Spoilers ahead—don't read this interview if you haven't watched the Game of Thrones season-five premiere episode, "The Wars to Come."
When wildling "king" Mance Rayder vowed to light the "biggest fire the North has ever seen," he didn't plan on burning along with it. But that's what happened on last night's Game of Thrones premiere, when Stannis Baratheon executed the shaggy leader in the most gruesome fashion imaginable.
Good thing Jon Snow (Kit Harington), the only member of the Night's Watch who gave Mance the time of day, swooped in with a well-placed arrow to spare the guy some third-degree horrors.
Stannis' actions will inevitably send the Night's Watch barreling in a new direction. But before leaving the incinerated Mance behind, Esquire spoke to busy Irish actor Ciarán Hinds about portraying the contemplative leader, ending his Game of Thrones tenure with a bang, and the possibility of a return (because George R.R. Martin found a way, so why not the show?).
Did you know early on that this would be the moment when Mance Rayder kicked the bucket?
I had absolutely no idea. Seriously, the guys asked me to join [the show] and I went, "It's in your hands." I was only there three or four days a year, whenever they needed the character. I was working away and they asked if they asked if they could fit days in. I only got my storyline, the scenes which were inevitably with Kit, Jon Snow. That's what I knew about, really. They were most courteous when they gave me the news that "all men must die." My number was up. It's an attempt of dignity while you're toasting away like a marshmallow.
You're only given bits of the story at a time. Did that require talking to D.B. Weiss and David Benioff, or even George R.R. Martin, about where Mance came from and what was on his mind?
Well, I haven't read the books. Before I was asked to join, before the third season when they brought Mance in, I was suggested by the main producer, Frank Dolger, who had overseen Rome. I played Caesar. I guess he wanted the gravitas and leadership of men. If he only saw my personal life.
You're not a regal leader of men in the off-hours?
I'm as low as they come, if I'm being honest. I don't know how I get away with it. Maybe that's why I was a wildling. Just a bit of a posh one. [Laughs.] So I just took what came with the words and suggestions. I played the words on the page and tried to interpret them as I saw them, with the help of the directors. Though there was one time when I came back, I remember saying, "I just need to know, I know you don't like the snow and that's grand by me, but when I sent those guys to the Wall all those months ago and I was going to go light the biggest fire the North has ever seen, do I need to know what happened? Because I'm about to do this scene and I should probably know what the results were…" They said, "Yep, and here it is." They laid out what happened and I could play the scene. Just for knowledge in the head.
What do you think Mance added to grand tapestry of Game of Thrones?
We knew Caesar apart [from Rome]— did he want to be emperor or was he really into a democratic Rome? Whereas, I believe, Mance had a theory that this was a lost tribe of people who needed help. He had a mission, like a super community worker with the guts and drive to corral these 90 tribes who have been let go and left to their own devices. He wanted to give them life and dignity. They kept referring to him as "The King-Beyond-the-Wall." But he says early on that he's not a king. They're not called kings there. Everyone else is looking for a crown and a throne, though he had the gift of political nous and understanding, he wanted to be their spokesman, not their leader. I don't think he gives a fuck if he's loved, but at heart, he has a social drive for improving people's lives.
Most of your scenes are with Kit. How did you two find a rapport? And what did that relationship have to be to make the show work?
You do have to connect with the other actor. It reads if you don't. You know, I have a goddaughter, and there was a moment where she was telling me about the Mance pieces [in the books]. I kept saying, "Don't tell me, don't tell me." But they couldn't help it because they were in love with the story. That was, until I convinced my goddaughter that we were going off piece and Jon Snow was my lover. I don't know what she had read, because I didn't read the books, but I told her HBO had taken it another step further [laughs].
But it's true—Kit, Jon Snow, is one of the only people I had scenes with out of the five or so I had. Kristofer [Hivju], who plays Tormund, he was in a few. But most of them were two-handers. I saw the lovely Ygritte for a second. That was about it. The first time [with Kit], I'm holding the power because he mistakes who's the king and Mance is sitting in the corner wondering what's going on. The relationship is based on talk. Mance had the upper-hand being more experienced. There's an extraordinary moment where Jon turns against the wildlings, and a moment where Mance says, "Keep an eye on him and if he acts the bollocks, throw him off the Wall." He's still not sure about him when he sends him back. Not 100 percent. There's something he likes about him. Sure enough, he got it wrong. When they meet again, he thinks, yeah, he has all the experience but still gets things wrong. And Jon has another mission that Mance realizes: He's come to kill him. They're both connected to each other by how they speak and how they think. And yet, they're true to their separate missions.
How does burning someone alive work from a production standpoint? What's required?
Well, a) don't panic, b) make sure they've doused you in nonflammable liquid, and c) make sure you're a good two feet from the first flame. But when you have someone as elegant and luscious as Melisandre, sometimes you just surrender: "Oh, go on."
How do you know if you're playing "burned alive" at the right level?
The idea between Michael Slovis, the director, and I was to find the degree between what will be shown and the degree to which it hurts and how much a man will tolerate. In the end, Mance says it in the scene, he's embarrassed. I'm going to die but I'm embarrassed by how I'll appear: a failed, sad, frightened thing. What do you do? Remain stoic forever? It fucking hurts! In that moment, whatever they've chosen when Jon fires the arrow to end it, you'll see the moment where he was going to crack. Jon wanted to leave him with his dignity. You can see it starting to crack. It's complicated. When someone says "pretend you're on fire," I certainly have a tendency to overact. And then you have to make it internal and pretend it's not hurting, but it is. You have to see what comes out on the camera. So you must trust the director. If it needs to be brought up or down. Michael was clear about what it was.
The scheduling gods found room for Game of Thrones between your other movie, TV, and stage performances, but will you continue to keep slots open for future appearances? Mance died in this past episode, but according to the books, there's room for more…
I don't think they'll be renewing my little contract [laughs]. But, yes, I've heard Mance does come back. But I think if that were to happen, they'd bring in a new, vibrant, more-alive, sexier me than I am now. Like "all men must die," we're also expendable. That's fact. I'm grateful to be involved in such an amazing project.
This article was originally published on esquire.com
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