Unless you’ve been living under a rock on Mars with poor signal you’ll at least have heard of Game Of Thrones, HBO’s television phenomenon based on the A Song Of Ice and Fire book series by George R.R. Martin. If there’s one thing Game Of Thrones is infamous for is it’s track record of killing off major characters and I had a chance at this years SF Ball to sit down with Ian McElhinney who plays Ser Barristan Selmy, Ian Beattie who plays Ser Meryn Trant and Roger Ashton-Griffiths who plays Mace Tyrell, three characters who have met their end in recent series.
CPT: Death in Game of Thrones seems to be an occupational hazard, how did each of you feel about your respective final deaths? Was it a case you picked up the script and that’s how you found out you were dying or was it better than that?
Ian Beattie: Well you get a phone call usually before you get the script to say you’re titty red, vahlur Margolis and all that nonsense. You can’t say I’m in the shower can you call back next season, it’s a big phone call, but then I got sent the script after that. I’d already worked out I was going, as I was going to Bravos and I knew who was in Bravos and it had been let slip to me in Season Two that Arya was going to kill me so I knew for three years without being able to tell anyone. When I read my death scene it was safe to say I thought at the time that even by Game Of Thrones standards this was pretty spectacular so I was very pleased with it.
Ian McElhinney: In my case I was slightly frustrated as the first thing you get is the schedule and I have read the books so I was anticipating season five as Barristan has a lot more to do in the books so I thought in Season Five, great I’m going to have a busy time this year, I’m going to have more weeks than normal. I got the schedule and I had less weeks and I thought, something wrong here. So I went in to the line producer and said “you know, I have a suspicion I’m being written out can you confirm it?” And he looked like a rabbit caught in headlights, he just said “way above my pay grade.” So I just said to get the lads to ring me and the lads did ring me but by the time they rang me I’d already received the script and already seen the nature of the death. So if I’m honest I was pissed off because I felt it was not proper order and I was disappointed because from the books I thought, Barristan has an interesting journey here I wonder where it’s going to lead. In a way the death was interesting but I didn’t want it then, I wanted it later. I mean in some ways it was a good death as there was a lot of fighting and all the rest but since it was the first time you’d seen me fight it might’ve been nice to survive the first fight and died in a later fight.
IB: He’s over it now though!
Roger Ashton-Griffiths: Well it just shows your out of practise at fighting, that’s what happens if you don’t keep training.
IM: Listen, I was so efficient I should have swung through that!
RA: Someone said, there’s only two things certain in life, death and income taxes, who was that? Whoever it was, there’s a third thing, character deaths in Game of Thrones. You just don’t expect to survive so I got the phone call and it was Dan, “Hey Roger, it’s Dan”. I just thought, oh shit! I was disappointed, I thought I was going to have longer but it wasn’t to be but it was a good end. The character went with his family, which he would have wanted. It was extroadinarily hard work because it was tense and emotional and big scenes take a long time to shoot, just because of the amount of people so we were tense and emotional for about four days. So hard work but I was quite pleased with the way it came out.
IB: I’ve got to say I think it’s a common factor for just about any actor in Game Of Thrones that when you do leave the series it’s a huge wrench. It’s a huge departure, you really feel like you’re a bird flying the nest, getting away from this wonderful, huge family.
RA: There’s no halfway house, no Game Of Thrones club house you can still go to. When you’re out, you’re out, you’re gone.
IB: It’s quite a wrench because it has been such an incredible ride and all these people you’ve worked with over a number of years, you probably won’t see them again.
CPT: It has a long afterlife though as you’re all here now doing a convention because of Game Of Thrones. You all worked on Tudors but you’re not going to any Tudors conventions.
IB: Tudors wasn’t the best show ever made. Game Of Thrones is, so far, in my book.
IM: You can debate that up and down but the bottom line is tht Game of Thrones has a huge following and you’re right, from that point of view it’s great for all of us that we were fortunate enough to be in it because then we’re the beneficiaries of that following. What’s nice is, we never worked together but we’ve ended up meeting loads of times doing this. I’ve met loads of people at Comic Cons that I never met before.
IB: When you meet an actor from Game Of Thrones that you’ve never met before, like I met Christopher Tormund in the Airport in Belfast last year and it’s like you’re part of a family and you immediately go over and hug each and say “oh it’s great to finally meet you at last.”
CPT: You’ve all worked on TV programs before Game Of Thrones, how do those experiences compare to working on Game Of Thrones?
IB: Nothing what so ever that I have ever done, I did a film Alexander that was quite large scale over three months, but in terms of a television gig, even with Alexander there wasn’t that sense that we were given on Game Of Thrones season after season, this is getting bigger, this is huge. It brought a certain responsibility but brought a huge amount of pleasure because everyone I’ve ever worked with on Game Of Thrones without exception has been passionate, extraordinarily passionate about the show, they love the show, they love doing what they do. Believe me the crew are the ones that work the hardest, if I’m in make-up at six o’clock the crew are there at four o’clock to get the make up ready and they work extroadinarily hard but there’s a huge pride about the show, I’ve never been involved with anything like it before and I’d be surprised if I was involved with anything like it again, it was just something extraordinary and we knew that when we were doing it.
IM: It’s the nature of the world because of the scale of the thing the amount of prep done long before we ever get near it is extraordinary and when you go in you know you’re going into something that’s been thoroughly thought through and nothing that is happening is happening arbitrarily. So that gives you a great deal of confidence because you know you’re surrounded by people who really know what they’re about and if you’re ever in doubt somebody will make sure you don’t stay in doubt.
RA: With respect to the Hibernian contingent, it’s the IRA, it’s the intention, the resource and the ability and it’s one of those rare times where all those three things meet. They really want to do it well and they produce something as close to perfection, that for now, we can expect to see.
IB: To take an example, in Game of Thrones, in my opinion, the casting has been just about perfect and when you see an actor in a role you couldn’t imagine anybody else doing it. Certainly the fans seem to have appreciated that and said, yes he’s perfect or yes she’s perfect. The attention to detail is stunning.
RA: On the other hand I was cast in Season Four and by that point most people had read the books and then had a pretty clear idea about what Mace looked like. So there was a pretty mixed reaction to my casting but they seem to have gotten over it, I think it’s like when you have a baby and you give it a name and you can’t imagine it having any other name.
CPT: I’ve never seen a huge backlash, sometimes you’ll hear so and so was terrible it should have been this guy, I’ve never really heard anything like that for Game of Thrones.
IB: I’ve never heard any complaints.
IM: Equally there’s been one or two parts that have been played by different people throughout the series, I’ve never even heard any feedback on that!
CPT: People just gloss over that I think as the casting has been so good. Ian in your case people learned to love to hate you and the same with Jack Gleason’s character. How does it feel to have that? Do you get people not wanting to talk to you?
IB: Cerainly everyone I’ve ever met at coventions, it’s one of the reasons I love attending conventions, I love meeting the fans because I’m a huge fan of the show myself, I’m as big a fan as anyone of the show itself, I think it’s a fantastic show, people tell the difference. Where Soap stars get slapped in the street, people who watch Game Of Thrones are smart enough to know the difference between an actor and the role they’re playing and I always receive the comment “God I hated you, I hated your character!” and to me that’s a huge compliment because it means, quite frankly, I’ve done my job and that’s the job I was there for. He was great fun to play for the first four and a half seasons and it was only the last two episodes where we saw the private side which to me was really upsetting. But he was great fun and it was great fun to play that character with all these other characters around and I suppose I was luckier than Roger and Ian to a certain extent in that I probably got to work with more of the talent in Game Of Thrones than your two characters did.
RA: Except for the Purple Wedding.
IB: Except for the Purple Wedding where everybody was there.
IM: My world for most of the series was very small because it was just the Daenarys world but the first season I was in and around King’s Landing so I met more actors in that period in season one because we were all filming mostly in Belfast, but thereafter it was Daenarys World and we were actually a very small team in terms of the acting cast.
RA: It’s impossible to stress just how footloose and fancy free we are as actors but since the Purple Wedding I haven’t seen Peter Dinklage since, I’ve not seen Pedro since, I could go on and on, those people are out of my life but yet we’re all contained in this bracket which is Game Of Thrones.
IM: But you kind of have to learn to be pragmatic as an actor , it’s kind of like the summer holidays, you can be very bonded for that short, intense period of time then it’s gone and you’re onto the next thing. You kind of have to dispense with that and focus on what you’re doing next. What’s nice about this is, first of all you might’ve turned up for several years so you’re bonded year on year, and then you have this kind of thing which allows you to maintain that bond but normally it’s great to be with you, great to enjoy the time and gone and that’s the reality of life.
RA: Sometimes it’s thank god I havn’t got to see you again .
IM: That doesn’t happen too often.
RA: No but it does happen occasionally.
CPT: Is it really gratifying to see some of the young actors like Kit Harrington and Emilia Clarke growing from people who are in their first big job to Superstars?
IB: Particularly, I didn’t get to work much with Kit but met him at the awards and premieres and he’s a lovely bloke and Emilia Clarke is just gorgeous inside and out, every which way, she’s a stunning girl. But the ones that were really fun for me was Maisie and Sophie because I actually spent more of my filming time with Maisie and Sophie than with any of the other, Kids, shall we say. But they were kids when we started. My first day’s filming was with Miltos, Sirios and Maisie and my last days filming was with Maisie so that was a nice closing on that particular circle and to see those young girls turn into these beautiful young ladies and these fantastic actresses has been one of the most gratifying things I can remember about Game Of Thrones .
Game Of Thrones Season 7 begins airing on July 17th.