Interview: Game Of Thrones - The Stark FamilyFeatures
We chat to Richard Madden, Michelle Fairley, Sophie Turner and Isaac Hempstead-Wright.
To celebrate the release of Game Of Thrones: The Complete Second Season on Blu-ray and DVD this week, we got to spend the day in the company of several of the principle cast members.
In the first of three panels we chatted to four members of the Stark family; Richard Madden who plays Robb Stark, the newly crowned The King in the North, thrust against his will into a war with the Lannisters and eager to form an alliance with Stannis Baratheon and Renly Baratheon, brothers of the late King and both staking separate claims on the Iron Throne.
Actress Michelle Fairley who plays matriarch Catelyn Stark, desperate to unite her family and bring about the safe return of her two daughters, Sansa and Arya, whom she believes to both be in Kings Landing.
Sansa Stark played by 17 year old Sophie Turner, has witnessed the execution of her father Ned Stark (Sean Bean) at the hand of her fiance, the newly crowned King Joffrey Baratheon and is learning quickly how to survive in the viper’s nest that is Kings Landing.
Isaac Hempstead-Wright is Bran Stark, now left in charge as Lord of Winterfell in his brother Robb’s absence and plagued by intense dreams of the three-eyed raven.
SPOILER WARNING: There are mild Season Two spoilers so if you haven't seen it you may wish to glance away. Or squint.
What happens in Season Two to you guys?
Richard Madden: Season One left us in such a place that Season Two starts where everyone is in a kind of sense of turmoil and loss and to overcome what's happened and to move forwards from that. For Robb in Season One he's thrust into a position in Season Two you see him take up that flag. He's been pretending to be a King and pretending to be a leader and Season Two sees him become a leader and become a King independent of duty but actually driving forward himself. So you see him making choices and him driving things rather than being pushed and pulled by other people and reacting, he's the one forcing other people to react and for me that's where his biggest character change is. He's come into his own.
Michelle Fairley: At the beginning of Season Two Catelyn Stark is with her son Robb and she's now a widow and she still thinks her children are alive; the two boys at Winterfell and her two daughters in Kings Landing. Robb then sends his Mum as an envoy to negotiate or broker some sort of alliance with Renly and Stannis and while she is visiting Renly's camp she comes across this woman called Brienne and their paths suddenly become entwined. They continue on a journey together and eventually she's visited by Little Finger and he supplants an idea into her mind and then she acts on it towards the end of Season Two which is releasing Jaime Lannister.
Sophie Turner: At the end of Season One we kind of saw Sansa going from a young girl to a young woman very fast and throught Season Two it's about her becoming this young woman and surviving all these hardships that are thrown at her in Season Two, and there's a lot! She kind of finds herself putting her trust in someone again which is Shae and she forms friendships and she kind of forms little alliances and she's learning the politics of Westeros and learning her way through. Season Two is Sansa survival mode pretty much.
Isaac Hempstead Wright: I think Bran in Season Two is very much about taking on more responsibility and sort of advanced moving into adulthood really because he has to grow up very fast. His father's died, he's lost his legs, he's now the Lord of Winterfell so he's got to listen to all these people who need help and he has to formulate decisions and come up with ways to help them. I think it's really about Bran growing up very quickly.
Why do you think the Starks work as the moral compass for the whole show?
MF: It permeates from Ned basically and through parenting and the people that they surround themselves with. The children are a by-product of their environment. It's never an easy decision with them, they're not selfish in that respect. They think about the people that work for them, that live with them, that fight for them and they struggle with decisions like that because it's not always the easy route, it's not always the easy path. But ultimately their hearts and moralities are in the right place.
ST: I think one of the things about the Starks is so many families are fighting in this war for power and essentially all of the Starks are just kind of fighting towards being together again and that's their motivation and that's what Catelyn and Robb want to do. That's all they're fighting for is to stop the war and be able to see their children and siblings again. That's what Bran, Sansa and Arya are all trying to strive for as well is to see their family.
What do you think is the place of women in this show as warriors and politicians?
ST: I think women are definitely the underdogs and men don't appreciate how women are very intelligent in this world and they do all their fighting silently and with words and their actually very good manipulators. The men underestimate them and that's what makes the women underdogs and they're very good at it and men just don't realise that they actually do have competition.
MF: I think there's different strands of female characters within the piece and depending on what world they're from they have certain traits. Some are born into intrigue and are very good politicians while I think ultimately what most of them have irrespective of whether they were born with that aspect of them they learn quickly. They learn how to become a politician, in many ways they have to be stronger and faster and cleverer than the men in order to survive to stay alive. Also I think the relationship with Catelyn and Robb as well is, as a mother, the last thing she wants is for her son to be King of the North because it's sending her son off to war, he might never come back. There are other problems with fighting with the Lannisters because they hold two of her children and the last thing she wants to do is split this family even further with the loss of Ned so it's getting them back together again that's the ultimate goal for her. I think for her instead of being the matriarchal runner of a castle she now becomes a politician and she has to embrace that role as a means to an end which is getting the family back together. That's the only reason she agrees to be an envoy.
RM: Men need women in this show, it comes from Little Finger and the whores, to Cersei with Joffrey and particularly for Robb and his mother in Season Two goes into this fractured relationship that comes to pass through the season. But undeniably Robb still needs his mother and I think in many ways his mother needs Robb as well. Robb's got strategy down really well but at the end of it he still turns to his mother regularly and needs, not just reassurance, but proper advice from a woman who understands politics a lot better than he does. We all have our individual strengths but we need each other to function. The women need the men to fight the wars and the men need the women a lot of the time to help them win it.
IHW: I don't think Bran really has much contact with female characters but there is a massive female character in his life who is Osha and she knows quite a lot about things that Bran is starting to experience and he's not sure about but he's curious about. He can confide in her and get her advice so she's a very crucial, strong character within the Bran story line.
What was the most difficult skill to learn for your respective roles?
MF: They're always fun when you put them in context in that respect, when you sort of place them in position of what you have to do. The horse riding's fun but I grew up with horses so I wasn't learning. I didn't have any contact with the dogs or the fighting! Actually one bit I enjoyed doing was a scene in Season One where I had to do a fight when they come to stab Bran and I really enjoyed learning that.
ST: That was my favourite part as well, the stunts. In Season Two one of the most difficult things was the singing [sighs]. I just can't sing that's the thing. That was really difficult just mentally to think, "I've got to sing in front of these people," and crew that you never know what they're thinking, are they judging you? You know I'm really bad [laughs].
MF: Our crew are lovely.
RM: They keep telling you, "you're wonderful!"
MF: They'd only be on your side.
ST: It was very daunting and as an actress you're like, "I'm never going to have to sing, I'm not a singer ." And then your first job they're like, "sing!"
There's a story about the dogs...
ST: Awwwwww! Yeah it was fairly difficult working with the dogs actually and I adopted the dog that played Lady so that was actually really difficult because they just don't behave. Well mine didn't anyway. The trainers are fantastic but my dog was not good so they just had to get rid of her. I mean she was going to die anyway in the show but you know they were like, "she's not staying on our company." So I adopted her because she was that bad.
RM: Overall it's much easier acting with a big silver ball on a stick than it is with the actual dog. You'd think it would be the other way around but it's actually much easier to do the tennis balls and CGI stuff.
What's it like on set now that you have been separated from each other? How is it having to build relationships with new and different cast members?
RM: I think it was great because I don't think there are many method actors on this job; I'm definitely not one of them! But we kind of had a death at the end of Season One where we lost Sean [Bean] and Mark [Addy] they went and then as a family we really split up because we weren't filming at the same time or even in the same parts of the Kingdom so there was kind of parallels with us as there was in the show that could be quite useful and then it turns into other actors get closer as characters get closer. So it was kind of a useful tool actually but we still manage to see each other quite regularly, as much as we can.
ST: As Richard said our lives kind of parallel the lives of our characters whether we like it or not so as we're meeting new people and new actors the characters are meeting new characters at the same time so it's not really difficult it's fairly easy to kind of form these bonds with new characters.
MF: Also you have to remember both for new people coming into the show, as it's been established, it can be a bit a nerve wracking so you have a responsibility to make them feel welcome, comfortable and included. It's a very happy environment.
Does knowing what is to come inform how you act in Season Two?
RM: I've said this before when it comes to it I never read ahead per season. So I only read the books or the script per season in order not to pre-empt anything that would happen to my character or my relationships with people. I think it's much more interesting for me as an actor and for the audience to see me going in a direction and then the writers would give me something that makes me turn and go somewhere different. So I don't personally like to think that. I know other actors have raced through all the books up until as far as they go and have emailed George to find out what happens next but for me I kind of like to just take it bit by bit. I think it makes for more interesting television.
MF: Also David [Benioff] and Dan [Weiss] - the main principle creators - they don't always stick to the script and the script is your bible, not so much the novel. It's the script, that's what you go back to every night that you're working. Those words from David and Dan or Bryan [Cogman] or whomever, those are what you base your character on.
How are fan reactions in the US to the show compared with here in the UK?
RM: It's kind of strange because you just have a lot of people go, "oh you look like that guy in Game of Thrones!" And you're like, "ok okay cool." But I don't really notice it at all.
MF: I think people are respectful towards you if they ever approach you no matter where you are in the world. And it's not just America and Europe it's worldwide now as well which is incredibly surprising and daunting.
RM: Americans have that great enthusiasm about it that they're much more open to than Brits maybe. They have that, "hey really love the show!" kind of thing. It's nice to be in a show that if people do come up to speak to you it's because they really enjoy the show not just because you're in a show which sometimes you can have that. Yeah it's lovely. People are really kind and generous.
How realistic do you think Game of Thrones is in terms of what it says about the world today?
MF: The parallels are very clear actually. I think a lot of people have come and stayed with it simply because of the issues that a lot of the characters deal with which are relevant and prevalent in life today. That is survival, honesty, family, loss, grief, women’s role in society. And the way the world is falling apart at the moment. Certainly seems to me, look what when on in India with women recently as well. There are so many parallels. It's under the umbrella of fantasy, the characters are real that real people can associate with and their struggles.
If you could choose who would replace Joffrey on the throne?
RM: Robb Stark! [Laughs]
Do you think he'd be corrupted by leadership?
RM: No I don't. It's a funny one because Robb's never actually wanted it and now I think, it's not that he wants it but someone's got to do it and the candidates aren't very good and I think he's got that thing from his father that good needs to be done and there's something about all of these facts that have him going, "if we can do it then we should do it. It's our duty to everyone." Robb has been brought up to be a leader of Winterfell essentially and now he's been pushed into being King and to fight for a throne that he doesn't even want. So I think he would be the best leader on the throne but it would come from a peace point of view. As we go into Season Two we see that he doesn't want the throne he wants to just stop the fighting and go back and we'll rule the North ourselves but he can't just have that and take the easy option because of the tyranny that's going on in the South.
What's the reaction of your friends and family of you being on the show?
IHW: My parents are sort of fairly untouched by it I think but they always get very excited when it's on the TV or they see an advert they're always pointing saying, "ahhh it's you!" we've got quite a lot of family friends who've become completely engrossed and obsessed with the series because it has that quality where people get completely engrossed in it. And we've got some good family and friends who are big fans of it and we talk about it quite a bit.
ST: My parents just treat me as a 17 year old girl; I can't get away with anything! We don't talk about it so much unless we're surrounded by people who are involved in it and then you just kind of can't help but to talk about it. My life at home is pretty normal and my friends are normal with me, thank God. At the beginning when I was 13 and I just got into it, of course friendship groups at school can get a little bit bitchy, claws are out! [laughs] But you learn who your friends are and your family are always gonna be there for you and they just treat you like a normal person and I am a normal person, it's not like I'm God's gift to the world. It's nice and refreshing to go back home after filming. It's lovely.
MF: I'm of an age and experience that you appreciate a job for what it is in terms of its quality and if you want it to change you, you let it change you and if you don't, you don't. But I can appreciate quality television and movies when I see it and it's something you're proud of actually. Very proud of.
RM: It's great sometimes because you can do jobs that perhaps my family wouldn't really want to watch or be very interested in and then to do something that I didn't think they'd be too interested in. My Dad's now re-reading all the books for the second time, my sister's read them all. They love the show, so it's nice to be able to talk to my family about my work and they can relate to it because it's not something that's a little comedy series or an art house film that they don't really get or care for. There's something that they actually enjoy watching regardless of whether I'm in it or not.
Isaac are you allowed to watch the show? Do you get a five minute censored version?
IHW: It was a process really because obviously at first I was only about 10 years old so there were quite a few inappropriate bits. My parents would let me watch it but my mum sort of felt compelled to give me lectures on everything that was happening. I do watch it now because I'm a bit older and I understand all the violence is just a guy behind a beheading stone pumping blood out of a fake body so that's all sort of debunked.
RM: We actually had that in Season One. Our director we were working with played a bit of a trick on me and Isaac. We had a reaction shot where Ned beheads the deserter from the Night's Watch and it was, "we've no light, we've only got one take so no matter what happens just carry on with the take, just do it." And Sean goes to swing the sword and then we just hear, "Medic! Medic!" and one of the actors just starts rolling about as if his hand's been cut off and we couldn't stop because it was the last shot of the day so we had to kind of have terror and fear in our eyes which is okay because it's a great shot [laughs].
How do you as an actress feel about Sansa? Because she's probably dealing with one of the least popular characters in all pop culture. How do you sympathise with what she has to deal with?
ST: The reason I sympathise with Sansa so much is because I feel like as a 13 year old girl when I was playing her, being thrust into any situation like that's so intimidating with everything you've ever wanted on the line and you're only 13 and you're so young and naive she's so realistic that I would make exactly the same decisions. And I feel like no matter how much people would disagree with me I think if any of you were 13 year old girls put in that situation you would make exactly the same decisions. And that's why I love her and I feel really protective of her because people criticise her but it's like, "no you would do the same," and she's one of the most realistic characters I think and also I think she's one of the most strong characters because she takes all this crap from Joffrey and from the court and she doesn't fight back, she doesn't say anything that could get killed for essentially. Because she's learning all the time. she's learned from her father's death and so she's gonna take it all and she's taking it in her stride and I think one she might come back with this huge revenge plot but for now she's being good about it and she's being a 14 year old girl.
Joffrey is abusive towards Sansa physically and mentally as well, how do prepare for those scenes and get in that mindset?
ST: I think it's because Jack [Gleeson] is such a good actor that he just totally changes and you're not going to think that's Jack just acting it's Joffrey, he's a douchebag you know? So you can't help but change yourself and everything that Joffrey does is so real because it's just not Jack it's just a credit to his acting and it just helps you as an actress. The people working around me are such fantastic actors that you can't really not get into the character. The scenes are difficult but at the same time they're so much fun to do. I love working with the stunt people and it's never really a case of you get depressed or emotionally tender about it because... I dunno, maybe it's just me but I loved doing all the gritty scenes where Joffrey was like hitting me and the rape scene, it was all really fun [laughs]. Maybe I'm just a really corrupt 17 year old!
What has your experience with fan culture been? Have you done Comic Con or any other conventions?
RM: I had the best time in the world at Comic Con, I had so much fun there. It's like a different world and so many people are so keen and enthusiastic.
MF: It's very humbling.
RM: Yeah it really is. It's really nice. we work so hard, every person works so hard and then you put a show out and it can get criticised or people don't really care about it. And then you go somewhere where people not only care about it and watch it but really enjoy every aspect of it and that's the nice pay off for all the work you've done. To see people enjoying it so much that they would come to Comic Con to listen to a panel or make an amazing costume and really get involved in it. It's a great fun weekend and it's really nice to see the show hitting people so powerfully.
MF: It really brings it home to you if it was not for people who watch this show none of us would have a job. None of us would. And it's incredibly humbling that this comes into other people's lives not just our own. We make it and have a fantastic time filming it but it's really obvious that around the world people love watching it and they enjoy it and that's the best response you could ever wish for.
Could you talk about the daily experience of getting in and out of your costumes?
RM: It's that thing when I first got the costume to try on and we kind of add extra layers on and, "this would be great let's put that armour on, no let’s go for the bigger armour because it looks better." And that's all great at the time and then kind of three months later when it's four o'clock in the morning and its freezing and you're in your trailer taking 45 minutes with these buckles and this extra bit of armour and that bit of costume and you're kind if regretting all the extra bits that looked cool. But it really informs how I play the character even from the way I walked because of the weight of the costume, the cloak dragging on the ground and if it's water-logged in a field it changes your shoulders and just the weight of it pressing down changes the way my voice sounds and my breathing because of the weight of it. So although it is a bit of a nightmare in the morning and at the end of the day it really pays off in helping inform the character and it's nice to have something that's really collaborative with the costume department and with the armoury in terms of the sword that fits into the costume all these thing inform and help keep the detail and keep it authentic.
ST: At like four o'clock in the morning, whatever time you have to get up, you're pretty much half asleep so you're going through all this kind of falling asleep at the same time and then you wake up and you're onset and you're pretty much the character. So it's kind of a transition from you to the character and it just helps build the character and as Richard says it helps build the way you speak and the way you hold yourself and you just kind of become the character. Especially with the corsets, my breathing changes if there is any breathing being done! It's not just our acting that makes the character and it's not just the writing it's all the bits in-between. The hair, the make-up, the costumes, it just creates this character and there's a lot of work put into it.
MF: We have amazing HOD's in every department and Michele Clapton who's the lead designer she has immersed herself in all the different worlds in terms of fabrics that would be used in terms of the colour, how durable it is and also making the costumes look lived in. Don't let them be pristine clean if you're at Winterfell, they will be dirty, they will be muddy, let them get wet, let them stink, let them smell. The shoes as well. Everything is thought through, even little clips and all the sigils that every family has. Those are all hand crafted. So the attention to detail is incredible.
RM: It's great because they [the costumes] are covered in dirt and they do stink and they don't kind of get cleaned between seasons so you come back and they're still covered in dirt and they still stink but they look really good and they feel good and you've worn them in.
IHW: What's also fascinating is that all of the costumes are completely authentic, there's no Velcro, they're all as if they were done in medieval times. So that really immerses you in the character because every morning you go through what they would have to go through. In Season Three every day I had to have about three people to drag on my boots. That really makes you feel, "right they'd be tired at this point," so it really helps in terms of forming the character.
What is it that makes it a happy environment? How does the relationship between you work, are you protective of each other?
MF: The answer to the first part of the question is love. That's why you do this job; there are too many other reasons not to do it. But if you get something like this and you are lucky enough to be involved in it, it's love and a passion. It's hugely enjoyable to be working on scripts like this and also with people of that calibre from every department, from the acting to the directing to the DOP's to everybody. It's amazing, I think most of those departments won awards last year. So it's a joy from that point of view.
Well all my stuff is with Richard so we have become very firm friends and we just banter on. You just get on and do it and if we see these guys [Sophie and Isaac] in the hotel we say, "hi!" Because the foundation is already there irrespective of whether you're working with them or not. You have already got that level that you just go from.
IHW: All of my scenes are with Kristian Nairn who plays Hodor and we are just every second we're not acting we're always just having a laugh, we're always just sort of messing around. So I think that also provides a good counter-balance if you like to the very serious, stern world that is Westeros.
ST: The reason we don't all get super depressed on the set is because not only does everyone want to be there and everyone loves being there, David and Dan have a huge influence on how the set feels. Because they're on set every day pretty much and there are three units and they try and visit each unit in one day and they just kind of bring it to life and they bring the fun and they bring the humour and you get on so well with everyone that you can't help but have a laugh and you can't help but have fun and it just makes the job even better than it already is and you wouldn't think that possible.
Is there a quick teaser for Season Three?
RM: It's so difficult not to spoil! There's definitely ten episodes [laughs]. I think they're a bit longer this year by a couple of minutes each.
MF: There are lots of new characters and we're revisiting some older ones as well that make reappearance.
RM: Personally we get to meet some new people and there's a whole new group of people that influence the way that we connect with each other and connect with them and you get to see different sides of Robb I suppose with the people that surround him because of who they are and that's about as specific as I can get.
IHW: Bran gets two new characters to his sort of gang. And they're both very valuable. One of them is a useful teacher to Bran and the other is competition for another character. But they're a really nice addition to the gang who sort of bring another aspect to it.
ST: For Sansa's character she's developing this kind of surrogate family. She meets new people. There are new people coming in and going out of this series all the time and coming in and going out of Sansa's life so she meets them and she forms alliances with some of them. It's a bit more pleasant this season, you might see her smile, if you're lucky!
Game Of Thrones: The Complete Second Season is out now on Blu-ray and DVD from HBO Home Entertainment.