‘It was madness’: Game of Thrones stars on how it changed their lives

Posted On May 26, 2019 at 7:40 pm by / Comments Off on ‘It was madness’: Game of Thrones stars on how it changed their lives

On the eve of the final series, we ask 10 of its stars what the hit show has meant to them

Carice van Houten (Melisandre)

Now filming Sky series Temple and a film called The Glass House. Has had a child with partner, fellow actor Guy Pearce

When Carice van Houten goes out in public, she often notices people giving her searching looks, as if they cant quite place where theyve seen her before. When a woman came up once and asked her that, van Houten replied with the words, The night is dark and full of terrors a key line from her terrifying fire priestess Melisandre. The girl almost screamed, she recalls with satisfaction. Not just because she recognised someone from TV, but as if she really thought I was scary. Which was fun!

Prior to Game of Thrones, the Dutch actor was best known for her smouldering performance in Paul Verhoevens 2006 thriller Black Book, playing a Jewish singer who joins the resistance against the Nazis. She joined the show at the start of season two, having turned down an opportunity to audition as Game of Thrones character Cersei Lannister a year earlier.

Melisandre, she admits, was a struggle in the beginning. The things Id done before, in film or theatre, were tragicomic roles where the focus was on human flaws, fears and doubts. This confident, religious, extreme character seemed to lack all of that. So I really had to work hard.

By season five, Melisandre reveals her frailties, but not before engineering some of the most horrifying scenes in the series. When I had to kill the little girl Shireen [the daughter of Stannis Baratheon, whom she burns at the stake], I thought, okay wow, this character has gone to the next level. I was quite shocked reading that, but at the same time I thought, this is such a bold, daring scene to do.

Carice van Houten as Melisandre. Photograph: HBO

Her abiding memory of shooting in Northern Ireland over seven years was feeling cold, not least when she had to give birth to a shadow demon in a damp cave. Luckily, she had Liam Cunningham and Stephen Dillane (who play Davos Seaworth and Stannis Baratheon respectively) to keep her entertained. They are such opposites, like Laurel and Hardy, she says. Stephen is quieter and more introverted. Whereas Liam is just a goofball and never stops talking its very funny though at some points you want to say, Shut up!

A lot has changed for van Houten since she joined Game of Thrones in season two. She got together with the Australian actor Guy Pearce after starring with him in the film Brimstoneand gave birth to their son Monte in August 2016. (Im happy I did the Shireen scene before I had my own kid, she says.)

As for her career, The show definitely has opened doors, she says. Everyone knows what youre talking about with Game of Thrones. I had a role in The Simpsons, which was my biggest dream when I first came to LA she voiced Milhouses cousin Annika van Houten in 2015 and that wouldnt have happened without Game of Thrones, Im 100% sure.

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Theres more TV ahead shes starring alongside Mark Strong and Daniel Mays in Temple, a remake for Sky of the Norwegian series Valkyrien, and she will also appear in a film adaptation of the Simon Mawer novel The Glass Room. Hopefully it wont stop with Melisandre, and people will get to know me for other things. And hopefully, she adds, reflecting on the air of menace that surrounds her most famous character, it will be a bit on the lighter side next time. KF

Whos your favourite character?
Samwell Tarly. Hes the one truly good person in the show. You just wish that the world was full of people like him.

Whats the secret of the shows success?
Its a bit like Shakespeare: theres something in it for everyone and it holds up a mirror to society.

Most enduring memory of the show?
Being on a horse. I was terrified every time.

John Bradley (Samwell Tarly)

Bradley is shooting two films later this year including Tale of the Wet Dog. He is dating a journalist who interviewed him about the show

John Bradley as Samwell Tarly. Photograph: HBO

Game of Thrones was the very first audition I ever did, says John Bradley, who was fresh out of drama school in Manchester, where hes from, when he went up for the role of hapless but loveable Nights Watch recruit Samwell Tarly. I just wanted to make a good impression on my agent, I wasnt even thinking about getting the job, Bradley recalls. Now the 30-year-old is one of the longest-surviving members of the Game of Thrones cast.

While his character fell in with Jon Snow in Castle Black, Bradley struck up a lifelong friendship with Kit Harington, who plays Snow, over eight years of shooting in Northern Ireland. They bonded over football (Bradley is a diehard Manchester United fan) and Alan Partridge and, during one 10-day hiatus, they retreated to Bradleys Belfast hotel room to binge watch a DVD compilation of Michael Parkinsons greatest interviews while sharing a bottle of pink champagne. It was like Harold and Maude. We didnt get cabin fever at all. Last year, he attended Haringtons wedding to their co-star Rose Leslie.

Bradley also credits Game of Thrones with kickstarting not just his career he appeared alongside Stanley Tucci and Natalie Dormer in Patient Zero last year and will be filming Tale of the Wet Dog in New York this summer but his own love life, too: he got together with his girlfriend, entertainment writer Rebecca May, after she interviewed him about Game of Thrones. Thrones took up my entire 20s, which is a formative time for anybody, but to spend it with amazing people doing this amazing show was just a dream, he says. KF

Isaac Hempstead Wright (Bran Stark)

About to start university for the second time, studying neuroscience

Isaac Hempstead Wright as Bran Stark. Photograph: HBO

Like many 19-year-olds, Isaac Hempstead Wright is off to university this September but in his case, not for the first time. Hes tried once already, studying music and maths at Birmingham, but found that he was simply too famous for student life.

I ended up being assigned a campus police officer, he recalls. It was really full-on and I felt completely overwhelmed. I couldnt walk out of my halls without being mobbed or having to take selfies. Everyone knew where I lived. Because youre on the university email system, Id log on to get my lecture notes and have 40 messages from random strangers saying: Hi, Three-Eyed Raven! Hempstead Wright dropped out early. Older now, and a lot wiser, he hopes this time will be different.

He was just 10 when he was cast as Little Lord Bran Stark (I got an audition for a pilot episode and didnt even know what that meant), and says: Its been a unique upbringing, growing up on the worlds biggest TV show. But I stayed at school the whole time rather than leaving and becoming a full-time stage kid, so still had a relatively normal existence. Game of Thrones just became six months of the year where Id go and do this wacky, totally different thing. I learned horse-riding, climbing, archery it was like summer camp.

Indeed, he has led a rare double life: Sometimes the juxtaposition was just weird. Id be on set, then fly back from Belfast and a car would drop me straight off at school. Now Im in a geography lesson. What. Is. Going. On?

Adolescence can be a tricky time, but Westeros provided plenty of shoulders to cry on: I essentially had an extended family. Kristian Nairn [who played Hodor] became my big brother. Julian Glover [Grand Maester Pycelle] would give me acting advice. It was a huge support network to tap into. Working from age 10 in such an adult world means you learn people skills to talk, to listen, take direction, be professional. It made me mature faster, in that respect.

When it comes to keeping the shows secrets, Hempstead Wright is an old hand. Ive got good at saying absolutely nothing with a lot of words, he laughs. But the sheer scale of the final season is massive. Big characters who have been kept separate all arrive in Winterfell. Storylines converge and come to fruition. And what of his own clairvoyant character, last seen dropping the bombshell of Jon Snows parentage? Brans story arc is fantastic, he says. Hes a disabled kid in the harshest environment, yet he doesnt just survive, he triumphs. Its such a great message. Hes not traditionally glamorous, hes not an action hero, but he could save the world.

There were tears when Hempstead Wright wrapped his last scene. Those people have watched me grow up, he says, so it was like saying goodbye to family. Im glad to see the back of Brans wheelchair though. Medieval ones werent designed for comfort. MH

Whos your favourite character?
Controversially, Jaime Lannister. Even though he pushed me from a tower window.

Who should end up on the throne?
Hodor. Itd be a peaceful kingdom with him in charge.

Secret of the shows success?
Most of it we owe to George RR Martins original source material. He created an entire world.

Jonathan Pryce (the High Sparrow)

Will star as Pope Francis opposite Anthony Hopkins as Benedict XVI in Netflix film The Pope, out later this year

Jonathan Pryce as the High Sparrow. Photograph: Sky Atlantic

Due to an aversion to dragons, Jonathan Pryce almost passed up the chance to be in the worlds biggest TV show. Nearly a decade ago I was sent an early script and said no, because swords and sorcery wasnt a genre that appealed to me, recalls the Welsh actor. Without me, of course, the show went on to become this huge international success. Thankfully they came back to me a few years later with the role of the High Sparrow.

Once called the busiest actor in Britain, Rada-trained Pryce has played most of the greats on stage, won two Olivier and two Tony awards, starred in Hollywood hits and been a Bond villain. But hes never been more recognised than for Game of Thrones.

It happens on a daily basis, he says, so when I leave the house I think, Oh God, Id better look presentable. Otherwise theres going to be that classic Daily Mail pic, looking unshaven, leaving the off-licence with two bottles of wine clutched under my arm. It happens in the strangest places too. I was touring The Merchant of Venice in China and got to a remote fishing village. As I stepped off the boat, people were pointing and going High Sparrow! High Sparrow!

Pryce was genuinely shocked by fans reaction to his religious zealot character. I was surprised when people referred to him as this horrible bad guy. Id get quite offended on his behalf. Initially he went out among the people, washing and feeding the poor. His opening words to Diana Rigg [who plays Olenna Tyrell] were: You are the few, we are the many, which is almost Corbynesque.

Comparisons between the Labour leader and the High Sparrow sprang up online when both rose to power in 2015. Of course part of it was the High Sparrows grey look and quietly-spoken nature, says Pryce. I was also compared to Pope Francis, so its ironic Ive since played him too.

With the High Sparrows bare feet and simple tunic, Pryce was one of the lowest-maintenance cast members. Mornings were easy, he smiles. Id come in, slip on a bit of sackcloth and theyd throw dirt at me. That was my makeup regime. Going barefoot wasnt great when filming in a dank, dirty cave just outside Belfast, but it was fine in Croatia and Spain.

Viewers rejoiced in the sixth-season finale when the High Sparrow was vaporised by a giant green fireball. But shooting his death was more prosaic: On set, the explosion was just me standing on a box and leaning back a bit. I didnt see all the CGI wildfire until the episode was on TV. I went out for breakfast the morning after it aired, ordered some food, and the waiter said: Dont worry, it wont be green.

Despite his initial scepticism, swords and sorcery grew on Pryce. I knew I was only there for two series, but by the time it came to my death I was really enjoying it and regretted being blown up. MH

Whos your favourite character?
Cersei. Partly because I got to bring her down a peg or two.

Favourite GoT scene?
The massacre at Hardhome. An extraordinary piece of film-making.

Who should end up on the throne?
It should have been me! as the song goes.

Most enduring memory of the show?
The sunsets in Dubrovnik after a days filming were magical. And the polar opposite of being in a wet bloody cave in Belfast.

Gemma Whelan (Yara Greyjoy)

Next seen opposite Suranne Jones in forthcoming BBC period drama Gentleman Jack. Has had a baby daughter with her husband

Gemma Whelan as Yara Greyjoy. Photograph: HBO/Everett/Rex

Game of Thrones ruined Gemma Whelans meat-free diet. It was my first day on set, Id never done anything that big before and I was terrified, she recalls. Im a pescatarian, but in the stage directions for my first scene it said: Yara is gnawing on meaty bones. I was too nervous to let them know I dont eat meat, so ended up eating chicken legs all day. But hey, I got a huge protein rush and grew an inch overnight. Who knew?

Pre-Westeros, Whelan was best known for comedy, performing her Chastity Butterworth character on the standup circuit and appearing in sitcoms, including BBC2s Upstart Crow so she was delighted to diversify into a dramatic role: Its difficult to straddle both, because people tend to pop you in a box. Id been hoping to do drama, so it all happened serendipitously. Game of Thrones changed my career in terms of being taken seriously.

I point out that a similar trajectory has worked out pretty well for Olivia Colman. I suppose shes done all right for herself, laughs Whelan. Shes my idol. Her career, please!

Yara Greyjoy didnt arrive until the second season, so before her audition Whelan decided to see what the fuss was about. I thought, Oh gawd, dungeons and dragons, not a big fantasy fan, but lets have a look. I ended up watching 10 episodes in two nights and was hooked. Seventy actresses were up for the part. I was certain theyd hire some big name. So I was surprised when it went my way.

Described by Whelan as a salty pirate in smelly leather trousers, Yara is a fierce seafarer whose role in the show has steadily expanded. Shes strong and empowered. I did some fight training, but its the stuntmen who make you look really badass.

Now Whelan is about to set sail for the last time. As she says: Yara was last seen beaten and bloodied after being taken hostage by her Uncle Euron, never to be seen again. Or is she?

Whelan took her baby daughter with her while shooting the final series: She knows how the show ends. If only babies could talk, she could spoil it all.

Like everyone we speak to, Whelan compares the shows cast and crew to one big family. They stay in touch on a WhatsApp group, and after our interview shes off to meet Alfie Allen (who plays Yaras brother Theon) on Londons South Bank for a coffee and a gossip.

Its a little Greyjoy reunion, she grins. Me and Alfie hit it off immediately and remain very dear friends. Game of Thrones might be finishing, but the love goes on. MH

Who is your favourite character?
Tyrion, for his wit and intelligence.

Favourite GoT scene?
Battle of the Bastards [season six, when Jon Snow and Ramsay Bolton face off]. Ive never watched a piece of TV so physically. When Kit got buried in those bodies and was suffocating, I forgot to breathe.

Who should end up on the throne?
Arya, please! With a resurrected Joffrey as her hand.

Secret of the shows success?
Someone described it as The Sopranos with swords. You cant be scrolling through social media when youre watching it commands your full attention.

Iain Glen (Ser Jorah Mormont)

Next appears in films The Flood with Lena Headey and What About Love with Sharon Stone

Iain Glen as Jorah Mormont. Photograph: HBO

After Iain Glen came back from an audition for the pilot episode of Game of Thrones, he tried to tell himself it was just another casting, but I couldnt stop thinking about it, he says.

Almost a decade later and his character, Ser Jorah Mormont, the exiled northern knight in the service of Daenerys Targaryen, is one of the few who have survived the violent, often-fatal turns in the dramas sprawling plot, which found him enjoying a variety of exotic Mediterranean locations: Spain, Croatia, Morocco, Malta. Other actors [on the show] would have very different tales of being really, really cold and dirty in some shithole that was meant to feel horrible, and did, he says. I used to joke with [showrunners] Dan and David about how disturbed I was that my storyline had changed and now I seemed to be in the cold, shitty place, which they should have a think about. But wherever they went, he was overawed by the scale of production and access to locations of unusual beauty.

Glen was one of the more established actors going into the series, with acclaimed roles under his belt in film (The Iron Lady, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead) and theatre (he was nominated for Oliviers for both The Blue Room and The Crucible) along with a part in Downton Abbey. But his turn as the steadfast, valiant knight devoted to Emilia Clarkes Daenerys, or Khaleesi, saw him catapulted to worldwide fame. (He is familiar with the fan nickname Ser Friendzone because of his unrequited love for Daenerys though he says, diplomatically: I am such a dunce when it comes to social media I dont fully understand what it is.)

One notable encounter with a fan occurred in an airport. I passed this middle-aged American lady and I could feel her body language alter, so I thought: Ill just keep my head down, keep walking and grab my coffee. But on the way back she managed to stand in front of me and said: Excuse me, would you do me a favour? Could you just look me in the eye and say Khaleesi? So I did.

Glens career is in rude good health Game of Thrones has been good for all of us: in recent years he has appeared in numerous film and TV roles, including alongside Ruth Wilson in the BBC drama Mrs Wilson, and the 2017 film My Cousin Rachel. But the difference has been more marked for the younger actors, including Emilia Clarke, with whom he shared the most scenes. She had a huge weight to carry, he says. We became very close. I have really enjoyed watching her become a bit of a star, and handle it all incredibly well.

There is one particular memory of the show that Glen will always cherish, he says. They were filming a gladiatorial sequence in a bullring in Osuna, Spain, and his family had come out to visit; his daughter Mary was then eight or nine. The Game of Thrones family took her and dressed her up like Ser Jorah, put her in a little kilt and put blood marks and cuts on her, made her all really dirty, gave her a wee sword and sent her off to the set. The director got her to sit beside the monitor and call Action! and Cut! in a tiny little high-pitched voice, as a massive fight sequence was brought to life. Thats a very fond memory and she still talks about it. KB

Favourite GoT scene?
The pushing of Bran off the tower at the beginning. It somehow captured everything that was going to be good about Thrones: the unpredictability of it and the psychological oddness.

Who should end up on the throne?
No surprises: Daenerys.

Secret of the shows success?
Great writing, good cast, and that element of the beyond our ken, of things happening that we cant understand, is nicely painted in.

Jacob Anderson (Grey Worm)

Currently recording his second album under the moniker Raleigh Ritchie, trying his hand at screenwriting

Jacob Anderson as Grey Worm. Photograph: HBO

The first time Jacob Anderson saw himself on Game of Thrones he felt mortified. Before joining the show, he had loved the first two seasons. So I was watching the third, really enjoying it, and then my little baby face showed up and I was like Oh, weird whats he doing there?

Anderson, 28, grew up in Bristol, and juggles twin careers in acting (his credits include Adulthood, and Broadchurch) and music (he released his debut album Youre a Man Now, Boy under the alias Raleigh Ritchie in 2016). When he auditioned for the part of Grey Worm, commander of the Unsullied, the warrior-eunuchs, he was surprised to be handed some sheets in a made-up language to learn. Later, shooting the first scene in an oasis in Morocco, he was convinced he was going to get fired. I thought I was going to mess it up.

Instead, hes one of the longest-running members of the cast, shooting gruelling battle scenes for the final season. There was one night-shoot Ill always remember, he says. I couldnt see any cameras or technical equipment, and I was completely immersed, with fake snow blowing and hundreds of extras there was a surreal moment in which I forgot I was acting. It was kind of terrifying, but also really exciting.

When hes not being quizzed by strangers in the street about eunuchs Im not an expert Andersons main concern is music. Inspired by musicians including Amy Winehouse, Stevie Wonder and Donny Hathaway, he started writing songs at 14. It was an outlet to express myself, since I didnt really have people to talk to about stuff when I was growing up, he says. Ive always responded really well to confessional songwriting.

In the future, he hopes to get a part in a Marvel Cinematic Universe film (dream big) or, at least, some roles in English. But hell miss Thrones, even his unwieldy costume, which was so heavy it has left scars on his skin. On the last day, he remembers, my dresser, Jade, took my armour off and I realised it was the last time I was ever going to wear it. I said, Please, could I leave it on for just a few more seconds? I didnt want to let go of it. And I hated wearing that costume. Its really uncomfortable. I didnt expect to feel as emotional as I did.KB

Hannah Murray (Gilly)

Starring in Charlie Says, a film about the Manson family, out in May

Hannah Murray as Gilly. Photograph: HBO

When the first season of Game of Thrones came out in 2011, Bristol-born Hannah Murray was studying English literature at Cambridge and didnt own a TV. She hadnt seen the show when she got the audition for wildling Gilly, but realised she was onto something big when she started practising her lines: I realised just how good the writing was from that scene, which was Sam and Gilly sitting round a fire it was so rich and complicated and meaty.

On the first day on set she had to do CGI [computer-generated imagery] work, which she had never done before: it was a scene with Ghost, the direwolf, so she was essentially acting opposite a tennis ball on a stick. There were donkeys and pigs in the background, and she was holding a skinned squirrel. An alumna of E4s teen drama Skins, in which she played the troubled Cassie, Murray wasnt prepared for the high-budget, immersive set she found herself in: The experiences are incomparable Skins was about a gang of people the same age as us in the city we lived in, this was a complete world.

When the cast went to the season premiere in the States, with the New York Philharmonic playing the theme tune, they had to remain in the hotel to avoid being mobbed by fans. Its hard sometimes to remember that Im a part of this thing that is so popular there have been Saturday Night Live sketches about us. One of our directors, David Nutter, met Barack Obama, who was really upset hed killed Jon Snow. That blows my mind.

Murray credits Game of Thrones with getting her cast in Detroit, directed by Kathryn Bigelow: I know shes a really big fan of the show. Game of Thrones is something Ill always be grateful for it was such an amazing, intense experience. KB

Kristian Nairn (Hodor)

Nairn is DJing at immersive themed spectacular Rave of Thrones (next on at Londons Electric Brixton in April)

Kristian Nairn as Hodor. Photograph: HBO

Game Of Thrones was Kristian Nairns first proper acting job. The much-loved role of Hodor the hulking stable-boy named after the only word he is capable of saying wasnt a bad place to start.

I was working as a DJ and in musical theatre, says the Northern Irishman. I didnt have any real aspirations to act but my agent put me up for a role in Simon Peggs film Hot Fuzz. Another one-worder, oddly enough that was Yarp. I didnt get it, by coincidence, it went to Rory McCann [who plays The Hound in GoT] but the casting director remembered me, and four years later, called me back for Hodor.

When I told my mum that Id done another weird one-word audition, she freaked out because shes a really big fan of the books.

Hodor might have had a single-word vocabulary but Nairn developed 70 ways of saying it. Theres a soundboard in a Belfast studio with me doing dozens of variations, he laughs. But its also to do with body language. Is Nairn sick of getting Hodor yelled at him? Not really. Fans usually want a selfie or a chat instead. Although when I met Michael J Fox, he did beckon me down and whisper Say it for me!

At 6ft 10in, Nairn finds it tricky to keep a low profile: I cant exactly hide. My castmates enjoyed going out to dinner with me because Id get recognised and they could hide behind me, still incognito.

You wont catch him complaining, though. Game Of Thrones enhanced my life in so many ways. It enabled me to buy my mum a house, which is all I ever wanted to do. It taught me the craft of acting and gave me the confidence to just be myself.

Now comes Rave Of Thrones, his live club night: It combines two things I love, Game Of Thrones and DJing, and will be a fun way to celebrate the end of an era. MH

Bella Ramsey (Lyanna Mormont)

Can be seen playing Mildred Hubble in the hit CBBC series The Worst Witch