Years before he played Oberyn Martell in the fourth season of Game of Thrones and traveled to a galaxy far, far away for The Mandalorian, Pedro Pascal experienced life-changing loss.
While living in New York City to launch his career as an actor, the Chilean-American actor's mother died.
"She was always incredibly supportive, never a stage mom," Pascal, 45, tells PEOPLE in this week's issue. "I always felt like she knew something that I didn't."
Shortly after her death, Pascal changed his professional last name from Balmaceda, his father's, to Pascal, his mother's.
"None of [my success] would be real if it weren't for her," he says.
- For more on Pedro Pascal, pick up this week's issue of PEOPLE
The star of the Disney+ series The Mandalorian is the son of political refugees from Chile, and says his parents' struggles have always help him put his own ups and downs in perspective.
His parents, Verónica Pascal, a child psychologist, and José Balmaceda, a fertility doctor, risked their lives before he was born to work for the opposition movement against the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.
When he was nine months old, the family fled Chile — first to Denmark, then to San Antonio, Texas — to seek asylum.
Looking back, Pascal says he feels he was a bit of a "spoiled kid." He recalls arguing with his parents about things like how late he could stay up to watch TV.
"I'm being a little harsh with myself, but this would have been about eight years after they had been running for their lives," he says. "I was so well taken care of and shielded from it."
As a boy, Pascal was passionate about swimming and competed in state championships in Texas. After later moving to California and taking a few acting classes, he found a new calling.
To hone his craft, Pascal enrolled in courses at the Orange County School of the Arts and later NYU before going on to find success on the big and small screen.
Pascal continues to live in N.Y.C., where he spent much of the pandemic alone. He says the difficult period has reminded him "who I am and what's important," especially his personal relationships.
"I relied on my friends like one would food and water," he says. "Because I was on my own, I felt a little rattled and ultimately grateful for all of my friendships, old and new. We were there for each other. That really is the only thing that matters."
The Mandalorian is streaming on Disney+.
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