The 'A Song of Ice and Fire' Domain


Interview with Iain Glen

The third in our series of interview from the international press round table interview junket (see our previous two interviews: Charles Dance and Michelle Fairley), this time we’ll cross the narrow sea, through the tall grass of the Dothraki sea, and into the red waste and beyond to talk with Iain Glen, who plays Ser Jorah Mormont, Daenerys’s guardian, advisor, companion…. and perhaps a bit more. A Scottish actor gifted with a charm and a voice that apparently gets not a few hearts racing, Glen has done a bit of everything on stage and screen, including roles in blockbusters like Kingdom of Heaven and smash hits like Downton Abbey and, of course, HBO’s Game of Thrones.

In the interview below, Glen discusses a range of topics: Jorah’s relationship to Daenerys, what we might expect over the next season, how it was to work in Dubrovnik, and more.


Q: How does it feel to be part of something where you know what’ll be happening to your character?

“The structure is very much taken from the books, which I feel the series is very faithful to. So if you want to, you can read right ahead and get a sense of what you’re doing—”

Q: Have you done that?

“No. No. You can get a hunch by, when you do the series, when you’re contracted. So, Sean Bean was contracted for a year, because [makes chopping sound], but I was contracted for five or six years, so you know its a long-running storyline. It doesn’t feel useful to read ahead too much, and you’re busy doing other things. It’s the writer’s job to contract these big novels and turn it into a filmic format, and I think they do it very, very well. Once I get the new series, I read the book because it has useful background material to it. But until that “You’re going to get the go” button, I sort of hold off from that.”

Q: Did you know the books before hand?

“No, not at all. It’s one of the interesting things about it is that it’s a milieu that a lot of people thought it wasn’t necessarily for them. For others it is for them, but I think we’ve attracted people who wouldn’t necessary be drawn to it. I think that’s because it’s very adult in its flavor, its the mature side of the genre, and I think the world that is portrayed is very plausible if you look back in man’s history. Of course, it’s a totally invented landscape, invented peoples, invented everything, but it feels plausible, it feels like you can imagine that people really lived like that, that the politics were really that way, the warring peoples, the structure of the family, the role of women… I think everything feels like it’s true, bizzarely. It gives it very good muscle, and makes it maybe more substantial than other things of that ilk.”

Q: Have you kissed Daenerys this series?

“I can’t tell you! No, you’re going to have to watch it.”

Q: How did you find filming in Dubrovnik?

“It was great! It’s ridiculous that my filming is all in the really gorgeous, lovely warm place with the nomadic tribe. The vast majority of the actors have to work in really cold, horrible places—ice walls and wet and so on—and I always go to the really nice bit that the crew was looking forward to. Dubrovnik was particularly lovely, and I think very popular with the producers because it offers such a vast array of landscapes, very good production facilities and crews, with a very friendly working environment. A very beautiful city.”

Q: How long did it take to shoot the second series?

“It ran about three and a half months, something like that. They run two units at the same time. You may have one unit working in Ireland while a different unit is working in Croatia. I don’t think it’s all the time that there are two units, but a lot of the time we have two units.”

Q: When did you start filming this series, compared to the end of filming last series?

“It’s been the same for the first year and second year. We start filming about the end of June, July, and it runs through till maybe three and a half months or something. I’m not entirely sure about the whole show, because I’m just around for that lovely bit.”

Q: How many days did you spend on the set?

“For this series, I’d say twenty five days. something like that.”

Q: You seem to spend the series covered in grime.

“Yeah. Most of us do! That’s the world you’re portraying, they weren’t generally going back and having a nice shower and getting all cleaned up. That just comes with the territory.”

Q: Was it fake dirt or real dirt?

“Oh, it was fake dirt. Sometimes they’ll do all the makeup and stuff, but sometimes you roll around in the sand or what have you to dirty up the costumes a bit. But mostly its makeup.”

Q: What was it like working with Emilia Clarke, and do you think that she makes a good dragon queen?

“I think she’s wonderful. You hold your breath when you go into a long series like this, because you’re hoping the central actors you’re working with will be good and you get along with them, and right from the word “Go”, Emilia has been completely lovely. I think she’s a very, very good actor. In the first series, she starts as this innocent in a very alien world and during the course of the series she becomes this warrior queen. I think she’s doing that very well and very plausibly. And we always have a laugh, which is important when you’re filming.”

Q: Any examples?

“No, no, just going out and having fun. We had Harry Lloyd with us during the first series. This time we had Peter Dinklage and Jerome Flynn, because they were filming in Croatia at the same time as us. It was lovely to having someone to go out with to drink, and we had lovely times going out on boats during day trips and stuff. You feel pretty lucky.”

Q: Did you have any big scenes with the CGI dragons this series?

“There are. They feature, they’re ever-present. So they don’t overpower the story, the writers have been very choice about when they’re featured. Sometimes you’ll see them being put in their cage at the top of a scene so that you can continue on clean of them. Because it takes a lot of work to set up the CGI within the scenes and stuff. Again, the series is very good at whether it’s the wolves or the dragons, they do them very, very well.”

Q: Do you think Jorah’s feelings for Daenerys can be compared to modern views on men having feeling towards girls?

“I suppose there’s an element of truth to that. I think youthful beauty—youthful, feminine beauty—is very attractive to most men, and sexually attractive… without being disturbingly young, of course! There’s a truth about that. The reason I have a big beard is that I’m about to play Uncle Vanya, the Chekov play. One of the central things in that play is that it’s about this man who idolizes this beautiful, youthful woman who arrives on the scene, who’s married to a much older man. And so it’ a mixture of feelings—if I could just have some of that youth, I could rejuvenate myself—and I think that’s quite often an element of relationships between older men and younger women. But it’s also something tinged with a sort of sadness, because you’re in the second half of your life and you meet someone who’s in the first half of their life.

“So, it’s slightly different—it’s not different actually, because in Uncle Vanya I never get her, but there’s something true about that in Game of Thrones as well. You have to be very careful because you asked if I had kissed her or not, but the longer you deny it, the more exciting it is as storytelling. The moment you allow something too much to happen, something dies I think. So it’s something you want to keep in the air. You get very much the story that he would love to possess her and make her his wife, but so far that feeling hasn’t been reciprocated, which keeps it potent.”

Q: What does Jorah think about the strange powers that Daenerys has?

“Initially he was very suspicious as everyone else was, but he witnessed at the end of the first series her extraordinary powers when she survived the pyre and gave birth to the dragons, so he’s entirely persuaded of her powers.”

Q: Season one was more of an introduction to the characters and setting. Do you feel this series starts up in a higher gear?

“When you try to set up a story that contains such a wide variety of characters, you can’t be anything but introductory, getting everyone up and running in terms of the relationships between the characters. It doesn’t matter if it’s an hour and a half film or even writing a book, you’ll have a sense of that, that you can very rarely just come right into the middle of the story. There was a degree of setting up in the first series, and hopefully that wasn’t done with too much exposition. Now, it always rejuvenates and new characters will come in—and the writers are quite brutal about removing characters, so there’ll always be change—but everyone trusts the material and we can just tell the stories now without thinking too much about setting up storylines.”

Q: Can we expect more war scenes?

“Yeah, yeah. I think so.”

Q: How did you find the Dothraki lines?

“They’re a nightmare. It’s this gobledy-gook language that’s very, very hard to learn, but it’s very much worth the effort because when you try and just make up your own, it always sounds very foolish. This very bright linguist [David J. Peterson] developed this entire language, and so whenever a line is needed he’s referred to. He comes up with it, and it’s always very consistent. But it’s really hard. One line is okay. But if you have a speech… man, it’s hard, it’s really hard.”

Q: How do you practice the lines, so you can get the right emphasis for emotions?

“You really just need to learn it by rote. It’s this series of nonsense syllables. David says the line for you, so you learn the pattern but he doesn’t really do the intonation and he’s also American, so it sounds different. But he gives you the right sound. And then you think very clearly about the line in English and how you’d say it as you say the Dothraki line. So if it’s a line in Dothraki where you’re angry, you’ll learn it again and again to get it right.”

Q: So is Peterson there?

“No, no, he’s in L.A. But he’s always on the line, so if they need something they call him up.”

Q: Does Jorah show regrets this series?

“Uhm…. yes. You’re desperate to find out what happens this series, aren’t you? You’re going to have watch it! But yes, there’s a little bit of that this series.”

Q: You’ve managed in the middle of two of the biggest TV phenomenas in the last two year, with Game of Thrones and Downton Abbey. How do you have time for it, and what are the differences between them?

“As an actor, you’re at the mercy of the work that comes your way. With Downton, it was very different because I was coming into the second series when it was already popular, whereas with Game of Thrones I was there from the very beginning. You really have to relish when it’s there, because goodness knows it isn’t always, because you do so much for film and TV that never gets the audience that you’d hope for. It’s a real treat, and certainly I feel it when I’ve shopped in Sainsbury’s more than in the last few years. People always want to know what’s going to happen. “Do you end up with Lady Mary?” And actually, they don’t really want to know.”

Q: Good time for English accents, isn’t it?

“Yeah, really good time. It’s that funny thing that when you go back in history a certain distance, people think English accents, which is good for us lot. Somehow a too-strong American accent, rightly or wrongly, would jar and certainly in Game of Thrones. But that’s just a conceit that we’re used to in film. The fact is no one really knows how people sounded then. Having done Shakespeare, great debate exists about just how people sounded. It’s just a per-concieved notion, it doesn’t raise any eyebrows or questions if you stay to a neutral-ish English accent.

“But you know, in terms of the two series, they’re both lovely. One is terribly English, very single-location based, all about these all very well arranged costumes, and a sort of delicate, fine story with things being understated or unstated. And the other is incredibly visercal and outside and colorful and exotic. Everything is stated, hearts are worn on the sleeves.”