrants, he praises their bravery and knows their courage set up him for his current success.
That’s one hell of an origin story. And the man who was born of it deserves more than a moment.
A writer and activist, Cristina Escobar is the co-founder of latinamedia.co, uplifting Latina and gender non-conforming Latinx perspectives in media. She’s a member of the Latino Entertainment Journalists Association and writes at the intersection of race, gender, and pop culture. Twitter: @cescobarandrade