What was your reaction when you were asked if you wanted to visit Pakistan?
You weren’t concerned at all?
That some sections of the foreign press have termed Pakistan as ‘the most dangerous country in the world’?
“How many people are there in Pakistan?”
“How many of them have died in terrorism-related incidents?”
“I’d say the odds are not bad then!”
Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you Roger Ashton-Griffiths, the man you will soon come to know as Mace Tyrell once the fourth season of Game of Thrones hits our … becomes available for download. A trained opera singer, theatre actor with a very prolific career in both Hollywood (Gangs of New York, A Knight’s Tale, You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger) and British television, Roger Ashton-Griffiths was recently in Pakistan as one of the official jury members for the Sindh International Film Festival. He comes across as being incredibly laid back and jovial, with a love for telling stories and being thoroughly entertaining … even off camera.
You have to be living on another planet if you are not acquainted with either the books A Song of Ice and Fire or its television version Game of Thrones. Roger Ashton-Griffiths, apparently, lived on that planet before being cast to play the role of Mace Tyrell in the upcoming season. And even then, up until the day of filming, he remained blissfully unaware of this world of dragons, death and Daenarys.
You didn’t read a single book from the series before the shoot?
Had you seen the show?
Then how did you prepare for your character?
“On the first day in Belfast, I was expecting some kind of an introductory pack telling me who was who, how they were related and what had happened until now. I got nothing. I woke up in the morning, wore my costume, went on to the set and was told ‘Oh, good morning! Here is your place. ACTION!”
What scene was this?
“It was one with Lord Tyrion, Tywin Lannister and Cercei Lannister … and I didn’t know they were all related!”
What was the first thing you noticed?
“There was this monstrous big chair made of swords — which I thought was quite nice … I didn’t know it was the Iron Throne!”
With no introductory pack, fancy chair on set and no clue as to what was really going on, Roger Ashton-Griffiths sat down to finally see Game of Thrones for the first time. “So during the week whilst we were shooting, I got a hold of the season two box set,” he related, “I watched that and thought ‘Oooh!’ I’d quite like to have gone back and shot that week again because I would’ve done it differently, for sure.”
Most of the interior shots were done at ‘The Paint Hall’ in the Titanic Quarter of Belfast. It once belonged to Harland and Wolff, the company that built the Titanic. It had recently been converted into a movie studio. It was while filming at Belfast where most of the cast and crew of GoT would actually come together. “At any given time, there are three units working together in different parts of the world,” he explained, “People up at The Wall (shot in Iceland) are there, we are there … and so there is where we tend to meet up.”
Although Ashton-Griffiths has had a very prolific career in film and television, he’s always managed to keep a low public profile. Once you’re cast in GoT, however, that wasn’t going to be a possibility anymore. “This was bigger than I realised. I’ve had a very privileged career, in very big movies but I’ve always managed to maintain a fairly anonymous profile. I can still go to shops and not get mobbed.
“So I was a little bit bothered about the fact that what, in fact, this would mean to me afterwards? I’m 57 years old. For most of my 31 years working life, it’s not been an issue. Nor do I expect I’m going to be mobbed like The Beatles.”
And then he got ‘Papped’ — shot by a paparazzo. “The first weekend after filming that scene where I had no idea what was going on, we went out for a few drinks and we got ‘Papped’ that first night!” he said with a laugh, referring to photographs that appeared of him along with Finn Jones (who plays his son, Loras Tyrell), Lena Headey (Cersei Lannister) and Sibel Kikelli (Shae) all over the internet. “Within a week of us being there, it was in the papers … which was a bit odd,” he added.
Other than Belfast, the rest of the filming for his episodes took place in Croatia and the sheer magnitude of the production caught Ashton-Griffiths a little by surprise. “All of the things with Daenerys were shot in Croatia as well,” he related, “We took over a public park for a month and installed this huge outdoor set. I couldn’t help asking the director: all this just for a bit of telly?
And the director responded: ‘No, no. Think of it as a 70-hour movie!’”
What scene did you really enjoy doing?
“I don’t think I should tell you. Because it would be spoiled.”
But we know what happens in the story!
“Yeah, but have you read the books?”
“Do you know what happens to Jeoffrey?”
“How? If you haven’t read the books …”
I was researching your character.
“But your readers don’t know. I’m not going to tell you. I can tell you' however that it was one scene.”
Which has to do with Jeoffrey …
“I’m not saying anything.”
On Alfred Hitchcock, Nicole Kidman and Daniel Day Lewis
Ashton-Griffiths is also to appear, playing Alfred Hithcock, in an upcoming American-French film titled Grace of Monaco, directed by Olivier Dahan (La Vie En Rose), based on the life of actor Grace Kelly. “And she’s played by Nicole Kidman, who in my view is the only actress alive who can play her,” he said affirmably, “It’s the opening film at Cannes, although I don’t think it’s in competition.”
How was it like working with Kidman? “I’ve worked with her before. Nicole is the hardest working, most sincere, most dedicated actress alive. You don’t become Nicole Kidman without being a phenomenon. Even when sitting with her you can see that all the time she’s working, her eyes are working. She’s very intelligent and you can see in the eyes that she’s always looking for a solution.”
Did you do anything in particular while preparing for your character? For example: a lot of actors like to get under the skin of the roles they are playing to a point where they become that person off camera as well.
“I worked with Daniel Day Lewis (in Gangs of New York) who does that,” he responded, “When his wife came in, he literally spoke to her as Bill the Butcher.”
“No I don’t do that,” he continued, “Hitchcock didn’t practice being in character all the time, and he was a very manufactured personality. He was very manipulative of the press in the way he presented himself. But there is also a Hitchcock off duty where he’s not wearing black or floating around in the water. So, no you can’t stay in character all the time if the character didn’t stay in character all the time.”