‘Game of Thrones’ cast: How HBO’s smash hit changed our lives
Sophie Turner and Maisie Williams grew up on “Game of Thrones.” They were kids in 2010 when the HBO series began filming. Turner was 14, Williams 13. Both young women were recently looking elegantly mischievous at Mandarin Oriental hotel in Columbus Circle ahead of the Season 8 premiere on Sunday night. The strikingly poised Turner has pulled her straight blond hair back in a ponytail, accentuating her 5-foot-9 frame, while Williams’ hair is lilac.
“What do you think?” asks Turner. “How did we turn out? When did we peak?”
It looks like they’re just getting started. The British actresses are celebrities with acting awards, feature films in the can, endorsement deals and paparazzi pics popping everywhere, especially with Turner’s 18-month-long engagement to singer Joe Jonas. What a long, strange trip it’s been. No one associated with the production could have predicted the global phenomenon the show became, but the public’s interest was always keen and the atmosphere on the set charged.
“A lot of my memories of growing up on the show are centered around being quite nervous and stressed,” says Williams, now 21. “I took everything very, very seriously. For the longest time, if someone had said to me, ‘Oh, I read your interview or I watched your interview,’ I would feel so embarrassed because I felt it wasn’t myself. I was pretending to have my s - - t together, and I was like 14 years old. Who needs to do that then?”
Now that it’s all over (filming wrapped six months ago), Turner wishes she had done a better job documenting her experience. If she had to do it again, she’d tell herself, “ ‘Take as many pictures as you can. Remember everything.’ That’s one thing I regret,” she tells The Post.
“Keep a journal,” says Williams.
Turner nods. “I don’t have enough pictures or memories from those [early] days. In the beginning it was so wonderful and new, but as the seasons went by, you’re like, ‘Oh, it’s just ‘Game of Thrones,’ ” she says. “I would say [now], ‘Don’t take it for granted.’ ”
Those early days had a dramatic effect on the older members of the cast as well. Conleth Hill, 54, who plays the eunuch Varys, acutely remembers the day they shaved his head before his first scene. “I was devastated,” he says. “And Rory McCann, who plays The Hound, came round and said, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ I said, ‘I just sold my soul to HBO.’ And he said, ‘Buck up and think of your pension.’ ” Hill, whose salt-and-pepper strands have grown back post production, pauses and says, “I think that was good advice.”
Not only did the cast quickly grasp that “GoT” could become a monster hit, but the show’s impressive array of strong women characters, from the mighty Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) and manipulative Cersei (Lena Headey) to the regal Olenna Tyrell (Diana Rigg), distinguished it from other TV series. The cast felt the benefits as well. When Gwendoline Christie was cast as the stalwart Brienne of Tarth, her outlook on life changed for the better.
“No one had ever cast me as a hero. Ever,” she says. “If you don’t fit inside the gender norms of being a female in Western society, then you are often relegated to something unusual or tragic. And so the opportunity to be a hero has been such a rare one. And as the seasons have rolled along, the more challenges I gave myself to find the creativity in the cracks. And to do my best to bring it to life. Because this show is something that has made an enormous impact on my life.”
Which is not to say there weren’t those days — and endless nights — when the physical demands of the shooting didn’t test the actors’ mettle. When Iain Glen was in the throes of his grayscale affliction as Jorah Mormont, he would spend as many as eight or nine hours enduring the application of the prosthetic makeup to show the skin scourge. “So come the acting of it, I was pretty spaced out,” he says. “They turned into 20-hour days from the time you had to get up to the time they wrapped the filming of it. They didn’t do [the scenes] consecutively — I think they would have been in serious trouble with the unions — so that was a challenge, but in a way the funny thing with actors is that these things help you. Toward the end, I felt very trippy, so it seemed to help.”
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, who plays conflicted warrior Jaime Lannister, says in the final season there was an extra push on everyone’s part to give their all, especially in those large-scale battle scenes. “I think if this hadn’t been the last season, [the shoot] would have been really tough for everyone,” he says. “Because it was the last, everyone just said, ‘Let’s power through.’ We want to make this as epic as possible.”
The cast finished their absolute final scenes on different days, but John Bradley, who plays Jon Snow’s best friend Samwell Tarly, says he was in denial that the end was at hand. “It’s in the back of your mind because you’re constantly saying goodbye to things. Cast, costumes, props, locations,” he says. “I said, ‘I’m not going to think about this until we get to the end.’ Even at lunchtime on my final day, I said, ‘I’m not going to think about it because I still have the afternoon ahead of me.’ ”
With the final days upon them, some cast members wished some of their departed colleagues could have been there for the finale. Glen would have brought back Jack Gleeson, so memorable as the diabolical Joffrey. “I just thought he was so wonderful,” he says. “And I think the show slightly missed him when he’d gone.” For Liam Cunningham (who plays Davos), Stephen Dillane, who plays Stannis Baratheon, was the missing link. “I wanted my Stephen. He’s the most gorgeous, lovely, lovely man,” Cunningham says. “I miss him so much. Almost every night when we worked together, we had dinner together. We were living in each other’s pockets the whole time.”
Down to a man (and a woman), “Game of Thrones” has been a “transformative experience,” as Christie says. Not only in terms of recognition but also in terms of opportunities. “There are certainly jobs and roles that I got since then that I wouldn’t have gotten in the room beforehand,” says Joe Dempsie, who, as Gendry, appeared in the early seasons of “GoT,” took a hiatus and came back in Season 7. “Workwise, it’s opened a lot more doors.”
Carice van Houten, who plays the Red Woman Melisandre, acknowledges that the show’s fame will always eclipse that of any of its characters, but there were times when she had to sit back and wonder what was going on. “I’ve been with the Muppets. I’ve been a ‘Simpsons’ character [Milhouse’s Dutch cousin Annika]. I’ve met really great people,” she says. “Musicians that are now watching me instead of me listening to them. Barack Obama is watching us. Isn’t it weird?”
The final season of Game of Thrones airs on HBO on Sunday, April 14 at 9 p.m. EST.