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Season 4 Interview: Carice van Houten & Liam Cunningham

Continuing our interview series—this is the first of several we’ll release in the run up to the final episode of season 4—I had the pleasure of speaking to Liam Cunningham (who I’d interviewed back in Season 2) and Carice van Houten (brand new interview subject!) regarding season 4. Both were charming, as expected, and had great fun talking back and forth as they answered questions regarding their fondest memories, their weirdest scenes, and more.

Interview

Carice, we know Liam prefers to learn the story through the scripts and was advised by the producers that he didn’t need to read the books. Do you feel the same about it?

Carice:  Same here, really. I’d like to know as little as possible because I’m such a big fan. When you’re in the zone and watching the show and then you see yourself… it can take you out of the story, so I’m watching the show just as many fans do and would rather not know too much.

How would you describe the journeys of your character?

Carice:  Where they’re going, I can’t tell you. But we’re learning more about their backgrounds, and we’re slowly revealing more and more. Melisandre is pretty complex… in a Dinsey world, you would call her evil, but in the modern, real world—and I think this is a modern story—it’s more complex than that, she’s not “just” evil. She’s not born evil, her methods may not be traditional but in her mind she’s not evil. She’s doing things for the greater good.
Even the wicked stepmother in the fairy tales doesn’t act out of malice alone. She’s jealous, and she doesn’t know how to deal with her jealousy. That’s the way to play characters like that: they justify the deeds to themselves. It doesn’t mean that they’re good.

And Davos’s journey?

Liam:  A lot of his development as a character starts before the show even starts, it’s seventeen years before when he first met Stannis. As we go on—as the powerbase increases, and as Stannis, Melisandre, and Davos enter the game—the paranoia and jealousy increases too. The pursuit of power is not necessarily a good thing, especially if you’re not very strong or not very clever. It’s a dangerous thing, power.
It shows itself all over the series. Not just the Baratheons, but the other families as well. As a character, it’s increasingly difficult to remain good and true the closer you get to power and the desire for power. That’s affected the development of the character, but it makes him very interesting to play as an actor. As to where it’s going? We don’t know! We want to be as surprised as the people who watch it. We’re fans that are lucky enough to be in the show.

Do you have any inkling as to how long your characters will be a part of the series?

Liam:  They don’t tell you.
Carice:  Because they don’t know, really.
Liam:  Because the books aren’t finished!

What’s the balance of power between men and women in the fourth season? I ask because we can see that Daenerys’s power is mounting, and I wonder if that touches on other storylines.

Liam:  That’s because her dragons are growing up and becoming individuals as well. They aren’t her babies anymore, lets say… so there’s the possibility that her secret weapons won’t be her secret weapons anymore. The power balance—what’s great about the show, with its sex and violence—is that the female characters need to be strong to get away with it. As I’ve said before, the women on this show are fucking dangerous! They’re fucking scary!
Melisandre, Cersei, Daenerys… even Arya, she’s a killer—she’s this height! My daughter’s a huge fan of Arya. She feels she’s being represented, almost. The female characters on this show are fully formed. There are weak women on the show, and there are weak men, and strong women, and strong men. Women are quite rightly genuinely represented as proper characters without just being defined by their attachments to their male… fucking whatever.

Melisandre and Davos are two sides of Stannis’s conscience, the devil and the angel. Melisandre seems to be about the ends justifying the means, while Davos is uncertain of that. Is that conflict important this season? For example, she saved his life, which seemed strange—

Liam:  Very strange!

So would you call them enemies, or opposites, or something else?

Liam:  It’s kind of like chalk and cheese. They are, in a strange way, joined, with Stannis being the glue. With this show, anything could happen with these two. There’s something in me, there’s just an instinct, that these fucking producers are going to do something strange…
I don’t know what it is! I don’t have any rumors! But it would not surprise. But really, you genuinely don’t know where the show is going to go, it’s not predictable. You’re watching it and wondering what these fucking mad people are going to do next.

Are there any characters you’d love to have scenes with, or more scenes with?

Carice:  There are so, so many.
Liam:  You mentioned Tyrion before, didn’t you?
Carice:  Oh, yeah. I’d love to have a scene with him. And we’re both big fans of Charles Dance.
Liam:  Tywin’s a fantastic character.

How about Joffrey?

Carice:  Oh, I love Jack.
Liam:  But you’d die in that scene!
Carice:  As a character, it’d be interesting to see what Melisandre could do to him. Make him scared of her? Make him cry?
Liam:  Spank the little bastard!

Before season 3, the producers said that that season would be the biggest and most epic. Going into this season, what would you say about it?

Liam:  This season is even bigger and bolder. Previous seasons built up to episode 9, while climaxes in this one are throughout the season. There’s some pretty monumental things happening.

Do you think it’s risky to lose so many popular characters and actors, when characters are killed so often?

Liam:  No, I don’t think it is. The show is as good as it is in part because it’s not the usual way of doing things. At the end of season 1, when Ned Stark gets it in the neck, it’s a gamechanger for everyone. I know when I saw it, I read the reactions and people were shocked. And then the first shot we see of Ned in the following episode is Sean’s head on a stick.
I think as an audience, we look at that and we understand that this is not the drama that we’re used to, that it’s fucked up and going somewhere else. It’s like a banner, letting people know we weren’t going to do things the usual way. That’s what makes it interesting. People have a real connection to the show as something they’d never seen before. Just look at the Youtube reactions to the Red Wedding.
Carice:  It’s 2 Girls, 1 Cup taken to the next level.
Liam:  ... I don’t know what you’re referring to!

Can you single out your weirdest or most challening scene?

Carice:  Giving birth to the shadow baby would be the answer for both of us. We were there together.
Liam:  Yeah, I had a few pains… I felt your pain, darlin’.
Carice:  That was a weird night. It was cold, it was a real cave, there was a big draft because both ends were open, and I was naked.
Liam:  It was fucking freezing.

Carice:  Three prosthetic guys were squeezing pumps to make the belly move, and I had this cloak that was way too heavy to carry around, and then they were like, “Give birth!” And I asked what it was going to look like, and they said, “We don’t know yet. It just looks dangerous.” That was the weirdest.
Liam:  Not your normal day at work.
Carice:  When I saw it later on, I was like, wow, this is so cool.
Liam:  The reaction to it was extraordinary! “Did you fucking see that?” When you get a reaction like that… If you try to describe the show to someone, “There’s this lady with dragons and there’s this other lady who at the start of the hour wasn’t pregnant and at the end was giving birth to a shadoow…” They’re going, “Are you on something?” They can’t believe the show, but once they watch it, they immerse themselves in it. It’s an easy sell. It’s beautifully made, you can see the attention to detail put into it.

Is there anything you don’t like about Game of Thrones?

Liam:  Tt’s the weather—Irish weather. It’d be nice to be in Croatia, wouldn’t it?
Carice:  It’s always cold. Always.

Do you have opportunities to hang out with the other actors, since so man yof the stories are scattered apart from one another?

Liam:  We get drunk together in the hotel bar! Usually, there’s two units going, but we often bump into one another in the hotel, and figure out which of us are here with one unit and which are with the other in Croatia or Iceland. So we’ll have a couple of drinks in the bar.
Carice:  It’s funny that we’re going to miss it once it’s gone. A month ago or a few weeks ago I met Aaron Paul from Breaking Bad. He’s a huge fan. He was with us in our hotel room where we were partying. They’d ended their show and he told us how jealous he was that we were still going, that we’re still this group. And I was, like, oh yes, of course; when it’s done, it’s done.
Same with people that have died, they’re so sad that they’re out of this group.
Liam:  We’re like a family, really. I just did something with Michelle Fairley in Ireland—last week, we were playing husband and wife—and I hadn’t seen her in months and months. You know, right now they’re saying that at this minute some of the best TV that’s ever been made is happening right now. You become aware that in fifty years, people will look back at the quality of this period. But when you’re actually in the middle of it, filming it, you have to realize it’s a transient thing, too.

If your character meets an ending like Ned Stark… what memory would you best remember from your time on Game of Thrones?

Carice:  The shadow baby! But mostly just being around Stephen [Dillane] and Liam. They couldn’t be more different as actors, and as people. You could see a sitcom about these two guys. It’s a very funny threesome, I would say.
Liam:  The same thing. Stephen Dillane’s reputation preceded him, his work on stage and screen. He’s a very subtle actor. And I was a little intimidated. From day 1, he’s been a complete joy. I love the man’s company, and his choices—
[to Carice] What are you laughing at?

Carice:  You’re just so funny together!
Liam:  Oh, and his acting choices. I’ll give you an example. When I got back from Blackwater and I was on the rock and burnt to bits, we rehearsed that scene. And this is a man I’ve been breaking my back for for a long time. His first line was, “I thought you were dead.” And most actors, they’d stand up and there’d be a moment of recognition, that one of the family had returned.
Stephen decides he’ll sit down, with his back to me, and he just looked over his shoulder for a moment when he says, “I thought you were dead.” He gave me nothing! That was really brave, because most would go for sympathy or emotion, but Stephen has no desire to be liked. He just doesn’t give a fuck!
But for me, it’s brilliant for the scene! Because that’s how my character feels, like, “Is that all I’m going to get?!” It’s a wonderful, wonderful thing we have, that power shift. Stephen’s a joy, a joy. She’s not too bad either!
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