Interview: Game Of Thrones - Lannister PanelFeatures
Waxing lyrical about Season Two with Charles Dance, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Gwendoline Christie.
In the second of our three Game of Thrones panels we chatted to two dastardly Lannisters and the honourable Brienne of Tarth to celebrate the release of Game Of Thrones: The Complete Second Season on Blu-ray and DVD this week.
Actress Gwendoline Christie joins the series in Season Two as Brienne of Tarth, a female knight who is sworn to protect Renly Baratheon and finds her future entwined with that of Catelyn Stark and Jaime Lannister.
Jaime Lannister, played by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, is held prisoner by Robb Stark, his leverage against the Lannisters who hold his sister Sansa.
Season Two sees Charles Dance return as Lannister patriarch Tywin, who plans his strategy against the Starks and Baratheons in an effort to keep his grandson Joffrey on the Iron Throne.
Please note that there was a inordinate amount of laughter and naughtiness from these three who have a very obvious fondness for one another. We couldn't stop them. We tried, but Lannisters will not be told what to do and Gwendoline is so striking and tall we didn't want to mess with her.
Any particular scenes or elements that you enjoyed or liked in Season Two?
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau: Well I mean as a viewer I thought the way they did episode 9 it was such an epic episode. And to be able to pull that off the way they did was quite amazing to watch.
It was the biggest battle that’s ever been televised, I believe.
NCW: Unbelievable... Yeah
Gwendoline Christie: On a personal level I really thoroughly enjoyed the scene in episode 10 betweem Jaime and Brienne.
Charles Dance: How do you remember it all in such detail?
GC:It was the moment of shock and grudging respect that Jaime exhibits as he admires Brienne’s skillfull slaughter of three men.
NCW: Respect is a strong word [laughs] surprise would be... no, you’re right. I think she surprised him. Up until that point he was convinced that there was no way this woman was going to be able to protect him if it came to that. And then suddenly we've got three soldiers attacking us and she very skilfully handled them. And then also she seemed to have very strong morals. He was very surprised. Respect will take a little longer than that.
CD:Oh God, I cant remember! It's such a long time ago. It’s just a great series to work on you know. The scenes that we’re given to play are so well written. It all kind of merges into one.
NCW: They’re not memorable though, are they? [Laughs]
GC: I know, I know dear.
CD: How do you deal with him?
The two of you, Charles and Nikolaj, are obviously both in Season One and nobody knew how big it would be, both critically and commercially. How was it coming back into Season Two when you knew that. Was there a sense of confidence?
NCW: Well what was funny was we [had a scene in a tent when you were cutting into that stag, talking about how time was helping that, y ou know, finally Jaime would become the man that he’d always imagined that he would be. Anyway my story is that we’re sharing a ride back and we’re talking about it and I said, "well Charles, it would be great if Game of Thrones went to Season Two. You’ve got great things coming up." And he said "What? I’m not coming back for Season Two!" And then you did, "let me just call my agent," [mimes a phone], "Hello darling have they signed me up for Season Two? They haven't? Oh that’s fucking great!"
[Laughter from Gwendoline].
CD: You are so full of shit!
NCW: It's true though! So it was big surprise to everyone. Clearly.
CD: I was surprised that he was back! [laughs] No I think we were all aware that we were dealing with something that was pretty bloody good, actually. The production values are great and the quality of the writing is wonderful. I would have been astonished knowing the number of books there are there’s a wealth of source material if we hadn’t continued after Season One.
Nikolaj, did your part in Headhunters play a part in you getting the role of Jaime?
NCW: Headhunters we actually shot that while we shooting Season One so I was going back and forth between Belfast and Oslo. Actually Morten Tyldum [Headhunters director] was one of the few people I met who had read Game of Thrones. He was a big fan. So maybe, maybe that’s why he got excited I dunno.
Has that changed your career at all? It was big hit in the UK.
NCW: Headhunters? It certainly doesn’t hurt to be in something that people see. That’s often the biggest problem. You do some work on a film and most of the stuff we do, no one ever sees. I can only speak for myself of course but it doesn’t hurt, that’s for sure.
Of all of the things you had to learn for your parts, was there any skill that was useful for real life?
CD: Not really. No.
GC: I’ve been taught how to break a man’s nose with my elbow.
Useful at midnight on a dark street.
GC: It could be.
NCW: I'm censoring myself now. You should be proud! No I haven't learned anything that I can use.
Gwendoline, women have a major role in the story. Your character is very much a warrior. I would like your insight on the role that women play in the show.
GC: Well I think women in Game Of Thrones have a harder job because they're existing within a man’s world, so the means by which they use to get what they want have to be highly skilled, they have to be dedicated to their execution. In the way that Brienne of Tarth has to push her capabilities beyond that of most men, I think that intellectually someone like Cersei has to be utterly strategic, precisely strategic, in order to get what she wants. I think the stakes are much higher for women.
CD: I can only agree with that, really. The women 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. I think.
NCW. No, well, I agree. [laughs]
How did you get into the mood for killing and slaughtering? Do you listen to music?
GC: Didn’t need to do any of that [laughs] you know, I think that you’re aware of the meat of the scene and what’s necessary and just those elements are enough. I’m incredibly lucky in that I receive a lot of training, so you feel like you’re quite a well-oiled machine when you go into the scene. And then from an actor’s perspective just the physical action of it seems to drive an inner.
NCW: No, I mean I actually just recently worked with an actress who had for certain scenes a little earpiece for music. It was very interesting. I mean I’ve never done it myself, but it was interesting to watch. I’m not sure if it would work. Why am I telling this story? [laughter] The answer is just "no."
Jaime isn't a very aggressive man. One moment he’s very polite, he's very nice and then he switches.
NCW: Yeah I just go by the script and try to imagine what it would be like and then do it and hope for the best.
Charles, do you listen to Rammstein or death metal before you go on or something?
CD: No, I just learn the lines and avoid the furniture. [Gwendoline laughs]. And pretend. That’s what we’re doing. I haven’t come across anything yet that I’ve had to go off and do deep preparation for. We have the good fortune of having really, really good scripts to work with.
Your characters do some pretty bad things throughout the series. How do you empathise and get into their heads? How do the characters justify their actions?
CD: Well we’re pretending. We’re in a mythical world. If it’s likened to anything it’s like the medieval period which was ruthless and cruel and feudal. And I think most of us have been doing it long enough to have done a fair amount of history in our work and we know what that period is about. As I say, even though this is mythical that’s my terms of reference anyway for this thing. And although there are a lot of pretty nasty things happening in the world now, we’re a lot more civilised than life was then. But y’know, we pretend, because that’s the way people behaved.
NCW: And also the thing is this family, the Lannister family, are at the height of power. I think even today if you want to be at the very top that kind of comes with the territory. You have to make some very tough decisions and you have to be ruthless. It’s kind of no different than the heads of the modern world that everyday order executions, that’s what you do.
There are elements in Jaime and Brienne's scenes that are almost a screwball comedy.
GC: I think it’s just a combination of, like Charles says, you do just look at the dynamics of the script and then sometimes you can be lucky as an actor that that dynamic already exists between the two actors that are doing the scene.
Do you get on well then?
[Huge laughter from Gwendoline and Nikolaj]
Nikolaj, do you have to get dragged away from the happiest place on Earth, Denmark to work in unforgiving locations and in uncomfortable clothing?
CD: “Happiest place on Earth?” Is that really?
NCW: The happiest people.
CD: Is that so?
GC: Why is that?
NCW: I have no idea. It was a big shock to the Danes when they saw it. There was a day of depression in the country as we kind of realised we felt sorry for the rest of the world. I guess that’s just low expectations. For me, I mean, no you’re right. We shoot mostly in Northern Ireland, our storyline anyway. There’s a lot of rain, a lot of cold weather, but I love that stuff. You just react to whatever’s thrown at you and you don’t have to worry that it’s too much about acting if you’re almost drowning in a pool of mud. It’s great. And you know, it’s not that bad. We’re getting paid.
There are a couple of really huge battle sequences in Season Two. What’s the atmosphere like when you’re filming those? Is it hard to concentrate with thousands of extras running around, people doing stunts and so on?
GC: No, I don’t think it is. The wonderful thing about doing those scenes when there are hundreds of extras is exactly like Nikolaj says, anything that prevents you having to do any acting is enormously beneficial and you’re provided with an environment where concentration is taken care of and everyone is incredibly considerate. So I don’t find any problems with focus. We’re very well looked after.
Do they take a long time to film?
GC: They do.
CD: Well they’re carefully choreographed, you know, for safety reasons and shot in bits and pieces and then all thrown together in the cutting room. But it’s guys marshalling their forces for the directors. But they’re all pretty experienced at doing that kind of thing and we also have a very good outfit that provide most of the horses. It’s an outfit called The Devil’s Horsemen that are based in this country and the horses are really, really good. Quite often in movies you get some terrible riding school nag that’s been ridden into the ground and doesn’t respond to any of the normal signals you give him. But I think, in my experience anyway, we’re quite lucky and there’s some bloody good horses on this actually, which is great for us. They do as they’re told, when they’re told.
You mentioned Nikolaj that you made Headhunters during Season One. Have you done this again since? Did you go and make other things during the gap? That goes to all of you. And then how did you get back into your character?
NCW: Yeah I did actually on Season Two. I did a movie called Mama. There was a bit of an overlap, but I guess if you’re Daniel Day Lewis you couldn’t do that. But, er… I’m not. But I love working and y’know, there’s not a problem.
Is that one of the reasons you can sign up for a show like this? That you get that freedom to go and make other things instead of being tied to playing the same character all year.
NCW: Yeah, well we all have different reasons. That wasn’t the reason, I wanted to be a part of this was because of the scripts and I didn’t know whether it would be three, four, seven, eight months a year. You never know. It’s great that this is four, five months a year and you can go and do other stuff which is fantastic, but I didn’t really think about it at the time.
What was your most memorable day of shooting?
CD: I had some scenes with a young actress called Maise [Williams] who was 13 at the time. And I was just astonished working with her because she’s just so very, very good, and her understanding of the medium and what the scenes were about, and her tirelessness because we work quite long days. She was an absolute joy to work with, but then I have the pleasure of working most of the time with Peter Dinklage who is phenomenally gifted. He must be the envy of every dwarf actor in the world, I should think. Parts like this don’t come along very often for people who are not little people. But for people like Peter it’s very, very rare. And he’s a joy to work with because he’s so good and he’s also a very, very nice guy. Tywin Lannister treats him like shit and I spend a lot of time apologising at the end of scenes. “I’m so sorry Peter for some of the things I’ve had to say to you." But I just like working, really.
GC: Well I was lucky enough to work with two brilliant actors; Michelle Fairley who was an actress that I’d always admired and when I saw her in a production of Othello that she did at the Donmar Warehouse, I was totally blown away by her performance and her capabilities. And so then having scenes with her and she really took care of me and we developed a relationship that’s extended beyond just working together on the show. And then of course every day I spent working with Nikolaj is never without enormous fun and complexity.
NCW: A whole wide range. Yes, there are loads of great scenes. For me it’s so much fun to… in a way with what you [Charles] said with Peter I get to do that too, with Gwen. I don’t apologise though. [laughter]. It’s so much fun to get to say those lines. No no, she’s a pure joy to work with.
Charles, over the last 25 years you’ve stared in many movies as well as TV shows. How would you describe the development of the TV industry over the last ten years?
CD: Well Gwen was saying earlier actually that the dividing line between film and television is becoming more and more blurred now. I think that the quality of television that’s coming out, especially out of America now is really, really good. Gone are the days when we would rather pompously say in this country, “we make the finest television in the world”. Well we don’t anymore. We used to and we still produce some pretty good television. But what is coming in from America… the best of American television is phenomenal. Because they spend money in the right places. In this country we seem to be kind of more concerned with making junk reality television or spending money on real estate which is what the BBC tends to do a lot of the time now. And there’s some very, very good television being made. Film wise the British film industry is still a cottage industry, of course it is one because of lack of finance, but the thing that people never ever talk about is we have the worst climate in the world to accommodate a film industry. That’s why we have a cottage industry because you can never know from one day to the next whether the sun is going to shine or whether it’s going to piss down with rain.
Even though Brienne is stronger than many men she is considered a lesser warrior. What do you think is interesting in this character concerning the way that men look at her and how you think she feels as a woman?
GC: Well what I think is so brilliant about this show is that it takes an outsider and an archetype which isn’t so often seen, which is that of the extremely tall woman that has a strength that can match that of her male counterparts and it explores that and how do I think she feels standing in the armour? I think that she feels in order to be equal to a man that she has to assume masculine traits. I think that it’s interesting to explore that journey of femininity and what it is to be a woman and what it is to be a woman that stands opposite a man and is equal to him. Personally I feel that Brienne is coming to terms with that, with her own femininity. It doesn’t have to be an affectation of masculinity. She doesn’t have to do an impersonation of a man, that I think her interaction and encounter with Catelyn Stark was enormously illuminating to her because she sees a woman that is full of power and strength, but is also very, very much a mother and motherhood, certainly to Brienne, encapsulates being a woman. And she says, “I’d rather die on the battlefield that I would die in childbirth,” and I think it shows the evolution of one woman’s psychology and I think that’s incredibly enlightening and brave for a mainstream television show to have that sort of storyline. And I’m incredibly proud to have the opportunity to play that.
NCW: [Remembering] I did apologise.[laughter] You don’t remember? I did after the first time.
GC: I think it was probably a weak apology and probably a quiet one and it certainly didn’t resonate as I have no recollection of it whatsoever. Just the onslaught of insults that have swamped me ever since.
NCW: But I did apologise...
Obviously you’ve come from all kinds of different audiences. Especially when you’re going out to Comic Con, there’s a fanbase that you might not have experienced before.
NCW: Me, I’ve only done it once and that was after Season One at the Comic Con in San Diego. And I was blown away. It was shocking and exhilarating and amazing and I really enjoyed it. We met just an enormous crowd of very passionate people who love the show and who knew far more about it than I did and were genuinely thrilled for us to be there and how could you not like that? We’re very, very grateful for the massive support that the show has. So, yeah. It was just a great experience.
CD: It’s gratifying, of course it is. And I just hope they’re not disappointed when they meet us. What they see is me as Tywin Lannister and Gwendoline as Brienne and all of us in our characters and they come armed with an extraordinary collection of photographs and they remember lines; not only do they want me to sign a photograph but, "do you remember that line where you said, Lannisters always pay their debts?"
Extraordinary! I have a problem remembering what I did last week, let alone a line I said two seasons ago. And there are thousands of them. And thank God! Terrific. Of course it is.
GC: Well, you know, it’s just really thrilling as an actor to have the opportunity to be in something that’s really, really successful. Because unfortunately not many actors get to have that experience. I’m enormously grateful.
How do women fans respond to her?
GC: There was a convention that Charles and I did [London Film and Comic Con] and I was overwhelmed by the number of women who came up and said how much they loved the part. And thanked me for playing it. It’s very important to me the way in which women are portrayed and it interests me. And there isn’t a slew of parts that are like this that explore notions of femininity and what it is to be a woman or gender stereotyping and when its affected someone, when anything you do has actually touched someone, then you’ve done your job.
Were any of you fans of someone? A band or an actor?
NCW: Yes, yes of course. I’m a fan of many actors or I admire many actors and I’m inspired by their work. I dunno where to begin. You can go back to Buster Keaton, you start there and can go all the way up. So of course. I mean I’ve never you know gone into that kind of… I see it as a hobby, you know? You collect something you get excited about, you meet people, that’s a different kind of thing. But absolutely.
Were you into something that was really important to you when you were a teenager?
NCW: Well it is important to me. It’s still important to me. To watch great actors. When I started out when I was a teenager I knew I wanted to be an actor I remember I was watch those movies from the seventies with De Niro. It was just very inspiring. But I have had one experience, because I was a big fan of De Niro, and I still am. I thought about that today while doing all this. I remember seeing Frankenstein the opening day, the Kenneth Brannagh movie, and it was just…. I was broken hearted when I left the theatre. It was so bad. It was shit. You know that thing and you go “oh no!” Painful. And also because his run was ridiculous, right? So good up until that point!
GC: From the age of seven I was completely obsessed with Marilyn Monroe and I watched her in Bus Stop…
CD: So was I…
GC: Really darling? And her performance in Bus Stop overwhelmed me and it was my consequent research on that that she was working with Strasberg that led me to go to Drama Centre London, because in my limited research that was the only place on offer that would offer me training in Strasbourg. It’s not really that relevant but it’s all that I can give you.
CD: I used to worship Steve McQueen. I saw every film Steve McQueen ever made and a whole bunch of us would wait for the next Steve McQueen movie. It didn’t matter what it was. I was a big fan of his. But I never dressed up as any of Steve McQueen’s characters. Or went to Comic Cons or anything like that. He just had enormous presence the minute he walked on the screen you couldn’t take your eyes off him. He wasn’t the greatest actor in the world, but he was a movie star and the king of cool. And to my delight a few years ago I managed to acquire a Ford Mustang which I’d always wanted having seen Bullitt. And I kept it for as long as I could.
Charles, a few years ago you directed Ladies In Lavender. Is there any chance of you directing an episode of Game Of Thrones – if you could get the time?
CD: I don’t think they’d let me. I’m just about to finish a screenplay for something that I’m gonna do next year.
Will you be directing that as well?
CD: Yeah. And there is another thing in the pipeline that I might.... well I’m talking to HBO about it in fact, but I don’t want to tell you what it is!
Looking ahead to Season Three, is there anything you can tell us to look out for without spoiling the plot?
CD: Look out for the arrival of Dame Dianna Rigg, a kind of female version of Tywin Lannister, we had a lot of sparring to do.
NCW: Another actor who joins the cast is Noah Taylor. Amazing.
GC: And the action sequences that are coming up are really stunning.
Game of Thrones: The Complete Second Season is out now on Blu-ray and DVD from HBO Home Entertainment.