Game Of Thrones Season Two: Liam Cunningham Interview
Here comes the Onion Knight. Shallots also acceptable.
SFX: How has the shoot for season two been? Is Game Of Thrones a challenging show to work on?
Liam Cunningham: It is, from an acting point of view it’s one of the toughest, and I mean that in an incredibly positive way. As you know, a lot of stuff that we see is MTV editing, it’s very quick and it’s very in your face, and it’s noisy and loud and it’ll give you a headache after. Whereas a lot of the scenes in this, I counted one of the episodes and it was 18 or 20 scenes, whereas normally it’s a page a scene, you could have 60 scenes in a normal one hour drama. Each scene was three times as long as a normal scene, so there’s a lot of lines to be learnt, there’s various layers on these scenes and as you know, a lot of the time what’s being spoken isn’t necessarily what’s being said. You need to up your game when you’re working on this stuff. It’s tough, but incredibly rewarding as an actor, it’s almost like doing theatre. It’s really rewarding, because the guys are just so good at their writing.
You’re playing Davos, who famously had the tops of his fingers on one hand chopped off by Stannis – how did you shoot that? Were you wearing a green glove a lot?
There’s one or two shots in it that there was a bit of CGI, but most of the time because of the costume and stuff, we have a specially sewn glove. I spend a great deal of time doing that [flexes hand], and have to remind myself every ten minutes or so to do that. Frequently I forgot about it, which is fine ‘cos it kind of goes dead after an hour or so. But, an hour after that when you actually open your fingers again, it’s like somebody pouring boiling water over them because you’ve tensed them in that position. So frequently the crew heard me in the back of the set screaming as I tried to open my hand. CGI’s incredibly expensive, so I’m suffering for my art as they say!
Davos is a renowned sailor and smuggler – did you spend a lot of the shoot on boats?
We did a bit of boat stuff, there’s an incredibly interesting boat scene, I guarantee you your jaw will be on the ground. Sometime around mid-season, myself and the dreaded Melisandre, this dreaded new character that’s coming in, we get up to some very strange stuff towards the middle of the season. I think it’s quite possibly one of the most dramatic endings to an episode of television that I’ve ever seen, you’re in for a real treat. Don’t watch it with your mother, I would suggest!
Davos has a streak of honour in him, but Ned Stark also had a streak of honour – for audiences, do you think that Davos is like a Ned replacement?
Yeah I think there certainly is that. Sean’s character was magnificent, and the fact that he had a sense of duty and doing the right thing, and playing the game blew up in his face. In a sense, we have that from the word go with Davos. When we met Ned at the beginning, things weren’t too bad, he’s got his shit together, and it’s not until the boss calls and says I’ve got a job for you here. He doesn’t want to do it, he knows what’s coming – well, he doesn’t know his death is coming, but he knows this is going to be a pain in the arse. When we meet Davos, it’s already a pain in the arse. The weak get eaten in this show, so it’ll be very interesting to see where it goes. Already we’ve got the Melisandre thing, which already is raining on Davos’s parade. But it’s a great dynamic I think you’ll find, it’s a very interesting dynamic – I’m dying to find out where this thing goes, I’m very eager. We’ve got some great stuff coming up, certainly towards the end – Tyrion starts using his noggin that much more, not just to protect himself but to protect the kingdom and protect the throne. He gets up to all sorts towards the end. It’s going in some incredibly interesting directions now.
You’re in a unique position, having watched the show and now you’re appearing in it – why do you think it resonates with viewers?
I what it’s got going for it is that the stuff these people get up to in this show is something that you and I would never get up to, thank God, but you can see their reasons, their motivations for doing it. The other thing I like about it is that it challenges an audience. You are watching with great sympathy somebody like Cersei, and you can see it’s about family with her, she wants to protect the family, and the delightful woman that Lena is, so softly spoken in the show. And then two episodes in, she does something absolutely horrific and you kind of go “how could I have been sympathetic to this character? And then within two more episodes you kind of go ‘yeah, actually I get it’. You have empathy, perhaps not sympathy, but you understand the motivations of these people getting up to extraordinarily bad things, and manipulative things, and in a sense it’s power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. It’s a world that you wouldn’t want to be involved in, and I think it kind of reflects a lot of governmental things, and people at the upper echelons of power, what they might be up to, and the fact that the so-called national interest is put above morality and put above right and wrong and all that sort of thing. I mean it’s politics and the human drama, set against this beautiful bizarre backdrop of magic and fantasy, there’s nothing been like it before you know?
Are you surprised that it doesn’t hold back, as some American stations can be quite prudish?
You couldn’t do this on network, under the rules of network television. One of the reasons for their successes is that they haven’t gone for the beige, for the bland, they’ve pushed the boat out, they challenge their audiences. HBO and to be fair a couple of the other cable channels are being incredibly edgy at the minute, and not only do I think they’re making the best television that America has ever made, I think they’re making the best television that’s ever been made. I genuinely think this is a golden age of television, I think we’re absolutely blessed that we’re seeing so much beautiful stuff at the moment. And the other thing is, HBO – and this may seem like the obvious thing to do – hire the right people, and they stand back and let the creatives get on with it. It also allows a certain amount of artistic freedom to push the boat out. They’re very close to the edge on this thing, but that’s one of the things that makes it interesting, it’s the tightrope walk. Somebody walking on ground ain’t that interesting, but 50 feet up on a rope, the possibility of death is what keeps us watching, and that’s what makes good drama.
What about the casting – Game Of Thrones isn’t populated with pretty boy American actors, there are a lot of UK actors in the cast. Does that give it a different flavour?
Well I think so. And the style of the show is long scenes, and I think certainly this side of the pond we have a tradition of theatre, in Europe as well, and we’re used to elongated intellectual arguments. We’ve been to the gym on that thing, because of being brought up in theatre first. Also, America’s a young country, this is kind of based a thousand years ago or whatever, so you need that British thing going on, it lends itself magnificently to the world.
Your golden age of television argument – is that why you’re not concentrating on the movies and instead doing TV at the moment?
I have kind of a Davos thing about that, wherever there’s a good story I’ll try and chase it. The only thing an actor can do is whatever lands on the carpet in the hall, you read it, and if you can’t put it down, that’s the job to do. Whether it’s theatre or TV or film, you’re hoping you’re going to bump into a writer that’s got a bit of honour in him, that wants to tell a good story and is able to tell it well. This was one of them, I grabbed it before it hit the carpet to have a look at and it duly delivered.
Finally, are you a fan of onions?
I love them. Not raw, but I do like them. And I like a shallot.