Continuing our series of interviews, this time it’s Iain Glen on board. Playing Jorah Mormont, he may be rather (a lot) different from the character in the novels, but the dignity and gravity he brings to his performance is a terrific counter-point to Daenerys Targaryen’s youthful energy and determination. In the below interview, we touch on topics such as his luck in filming locations, his views on the violence in the show, and just how Jorah feels about Daenerys.
How is this season for Jorah and Dany this season?
“I think it’s really about building our power base, about whether Daenerys is going to become a real power. Last season we almost starved to death and then we survived. So with the growth of the dragons, and the conquering of various people on the way… I suppose I should say that there’s always been this sense about Dany that she’s on her way toward the top, and you really see this movement in season 3. We’re on our way.”
Jorah’s back story is quite murky on the TV show. What’s his real motivation for helping Daenerys out?
“His instinct is that she’s a great, humane leader unlike a lot of other people who’ve enjoyed leadership in this series. She means well for her people. So very early on… there’s something beyond our ken about Daenerys and the world she has come from and the birth of the dragons. It was only at the end of the first season that Jorah truly believed she had a power beyond his understanding. So very quickly, he becomes a very, very loyal lieutenant. I don’t think he’s doing it for himself, he’s not using her to get somewhere…”
Don’t you think he’s in love with her?
“I think he’s very in love with her.”
Do you feel he’s feeling a bit lovelorn?
“Well, yeah. I think the writers have been quite clever in sustaining the tension between and the possibility that it may or not work. But Jorah’s profoundly in love with her. You can love and idealize especially when it’s unreciprocated, so in your mind it stays very strong. So long as it’s unattainable, it stays very strong… at least in my world, anyways.
“There’s a purity about it. It’s subtle, nothing is over-expressed. And in a world in which a lot of brutal and unkind things happen, with people fighting for themselves, I feel there’s a kind of tenderness about their storyline which I think is appealing.”
Do you have time to do as much theater as you would like, because of the series?
“Yes! That’s one of the great things about the production. I always enjoy when someone identifies me from a play. I’m on the tube and someone’s looking at me, and I think, “Oh, he’s going to mention Game of Thrones”, and then what they actually say, “I saw you in Uncle Vanya, i was great”—that’s very pleasing.
”Game of Thrones is perhaps difficult for people to understand, but when you accept something like this you have to be very careful because you’re locked in five or six years ahead. So you have to be sure you’re willing to do that. The producers and HBO were very, very clear about the nature of the role and his involvement. So I felt very comfortable with that. And they also said that whenever possible, they’ll try and faciliate work around this job.
“For most of the principals, even if the production is shooting for months over several units, we don’t film for more than four or five weeks. It’s in their vested interest to try and concentrate time for actors. They’ve been very honorable and faithful in that, and it’s very possible to do another series around it. There’s a series on channel 5 in the UK that I’m doing, in which I play a detective named Jack Taylor. And I’ve done that for the last three years while we’ve also done Game of Thrones.
“In fact, the only reason I can be here for the morning is because I’m going to do a technical rehearsal for a new play this very afternoon.”
Did you have to think for awhile before you accepted the role of Jorah?
“Yes, you have to. There’s nothing worse than trunculent actors who begrudge having to show up. I’ve never been that way. If you accept a job, you turn up and you’re 100% for it. I get very impatient with actors who behave differently.
“What you have to do is be clear about what you’re up to. Of course, when I accepted it, it might only have been for a pilot. The odds are stacked against series getting picked up. So it’s been absolutely amazing, what it has done and what it has become as a global success and one of HBO’s biggest shows. I would have been distraught if I had passed on the role and then saw what it evolved into.
“And what’s nice about it is that for everyone, the stories are quite separated so not everyone is required all the time. The series doesn’t suffer from that, it benefits from it. I was in a storyline where it was myself, Daenerys, Drogo, and Viserys—and all I really knew was that Daenerys and Jorah would survive, and Drogo and Viserys wouldn’t. Unlike other storylines where there are more characters, there’s very few of us, so if I’m in a scene the number of occasions where I’m just twiddling my fingers doesn’t really happen. I’m very, very happy playing support within good writing and a good series.”
What’s it like working in the fantasy genre?
“It’s one of the things that David and Dan have gotten right, I think. Those who knew George’s right are understandaly protective of it. They want to see it rendered faithfully. I don’t think that alone would be enough, however. They need to do more to entice those who aren’t familiar with it and maybe didn’t think the genre was for them. So while I think they’ve been really faithful, but one of the reasons I think it’s particularly fine is because I always feel it has such a plausability about it. When you see the world of Game of Thrones and they can believe people could really behave like that and relate to it.
“Not least, it’s also produced really well. It has tremendous production values. I can categorically state that in the UK that we’re incapable of making something like this. We can’t fund it, we can’t gamble that much money. No one can do it like HBO, who can make global sales that can make sense of that expenditure. I know many actors who are so grateful that HBO has come over to film because of the opportunity.”
You’ve filmed in Morocco this year. The show goes to some extremes, shooting in Iceland and Morocco—what is that like? Did you film during the summer months?
“It’s comically unjust to all the other actors, what I get to do in this, because I always show up at the lovely, warm place. I followed this nomadic tribe, so the scenery has to change, but it always has to be warm. So I get to go to the really lovely places where the crew is really looking forward to get.
Is it difficult to learn Dothraki?
“It’s a nightmare. I’ve seen actors come unstuck—I won’t name names, but not any of the priniciples—because it’s really tough. You have to get it mostly right or it’ll sound like nonsense. Most of the time as an actor, you learn a line, you think you’ve learned it. Then you revisit it the next day and, “Fuck? I thought I learnt it, but I haven’t.” And then you do it again. And then after three days or so, “Fuck, I’ve learnt it, I’ve definetly learnt it.” But with Dothraki, you can’t really do that. Your mind will unravel in front of the camera when you try to speak this language. So if I have a Dothraki line, I’ve learnt it like it’s the Lord’s Prayer.
“I have seen an actor just implode trying to say this stuff. “I can’t, I can’t, I thought I had it!”
There are some who critique the violence in the series. What do you think for that?
“I can understand that critique. But that’s the world that they are creating. It’s a world where people are vying for lands and territory and castles and power. And they used violence. If you look in the past, just look at the death rates.
“I’ve always been confused with the complaint, really. Just turn it off if you don’t like it.
“If you’re depicting a violent world, how are you depicting the violence? I think it’s depicted honestly, it’s not gratuitous or over the top. I think it’s scary and disturbing when it should be. But that is my take, and maybe my threshold is higher. I just think it’s not silly and unreal, I think it’s not gratuitously violent all the time.”
Some react perhaps because Maisie is the youngest cast member to kill someone.
“Call me perverse, but I like all that. I have a five year old and I have taught her every single swear wordI know, and when to use it accurately. It gives me endless amusement. I’m not your typical parent.
“Though I have to say, she won’t be watching Game of Thrones.”