TV

Charles Dance: "The BBC would have pulled the plug on Game of Thrones"

Veteran actor Charles Dance reflects on his difficult school days, the wonder of Benedict Cumberbatch and his Game of Thrones demise...

At 16 I didn’t have a plan because, for some peculiar reason, I didn’t think I would live beyond 21.I don’t know why. It sounds really odd. But I was haunted by the idea that I would die of some terrible disease. Then my 21st birthday came along and I thought, wow, I’ve made it. But is the Grim Reaper waiting around the corner? So I really didn’t know what I wanted to do.

I had a terrible stammer all the way through my adolescence. For some people it is acne or really bad behaviour but for me, as my adolescence started at 12 or 13 so I began to stammer. It stayed with me until I was about 19. There were words that I had to make the most complicated sentences to avoid using because I couldn’t be seen to be a stammerer. All the confidence I had at primary school, where I can remember showing off and having fun in plays, vanished.

I was a good athlete but I wasn’t particularly academic. I was reasonably artistic but I had no idea what I wanted to do. I would hate to be 16 now because education has become about cramming rather than focussing on what talents the kid has inside and creating an environment to bring them out. It is all vocation now, unless you have a lot of money and can send your children to a well-equipped private school.

It wasn’t until I was halfway through art school that my stammer disappeared and I remembered how much fun I’d had acting at primary school

I was brought up in Plymouth and misspent a lot of my youth in Cornwall. I worked during college holidays as a waiter or a barman. To my surprise, I even got a job as head waiter at a small hotel that was like Fawlty Towers. It was noted more for the quantity than the quality of the food.

If I were to advise my 16-year-old self, I would tell him not to be too impatient. It wasn’t until I was halfway through art school that my stammer disappeared and I remembered how much fun I’d had acting at primary school. I realised I didn’t want to be a graphic designer so I joined the theatre group at my art school. When I started doing weekly rep, I felt I had come home. You don’t have time to ask about your motivation. What is your motivation? Your pay packet!

I have always been political. I am more to the left than to the right but perhaps not too far – because the further left you go, the closer you get back to the right. But most politicians I wouldn’t trust further than I can spit. They are all tarred with an odd brush.

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People think in this industry we are all party animals, but I never have wild nights out. I know some people who can party until all hours and still get up and be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. I can’t. If I go out for an evening, 11.30pm is way past my bedtime. After that, I’m fucked.

I have taken some jobs because of where they are being shot. The end result might be a load of crap but if I get to spend six weeks somewhere exciting then I’ll take it. I did a film in Beirut a few years ago – it doesn’t matter which, it never say the light of day – but I got to spend six weeks in Beirut. I met some fascinating people in that poor country that has had people bombing it – from Syria to Israel – for so long.

I am away from home for 75 per cent of the year. I just like working. That is why I do this job. So if another malevolent authority figure comes along that is not too much like the one I played before, and if I think I can make him as different as possible, then I will do it.

Tom Hardy is an actor we will be talking about for a long time to come

Young actors today are far more streetwise than I was as a young man. And aren’t there a lot of them! They are all pushing each other out of the way. I play their parents or, God forbid, grandparents – surrounded by kids in their 20s who have really got their shit together. The ambition coming off them could take the enamel off your teeth. But I wish they didn’t have to get on a plane and go straight to America as soon as they get some success here.

You can recognise the Etonian actors the minute as they walk into the room. They ooze charm. I know a few of them and they are terrific. I have worked with Benedict Cumberbatch a few times now. They have this enormous confidence, while the acting talent coming out of state schools tend to have a useful chip on their shoulder, so they are driven by a kind of ‘fuck you’ attitude. Tom Hardy is an actor we will be talking about for a long time to come.

None of us were expecting Game of Thrones to become a global phenomenon [Dance as Lord Tywin Lannister, above]. I was in Belfast, doing a not very good film called Your Highness, when a bunch of people who were making this pilot for a television series called Game of Thrones came to look at the studio. The pilot wasn’t successful but HBO and Sky Atlantic nurtured it, kept it going. The BBC would have pulled the plug immediately. The storylines are so labyrinthine that I never met some of the cast. I only met Emilia Clarke, Mother of Dragons, at a photoshoot but we made a film together last year. She is very wacky, very funny and has boundless energy.

I knew my character’s death was inevitable because someone in the street told me. The books are too thick, I couldn’t face them. But a guy came up to me and said. “Game of Thrones is great – you’ve got this great death scene!” I said: “Oh, have I? And what is the manner of my demise?” He told me in some detail. I asked for a decent funeral so I could go back at the beginning of series five. I will still watch future series. I need to see if Jon Snow is dead…

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