Game of Thrones - Iwan Rheon interview (exclusive)
Interview by Rob Carnevale
IWAN Rheon talks about playing Ramsay Snow in Game of Thrones and how he came to empathise with one of the most despised characters on the HBO show.
He also discusses his forthcoming album, Dinard, as well as his career to date, including what inspired him to become an actor and how he learned the hard way not to upstage someone like Sir Ian McKellen, with whom he will shortly be starring opposite in TV series Vicious.
Q. This must be a pretty exciting time for you given that the new season of Game of Thrones is just about to start and you’re about to release your debut album?
Iwan Rheon: Yeah, it’s pretty full on.
Q. So let’s start with Thrones. What can we expect from the new season and from your character, Ramsay Snow?
Iwan Rheon: Well, I think in terms of the season in general I’m looking forward to seeing the world expanding. I haven’t seen it myself yet. But you get to see loads of different parts of this world that have not been visited before, which is pretty cool. So, that’s really exciting. And for Ramsey, you get to see how his legitimacy affects him and a bit more of the inner world of the Boltons – everyone’s favourite family! You see a bit more of their relationship.
Q. What is the appeal of playing someone like Ramsay? Is he difficult to empathise with?
Iwan Rheon: Well, you have to find what it is that he really wants… what he’s searching for and that’s his father’s recognition. It’s always a battle for him because of his status as a bastard. He’s always been looked down upon, so he’s always been fighting to get his dad’s attention and he’s been left to his own devices for far too long, and getting into all sorts of weird stuff, which he enjoys. So that’s difficult to empathise with [laughs]. He’s a messed up guy.
Q. How do the show’s fans react to him and to you?
Iwan Rheon: Everyone thinks he’s a really sick guy but when they tell me that, they’re saying it knowing that they’re talking to the actor playing the part. I’ve not had anyone get confused between the two.
Q. Is he now the show’s most despised character? Particularly now that Joffrey has gone…
Iwan Rheon: I’d say so… and there are a couple of things this season that may leave you gasping.
Q. How does it feel to be part of a show that’s as much of a phenomenon as Game of Thrones has become?
Iwan Rheon: Well, obviously it’s great. And it’s world-wide, so that’s good too. It’s very big in America, so that’s only great for all the actors in the show because it’s a platform to the States, because there’s so much more stuff out there. They have a much bigger industry that we do. And it’s great to be a part of something so successful. It makes you feel good and you get that sense when it’s being made that everyone knows it’s really, really special.
Q. Given the sheer number of characters, does it ever become frustrating that you don’t sometimes get more screen-time?
Iwan Rheon: You do kind of get frustrated because there are so many characters and storylines… there’s so much going on. So, sometimes you get a big chunk and other times I get only one scene in an episode. But that’s the nature of Game of Thrones – sometimes you get a lot to do and sometimes you have to wait.
Q. Where do you think it’s all heading? Dare you speculate?
Iwan Rheon: I don’t know. There’s got to be some dragon action and they’ve got to come across to Westeros…. so, it’ll be exciting to see what happens with that. She can’t lose the dragons.
Q. Have you read the books?
Iwan Rheon: I haven’t read the books because when we started I needed to get to where I was straight away. But I had some great discussions with Dan [Weiss] and David [Benioff] and they obviously speak to George RR Martin, so I got enough information from that. I did actually read some of the book and the introduction to Ramsay but that made me feel like I was maybe going in the wrong direction, so I stuck with the scripts, which are so well written anyway, and that seems to have worked for me.
Q. What’s the weirdest fan request you’ve had?
Iwan Rheon: I don’t know really. I don’t get that many…
Q. Alfie Allen, who you torture in the series, has had a fair bit of stick, particularly surrounding one of the things you did to him?
Iwan Rheon: [Laughs] Yeah, he’s getting some stick for that; poor bastard!
Q. Turning to your music and the debut album, how difficult has it been juggling the acting with the songwriting and creating your debut album, Dinard?
Iwan Rheon: Um, well my main profession is acting and music is what I love doing. It’s kind of nice like that in a way because it means I’m under no real pressure with the music. I have got complete creative control and I can make whatever I want. So, that takes a lot of the pressures off because there’s no financial pressure. And it’s something I’ve always loved doing. But acting is my main profession so it’s about finding the right balance. I don’t know how, if I went any further with the music, I would manage to do both – I would have to take time off from acting because I couldn’t do both at same time. I could do six months on and six months off perhaps. But I’m really proud of the record. I’ve worked on it for a while and I’m really glad to finally get the album out, having done three EPs prior to its release.
Q. How long has it taken to put together?
Iwan Rheon: Well, I first started about two years ago but that was in an archway in Dalston, recording demos of every song that I had written. So, we whittled those down and realised we had a lot of material, so we went into a studio. We did most of the recording about two years ago, when I was filming season 4 of Game of Thrones. I’d have a week off here and there, so I nipped over and got some tunes down. Then, after a while we went to RAK Studios in London to finesse it. It has all the great ‘70s gear and plug-ins because you can’t get that sound off digital plug-ins. We then mastered it in Abbey Road and then it was about getting the right artwork, plus juggling working as a full-time actor, and maybe working in South Africa or Northern Ireland. So that’s why it’s taken so long.
Q. And what inspired Dinard‘s themes?
Iwan Rheon: It’s a variety of things. Some of it is about meeting my girlfriend and our relationship. But some songs are a lot older… there’s one particularly old track that’s a break-up song basically. But I wasn’t happy with the acoustic version and wanted a band behind hit. So, I guess loads of things inspired it really. It’s all sort of asking questions. There’s no theme running through the whole album.
Q. Will you tour with it?
Iwan Rheon: Well, as I said, I don’t really have time. I’ll probably do a few gigs. But they’re difficult to get organised and I’m in a position where I need to stay focused on my acting.
Q. You have a few things coming up, including Charlotte’s Song, which is inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, I believe? What’s your role in that?
Iwan Rheon: I just saw it the other day, in fact, because it’s only just finished. It looks great. But there’s a long way to go with it yet. Basically, it’s set in the 1930s during Prohibition in the Dust Bowl and my character is basically a gangster who runs booze. He’s a bit of a baddie but he’s not exactly as he seems. It was really cool to do.
Q. And there’s Sum1, in which you’re playing a soldier?
Iwan Rheon: Yes, that’s just finished filming. And that’s a very different movie again. I was on my own the whole time. I play a soldier manning an outpost on his own in the future where there’s a monster alien race that has taken over the world. 90% of the population has been killed. So, it’s about solitude and how everything starts going mad.
Q. Does it have parallels with how The Walking Dead treats the whole idea of humanity once monsters take over?
Iwan Rheon: It’s different to that in the sense that there is a very intelligent enemy but you never see it. So, it’s how it starts affecting his brain and being in solitude for such a long time.
Q. How was shooting that? Did being alone take its toll at times?
Iwan Rheon: It was really weird being on m own the whole time. Sometimes there were another couple of actors but they were only there very briefly. But mostly it was just me. But it was a really good experience. It was really full-on because it [the camera] is constantly on you, so there’s a lot of pressure on your shoulders. And it’s low budget so it has to be shot fast. There’s no time to mess around. So, it was really hard work and very cold [laughs]. But I’m open to any new experience. It’s always about the character and how interesting the role is. I would do it again because I like doing lower budget films.
Q. What first attracted you to acting?
Iwan Rheon: I don’t know really. I guess it has to be my dad. He did this am-dram performance of playing St David, the patron saint of Wales, in St David’s Cathedral on St David’s Day. I kind of remember being in awe of the whole thing. I was only about three but it was one of my first memories. I was fascinated by the fantasy of it and the fact that there was a story. I knew it was my dad but when he died, I was like: “What?” I was shouting in the front row and my mum was trying to get me to be quiet because I was quite a loud kid [laughs]. After that, I remember seeing this series, House of America, with Matthew Rhys, and thinking “whoah, I’d like to do something like that”.
Q. And how easy or difficult has it been to get to where you are today?
Iwan Rheon: I don’t think it’s been easy. It’s taken a lot of hard work, like it should. It’s a weird thing because I know it can all go away at any second. But I did a soap opera first, then drama school for three years and then I did nothing for a year because I couldn’t get a job. Then I got Spring Awakening and after that I started getting more things, so I’ve been gradually ascending ever since then I guess.
Q. What are your favourite memories? And which experiences have taught you the most?
Iwan Rheon: I think every one teaches you something different. Misfits was a great first English TV job because that was shot on a very small budget but with very high ambitions. It was tough work but it set me up. But then I guess working in a soap opera [Pobol y Cwn] for two years between the ages of 17 and 19 taught me a lot too. A lot of discipline is required. People sometimes scoff at soaps but it’s not easy. There are so many lines to learn every day and you need to know them because there’s no time to mess around in TV. You have to shoot it and get on with it, rather than trying out different things. You have to knuckle down to get the best work but when you do, people respond to it. And it raises your game too.
Q. What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned to this point?
Iwan Rheon: Don’t try and upstage Sir Ian McKellen [laughs]!
Q. Did you?
Iwan Rheon: Not intentionally. It’s a thing when you do stage acting that you kind of have a tendency to step back. But I didn’t do it intentionally with Sir Ian until he told me not to try it on with him because he’d been doing it for years. I didn’t even realise I was doing it at the time. And then suddenly there I was with him telling me not to do it – but that was a great lesson.
Q. How is working with Sir Ian and Derek Jacobi on Vicious?
Iwan Rheon: It’s a great thing. It’s amazing. They’re real gentlemen and true professionals. It’s amazing to get to work with actors who have had such incredible careers, and who still have the hunger for the work and really want to work. They work just as hard now as they did when they were 18. And that’s inspirational to watch, especially first-hand.
Q. What do you play in that?
Iwan Rheon: I kind of play the young man who lives upstairs, who becomes part of their little family. They befriend him. So, I guess he’s their straight little friend. But he’s a really nice guy from Wigan – the polar opposite of Ramsay! It’s a nice comedy, everyone’s nice and happy and it’s a nice warm set [laughs]!
Q. Is that something you’re keen to do – play someone nice as soon as possible so that you don’t keep being seen as a villain?
Iwan Rheon: Absolutely! My biggest fear is being typecast. I think I’m pretty versatile and I don’t want to get typecast. But that is the danger when you play someone as high profile as Ramsay in a series as big as Game of Thrones. So, Vicious has been a really great opportunity to show that different side to my make-up.