SFX: How is season two going? Have you finished filming yet?
Michelle Fairley: We completed season two in the middle of December last year. The shooting from the actor’s point of view is usually from July to December, but then the production, sound, special effects gets done in the interim.
That shooting schedule sounds more like what you’d expect on a film than a TV show. Does it feel like you’re shooting a film on set?
It is epic. The quality from everybody that works on it, the quality of production is incredible. You walk on set and you know you’re in the hands of an amazing bunch of people. The writing, the scripts that you’re working on are so detailed. They haven’t just gone through the books and scribbled something, they’ve really analysed them. So your job when you walk on set is to do justice to everything else around you. It’s wonderful, you feel very privileged.
Do you still shoot primarily in Ireland?
Yes, the main bulk of the shooting is done in the North of Ireland. They have two studios there where they build certain sets, then they have different external locations, like different parts of the North along the coast. Some of the locations I was privileged to be at this past year were absolutely stunning. The location people have just come up trumps. It’s just landscapes, sea, sky, horses and people. Those are the core qualities of life that a person can exist in.
Catelyn Stark starts as a character who’s not particularly comfortable with her place in that world. Do you think she’s become more accepting of her new role by the start of season two?
With Catelyn, her family are originally from the south of the kingdom and she moved north for her marriage. She isn’t a natural northerner, but she’s a very honourable woman, and she made her life up there with her children. She set off on a journey to warn her husband, Ned, who had gone to King’s Landing, and the tragedy is she never reaches her home again. She never actually reaches Winterfell again. She stays on the road doing envoy duties for her son. Her whole motivation to do this is to get her family back together again after the tragic death of her husband. It’s a woman searching and trying. She changes quite dramatically in the second season, because ultimately her goal is being a mother. It’s her core thing. She’s struggling to keep her honour, which she knows is the way she’s always lived her life, but now she’s desperate to get her family back together again.
Do you ever have difficulty wrapping your head around the complex storylines, or the wealth of characters in the scripts?
It is extremely difficult, but that’s what I think is the wonderful thing about it actually. There are these touchstone characters, who are extremely important, and in the second series you have a lot of new characters as well who are vitally important to the thrust of the story. They push the story forward in another direction, but you still have the main characters from the first season. Everybody has a knock on effect on everyone else. It’s one of those series where you do have to watch it. It is extremely complicated, it is extremely layered. It’s exciting because so many of the characters are devious and making out they’re going for one thing when actually underneath they’re scheming for something else.
As an actor you have to play the subtext as well. The thing that Dan and all the other writers, and George has done in the novels, is create real people, but in a different time. The things they’re struggling with are things that people struggle with today, family, moving away, improving your life, proving your worth, doing something to improve the way you think about yourself – the whole self-image thing as well. When you have that dichotomy in a character it’s wonderful to play.
Did you turn to the books in your preparation for season two?
Yes, I did read the books, but I’m still making my way through them. At the moment I’m reading for the next season because I find it better to take it per season. You want to be in the moment as much as possible. What George does wonderfully in the books is he writes chapters for characters. If you’ve read the books you’ll know that every chapter you might have a Catelyn chapter or a chapter on someone else, and in that he goes inside their heads, he tells you what they’re thinking. That, from an actor’s point of view is very useful, and then David [Benioff] and Dan [D B Weiss] and all the other writers have used that and put that into the dialogue. They are very layered the characters and you do have a lot of good references. And actually it’s working off other actors as well. It takes time these things, I can only speak from my point of view, it’s reading and reading and reading the script and knowing the scenes inside out. “What is the importance of this scene, what’s going on here?” And then you have wonderful directors who come in, and they have a different take on it as well. And hopefully you’re working towards the same goal and the writers are always there, so you always know what the points of the scenes are. It’s fantastic having them around.
How closely does the second season stick to the book?
I can’t tell you too much about that, I don’t want to give too much away. That’s the joy in it. I think a lot of people will expect that if they’ve read the books they know what they’re going to get, but there’s so many twists and turns…
Does the second season cover the whole of the second book?
Yes it does, but they have license within there as well. Some things have changed; some things have been padded out. There’s a lot, from my character’s point of view, my son Rob is talked about a lot but he’s actually not in the book that much, but in the second season the guys have taken him and put him in there a lot more than he would be in the book, where he’s gone off to fight a war. In this they’ve taken license and they’ve showed his story as well.
At the beginning of the first season Catelyn has an hugely emotional reaction to her son’s injury, but by the end she doesn’t have time to react to the death of her husband – do you think that was out of necessity or has she fundamentally changed?
I think it’s a double-edged sword. She’s in a position of leadership, and she’s Lady Stark, and she realises the extent when they get the news about her husband that they’re about to go to war. So she can’t break down and she has a son, Rob, wonderfully played by Richard Madden, who is about to become King of the North, so she has to be strong for him. I think that’s one of the wonderful things they’ve done, they don’t show this woman destroyed. Internally she may be in bits, but actually the death of her husband makes her even more determined to get her family back together again, it strengthens her core, but she doesn’t get a chance to sit down and berate and grieve, she has to keep going, because I think if she did stop she’d collapse.
Are you disappointed you didn’t get involved in a bit of swordplay in the first season?
I would love to have a chance to do that, but seeing how brilliant the stunt men and women are, and seeing how some of the outfits are, there’s a lot of training in them, and they actually use heavy metal swords. She’s a lady so she doesn’t fight much. It would have been wonderful to, because there are a couple of scenes where you think “Oh, couldn’t she just…” But it was an executive decision not to get her in there fighting and keep her a lady, and it proves how good the people around her are when she doesn’t have to do that!