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The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio

All hail the new prince on 'Game Of Thrones'

Posted: 04 Jun 2014 09:00 AM PDT

Pedro Pascal, the latest key player in Game Of Thrones, has left a big impression on fans of the series.

If you're going to come late to the party, you better make one heck of an entrance – and arguably, there have been few introductions that made as big a splash as Pedro Pascal's in epic fantasy television series Game Of Thrones (GOT).

Playing the dangerously fascinating Oberyn of House Martell, a prince from Dorne with a prodigious appetite for both sex and revenge, Pascal had his work cut out for him, not just to live up to fans' expectations, but to stand out in an already crowded field.

The part he plays, however, is rich with possibilities. Oberyn, or the Red Viper as he is known, has never forgiven the Lannisters for the murder of his sister Elia; while he may be at King's Landing at their invitation, there is certainly more on his mind than a social visit.

During a recent phone interview from New York, 39-year-old Pascal (previously seen in shows like The Mentalist and Homeland) says he's never had more fun with a character – and he's not just talking about the raunchy scenes. ("I was only half-naked, really!" he laughs. "I managed to keep my pants on; I don't know how, but I did!")

"I think (show creators) David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have seized the chance to realise a brilliant character by (author) George R.R. Martin. Oberyn is very dangerous and quite fearless; he goes up against some of the most dangerous people in Westeros without fear, which is very unique."

Pascal also relishes the opportunity to play a character so obviously apart from everyone else, even in a show where practically everyone is at odds with each other.

"He sounds different, he moves different. He has integrity, he's a loyal partner and a fierce warrior, and it was nothing but delicious to play him. I would love to attribute my own character to him, but living like that, I don't know how long I would last!" he says.

If reviews and fans' responses are anything to go by, Pascal has certainly won them over with his smouldering depiction, and that too in only seven episodes. But what episodes they've been! Thus far, we've seen Oberyn face off with Tyrion, Tywin and Cersei Lannister, not to mention steam up the screen with a tangle of lovers.

"There's so much to learn from this character!" shares Pascal. "He approaches life with such fearlessness. He does not limit himself from experience and pleasure, he's a world traveller, a good father, and a fierce warrior, but ultimately, he's a very progressive thinker. He refuses to play by old conventions, and I think that is very revolutionary, and to me, very honourable."

On a more personal level, the Chile-born actor found he could relate to Oberyn's need to avenge his sister. Granted political asylum in Denmark and then later the United States during the Pinochet regime in Chile, Pascal is very attached to his elder sister.

"There's only one person who has been everywhere I have in my life, and that's my sister. Right there was an immediate connection to Oberyn, because it seems like his sister is his greatest love, and so much of his person is shaped by her death."

Oberyn's biggest moment thus far, perhaps, was in this season's seventh episode, Mockingbird, where he volunteers to stand as the wrongly-accused Tyrion's (Peter Dinklage) champion in a fight against the man who killed Elia, the gargantuan Gregor Clegane (Hafthor Julius Bjornsson). It was a momentous scene that saw both Pascal and Dinklage turning in superb performances, and is likely to be remembered as one of the season's best.

Surprisingly, it was the very first scene Pascal shot for the show, and the importance of it wasn't lost on him. Add to the fact that he was going to be working with the Golden Globe- and Emmy-winning Dinklage, he was naturally rather nervous. As it turned out, he had little to worry about.

"Working with Peter Dinklage was very relaxing and exciting. He's a very generous and inviting actor, and he's one of the best people I've worked with. Very soon, it became two actors on equal ground.

"It was quite emotional seeing the episode for the first time (when it aired), all my memories came flooding back because it was the beginning of my journey on the show."

Meanwhile, the episode has also left the show's fans waiting with bated breath for the upcoming The Mountain And The Viper, which finally gives Oberyn a chance to exact his long-awaited revenge upon Clegane, the Mountain. According to Pascal, he prepared for the role by training in wushu, and the duel, which was shot in Dubrovnik, Croatia, took about five days to shoot.

"It was in an incredibly decorated set, and it had an exciting fulfilment while we were shooting it, because it felt just as epic as people are anticipating. It was a very harrowing shoot for everyone," he recalls.

But if GOT fans know anything, it is this: no head is ever safe in Westeros. Could this be when we bid adieu to the hot-headed, hedonistic prince of Dorne? Pascal has only one thing to say: "Keep your fingers crossed!"

> Game Of Thrones airs every Sunday at 10pm on HBO (Astro Ch 411/HD Ch 431).

TV casting highs and lows

Posted: 03 Jun 2014 09:00 AM PDT

When it comes to TV icons, there is stunning casting, stunt casting and casting that just leaves you stunned. The Spudniks look at some close calls and wild misses.

A character isn't iconic until an actor makes it so. I truly believe that some of TV's best-loved and most memorable characters achieved their status as a result of spot-on casting and brilliant acting. Take the character of Walter White on Breaking Bad as an example. 

If you've watched the series, you will agree that one of the best things about the show is Bryan Cranston's White (aka Heisenberg), the chemistry teacher who starts manufacturing crystal meth to pay for his cancer treatments and to support his family.

The show is phenomenal and Cranston has since been dubbed "TV's greatest leading man" because of his brilliant portrayal of White. But did you know that Cranston wasn't the first pick for the part? You know who was? Apparently Matthew Broderick (yes, Ferris Bueller!) and John Cusack were offered the role first.

Mind blown yet? It seems the show's executives weren't convinced that Cranston (who had just come off the set of Malcolm In The Middle) had it in him to flesh out the character. They changed their minds after the show's creator Vince Gilligan showed them Cranston's guest appearance in an episode of The X-Files (season six, episode two). 

Imagine if either Broderick or Cusack had accepted the role? They're good actors, but could they have delivered the way Cranston did? I don't think so.

Speaking of The X-Files, here's another bullet that was dodged: guess whose name was bandied about to play Dana Scully? Pamela Anderson! Yes, Miss Baywatch herself! I don't blame you if you take a moment (or five) to thank the TV gods that she wasn't chosen and the part went to Gillian Anderson instead.

Pamela may have a paranormal figure, but as an investigator of unexplained phenomena? Besides, Gillian and David Duchovny had such great chemistry. Things would definitely have been different with that other Anderson as his partner. I shudder to imagine.

Now as much as I loved her as Scully, I don't think I would have liked her playing the part of Lady Cora Crawley on Downton Abbey. Yes, Anderson (Gillian, that is) was offered the part, but turned it down. Lady Cora isn't one of my favourite Downton characters, but I don't quite see Anderson in the role. Those soft sighs that Elizabeth McGovern has perfected? Can't imagine them coming out of Anderson!

And do you know that Ray Liotta was approached to play mob boss Tony Soprano on The Sopranos? Fortunately (for fans of the show), Liotta turned the role down because he wanted to focus on his movie career. Phew! I mean I can see Liotta as a mob boss, but seriously, no one could have played the part better than James Gandolfini.

On the sitcom Modern Family, all the characters seem perfect for their roles – even Lily, the adopted daughter of homosexual couple Mitch and Cameron. Patriarch Jay Pritchett is another fine example of great casting. The character is practically like a second skin to actor Ed O'Neil. Guess who was asked to play the part? Craig T. Nelson, who went on to play the patriarch on another family drama, Parenthood

All's well that ends well! SI

While Indra is thrilled that her favourite actors got the parts they did (I strongly believe no one else could have ever fit into Walter White's shoes other than Bryan Cranston), I'm here to ponder on the actors who didn't quite make the grade.

One that I have a current particular disdain for is Lysa Arryn nee Tully. Wife of the late Jon Arryn, she is the Lady Regent of the Vale of Arryn in the TV series Game Of Thrones.

Played by Kate Dickie, she is very unlikeable. She lusts after Petyr Baelish and is horrible to anyone who stands in her way. I find it hard to believe that she could be a Tully and find little in Dickie's portrayal of Lysa to make a viewer like her at all. That's why when push comes to shove, I am not really bothered if she is left onscreen or not. In a series that otherwise gives so much weight to casting, I find Dickie particularly lacking.

I have only recently started watching Homeland, and I love it to bits – which is strange because it is so political in nature and that is far from my cup of tea. My gripe with the casting (and again I think it is one of those shows that excels in this area, which may be why I am so critical) is the pivotal role of Abu Nazir.

Played by Navid Negahban, Nazir hardly has any presence at all in the series, which is tragic for me. This is supposed to be the man who was able to "turn" (well, I am only at the start of Season Two) agent Nicholas Brody (the inimitable Damian Lewis). 

I was hoping for someone who could mesmerise you with just one look and get your heart racing at the very sound of his voice. The sort of actor who would command your attention. Negahban, sadly, fails on all counts.

Last but not least, I also really never liked Margarita Levieva who played Amanda Clarke in Revenge. You never really wanted to root for her because she wasn't really nice to begin with. I'm not sure if that was the character herself but somehow Levieva didn't lend her role any sort of emotion that would either engage or antagonise the viewer. She was just a bit "blah" for my liking.

When you're sharing the screen with the likes of Madeleine Stowe and Emily VanCamp, you really need to bring your A-Game to the show – and Levieva failed miserably.

Casting can be quite a difficult thing to do, and it is with new eyes that I look at TV ensembles these days. The bar has been set so high, we expect nothing but the best. AMC

Film to TV: Steven Spielberg steps up TV production presence

Posted: 02 Jun 2014 01:40 AM PDT

The filmmaker will be producing seven shows, becoming most active producer on the small screen.

Between July 2014 and early 2015, a total of seven shows backed by the filmmaker will air on American television. Taking the place of J.J. Abrams, Steven Spielberg has become the most active producer working for the small screen today.

Extant, Red Band Society, The Whispers and Public Morals are the four new Spielberg productions viewers can expect to find on TV in the coming months. These latest productions will join the returning dramas Falling Skies, The Americans and Under the Dome.

Aliens invade the airwaves

Unsurprisingly, a number of Spielberg's productions are related to his signature themes, namely extra-terrestrial life forms. The director known for his sci-fi blockbusters E.T., Close Encounters of the Third Kind and War of the Worlds is bringing similar narratives to television.

The Whispers is a thriller series about an alien invasion that uses children to take over the planet.

Premiering July 9 on CBS, Extant stars Halle Berry as an astronaut who, upon returning to Earth after one year alone in space, finds out that she is pregnant, presumably due to a mysterious extra-terrestrial force. At the start of next year, ABC will unveil The Whispers, a thriller series about an alien invasion that uses children to take over the planet.

These new series echo some of the motifs seen in Falling Skies, which has aired on TNT since 2011, and Under the Dome, the second season of which will premiere June 30 on CBS. The two programmes also refer to extra-terrestrial life, each in its own way.

Action and dark humour

Of course, Spielberg's body of work for the silver screen is hardly limited to the sci-fi genre, and his TV productions are just as diverse. For TNT, Spielberg is producing the new historical police drama Public Morals, which promises to be closer to the current FX Cold War spy drama The Americans than to E.T.

Set in 1960s New York, Public Morals follows a team of officers in the NYPD Public Morals Division. Ed Burns (Mob City) plays an agent trying to stay on the straight and narrow in a job full of temptations, all while raising his young sons.

FOX, meanwhile, is betting on the dark humour of Red Band Society, a remake of the Spanish medical drama Polseres vermelles. Octavia Spencer, the Oscar-winning actress seen in The Help, is cast of this series, which follows the day-to-day life of seriously ill teenagers living in a hospital.

The new J.J. Abrams?

With seven productions on his hands – or eight including the TV adaptation of the video game Halo – Steven Spielberg has become the most prolific TV producer of the coming season, surpassing even his counterparts focused entirely on the small screen.

Chuck Lorre currently has four comedies airing on CBS in the coming season (Two and a Half Men, The Big Bang Theory, Mike & Molly and Mom). Shonda Rhimes has a total of three dramas (Grey's Anatomy, Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder), tying with Seth MacFarlane, who has as many comedies (American Dad, Family Guy and The Cleveland Show).

J.J. Abrams

In fact, Spielberg seems to be stepping in to fill the position occupied previously by J.J. Abrams, a producer known for juggling multiple TV projects in recent years. After building his reputation with the series Felicity, Alias and Lost, among others, the creator and producer has all but disappeared from the small screen. Person of Interest is now his only TV production, as Revolution, Believe and Almost Human were all cancelled this year. While J.J. Abrams has responded to the call of the cinema – he is currently directing Star Wars: Episode VII – his idol Steven Spielberg seems to be stepping in to take his place.

But while a number of noted filmmakers have turned their attention to the small screen only recently, the director of Schindler's List has actually been active in TV for several decades. In the 1980s and 1990s, Spielberg produced Amazing Stories, Seaquest 2032 and ER for NBC. He has also collaborated with various cable networks over the years for Into the West, Band of Brothers, The Pacific and United States of Tara.

And in spite of his unprecedented level of involvement in the TV arena for the coming season, Spielberg is not giving up on the silver screen. The director is involved in several projects, including Indiana Jones 5, Robopocalypse, a West Side Story remake and an adaptation of Roald Dahl's The BFG. – AFP Relaxnews

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