We chat to stars Mark Addy, Jason Momoa, Harry Lloyd and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau about the George RR Martin adaptation
Epic fantasy doesn't come much more epic than George RR Martin's A Song Of Ice And Fire series and HBO – the US network behind critical darlings like The Sopranos , Six Feet Under and True Blood – is bringing it to the small screen. Ahead of its debut on Sky Atlantic this week ( Monday 18 April at 9pm ), we have a word with four of its stars to find out what to expect when we travel to the world of Westeros...
First up: Mark Addy (click next)
Mark Addy on King Robert Baratheon (the main man in Westeros)
You play a womanising, hard drinking king… It’s not the kind of role you’re usually associated with!
No, possibly not, but it’s a great one to play, mainly because of all the flaws. Just about all the characters in this are not perfect, they’re real in that sense, it’s the imperfections that make them human, and Robert is certainly riddled with imperfections – he’s a drunkard, he likes the whores, he’s trapped in a loveless marriage that was there for basically political reasons to try and firm up a power base, and he realises too late that he’s surrounded himself with enemies, that there’s nobody watching his back, and there’s only one person he can trust, which is his lifelong childhood friend, Ned Stark [Sean Bean]. He’s depressive, understandably so, and being king is not the bed of roses he thought it might be initially.
Is playing that moral ambiguity more fun?
Absolutely. There are so many different degrees of right and wrong amongst all of these selfish characters, and that’s what gives the story it’s drama. It’s fantasy, but it’s grounded in reality. I know George talked about that when he was creating the books he researched the War Of The Roses, so you’ve got an American fantasy writer looking at British history as a kind of inspiration for this work. Maybe there is an element of Henry VIII in Robert in his later years. The Henry VIII that we’re used to seeing, the big, beardy guy, was at one time a good looking guy like he’s portrayed in The Tudors, and it’s the same with Robert, but by the time we meet him those days are gone. BBecause he’s been unchallenged as far as the monarchy’s concerned he’s taken his eye off the ball and got complacent and he’s slid into a fat, drunken decline.
Is action a big part of it?
It’s reliant on the dialogue rather than huge action sequences. There will be elements of action that come in as the story goes along, but it’s about the story and the political struggle for power in a violent world – it’s not sequences of action interspersed with the odd bit of dialogue, it’s the other way around. There are little bursts of sex and violence.
Did having the character described in the book make it easier to play than if you’d had to develop him from scratch?
From an actor’s point of view it’s great, because you’ve got all your character history which usually you have to create yourself. All of your homework is done for you, and you bring all that with you to the character, and it forms a part of the person that you’re playing. I found that a real boon. There are some people that possibly didn’t read the books, they wanted to make it their own, but I found it really useful. I can see why he’s depressed, why he’s turned to the bottle, I know exactly what makes him tick. It’s a great position for an actor to be in.
As a northerner yourself, did you find it interesting to play around in a fantasy world with a clear north/south divide?
There’s always a north! It’s great, and the fact that Sean and I are both from the north, it helps with that feeling. But this is a world where it’s been summer for 10 years but the seasons are changing and it’s going to be a colder winter than we’ve ever experienced and it’ll last for 10 years. The idea of being in Scotland in the worst weather they’ve had, FOR TEN YEARS… So they’re tough and they’re hardened people living in that environment.
Next up: Jason Momoa
Jason Momoa on Khal Drogo (Dothraki warlord – very hard, but doesn't speak much)
You didn’t wear many clothes in Stargate: Atlantis , you’re taking your top off in Conan The Barbarian , and you don’t have much on in Game Of Thrones … Is there a bit of a theme here?
I’ve done stuff with clothes, without clothes, that’s not my deciding factor whether to do it or not. Drogo’s just an amazing role, I’ve never seen anything like it on TV, and then it’s on HBO, so you’ve got that level of writing and directors, so I knew I was going to be in a good place. It was just a brilliant role.
You don’t speak much, and when you do it’s in the Dothraki language.. .
Yeah, we have this made up language which is perfectly linguistically made – it’s like this German/Arabic thing, which was scarily daunting to do at the time. It took me a while because I don’t know any languages, but it was amazing because it just sinks into the character. It’s so brilliant, especially when the big monologues come up. It makes him who he is.
When you’re performing in a made-up language, are you thinking about what you’re actually saying, or just about the sounds – as if you’re singing a song?
I had no other way to learn but memorise in the sense of almost like memorising a bad song with no melody! And then once it was in my DNA I just basically went through words and when I hit those words I knew exactly what I was saying. I trained so well. I couldn’t hold a conversation doing it now, but I knew exactly what I was saying so to communicate. It was just the most work I’ve ever put into a role.It took a while to learn, but it’s like that in the book and that’s what we wanted to stay true to for the fans.I don’t think I’ll ever do a role like that again.
When we first meet Drogo he’s a bit of a hard ass. Will we see a softer side?
That’s the great thing about George Martin. He presents you with these characters where you think this is the way he is and I come off as this hard ass. But then a woman arrives and she calms him and he falls in love with her, and he slowly sees things the way she does. It’s neat that a lot of these characters who are bad, you see that they’re actually really good, and the characters who look like they’re good, they’re actually really bad. The characters are very rich.
Genre’s been very good to you. Are you a fan?
It’s kind of panned out that way. I do love the genre, because there’s no limitations to what you can do in sci-fi and fantasy. The level of what you can do as an actor is not really based on reality so you can go to places that aren’t realistic and I like that. And the fans love it. I would love to do sitcom and do comedies and I don’t want to limit myself to anything, but I do enjoy this make believe. I enjoy going to these worlds.
Click Next to see what Harry Lloyd has to say
Harry Lloyd on Viserys Targaryen (reckons he should be king of Westeros – so he marries his sister to Khal Drogo in return for his armies to help claim the throne)
With all that sex and violence, his isn’t what you’d usually associate from TV fantasy, is it?
It’s not, and that’s kind of the great thing about it. I remember reading that pilot script for the first time and I wasn’t struck that they’d done something interesting with the genre. I was just struck that was a f**king great piece of writing – I don’t care if that’s set in Nicaragua or in the future. With those characters, it can be set anywhere, it’s just a great story, and therefore you can follow that story and get involved in that world – it just happens to be Westeros. I think it’s really well written first and foremost.
Was the blurring of the lines between good and bad a draw?
Yeah, it’s just a human story, and like all great human dramas everyone’s got a lot of different facets to him that are often contradictory. There’s no such thing as a baddie in real life. Everyone who does something does so for a reason – no one gets up, turns up in the morning and says ‘I’m going to really piss everyone off today because that’ll make me feel good.’ And if they do, why are they doing it? Everyone’s very much got a motivation in this. It’s very clear in the books and even clearer when you’ve got different people portraying each character in the series that everyone’s coming from somewhere and going somewhere else, everyone’s on a journey trying to get something and not everyone can get there. There are going to be casualties on the way because not everyone can get what they want but everyone’s going to do their damnedest, and I think that makes for good drama on the whole.
You’ve appeared in UK shows like Doctor Who and Robin Hood . How did Game OF Thrones compare?
It’s very much a different drama to those two because it’s that much more adult. I think the characters are that much more complex, and it’s painted on a much broader canvas. And obviously there’s a bigger budget and there’s a bit more time and a bit more detail and the scale is bigger. So I guess it does feel different, but any time you’re standing in front of a camera talking to someone else you’re not aware of production behind it all – you’re just making sense of the scene, so it all becomes very simple when you’re getting on with it.
But shooting somewhere like Malta can’t hurt?
Yeah, there was nothing shabby about that experience!. It was great in Malta, though everyone was ready to get some sunshine after the freezing cold of Belfast, and we arrived in Malta during their biggest storm for the last ten years when we were trying to shoot the Dothraki wedding in episode one. It was this huge outside scene with hundreds of extras, and it just got stormed out for the three days, so for the first three days we just sat in our hotel and twiddled our thumbs – it was very nice but everybody was getting a bit antsy. And then suddenly the sun broke for three days and we filmed it, and then the heavens poured down again.
Your character’s very much the talker. Will we see some action?
It’s very close to the books. The action in the books is the action we get. Viserys is someone with a huge amount of pent up aggression and is very violent towards his sister which we see, but he’s not someone who would take on another man, because ultimately he’s not a fighter,
And finally: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau on Jaime Lannister ( Robert Baratheon's scheming brother-in-law – he does some bad stuff)
When you first read the script, did it strike you as something different?
I didn’t know about the books before, but I read the script for the pilot and thought it something I hadn’t done before because it’s such a huge cast, such an epic story, and I was curious to see how you could do it as a television show. Of course, I knew HBO’s done these large scale shows, but this seemed different, and it is different I think. Now I’ve read the books, of course, but they weren’t what I expected from fantasy, and I think that’s also what attracts a lot of people to these novels.
Was the prospect of working on an HBO show a big draw? They’ve made some blinding TV in the past.
Absolutely. The thing is they always have three-dimensional characters and they do it really,really well. Also what is great about George Martin’s book is that he doesn’t want to write black-or-white characters. This is a story about human beings caught in these games. And when I learned about happens to my character, Jaime, later on and why he started out, I thought he was a great character – you start out in episode one where he does something truly horrific, and you think how can anyone ever care for this character? And then later on you find out why he does what he does, and you kind of understand why he makes that choice.
It’s not Lord Of The Rings, is it?
I love Lord Of The Rings, of course – growing up reading those books was just fantastic – but there the bad are really, really bad, and the good people sometimes do bad things but they always do it because of the ring, it’s forced upon them – it’s not out of choice, and when the ring is taken away they become nice again. Here we don’t have a ring but we have good noble people doing really horrible things.
Have you read ahead to find out what happens to Jaime later on, or did you prefer to play him without knowing?
I think it’s like doing a play. It’s important to know so I can balance it, so I know I’m going to this place with the character so maybe I can increase that aspect of his character early on. But once you read the novels you wonder how you can condense this into ten hours, it’s so vast that they’ve done an amazing job getting into it.
Is your Jaime similar to the Jaime in the books?
He’s close to what I have in my mind, but I’m sure when you read the books you’ll see someone else. He’s the image I had when I read the books and the scripts, so clearly that will show. But bviously there are a lot of fans, and I’m sure some of them will disagree with that.
Did you have to do much physical training?
There was some training for the sword fighting. I have a big fight in episode five, I think, but it was just fun. I’ve done fighting before, but it was more like learning a dance I guess. And I had some additional horse riding lessons, but it was fairly straightforward.
You were in the excellent Virtuality pilot. Is that project dead?
I’m afraid so. That was a huge disappointment. To be honest I was beyond surprised when they said they weren’t picking it up because I thought it was brilliant, and had such huge potential. I understand they found it was too dense –very disappointing.
Game Of Thrones starts on Sky Atlantic on Monday 18 April at 9pm.