Game Of Thrones, Season 06 – Jonathan Pryce chats

Q: Set the scene for High Sparrow as we begin Season Six.

A: Well we left him at the end of season five where he’d demanded that Cersei take the walk of shame, and that’s the last image I think you saw of him.

That's great because it leaves you wanting answers to the questions of where does Cersei go next, where does High Sparrow go next? Is she going to have to undergo further degradation and abuses? Is she going to have to have more punishments? Which is what I think is expected; it's not going to end there for her. And also Margaery is in jail. What's going to happen to her? Is she going to have to face the same humiliation? And how does Tommen relate to all this? So it's a great place to begin season six. Of course I finished season five as an actor, not knowing what was going to happen next. Even if it was in the book I wouldn't have known, because I haven't read the books. So that was a very interesting place to be. And then coming to the read through of season six I was looking through and when it finally came to what happens to High Sparrow I just couldn't believe it.

That’s great because it leaves you wanting answers to the questions of where does Cersei go next, where does High Sparrow go next? Is she going to have to undergo further degradation and abuses? Is she going to have to have more punishments? Which is what I think is expected; it’s not going to end there for her. And also Margaery is in jail. What’s going to happen to her? Is she going to have to face the same humiliation? And how does Tommen relate to all this? So it’s a great place to begin season six. Of course I finished season five as an actor, not knowing what was going to happen next. Even if it was in the book I wouldn’t have known, because I haven’t read the books. So that was a very interesting place to be. And then coming to the read through of season six I was looking through and when it finally came to what happens to High Sparrow I just couldn’t believe it.

Q: Do you think High Sparrow took any pleasure in Cersei‘s downfall?

A: Journalists have referred to a smile on my face when Cersei was enduring her fate, one even called it a smirk, and I was thinking ‘did I really?’ I’m going to have to watch it again because I wasn’t aware that he was smiling so much. One of the character notes that I think Dan and David put in for High Sparrow is that everything is done gently and with a smile. So he administers these punishments and says the most outrageous things, but always with a gentle smile. Those are the most infuriating people to deal with. You know, you can imagine the exasperation of someone like Olenna Tyrrell – you know the scene I had with Diana Rigg last season – where he’s very calmly saying, ‘We are the many, you are the few’ but what he means is I’m pronouncing your death sentence.

Q: Will we learn more about High Sparrow’s background this season?

A: You will discover more about High Sparrow, where he came from, what drew him to this faith. It was all with good intentions; he had lived a very debauched life, he was very rich, and he woke up one morning and said, ‘This is wrong’ and walked out with bare feet. He didn’t dress or anything and he has stayed bare-footed ever since.

I remember coming to the character early on and it was at the same time, more or less, as Pope Francis had been elected. And there was Pope Francis doing everything that High Sparrow had been doing, apart from the bare feet, but he might as well have had bare feet: talking to the poor, administering to the poor, exactly what High Sparrow was doing. So the intentions are good. But then, the fundamentalist side of the faith begins to take over. The punishments, the brutality, the army, his army growing. And this desire to take over the known world, as it were.

I remember coming to the character early on and it was at the same time, more or less, as Pope Francis had been elected. And there was Pope Francis doing everything that High Sparrow had been doing, apart from the bare feet, but he might as well have had bare feet: talking to the poor, administering to the poor, exactly what High Sparrow was doing. So the intentions are good. But then, the fundamentalist side of the faith begins to take over. The punishments, the brutality, the army, his army growing. And this desire to take over the known world, as it were.

Q: Yet he doesn’t see himself as a bad man…

A: He’s not close to thinking that what he’s doing is maybe too extreme or wrong; he is still on that path of righteousness.

Q: And as Jonathan where would you place him on the moral scale? A goodie or a baddie?

A: Well as an actor, whatever I’m playing – and I’ve played a lot of bad guys, and I’ve played a lot of very good guys – they all have the same self-belief up to a point. I’ve never played anyone who is a sadist, who knows he’s doing bad. Most of the people I’ve played – and I count High Sparrow among them – don’t have an awareness. Because even when people say to me, ‘Oh God I hate High Sparrow, he’s really bad,’ I respond with ‘Why do you think he’s bad? He’s sorting out these bad people – they’re bad, and he’s making them better.’

Q: You played Cardinal Wolsey in Wolf Hall last year. Are there any parallels between the two characters?

A: Well yes – and I think George Martin’s acknowledged that some of the source material for Game of Thrones is the Wars of the Roses and the two great houses and the shifts in power. Wolsey made his commitment to Henry, and then there was a power shift and he was out. We’ll see what happens to High Sparrow.

Q: How did you find working in the Great Sept of Baelor, a giant, 360 degree set?

A: It was a similar feel to when I made Brazil with Terry Gilliam. Terry made big sets – the Ministry of Information was two sound stages at Lees in Wembley, and it was incredibly impressive.

Then they did what was called a glass shot to extend it. Which is pretty much what they do in the Sept. Your expectancy is some kind of short hand; that you're going to be against a green screen. To actually walk on a proper, massive set was fantastic; it elevates your status - even though my opening scene was me washing the steps of the Sept. But at least they were my steps.

Then they did what was called a glass shot to extend it. Which is pretty much what they do in the Sept. Your expectancy is some kind of short hand; that you’re going to be against a green screen. To actually walk on a proper, massive set was fantastic; it elevates your status – even though my opening scene was me washing the steps of the Sept. But at least they were my steps.

Q: Can you tell us how the story climaxes this season?

A: Everyone is waiting for Cersei to come to her trial, which is to be held in the Sept. Everyone is there. And of course I’ve taken my eye off the ball in that the assumption is that she will come and though I’m told she hasn’t left the house I had thought she’s bound to come. In the meantime all these plots and machinations are taking place above us and below us. The tension should be palpable that while up above people are gathering in this massive space, very content and assuming all is going well, at the same time there’s a surprise brewing for all of them…

Q: There are some villains in Game of Thrones who are obviously villainous for its own sake and others who do misdeeds with other intentions. Which is High Sparrow?

A: Well I’ve got to see him as good and I find it very hard to be objective about him, I certainly didn’t want to when playing a character because I wanted to believe whole-heartedly in what the High Sparrow was doing. There was a scene, where I’m praying at the altar, and Margaery comes in, and I’m expecting her to come. In one take I open my eyes in a way that suggested, ‘I know what’s going to happen next, I’m going to have this scene with Margaery.’ And the director spotted it and said, ‘Don’t give anything away, just open your eyes and then play the scene’. That says so much about the character – he’s not necessarily thinking ahead and plotting, or at least he’s certainly not showing the audience that he’s a plotter. I’m still being referred to as a bad character but hopefully he can seduce the audience in addition to his attempts to seduce Margaery and Tommen into the faith.

Q: What is his motivation, then?

A: I think he hates anyone of the ruling class. That’s his motivation really: revolution.

Q: You film in Ireland wearing just a sackcloth and…

A: …and bare feet, that’s the worst bit. Luckily the lovely dresser would bring me a hot water bottle to put on my feet on when I sat down. They film with three or four cameras and sometimes they’re miles away, so you never quite know what’s in shot. Which meant I couldn’t get away with trying to wear shoes for warmth. The camera would be a mile away and you’d get, ‘Sorry Jon, we can see your feet’! I’d still keep trying to get away with it.

Q: Does the High Sparrow have the tattoo of the Faith Militant? And if not, why not? The brand?

A: He doesn’t have it and that’s a good question. Suffice to say that I don’t think he would have been branded. Good God, no!

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