It has that blockbuster Lord of the Rings-style feel to it – not too geeky to dissuade the HBO audience, but dark enough to satisfy the fantasy fans that spend their days playing Dungeons & Dragons. Based on literary series A Song of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin, Game of Thrones is set in a corrupt medieval world where strange creatures, magic, mutilations and death are everyday occurrences.
The main character is long-haired good guy Eddard Stark (played by Sean Bean), whose aim is to protect his family during the long winter months, yet he ends up trying to sort out the mess between warring clans. Lead man Sean Bean dishes the dirt on the series.
What drew you to the role?
When I first met with [series creators] David Benioff and Dan Weiss, I’d not read the book and they explained to me what it was about. I didn’t realise how big a following it had, and I was very impressed just talking to them. They asked me to play Eddard Stark, so I read the book and he’s a pretty good guy. He’s got his faults, as everybody has in this, but it was a strong part, a strong man – a man with a sense of duty and honour and loyalty. I immediately latched onto that and said, ‘Yeah I’d love to be part of it.’
Do you relate to Stark?
I can relate to his honour and his loyalty. He stands by people and he doesn’t let them down. He loves his wife and children and he had to be split up from them during the course of the series, which is heartbreaking for him. This is something I could identify with. A lot of the characters you get offered these days tend to be very one-dimensional and plot-driven, with things exploding everywhere. Yet in Game of Thrones there’s so much complexity, a myriad of fascinating characters that are backstabbing, loyal, disloyal, incestuous, decadent and corrupt. That’s why I found it interesting playing Stark and trying to fathom my way through this mess.
Your character is probably the least devious in the show, and the nearest thing to a hero.
I think so. Robert the King is a good man, or he was, but he’s become fat, lazy, indulgent and careless. That’s why he wants me to be his right-hand man, and I reluctantly agree. That’s my downfall: I’m so loyal to him that I can’t say no. Ed Stark is surrounded by backstabbers and betrayers and people who want to gain power and a throne, and will do anything to do that. I’ve been put right in the middle of this world, which I’m not used to dealing with. I’m a warrior and I’m very straight, and I’m not used to this kind of thing.
Director David Benioff said that he had shows like The Sopranos and The Wire in mind…
Yeah, it does have those qualities. I read a book about [15th century crime family] the Borgias before I did this and it reminded me very much of them – how their allegiance is to power and the methods and the lengths they go to.
Like a gangster movie?
Yeah, there’s quite a lot of action, quite a lot of violence and some of it is pretty awful. One of my best friends gets stabbed in the eye – that’s a pretty vicious piece of work. There’s a lot of energy that erupts out of nowhere, which is a bit like a gangster film. There’s a flashpoint and everything goes off and it’s just very messy. And then there’s premeditated violence – stabbings and poisoning and stuff. It’ll be one of those things you’ll probably want to watch again because you’ll be thinking that character was alright until he starts poisoning this woman.
Do you think being the son of a welder from the UK helps?
My father was a welder and fabricator. I followed in his footsteps and I became a welder myself for three years. It was pretty tough when you think of it, and the only thing that you ever went into after school was either an apprenticeship in the steel business or in coal mining. So when I told my mum and dad I was going to be an actor I got a few funny looks, but I think they’re pleased with me now. It did fashion the way I was brought up and the way I thought about things.
What advice would you give that kid in Sheffield if you could speak to him now?
I suppose you have to have determination and persistence, and a little arrogance.
Game of Thrones airs on Wednesdays at 9pm on OSN First