Access Countdown To ‘Game Of Thrones’ Season 2: Q&A Liam Cunningham Talks Davos Seaworth

It’s a brisk Friday evening in Dublin, Ireland and the temperature is threatening to dip into the 30s, but “Game of Thrones” newcomer Liam Cunningham is running hot.

The Irish actor, who brought tears to movie theater goers when he saved a stallion in a pivotal scene in Steven Spielberg’s Oscar-nominated “War Horse,” can’t wait for spring, and it has nothing to do with the impending rise on the local thermometer.

In just two months from today – on April 1 — HBO’s triumphantly successful series, “Game of Thrones,” based on the books by George R. R. Martin, finally returns to the small screen. And, although he made a stamp on the 2011 stateside cable scene as a desperate father (Starz’s “Camelot”), a terrorist (“Strike Back” on Cinemax) and a new-planet-colonizing president (BBC America’s “Outcasts”), 2012 brings a new era for the Irishman as Liam enters the fight for the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros as Davos Seaworth, right hand man to Robert Baratheon’s brother, the much-talked about, and soon to be unveiled, Stannis.

“I can’t tell you how happy I am to be involved in it,” Liam tells down the phone line, his enthusiasm bubbling through our transatlantic connection.

Today, at we begin our countdown to Season 2, where we plan to bring you a new interview each week with one member of the cast or crew, and we’re kicking things off with Liam, who plays one of the upcoming season’s most compelling new characters. For many watchers, Davos’ sense of honor and personal moral code will fill the void left following the beheading of Sean Bean’s Eddard “Ned” Stark, but whether he’ll suffer the same fate remains to be seen. At Comic-Con, show bosses D.B. Weiss and David Benioff told me that despite looking not a whole heck of a lot like Davos as he’s been written, they felt you’d be ‘incredible’ in this role. What do you think won them over in the audition?

Liam Cunningham: Well, we have a tiny bit of history because I met them for the original series, but things didn’t work out with timing and various bits and pieces, and they said, ‘Look just please, please, please come back next year… So this character came up. He’s warm, and he’s got a humanity and a loyalty about him.
Because I came to acting quite late, I kind of think one of the few attributes that I do have is that I try to be honest with the character, with the writing. I’m not a tricks-y actor, I’m not exactly a scenery chewing kind of actor. I try to bring an honesty to the portrayals that I’m doing and Davos Seaworth — he’s famed for his honesty, and famed for his loyalty and he has a decency about him. Maybe I fell into that category.

Access: After you were cast, did you find the community of ‘GOT’ fans seeking you out?

Liam: Yeah. I’m on Twitter now. I don’t have a huge amount of followers. All opinions are my own… But the fans are wonderful. I even – I like the website, Winter is Coming; I’m on the hashtag #GameOfThrones. If any news comes in, I’m all over it. I’m a fan! So for a fan to be involved in the making of show is a wonderful, wonderful thing.

Access: Have you read the books?

Liam: No, I’m avoiding the books. One of the reasons is, Davos — he’s kind of a point of view character. He doesn’t actually do that much engaging, I’m told, and so they wrote this person as opposed to just seeing what his thoughts are. They’ve had to do a lot of writing for his engagement with [fellow new characters] Stannis and with Melisandre. I talked to the boys [David and D.B]. The boys said to me, ‘Have you read the books?’ And I said, ‘No, I don’t really like doing that.’ And they went ‘Well, we don’t tell anyone whether to read them or not, but we think it’s a good idea if the actors don’t.’ (laughs)… I think that’s fair enough.

VIDEO: Dish Of Salt: Liam Cunningham – ‘It’s Incredibly Rewarding’ To Be On ‘Game Of Thrones’

Access: I can imagine as an actor, you don’t always want to know what the road holds.

Liam: Not only that, but if there’s something in the books that for time purposes or for scheduling of these one hour episodes that they can’t use, that you particularly like as an actor about the character in the book, it can be quite heartbreaking.

Access: So tell us a little bit about Davos – he’s a noble man who carries the weight – literally – of his smuggler’s past?

Liam: He came from Flea Bottom – the poorest part of King’s Landing, and when Stannis was under severe threat and his family was dying and everybody in the castle was dying… Davos came in, smuggled in a boat full of onions and some ham and peas and various things, and he became known as ‘The Onion Knight,’ ‘cause he was knighted by Stannis, who appreciated this amazing gesture that he did. But, at the same time, Stannis, being a stickler for justice, spoke to him and said, ‘We’re going to have to punish you for smuggling’ and chopped off four of his fingers

Access: With his permission.

Liam: Absolutely… The bizarre relationship that they have is that Stannis still feels absolutely right for doing it and Davos still feels that Stannis was completely justified by doing it. So they have this level of loyalty. It’s almost reminiscent of Ned and Robert Baratheon. You just knew that Ned Stark was never going to do a bad thing or never do anything wrong against Robert Baratheon and Davos is exactly the same — he’s loyal without question, but at the same time he is a consigliore. He’s very much like Robert Duvall’s character in ‘The Godfather’. He’s a delight to play.

Access: Speaking of the finger incident, how’s your left hand?

Liam: My left hand is fine because we’ve slightly adjusted the story because I am left handed. We’ve actually had to sever the right hand fingers, which were beautifully done. I’ve had them off in a very high-class hospital, that’s my commitment to my part (laughs).

Access: You worked with Carice Van Houten in the 2011 film ‘Black Butterflies,’ but she’s somebody totally different in this series. What is she like as Melisandre, the red priestess?

Liam: Well, I can say to anybody reading this — and I’m not going to give anything away — what this lady gets up to, especially as we approach halfway through the season, I think it’s going to be one of the most astonishing ends to an episode that people are gonna see. When I read it, my jaw was almost on the ground, when we shot it, my jaw was on the ground. It’s pretty amazing… and Carice herself, it’s bizarre — the last time we worked together, we played lovers — and then this time around, we more or less completely despise each other. I think her character is undermining Stannis — is leading, is catching his eye, is out for power, is to be totally mistrusted and our relationship is far from friendly and both of us are pulling at Stannis. It’s a really interesting dynamic.

VIDEO: Dish Of Salt: Liam Cunningham Takes On ‘Game Of Thrones’ & Melisandre

Access: Stephen Dillane plays Stannis and we’ve seen him looking quite stern in the previews. Is he frightening in that character?

Liam: He’s described in the books as being humorless and dour and stern and Stephen, as a person, is absolutely anything but. He has the driest sense of humor. He’s wonderful to be around. We spend a lot of time laughing. Stephen’s an extraordinary actor to watch working… We’re both kind of theater guys and Royal Shakespeare Company and we both love the process of getting a scene correct… He’s one of the best actors in Britain at the moment and he’s a proper actor. He’s not a movie star, he’s an actor and I mean that as a compliment.

Access: Before I let you go, you apparently said you were nervous to meet Stephen Spielberg, who directed you in ‘War Horse.’ How come?

Liam: He’s been such a part of my growing up. One of the most wonderful moments I ever had when I was growing up — one of the things you do with your dad — [was when my father] brought me to see ‘Jaws’ and we sat side by side, scared out of our wits when I was like 13 years old. And then, 35 years [or so later], I find myself on the set with the man, doing this monster of a movie.
The day I arrived, there were 350 extras, there was effects coming out [of] every orifice on the set, it was extraordinary. But he was just wonderfully generous. When you get the opportunity to work with somebody of that caliber, you get really scared, because you do not want to let them down, and the other people who put their faith in you, I hold them in such high regard that it’s bound to be understandable. I believe they call it a sphincter-tightening experience.

“Game of Thrones” Season 2 premieres April 1 at 9 PM on HBO.

— Jolie Lash

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