Roger Ashton-Griffiths, who portrayed Lord Mace Tyrell in Game of Thrones, recently made a rather grand exit from the show, along with many of the Tyrell family. ComiConverse caught up with Roger Ashton-Griffiths to talk about Season 6 of Game of Thrones and his experiences on the show.
Game Of Thrones: An Interview With Roger Ashton-Griffiths
ComiConverse: Hi Roger, or should we say Dr. Ashton-Griffiths! Thanks so much for making time for us and congratulations on your recent Ph.D. You have been on stage in the Opera, you’ve written and directed productions, you’ve starred in major television projects like The Tudors and Doctor Who, you’ve worked with Directors like Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese.
Where do your experiences in Game of Thrones rank in that expansive a career?
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Roger: There is a sense in which each job an actor undertakes is like every other (it’s a requirement for the acquisition of a body of experience). The details vary, of course, depending on things like budget, location, colleagues and so on, but the basics of learning lines, wearing costumes and forming a character remain broadly the same. On the one hand, therefore, being in Game of Thrones is like being in anything else. But on the other, the locations, writing, costumes, cast and crew are all absolutely first rate, without exception, and it is this unique combination of resource, intention and ability which makes Game of Thrones stand apart from other productions I have known.
ComiConverse: When D. B. Weiss and David Benioff informed you that they wanted you for the part of Mace Tyrell, had you been following either the George R R Martin books or the HBO show closely, or did you arrive to the part from more of a distance?
Roger: Lol, ‘more of a distance’!
I’d heard of the show, of course, but had never seen it, nor read any of the books. When I auditioned, I mixed up Tyrion and Tywin’s names in the trial scenes…
ComiConverse: In terms of the Tyrell family, most of the Tyrell characters had been introduced long before your arrival King’s Landing, how much attention did you pay to the work of Dame Diana Rigg, Natalie Dormer and Finn Jones?
Roger: Mace had surprisingly little to do with his children, as a matter of fact. There were public events when we were on screen together – weddings, parties, deaths – but no intimate domestic scenes. The three of us worked most closely during our final scene together in the Sept. There was never any sense, of course, in which my character was supposed to resemble either of theirs!
Diana and I spent a day shooting a two-hander in an enclosed sedan chair, which was a great treat for me as I’ve followed her work all my life – but I think it was cut from the episode. Grrr!
ComiConverse: So much has been made about the outstanding quality of the acting and writing on Game of Thrones. In addition to the strong group of actors we’ve mentioned, you also did scenes with the likes of Charles Dance. Can you speak a little about the high bar the show sets and what it’s like to work with so many talented people?
Roger: I think the answer is embedded in your question; yes, the bar was set very high. The joy of working at that level is that character becomes contextual when you’re in the company of terrific actors, when you become, as it were, a constituent paragraph in a complete, well-written chapter.
ComiConverse: One of scenes where we get to see Mace Tyrell in a more prominent role is his ride to rescue his daughter from the High Sparrow. Can you tell us about your feelings and experiences in shooting that scene? It seemed like a delicate balance of urgency and comedy at the same time. Plus, you were on a horse!
Roger: There is a direct relationship between the size of a scene, in terms of both space and numbers, and how long it takes to shoot. Given that it involved hundreds of extras (including my astonishingly well-drilled ‘army’, who were simply excellent), horses, special effects and lighting the steps of Girona Cathedral, all in the space of a mediaeval town centre, you will understand that we took days to shoot that scene. It follows, therefore, that I was on horseback for the best part of a week, wearing armour and an enormous helmet. Now, beyond the basic walk-trot-canter which actors learn, I make no claim to being a good or experienced horseman, and I’m certainly not used to being in the saddle for days on end, so you won’t be surprised to learn that I was a little sore!
However, Benz was a good and patient horse (so named because he’s reliable!), and the crew were typically excellent at getting me off his back when they could, and the armour off mine.
But you’re quite correct, there was a balance to be achieved between urgency and comedy. And this sort of sums up the craft, that they take you away from home, sit you on a horse until it hurts, make you wear metal armour in the midday sun, and then expect you to act.
ComiConverse: After the failed rescue, things seem to go downhill for the Tyrell’s fairly quickly. It’s worth mentioning that the scenes that follow from that point aren’t a story that has been told yet in the pages of the books. Can you speak about when you first read the script pages where most of the Tyrell family meet their unfortunate fate?
What were your initial impressions of the way that all was to play out?
Roger: David and Dan are exceptional showrunners in many ways, and one of those is that they take the time to call every cast member whose end is written in the new season, before shooting begins. As a result, we all knew we were doomed even before the scripts arrived. I was pleased that we went together, as Mace would have been distraught had he outlived his children, and the manner of our departure was novel, so I was as happy as I could have been.
ComiConverse: In shooting the final scene in the Great Sept, there are shots of you displaying far more emotion and concern than we generally see from Mace in previous scenes. Can you talk a little about what that scene was like to shoot?
It must have been complicated but intriguing.
Roger: It was very demanding, because it was another large scene which required a long time, and it was necessary therefore to hold on to a heightened emotional state over several days. Again, though, the quality and experience of the cast and crew all around helped at every stage.
ComiConverse: In one of the HBO on-set interviews, you describe your character as being a little more clever than he’s been given credit for. Do you wish we’d had a chance to see Mace being a little more capable in the show?
Roger: I think the only way we might have seen that side of Mace would have been to have shot scenes set at his home, in Highgarden, where I fancy he might have been more in his comfort zone. But that wouldn’t have driven the show forward, as things stand, so it was never going to happen. Alas.
ComiConverse: Can we talk a bit about how the show approaches gender?
A quick glance around the famous Game of Thrones map now sees women in control of almost every part of Westeros. In Dorne, in King’s Landing, Yara and Daenerys are crossing the Narrow Sea. In The Reach (your old stomping grounds) only Diana Rigg’s ‘Queen of Thorns’ remains to run things. As someone who has had an impressive and lengthy career on stage and screen, have you ever seen a production that has approached gender roles quite the way Game of Thrones has?
What are your thoughts on the direction the show has taken in this regard?
Roger: You’re asking me to reflect on the semiotics of gender in Game of Thrones? I wonder how many doctoral theses are being written on this very question right now! It’s better just to assert that it’s marvellous such questions are being asked.
ComiConverse: What were your favourite memories from your experience with Game of Thrones?
Every actor on set must have a few, I’m sure.
Roger: Too many favourite memories to list – friends old and new, places visited, the ride on the shoulders of creative giants…
I enjoyed being in Girona particularly, but I said the same about Split the year before, and Dubrovnik the year before that.
ComiConverse: Finally, can you tell us a bit about the projects you have underway or hope to pursue post Game of Thrones?
Roger: Post Game of Thrones happens, in my case, to coincide with post PhD, so I’ve taken the summer off, working on a big DIY project at my home and gardening. I’ve done a few bits and pieces in front of a camera – presently an Agatha Christie TV movie with Glenn Close – but winter’s coming (to coin a phrase!), and I’m going to be back at my writing desk any day now, whilst looking for the next big screen role.
ComiConverse: Thank you so much more making time to ComiConverse with us!
Congratulations once again on your Ph.D and best wishes to you and your family!
What did you think of our interview with Roger Ashton-Griffiths?
What are your hopes for the next season of Game of Thrones.
Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.
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