Blood, gore, nudity and incest: another night in front of the TV

‘ Game of Thrones’ is about to return for its fourth season. Its stars talk about working on the epic television series

Sat, Mar 29, 2014, 01:00

In a series of suites at the Corinthia Hotel in London, journalists sip coffee and stare at their smartphones. They are here to interview the cast of the sprawling, epic television series Game of Thrones , which is based on the sprawling, epic novels of George RR Martin.

The imaginary land of Westeros contains warring factions, brutalised idealists, Machiavellian psychopaths and a general air of insecurity and dread. Several major characters have met blood-splattered ends: a hero is decapitated, a pregnant woman is gruesomely stabbed, an obstreperous pretender is given a molten-gold crown. Meanwhile, zombies rise in the north, three baby dragons are born in the east, and there is gratuitous nudity everywhere. Will all the politicking and betrayal conclude with a zombies-v-dragons showdown . . . in the nude? Probably. But we don’t know for sure, because Martin hasn’t written the final book yet. (“It comes when it comes,” says a passing publicist with a sigh.)

So what’s it like to work on such a leviathan, under the scrutiny of some of the most hard-core fans in television? Ten members of the cast give their – and their characters’ – perspective.


‘We were lovers, and now we hate each other’s guts.’ ‘I like to think of it as a marriage’
Davos Seaworth and Melisandre
“I feel like Ban Ki-moon,” says Liam Cunningham, the Irish actor who plays the reformed pirate Davos Seaworth, as he’s faced with journalists from all over the world. He’s with the Dutch actor Carice van Houten, aka the scary magic priest Melisandre, with whom he also worked on the film Black Butterflies .

In that film “we were lovers, and now we hate each other’s guts,” says van Houten.

“I like to think of it as a marriage,” says Cunningham.

The message of Game of Thrones ? “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” says Cunningham. “Once you have power you enter a defensive position to hang on to it, and the last thing you’re concerned about is the people you’re supposed to be representing.” Barack Obama, he says, is a fan of the show.

Van Houten has had a crash course in fantasy fandom. “Sometimes it feels strange that people seem to know more about your character than you do,” she says. “I was overwhelmed by the knowledge of the . . . I cannot say ‘nerds’, but how do you say that?”

“Geeks?” suggests Cunningham.

“Fans,” she says finally.

They defend the show’s extremities of sex and violence. “If you weren’t getting complaints that this was going slightly over the top, you wouldn’t be doing your job,” says Cunningham. “It has to hover right on the edge of acceptability.”

Indeed, Cunningham says he looks with envy at the more malevolent characters. The ladies love Jaime Lannister, he observes. “I’m kind of waiting for Davos to butcher a creche of children,” he says. “I did mention it to the producers. There are too many people liking me. Give me an axe and get me to start chopping children up.”

“He’s so sweet, Davos,” says van Houten.

“That’s why I want to kill those kids. I don’t want to be sweet. F**k sweet.”

‘It’s every kid’s dream, taking selfies with severed heads’
Bran Stark and Jojen Reed
Bran Stark was thrown from a high window in the first episode of Game of Thrones and is now a disabled mystic carried about by a man called Hodor. “I’ve been picked up a few times [by fans] in a Hodor re-enactment fashion,” says Isaac Hempstead-Wright, the teenager who plays him. He’s pretty enthusiastic. “It’s every kid’s dream . . . jumping across ancient battlements in Northern Ireland, then taking selfies with [severed] heads.”

Hempstead-Wright is accompanied by another young actor, Thomas Brodie- Sangster, aka Jojen Reed, who waxes philosophical about the show’s themes. “I think it’s quite a good representation of what power and wealth can do to your mind . . . And the consequences of trust and love – which are things we all think of as good things – do they work out in your favour in the end?”

They seem so young and innocent that it seems a shame to make them dwell on the horrors of Westeros. “What are your favourite on-screen deaths?” asks a man from a film magazine.

Hempstead-Wright recounts a bit in series three when a character’s decapitated head is replaced by that of a wolf. “I thought that was pretty cool,” he says before correcting himself lest any child psychologists are listening. “Not cool ,” he says, “bad!”

‘The first two years I didn’t have any idea of what was going on’
Shae
Sibel Kekilli, the German actor who plays the courtesan Shae, is worried about the high mortality rate on the programme. She told George RR Martin she didn’t want to die. “It’s always a possibility,” she says with resignation.

The fans, she says, are sometimes “hard to handle”. She was recently in Istanbul when an American girl accosted her. “I don’t know your real name, and I’m not interested, but you’re Shae, right?” said the girl.

For ages Kekilli hadn’t even watched the show. “The first two years I didn’t have any idea of what was going on,” she says. “It was embarrassing to be on set. I was like, ‘Who’s that guy?’ ‘Um, He’s Joffrey. He’s the king. Sibel, do you not know that?’ ”

She has since become a fan. After the Red Wedding episode, in which several characters died violently and unexpectedly, she “was hoping it was like Dallas when Bobby came back . . . But that’s not happening.”

What does she think of the programme’s treatment of women? “They’re not just the cherry on top of an ice cream. They’re also strong characters. Cersei” – played by Lena Headey – “is maybe one of the most dangerous people there. I love Cersei’s character. But I’m fine with my Shae,” she adds quickly, lest a scriptwriter decide to kill her off.

There’s a brief comedy of errors when a journalist asks her about a film she’s not in. “I’m Sibel,” she says. “You want to ask another actress?” He tries to change the subject, but she’s laughing and doesn’t make it easy for him. “Which movie were you talking about? I would like to talk about it.”

Peter Mandelson, that’s what I thought Littlefinger should look like
Littlefinger
“I don’t know about Littlefinger/ Haughey comparisons,” says Aidan Gillen. He plays Littlefinger of Westeros but recently played another Machiavellian politician, Charles J Haughey of Kinsealy. Actually, he says, Littlefinger has some roots in New Labour. “I had a picture of Peter Mandelson, and I brought it in and said, ‘This is what I think Littlefinger should look like.’ ”

Does he think it’s an overtly political show? “What I do think is very clever about it,” he says, “is that the fantasy element was introduced so slowly, so gingerly . . . The themes were universal – family, love, power, death. By the time the dragons show up you believe them.”

Despite the heady subject matter, most fans, he says, just want a photo, not a philosophical conversation. “But someone did place a curse on me in Poland in a lift.”

How does he know it was a curse?

“He was pointing his fingers like that.” He points his fingers at us in an evil-eye fashion. “It seems to be okay so far.”

‘There is plenty of gore. You could follow our road trip just by the blood spots on the road’
Arya Stark and the Hound
Sixteen-year-old Maisie Williams, who stars as the plucky fan favourite Arya Stark, is accompanied by the huge Scotsman Rory McCann, who plays her thuggish protector, the Hound.

Recently, after a particularly murderous episode, Williams posted a Vine in which she comically declares, “My whole family is dead!” It went viral. “People were like, ‘It’s too soon,’ ‘Maisie, I am literally crying right now.’ ” Later she actually watched the episode, “and at the end of it I was crying, too”.

Arya is a favourite, Williams thinks, because “she is one of the only characters who doesn’t need other people for power. [She’s] almost more powerful on her own when she’s got no one stopping her.” She’d like to be more like Arya Stark, she says.

McCann is also interested in channelling his terrifying character. “In a bar if I’m getting pissed, and people creep up and say, ‘Is that the Hound?’ I just say” – his voice drops an octave – “ ‘F**k off.’ Then they say, ‘The Hound just told me to f**k off.’ ”

This year he’s proud to be “the number-one swearer of the whole cast”. Every year they have to overdub a less-rude version of their dialogue for the primmer television networks. The Hound, McCann says, had 22 “Fs and Cs to dub over . . . It took two days.”

Williams says that her parents keep her grounded and that she is not corrupted by the profanity, blood and gore. “There is plenty of blood and gore,” says McCann, “especially in our storyline. You could follow our road trip just by the blood spots on the road.”

He did enjoy getting to cut a man in half. “He stayed in shape, and [then] I kicked the top half off,” he says. “That was a pleasure.”


‘It mimics the frustrations and complexities of life, but it looks amazing’
Brienne and Jaime Lannister
Gwendoline Christie, aka the brave knight Brienne, laughs her way into the room alongside Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, aka the charmingly villainous Jaime Lannister.

She has a raucous laugh. They argue about whether there’s sexual tension between their onscreen characters.

“I just don’t think she likes him,” says Christie.

“I think she likes him,” says Coster-Waldau.

It goes on like this for a while. Jaime Lannister is probably the most Game of Thrones -y character in the show. In the first episode he crippled a child and had sex with his own sister, but, if you can forget the child cruelty and incest, Jaime is quite nice. Game of Thrones “is honest in how it shows us humans as being complex”, says Coster-Waldau.

The most difficult scene to shoot, he says, was the one in which Brienne and Jaime had to share a bathtub. “There was a lot to contend with that day,” says Christie. “You had a lot on.”

“I was buck naked,” says Coster-Waldau.

“I meant a lot of words and things,” says Christie. “You had that prosthetic arm to navigate.” (Jaime had his arm hacked off in season three.)

Are there parallels with the real world? “I think you could make any number of parallels if you want to,” says Coster-Waldau. “Power struggles, family, in-fighting, shagging your sister – all those things.”

“I love that it’s such an unconventional narrative structurally,” says Christie. “It mimics the frustrations and complexities of life, but it looks amazing. And there are dragons.”


Game of Thrones begins on Sky Atlantic on Monday, April 7th

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