Director Alex Graves was tasked with bringing “The Lion and the Rose” off the page (penned by George R.R. Martin) and on to the screen in “Game of Thrones.”
(Spoiler Alert: This story contains major plot details from Sunday’s “GoT.”)
“The West Wing” co-executive producer and director, who went behind the camera for two episodes last season on “Thrones,” spent a lot of time working on Sunday’s offering, which finally brought The Purple Wedding (the fan name for the scene in GRRM’s book) to life. After saying “I do,” to the ambitious Lady Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer), the character fans had a passion for hating – Joffrey Baratheon (Jack Gleeson) – took his last breath (at his wedding feast) and died of poisoning.
Graves began work on the episode quite some time ago, doing research, speaking with the show’s executive producers David Benioff and Dan Weiss, and having a conversation with Gleeson about plans for making Joffrey’s end so painfully believable.
“You can’t direct the show without doing a lot of homework. It’s basically like going back to college and when I went back and started asking the guys questions, I found out about what happened and what happened this season and going forward so that I could actually properly direct scenes, because you want to look back when it’s all said and done and really see all the layers of how it developed,” Graves told Access Hollywood. “And Joffrey’s death, like any death on ‘Game of Thrones’ is actually the beginning of a story.”
AccessHollywood.com: How long was the scene?
Alex Graves: I think it was a 32-page scene… it’s a pretty big episode. A lot of stuff happens. Tyrion has to kick Shae out, Stannis sacrifices some fresh people, Ramsay’s playing around with the dogs, there’s a lot happening and on like page 28 or something it was like, ‘Cut to the Sept of Baelor,’ and then the feast and it just unfolded. And my initial reaction, which I really tried to capture, was it’s very unusual on ‘Game of Thrones’ for people to be bumping into each other and chit chatting if nothing’s gonna happen and as I kept reading the fun little vignettes, I started to get really nervous that something bad was gonna happen and I just tried to captured that.
Access: Tell me about working with Jack and talking with him about his exit. What were your conversations like?
Alex: Well, Jack is, as I’m sure you heard, in a cast full of really nice people, the nicest and just a lovely soul and a very, very intelligent young man and so the show isn’t everything in his world. He’s in college, he’s studying all kinds of different, really interesting things, so I think everybody just wanted to make it great for him behind the scenes and the real sadness was just that everybody would like him to be around forever because everyone likes working with him. … I met with him early, about a year ago, a little more than a year ago, to describe to him what happened when the poison got into his throat, when his breathing tube was closed, and asked him if he could come up with a squeal, which was disturbing to hear, as the final air was going through his windpipe, and he said, ‘Oh, that’s a lovely idea. I’ll go work on that’ (laughs). And sure enough, months later, when we were shooting, he came in and he had that ability to stare at Natalie and inhale as if he was in the last five seconds of being able to breathe, among other things. And he’s just so good, it’s just fun to watch him every minute.
Access: One of the things I took away – the thing that bothered me the most is – you hate this character, but that is a brutal death. And it’s not a pleasant death. … Tell me about what your vision was and how you made it so, because it’s hard to watch him die.
Alex: Oh, I’m so glad to hear you say all this. This is so – I’m so happy. This is like the nicest thing I’ve heard. You actually feel sympathy for Cersei and Joffrey because not only does it boil down to them, as… she’s the only one who really likes him, but it’s a real turn in her story. You’re watching Joffrey die, but you’re actually watching a mother lose a son.
Access:. Is there anything you said to Lena [Headey] when she was doing that moment — where, as Cersei Lannister, she watches her baby die, and then accuses her brother — to get the performance out of her?
Alex: You don’t have to talk to Lena very much about doing something interesting and complex. She has one of the largest imaginations I’ve ever seen in an actor and it’s just really, I think, incredible on the show and under-celebrated. But, I think the main thing was letting her know just a little bit more about where this goes and what it means and then also, I think when somebody like Cersei, who at a minimum has a mood disorder, is fed such a catalytic event for her own paranoia, you can only imagine how she feels and I think that what you’re left with is she doesn’t feel safe with anybody going forward besides her father.
Access: What happened when you said, ‘Cut,’ after you guys shot Jack’s death scene?
Alex: When we were done shooting, I made a speech there about him to everybody, which he was adorable about. You’d never know how sweet and shy and intelligent this guy really is. He’s just a wonder. The line producers did something really brilliant, which was that they scheduled more work for after that and so when we were done shooting his death, we had to go back to Belfast and do more, and so I took their lead and shot his death, not the last day of filming, but in the middle of the filming, and that way, when we were done filming his death, it was like, ‘OK, see you tomorrow.’ And we came back, because The Red Wedding — the actors were killed [off, they] walked out of the sound stage and left the show and never came back and it was very sad and I really wanted Jack’s exit to be like you’re sending your little one off to college.
Access: What did you say in your speech?
Alex: I said basically what I say now, which is that one of his hobbies is acting. He’s interested in much bigger things and much more interesting things in his mind, but he will never be able to out run or deny the fact that he is one of the most gifted actors on the planet and you cannot imagine what it’s like to be on set, chit chatting with this lovely young guy about quantum physics and then say, ‘Action,’ and he is Joffrey. And you say, ‘Cut!’ and it’s over. And it’s not just casting, his ability, his imagination for creating that character and communicating the internal threat of that character — it’s to his credit. It’s not just some accident. I mean, he’s really brilliant. So, some version of that, hopefully more articulate.
For more about other big moments in the episode from our interview with Alex Graves, log on to AccessHollywood.com on Tuesday.
-- Jolie Lash