British actor Mackenzie Crook heads North of The Wall this weekend in HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” making his first appearance as the wildling Orell.
Playing the wildling and warg (a human who can inhabit animals) is a bit of a change for the actor, who famously brought to life the nerdy, Territorial army-loving Gareth in the original, British version of “The Office,” and later made theatergoers laugh as the less than Mensa-worthy Ragetti in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise. And, in a new interview with AccessHollywood.com, ahead of his “GOT” debut this weekend, Mackenzie said his “GOT” part is one he relished in inhabiting.
“It’s great to be able to play a character like that because… I’m quite often the geeky, goofy character,” he said of Orell, who is both mystical (thanks to the warg thing), fearsome (like most wildlings) and a threat to Kit Harington’s Jon Snow (of whom he is suspicious).
Playing a wildling took the actor to Iceland alongside Kit, Rose Leslie (Ygritte), Kristofer Hivju (Tormund Giantsbane) and Ciaran Hinds (Mance Rayder), in the cold of November, to film. And Mackenzie shared stories from that adventure, as well as hinted about what’s to come for Orell and the wildlings when he spoke with Access.
AccessHollywood.com: First things first – you’re so well known… I’ve got a suspicion they may have approached you before. Did they come to you before about this series?
Mackenzie Crook: Yeah, actually I did go and read when they were getting the cast together for the first season. I can’t remember exactly what I read for, but yeah, it didn’t happen for whatever reason and this time around they came back again and asked me again. So I’m glad I got to do it.
Access: What was it like working in Iceland?
Mackenzie: It was great… The storylines are so huge and epic and there were just really the four of us and then Ciaran [Hinds, who plays Mance Rayder] makes it five, but it was kind of small group so we could concentrate very much on our story. We were working in these extreme environments. Shooting in Iceland was just crazy. It was really exhausting, but it was incredible. You really felt like you were there.
Access: At the premiere, James Cosmo, who plays Lord Commander Mormont, told us he stripped down and jumped in an Iceland hot pool — in a cave — to stay warm. Did you do anything wacky to stay warm?
Mackenzie: Not during filming… It was incredibly cold. This is November that we were there. On our day off we did go get into one of these caves where you get these volcanic pools. But… it’s almost too hot to get in — like the hottest bathtub ever. You’re going through the snow and then you find a hole in the ground, climb into a hole in the ground and then you strip off and you get into a hot tub. It’s just bizarre. It’s like being on another planet.
Access: So were there ‘Game of Thrones’ cast members just all chilling out in hot tubs in caves? I’m getting a strange visual picture now…
Mackenzie: Well, yeah, that’s what you did, that’s their way of life. All their water is heated from volcanoes and it all comes up from deep underground. It’s a really strange place that I would advise anyone to go [to]. It was incredible, especially at that time of the year, which is not when most people would go. You usually wait ‘til the summer when it’s a little bit more friendly. But to go there at that time of year was brilliant.
Access: They announced you were part of the cast last July during Comic-Con. What did people say to you after they heard the news? It must have been a relief to have finally been able to confirm you were in the show.
Mackenzie: Yeah, there was that because I was having to bite my tongue for a couple of months beforehand, so I went over to Belfast and we had this read through, the table read, which is the biggest table read I’ve ever seen. It was huge — on a banqueting table with like 100 people sitting ‘round. So there was all of that excitement and getting to meet the other cast, and being officially a member of the cast, but not being able to tell anyone. So yeah, it was a relief to be able to speak about it, but then, of course, we’re sworn to secrecy about plots and what’s going to happen and even now I have to watch what I say.
Access: So, here’s what I’ve heard from Rose Leslie and Kit Harington. You – Mackenzie — are the sweetest man ever, but Orell is a nasty piece of work. So what do you to get into character? Apparently he is not a nice guy.
Mackenzie: Yeah, it’s great to be able to play a character like that because… I’m quite often the geeky, goofy character. That’s kind of what I’m often called on to play. So to be able to play a really — I mean, I don’t think he’s evil. He’s not an evil character, but he’s very suspicious of Jon Snow and doesn’t believe him and he doesn’t like him being in the wildling group. He’s not going to give him an easy time… I don’t know how I got into character. It’s so beautifully written that you just read the lines and you know exactly where you’re supposed to be, what you’re doing. It didn’t take an awful lot of going away and thinking about the character, because it’s all there and it’s so beautifully written.
Access: You’ve said this is one of the most physical roles you’ve had. Were you in pain, using the British equivalent of Tiger Balm on your muscles?
Mackenzie: I think I probably go on about this too much — how exhausting it was for me, because actors don’t often have a hard time, don’t often have cause for complaint, really. But it was relentless, like really grueling work. And brilliant. It’s exhilarating, but yeah, really tough.
Access: Are you the kind of actor that can watch his own work or not?
Mackenzie: I kind of have of a bit of trouble with it… There’s various jobs that I have done that I can watch no problem… Usually, I kind of steer clear…
Access: The reason I ask that is because I’ve heard the same thing from other actors. But, this story is so big and so many things are filmed in other countries. Does that make it easier – and more exciting to watch? If you’re not there when it’s filmed, the magic isn’t taken away.
Mackenzie: Absolutely. I think I’ll be able to immerse myself in it like any viewer would do just because yeah, there’s so much going on that I’ve sort of read in the scripts, but you can only visualize it so far when you read it. And then, to actually see it on screen is an experience altogether. So I’m looking forward to seeing [the season].
“Game of Thrones” airs Sunday nights at 9 PM on HBO.
-- Jolie Lash