Paul Mescal Bulked Up for ‘Gladiator 2’ but Didn’t Want to Become a Sex Symbol: I Never Wanted to Look ‘More Like an Underwear Model Than a Warrior’

Paul Mescal revealed to Vanity Fair as part of the first look at “Gladiator II” that he was offered the sequel’s leading role after meeting director Ridley Scott for only a half-hour. The legendary filmmaker had already become a fan of Mescal’s after he watched the actor’s breakthrough performance in “Normal People.”

“We spoke for about 20 to 30 minutes,” Mescal said about his first meeting with Scott. “I wanted to get a flavor from him about what the story was going to be about, so we spent about 15 minutes talking about that, and then we spent another 10 minutes talking about the sport that I played growing up — Gaelic football. Maybe that was something that helped with it, in that I’m used to being physical in my body. My memory of it is that probably two or three weeks later, the offer came in.”

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Mescal stars in “Gladiator II” as Lucius, the son of Connie Nielsen’s Lucilla. The story picks up with Lucius living as a young adult in the northern African region of Numidia, where he was sent by his mother as a child as it was just outside the reach of the Roman Empire. Events bring Lucius back to Rome as a gladiator, where he makes new enemies and reunites with his mother.

“My nose just is kind of Roman,” Mescal added about winning the role. “So it’s useful in this context. The nose that I absolutely hated when I was in secondary school — and used to get ribbed for — became very, very useful when Ridley needed somebody to be in ‘Gladiator II.’”

The supporting cast features Pedro Pascal as Marcus Acacius, a Roman general who trained under the command of Maximus Decimus Meridius (Russell Crowe from the original “Gladiator” film), Denzel Washington as Macrinus, a wealthy powerbroker in Rome who keeps a stable of gladiators for sport, and Joseph Quinn and Fred Hechinger as the twin emperors of Rome.

Much of the pre-release buzz for “Gladiator II” has been on Mescal’s transformation into a bulked-up movie heartthrob, but the actor stressed to Vanity Fair that was never his intention with the role. He was focused on training for fight choreography and not on turning himself into a movie sex symbol.

“I just wanted to be big and strong and look like somebody who can cause a bit of damage when shit hits the fan,” Mescal said. “I think also, sometimes, one could, in striving for that perfect look, end up looking more like an underwear model than a warrior.”

“Muscles start to grow, and that can be deemed aesthetic in certain capacities, but there is something about feeling strong in your body that elicits just a different feeling. You carry yourself differently,” Mescal added. “It has an impact on you psychologically in a way that is useful for the film.”

Mescal bulked up so much that Pedro Pascal said it was quite challenging having to face off against him in the arena. Pescal even gave Mescal a nickname on set: “Brick Wall Paul.”

“He got so strong. I would rather be thrown from a building than have to fight him again,” Pascal added. “To go up against somebody that fit and that talented and that much younger. … It’s brutal, man.”

Paramount Pictures is set to release “Gladiator II” in theaters nationwide on Nov. 22.

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