George R R Martin’s critically acclaimed fantasy novel series A Game of Thrones is nothing short of a worldwide phenomenon, with the hugely popular HBO television series attracting a fanbase of millions. Now with the fourth season about to hit our screens, Mark Pilkington met up with the cast in London where he asked them what it was like to star in such a ratings winner…
Game of Thrones is a politically charged epic story set in the medieval fantasy worlds of Westeros and Essos. Within this land, the Great Houses of the Seven Kingdoms vie for power, all trying to gain control of the Iron Throne. Chief amongst these are the Stark family, the Lannister clan and House Targaryen. However, whilst they squabble for power amongst themselves, an even greater danger lurks in the north of the continent. It is here the Night’s Watch stand guard at a colossal frozen wall of ice, defending the kingdom against wildling humans and nameless denizens of the dark.
Beyond the Wall
Jon Snow (Kit Harington) – As the bastard son of the Stark family, life for Jon Snow has never been easy. A prominent member of the Night’s Watch – a rag tag organization of criminals and social outcasts who are charged with the defense of the kingdom.
Ygritte (Rose Leslie) – This wildling woman is captured by Jon Snows forces, but soon manages to escape and turn the tables on him. A headstrong and unpredictable romance blossoms.
Samwell Tarly (John Bradley) – Sent to the Wall with Jon Snow, his best friend, he finds himself a member of the Night’s Watch despite being relatively talentless in combat, surviving by his wit alone.
You filmed in Iceland. Was it difficult working there in the snow?
Rose Leslie: It is rather snowy, and the terrain can be treacherous, but I didn’t find it to be that bad to be honest. It’s the weather that can be tricky – we got down to minus 35 wind chill once during filming.
John Bradley: The terrain isn’t too bad if you’re not heavy enough to put a big dent into it as you walk along. Many a time I’d lost a leg, and I mean literally my leg. You’d just be walking along when suddenly your entire leg is submerged in snow and you’ve got to get a few of the crew to help you out.
Kit Harington: Also you’ve got minimal daylight. It gets light at 10 in the morning, and gets dark at 4 in the afternoon, so everyone has to work at quite a pace to get everything done. It feels at times a bit like guerilla filmmaking, as the director hurries to get the shot and everything feels scrambled.
John Bradley: Everything is set up in complete darkness as well because as soon as it is light they need you on set in front of the camera.
Kit Harington: But it is an amazingly beautiful place. There were days when I was convinced the landscape was CGI’d. The sunrise was incredible.
John Bradley: We were spoilt for choice with the locations, as everywhere we went was a beautiful area we could film in.
You had to learn things that you would not do in everyday life, such as sword fighting and horse riding. What was it like to learn all that and was it especially difficult for you?
John Bradley: Well I think I got away scott free with because SamWell is so bad at everything; it doesn’t matter if I’m not good at any of the skills. I can’t imagine what it was like for the others as they must have trained really hard, but because I’m, pretty useless all of the time, luckily enough It’s incredibly difficult not to get too good at something!
Kit Harington: People say about the differences between TV and film, but Game of Thrones feels like it has the big budget of a film. The props we use are incredible. The one thing we don’t have is time to go through fights, or have an extensive period of choreography you have on a big budget film. So sometimes it’s very much a case of picking it up and learning as you go, so it can be quite rushed, but learning new skills like sword fighting and horse riding is good fun. It’s not often you get to throw a sword about and get paid for it.
There are multitudes of different characters in Game of Thrones, many who join the show and then die. How do you deal with the high turnover of actors you work with?
Kit Harington: Yes it’s odd on this show because you can make friends with people and then before you know it, their characters have been killed off. It’s kind of heartbreaking at time because of that, but for every one you lose, you gain about five. The cast grows every year. There are some people I’ve never met in this show and they’ve died, so I may meet them one day and we can talk about how we were in the same show together! It’s a vast cast, but it’s great because you get to meet so many new people.
Rose Leslie: That’s the beauty of this show; no one is really safe and you never know what’s going to happen to your character. You never know when you may be killed off, or how long you’ll stay on it for, which certainly keeps you on your toes.
As an actor, how does it change you when you put on your characters costumes? What does it feel like to wear those clothes?
Rose Leslie: They’re very heavy! Straightaway it changes your body language, and you also feel grander when you wear them. The costumes they make are incredible – I’ve got fur and leather attached to mine. It brings you in to the landscape and surroundings as well.
John Bradley: They take you an hour to get on every morning. A whole hour of being tied in to it and everything. By the time you get into your costume, it’s almost like a process for getting into your character. You have this massive heavy thing you wear, which you are strapped into, and there is no way of getting out.
Kit Harington: It’s the detail of it as well. You have a cloak, then a leather tunic, but there is a shirt under that as well, which you never see. Nobody ever sees the shirt, so you think that maybe you don’t need to wear it, but the rest of the costume is so uncomfortable you quickly realise that you do. Just walking from make up to the set, a walk that normally takes about 30 seconds is an absolute nightmare. Your character has been walking for miles and miles in these costumes, so in terms of emphasising with the, you cannot get any closer than being in intense agony all day…
Lannister and Tarth
Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance) – The head of his family, Tywin is a ruthless ruler, who wouldn’t think twice about stabbing someone in the back in the quest for ultimate power.
Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) – Leading an incestuous relationship with his sister, the Queen of Lannister, Jaime is a highly skilled swordsman who is a prominent member of the Kingsguard.
Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) – A member of the Kingsguard, she is a fierce fighter whose mastery of the blade make her a dangerous opponent.
A lot of your scenes were shot in Northern Ireland. How was that?
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau: Very wet. There was a lot of mud, a lot of rain and a lot of cold weather. But
I love all that stuff, as you naturally react to the environment around you and don’t have to worry too much about acting. When you’re almost drowning in a pool of mud, you don’t need to do much pretending!
Women have a major role in Game of Thrones, both in terms of fighting and in terms of politics. Would you agree with that?
Gwendoline Christie: I think women in Game of Thrones have a harder job because they are existing in a man’s world. So the means that they use to get what they want have to be highly skilled, and they have to be dedicated to their execution. I think the stakes are much higher for women.
Charles Dance: I can only agree. The women in Game of Thrones have to be more devious and more scheming than the men. Not just as much as, but more so to get anywhere in the Seven Kingdoms.
There are some huge battle sequences. What’s it like to film those? Is it hard to concentrate with hundreds of extras on horses running about fighting each other?
Gwendoline Christie: The wonderful thing about doing those scenes with hundreds of extras is that it is hugely beneficial, and really helps you focus on your character. I don’t find any problems with focusing on a fight scene when it is like that.
Charles Dance: They are carefully choreographed for safety reasons. They are shot in bits and pieces and thrown together in the cutting room. The biggest problem is the directors marshalling everyone together, but they’re all pretty experienced at doing that kind of thing. We have a very good company that provide most of the horses, and the horses are really very good. Quiet often in films you end up with some terrible riding school pony that doesn’t respond to any of the normal signals, but we’re lucky on Game of Thrones because we always have some bloody good horses. They do as they’re told when they’re told, which is great for us.