Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 24 January 2020

Game of Thrones star Isaac Hempstead Wright on his next move: 'It's all downhill from here'

The actor reflects on the series, as does Ser Davos Seaworth's Liam Cunningham, who calls his character the show's 'moral compass'

Game of Thrones cast member Isaac Hempstead Wright. Getty Images
Game of Thrones cast member Isaac Hempstead Wright. Getty Images

Game of Thrones is screened in about 200 countries, and has won more than 308 major television awards: the eighth and final six-episode season of the show will begin airing on April 14, and it's safe to say many fans are both dreaming about and dreading the day the last episode airs.

What about the aftermath for the actors, surely the immense legacy will be almost impossible to shake off? Isaac Hempstead Wright, 20, has been on the show for half his life: he was just 10 when he took on the role of Bran Stark, but he's pragmatic about the potential burden of legacy.

“There are much worse things to be remembered for than Game of Thrones. It’s quite a privilege to have that following you around, something that people genuinely loved. It’s not like we’re part of a show that everybody hates … we’re part of something that has changed the landscape of television and fiction."

He points out that the fact he began working on it as a child means being in the centre of the whirlwind of the TV show is really all he's "ever known".

"It’s actually quite difficult to remember my life before Game of Thrones, because I was so young... It’s a strange one thinking ‘wow, I feel like I've just lived an entire life and I’m only just starting it', he said, adding jokingly, "so it’s all downhill from here.”

Hempstead was speaking in Belfast on Wednesday at the launch of Game of Thrones: The Touring Exhibition, which opens on Thursday in the Northern Irish city that was the home base of the show's production for 10 years.

Cunningham: 'I feel like I spoke for the fans'

He was joined at the event by Liam Cunningham, who played Ser Davos Seaworth, one of the most likeable characters in an ocean of backstabbers.

“He was described as the moral compass of the piece," Cunningham explains of his seafaring character, "and with a head like mine you do play a lot of baddies, so it was gorgeous to play somebody like Davos. I always thought of Davos as representing the audience, representing some sort of sanity. I kind of felt like I spoke for the fans by being in this show in a nest of vipers."

The highlight of The Touring Exhibition, which will be in Belfast until September 1, is the costumes: you get to see, up close, almost every major character's most notable outfits. And a costume can be a very emotional item, as Cunningham points out:

“I’m from theatre so I hang my costume up, I noticed a lot of my colleagues threw them on the floor," he joked, "but I remember hanging my costume up for the last time and just taking a minute and looking at the costume because, for me, that was when I was saying goodbye to Davos.”

Game of Thrones cast members Ian Beattie (L), Isaac Hempstead Wright (C) and Liam Cunningham (R). Getty Images
Game of Thrones cast members Ian Beattie (L), Isaac Hempstead Wright (C) and Liam Cunningham (R). Getty Images

Keeping spoilers at bay

Cunningham said one of the most extraordinary things about filming was that none of the legion of thousands of extras who worked on the film leaked show secrets: HBO is fiercely protective of the plot.

"The extra supporting artists we had were the most extraordinary bunch," the Irish actor said, "and the vast majority were from Belfast. You also have to remember, these ladies and gentleman had to keep schtum hundreds of secrets throughout the seasons.

"They were all fans and they have been so discreet and didn’t want to spoil it for people, they behaved like a well-trained force. I’d have them on the CIA or MI5 any day of the week.”

The actors talk Battle of the Bastards

Speaking of well-trained units, the battle scenes are the tense, bloody punctuation of most Game of Thrones seasons.

"Bran Stark wasn't at the forefront of much action in Game of Thrones, thankfully," Hampstead Wright said of his character, who becomes paraplegic after a fall in season one.

Ian Beattie, who was also at the Belfast launch of the exhibition, and is himself from the town, pointed out that his character Ser Meryn Trant, while a Knight of the Kingsguard, wasn't in any major battle scenes, but that if he had been he'd "almost certainly be killed, very, very quickly".

He said as an actor he personally "would have killed to be at the Battle of the Bastards [Season Six, Episode 9]."

"I still think to this day that that is the best single episode of television I've ever seen. I've seen it eight or nine times, and every time I watch it it gets better."

"I did Battle of the Bastards, that was tricky, said Ser Davos actor Cunningham. It is a military campaign. The Battle of the Bastards was actually based on two different actual battles, one of them Persian I think. So we did have huge military advice on the behaviour for that sequence."

How a show managed to turn around a city: Belfast

The exhibition is being held in the TEC Exhibition centre, next to a large-scale King's Landing set that was used on the show, and just across the road from the Titanic Studios where the bulk of the interior scenes were shot (including all of the throne scenes).

And, like Lord of the Rings for New Zealand, it's safe to say Game of Thrones has helped to transform the tourism industry of Northern Ireland. “The luckiest day this province ever had was the day HBO decided to film Game of Thrones here," Beattie affirmed. "The impact to our economy is incalculable, and it is the gift that keeps on giving”

“There’s a palpable sense of optimism in Belfast and the show has added to that," added Cunningham. "The place is blooming out of its dark history and for the show to be part of that transition is glorious.”

Beattie adds that his run in the show was close to being a lot shorter than the five seasons he appeared in: “My luckiest day as an actor was when I got Ser Meryn Trant.

"I actually auditioned for a role in season one and didn’t get it. I was thinking, 'they’re going to fly some actor over from England and put him up in a hotel when I live five minutes away from the studio'. But they called me back and auditioned me for the role of Ser Meryn, and I was lucky enough to get it. The role I initially auditioned for was Jury Cassell who died in season one, episode five, whereas five years later I’m still going."

Tickets for The Touring Exhibition range from 15 GBP to 17.50 GBP, and it is running until September 1.

Updated: April 10, 2019 09:56 PM