Ser Davos Seaworth is in Sydney. Liam Cunningham, the Irish actor who plays the character of Davos in Game of Thrones, is in the country to promote the free HBO exhibition running next week at the Museum of Contemporary Art. We got a chance to sit down with Liam, and ask a few questions about the show.
CS: Liam, how are you enjoying Sydney?
LC: “I can’t complain. You will not hear me complain! It’s dragged me around the world, and I do like travelling, so it’s one of the perks of the job. I don’t have to travel far for the filming. I live in Dublin, and we shoot 80 per cent of [the show], and 100 per cent of my stuff, in Northern Ireland. All the studio stuff is there, Dragonstone and King’s Landing interiors — we’re not in King’s Landing, yet — and Castle Black and some of the forest for the wildlings is Northern Ireland.
“I normally get the train up, and the train station is pretty close to my house — it’s two hours, I have a nice breakfast in the morning, do my rehearsals and shoot, I love it.”
CS: Do you know what’s going to happen — have you read the books?
LC “Nobody knows what’s going to happen! Because [George R. R. Martin] hasn’t finished the sequence yet, he’s only on the middle of — some of the books were broken up into two, weren’t they? — so in reality he’s halfway through the middle of book six in a seven book cycle. So, himself, I presume his story editor, and [showrunners] David and Dan — they’re the only ones that know what’s going on! I don’t think they should travel in the same plane together.”
CS: So you find out what’s going on when you read the scripts, then.
LC: “For each particular season, yeah. If I’m doing movies, I won’t get the entire arc of the story because of actor availability or locations or budgetary constraints or whatever — there’s been quite a few movies that I’ve worked on where in the first week of shooting we’re doing the end of the movie, so it’s hard to know your arc and exactly where you’re going. But with [Game of Thrones], because it rolls out, there’s just something really refreshing where you’re playing each strategic move in the game of thrones as it’s delivered to you.
“With some of the locations, there’s time constraints — if they have to go to Iceland, for example, depending on how much is in the season. For the first season, they only had three and a half hours of light a day. So now they’ve brought that back to August, I think, so if they’re out with the wildlings they have to shoot all the north of the wall scenes, and the vistas, they have to be done in that three week period.
“So there’s constraints. But they’re generally very much aware that it helps the actors, and it helps the directors, to shoot as chronologically as possible. So we don’t shoot episode 10 in the first week; we try as much as possible to shoot episode one in the first two or three weeks — which is very different to filming a movie. And it’s very rewarding for an actor.”
CS: Has that given you a chance to settle into the role, as the show has developed over the seasons?
LC: “Everybody’s got a bite of the apple on this. I suppose you could say to a certain extent Tyrion, and Cersei, and Jamie, and obviously the Mother of Dragons, are sort of the hub that everything else operates around, very much vying for power. But you’ll get some seasons where [some characters] are not particularly active, and then all of a sudden there’s a break in the power struggle, and we’ll come through, and that will big it up.
“Like the first season with Rory [McCann], the Hound, he wasn’t featured much at all, and the same with Brienne — she was introduced slowly, and slowly became sucked into this nest of vipers — and more attention was paid as they became more important to the rolling out of the story. So, you really don’t know how much, or how little, you’re going to get. And again, I kind of like that in a way — there’s an unpredictability about it that I kind of like, it’s slightly anarchic, although beautifully planned.
“[Season five scripts] should be arriving in the next few weeks, end of July. This is my downtime.”
CS: So you’re following the exhibition around, a little?
LC: “I get the time off to do a bit of travelling — I was in Toronto with the exhibition, then I was in Cannes for a few days, and I’m a big Formula 1 fan so I went to Monaco, and then I got the invitation to come down here and I didn’t have to think twice. For the exhibition I’ve done Amsterdam, Sao Paolo, Warsaw — it’s all a blur at the minute — New York, London, Belfast — but over a large stretch, I’m not Mr Exhibition or anything like that! I couldn’t do Belfast for the exhibition, because I was at the World Cup in Brazil!
“It’s a complete privilege to be involved, it’s once in a lifetime, and I’m riding the wave for the next few years.”
CS: I wanted to ask about tying into the exhibition. It’s a very unique show in its props, right?
LC: “All the stuff that’s here, it’s bizarre — on the hand, the default on my hand is a sewn glove, which is what [Davos] would have done — he would have said “look, sew these up”; Dragonstone’s not that kind of place where I can get somebody from Paris, let’s keep it real. “Just sew those fingers up.” When the glove comes off, there are various methods that we use. At the start of season three, after Blackwater, when the sun comes up and they had the shot of my hand I had a prosthetic made, and for Braavos in the bank they made a little green glove and they cut them out digitally.
“So there’s various methods of doing it. But the interesting thing about the exhibition is, these aren’t reproductions. This is the actual stuff. That’s why it has to get back out of here to go back, because that’s what we’re wearing in the show. The real props, the real swords, the real axes, and whatever it may be — I think Jamie’s hand is here as well? Beautiful costumes — Michele [Clapton, the show’s head costume designer]’s work is astonishing. Obviously you can’t bring sets down, but there’s representations and storyboards and stuff like that.”
“For genuine fans, people that want to look into the show deeper, you can’t miss it. My daughter’s a huge fan as well, and she came up and squealed with delight when she saw it. And it’s really gratifying — with the show being a phenomenon now, it would be very easy to charge stupid prices, and it’s free. And I think that’s kind of classy. It’s not there for a cash-in, and the exhibition is a thankyou to the fans for making the show what it is, which is one of the reasons I go along with it.”
CS: Do you watch the show as it comes out?
LC: “I do. To my shame, I have five episodes with me here from this season that I haven’t seen. Obviously I know what happens, I’ve read the scripts, I was in them, but I’ve been travelling and I wanted to watch them. I was going to watch them on the plane but I’ve been so out of it, I’m probably going to watch them on the flight back — which is going to be weird if anybody is walking by! It might seem a bit navel-gazey.
“But I love it. I watch them like a fan because, you’re only in certain sections of it, you want to see what the directors have done, and what the actors have done — I watch it the same asa fan who’s read the books, you want to see what the director has done with it. There’s such an easy suspension of disbelief with it, so I can watch it. I do, I know Carice [van Houten, who plays Melisandre] does, and I get texts all the time and I send them all the time to people that I know in the show whose work I love, and go “I really enjoyed last night, it was really cool”.
There’s nobody I know on the show that isn’t a fan of it. It’s like the lunatics have taken over the asylum. It’s not just a job, it’s definitely not just a job, it’s wonderful.”
CS: Do you have any idea of what’s going to happen to you in the show, or in the books?
LC: “We don’t know about that. Listen, nobody’s safe. And the worst thing you can do is get complacent about these things; you can sit there and you can look, and perhaps you can find your death in an episode and go “but, but, but…”, and [Dan and Dave] can say “but we want to do a twist.” Anything can happen, and that’s what’s interesting about it — and that’s not a hint, by the way, I haven’t seen the scripts! I have not seen the scripts.
“Nobody’s safe. And that’s one of the things that makes the gig really interesting, as well. Listen, look at [season one] episode nine with Sean Bean; that was the game changer. You know, that moment, when these guys had the balls to have a sword swinging down and stopping it the frame before it hits his neck — people were going “hold on, how’s he going to get out of this?” This is the f**king leading man! So many people watch episode 10 and go, “what?”, and what do they do in the show? They put his head on a stick, just in case you were unsure. That was a game changer, and I think people went “OK, we have something different here. Who are we supposed to watch?” It’s like watching a chess match.”
CS: Are you expecting any more of those?
LC: “Of course! I don’t think everybody’s going to live. I’m not sure you’ll get anything of the power of the Red Wedding again, but after the battle of the Blackwater and after Ned getting taken out, each time I think people said “well, that’s as big as it’s going to get.” Then the Red Wedding came along, and people went, “f**k!”, then the Purple Wedding, and people went, “F**K!”.
“I don’t want to see any rings on anybody’s fingers in this show. But as I was saying, it’s one of those things where you’re not sure where this is going to go. And you’re being out-thought all the time! Especially when open the scripts, you’re going to go “I wasn’t expecting that, who’s going down this time?” And again, one of the things I like with Dan and David — what they did with the Red Wedding; because Oona Chaplin’s character [Jeyne Westerling in the books, Talisa in the show], in the books she goes back to Volantis. So what do they do in the Red Wedding? They f**king killed her first. They f**king stabbed her pregnant belly!
“So they had people in the books, who were sitting back quite nonchalant, going “f**k! They took out her!” And I think that’s what they’re good at. They’re getting the confidence to veer off the books slightly, because it’s a different medium. So I think the book-readers are going to find it even more interesting as we go on, because we’ve earned the confidence of the people who’ve read the books now.”
CS: Whether it’s the confidence, or the fear.
LC: “Listen, it’s incredibly complex as it is, and to have the confidence to go, though the fans have an ownership of this, as long as you’re not f**king with the spirit of it and the backbone of the story.
“I think to a certain extent, I think my character’s reasonably different to how he is in the books as well. Stannis is described as the most humourless man, and Stephen [Tillane, the actor who plays Stannis Baratheon], I just find him full of irony and really funny to work with. My blueprint is the scripts, and my job is to put flesh on the bones of that, and if I’m handed something different — they will define the character by getting them to do something completely out of character, which is really confident and really cool. And they do that all of the time with all the characters.”
The Game of Thrones exhibition opens July 1 and runs until July 5, opening 10:00AM until 8:00PM (although it opens at 11:00AM on July 1), at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney. And, of course, it’s completely free.