Game of Thrones’ Liam Cunningham says shortened season let them ‘get it right’
The first thing I realized when I began my conversation with Liam Cunningham, who plays the beloved character Ser Davos Seaworth on Game of Thrones, is how many of his quotes I’m going to have to censor to get rid of the amount of casual swearing the guy does. I think it’s easier to get away with having the mouth of a sailor when you have a thick Irish brogue, and when you speak with the warmth, charm and enthusiasm that Cunningham does, making our first meeting feel like a reunion between two dear old friends. It also helps to actually play one.
It’s likely that quality that made his disarming honesty go over so well when he first met Game of Thrones creators David Benioff and Dan Weiss back when the show was first in casting. “When the guys asked me to come on this, David Benioff said, ‘you don’t do series.’ I said ‘no’, and he asked ‘why not?’ and I said ‘I get bored easily’. That’s not the best career move in the world to say that to something that’s a series.”
Wise or not, though he didn’t get a part in season one, Cunningham made enough of an impression for Weiss and Benioff to call him back when they needed the right person to play The Onion Knight in the second season.
“I saw them for the original season, and for various reasons that didn’t work out, but they came back and said ‘we’ve got some really interesting characters in season two’ and I thought this was just Hollywood’s way of letting me down easy. But true to their word, they came back and said they wanted to see me, sent me the Davos scripts and they were gold! Beautifully, gorgeously written. But you never know how long you’ve got. I didn’t know if I’d last three episodes, three seasons, anything. Now I’m in season seven. After that you’ll have to wait and see what happens.”
The eagerly anticipated season seven is the first of two shortened seasons that are expected to close out the popular series. But while fans may have a hard time accepting fewer episodes when 10 a year never felt like enough as it was, according to Cunningham, it has been greatly to the series’ benefit.
“There’s seven episodes. We have shot those seven in around six months, the same amount of time that we normally shoot ten. We’ve had an extra amount of time for each episode. HBO, God bless them, gave us an extra amount of time. We’ve had the freedom of those three extra shows to spread that time. And the cinematographers are down on their knees with joy because they have more time to get their shots right, the lighting people have more time to get it, the production designers—we all have a little more time. And it’s time to get it right.
“Time is the enemy when you’re making movies. Every second counts. That’s how we feel on this. HBO are very aware that their channel will be judged by this show, and it has done so much for HBO, and for everyone. Every actors stock has gone up, every director. People look at you like you’ve been to the Vietnam War when they say ‘you’ve done Game of Thrones’. There’s an enormous respect for having done it. We’re putting our heart and soul into getting it right because the fans have put so much faith in us to get it. There’s a pressure to get it right but it’s glorious because we feel we’re doing the right thing, we just want to get it absolutely right, and that’s what we’re trying to towards the last season, if I get to the last season, but that’s certainly what production is trying to do.”
While Ser Davos certainly doesn’t know that the end is near, because, as Cunningham puts it, “if the character is aware that we’re coming to the end of the show, then we’re in trouble,” having the end in sight has allowed Cunningham to begin taking stock of the show, and his time on it.
“You carry on in this world of Westeros that these remarkable creative people, George RR Martin, David Benioff, Dan Weiss, and all the other people who create this gorgeous world that us idiot actors inhabit. To be given that playing field, that allows us to expand our imagination and deliver these performances—there’s a huge thing behind us that allows us to play, and we do. And I mean play in the serious sense of the word, in terms of getting it right and getting the story told. I would be eternally grateful to HBO for that if they do nothing else on this planet, what they’ve done for this particular story and for all of us that are involved in the making of it—it’s the most extraordinary thing.
“I’ve never even thought about legacy as an actor, at all, but I think in 10, 20, 30 years time—this is a timeless piece. People are going to be rediscovering this because of the quality of the storytelling. Which I think is kind of unique—it’s beautiful. I think the term ‘Shakespearean’ has been used. It’s used loosely, but it could be. I’ve been to the Royal Shakespeare Company, I’ve done Shakespeare, and you can use that on this. It’s an extraordinary tale. It delights and intrigues and intellectually challenges. It works on a number of levels. It’s one of the artistically proudest things I’ve ever done in my career and probably will ever do.”
Cunningham speaks about Game of Thrones in the highest possible terms now, but he doesn’t pretend he knew it would be the phenomenon it has become.
“I knew it would be huge, but I knew it was going to be good. Anyone who says they knew it was going to be huge is a liar.”
For those keeping score, yes, that quote had to be censored.
The Young Starks
Likewise, it’s impossible to predict how young actors will grow. But the development displayed b the show’s young stars has impressed Cunningham enormously, and it’s the performances of “the youngsters” that he found to be the best of the forthcoming season seven.
“When you look at Sophie Turner and Maisie Williams and Kit Harrington, Maisie and Sophie were 13 when they went on this. Now they’re hitting 20. It’s almost half their lives they’ve been on this! And watching them develops as actors, as professionals, is so impressive. And the same with Kit—his subtlety, his delicacy, and working with him—I really like what does! And the lack of egos is just great.”
And while “there’s not long left for it to go,” in Cunningham’s words, he’s not sure how he’ll ever follow Game of Thrones.
“It’ll be an awful thing when it’s finished. Awful. The audience is already asking what the [heck] they’re going to do when it’s over—Imagine for us that are in it!”
- Game of Thrones Season 7 premieres 17 July -