NEW YORK ‚ÄĒ Like every ‚ÄúGame of Thrones‚ÄĚ fan, Charles Dance was gobsmacked by last season‚Äôs next-to-last installment.
That episode floored viewers with its ritualistic ‚Äúred wedding,‚ÄĚ a massacre staged by Lord Walder Frey, the bride‚Äôs father, who meant to settle a score with his hall of guests, and did.
‚ÄúI got quite a shock!‚ÄĚ says Dance, speaking for everyone who saw it. ‚ÄúIt was bloody in the extreme!‚ÄĚ
The fact Dance was caught off-guard is notable, since he‚Äôs a star of the show. Indeed, the character he plays, Lord Tywin Lannister, had a hand in the bloodshed.
But he didn‚Äôt actually appear in that episode, ‚Äúand when I‚Äôm not in it, to be honest with you, I don‚Äôt read the script,‚ÄĚ Dance says. ‚ÄúI catch up on what‚Äôs happening when the episode airs.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúGame of Thrones,‚ÄĚ which returns Sunday at 8 p.m. on HBO, will pack its next punch soon enough in the new season. Such is the nature of this epic fantasy, set on a make-believe continent called Westeros, chock-full of warring kingdoms, rugged landscapes, lots of sex and swordplay, and, of course, fire-breathing dragons.
If the scale of the series is vast, the source material is no less sprawling: the five-and-counting novels by George R.R. Martin in the ‚ÄúA Song of Ice and Fire‚ÄĚ series.
‚ÄúI still have not read the books,‚ÄĚ Dance says. ‚ÄúThey frighten me, books that thick. And, anyway, we‚Äôre dealing with an adaptation. I think it‚Äôs counterproductive for actors to come to the set with well-thumbed copies of the book their film is adapted from.‚ÄĚ
Dance‚Äôs despotic Lord Tywin is the grandfather of King Joffrey, an infantile tyrant whose betrothed is the granddaughter of Olenna Tyrell. Lady Olenna is played by Diana Rigg.
On-screen soon-to-be in-laws, Rigg and Dance have known and worked together for decades, including a 1997 British TV adaptation of ‚ÄúRebecca.‚ÄĚ Little wonder they get on famously as they meet with a reporter at a Manhattan hotel.
Rigg says she hasn‚Äôt read the ‚ÄúGame of Thrones‚ÄĚ books either.
‚ÄúI rely upon the directors to fill me in before a shot,‚ÄĚ she confides. ‚ÄúThey‚Äôre very good with reminders.‚ÄĚ
The show‚Äôs dozens of cast members include Peter Dinklage, Lena Headey, Jack Gleeson, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Emilia Clarke. Asked what drew him into this elite community, Dance smiles and answers, ‚ÄúThe writing was good, the costumes are great and, eventually, the location catering was fantastic.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúI loved the idea of playing this naughty old bag,‚ÄĚ Rigg says, offering her own explanation. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs my idea of heaven.‚ÄĚ
Now 75, Rigg has had a rich and varied career in theater, both in her native Britain and as a Tony Award winner on Broadway, as well as films including the James Bond caper ‚ÄúOn Her Majesty‚Äôs Secret Service‚ÄĚ and even an NBC sitcom.
But her breakout role was in 1965 in the British TV thriller ‚ÄúThe Avengers,‚ÄĚ where she played the catsuit-clad karate queen Emma Peel.
‚ÄúIt put me on the map,‚ÄĚ she says, ‚Äúwhich a lifetime of Shakespeare wouldn‚Äôt have done.‚ÄĚ
Tall and imperial, Dance, 67, grew up working-class in England and overcame a teenage stammer to devote himself to theater. His breakout project was the 1984 British TV hit ‚ÄúThe Jewel in the Crown,‚ÄĚ which he followed with such films as ‚ÄúMichael Collins‚ÄĚ and ‚ÄúGosford Park‚ÄĚ and the British miniseries ‚ÄúBleak House,‚ÄĚ as well as lots of theater.
His first job: working as a dresser in the original West End production of ‚ÄúFiddler on the Roof.‚ÄĚ
Then he landed a spot in a London repertory company with a crushing regime: ‚ÄúIt was 16 plays in 16 weeks. ‚ÄėWhat‚Äôs my motivation?‚Äô ‚ÄėYour weekly paycheck. Just learn the lines and don‚Äôt bump into the furniture.‚Äô‚ÄĚ
Learning the lines wasn‚Äôt always possible, as when Dance‚Äôs mind went blank during a performance of ‚ÄúCharley‚Äôs Aunt.‚ÄĚ But he was rescued. ‚ÄúA co-star came onstage with a tray. ‚ÄėLetter for you, sir.‚Äô And on the tray was the page I needed from the script.‚ÄĚ
Likewise, Rigg paid her dues in repertory. Besides dashing onstage to say her lines, she was charged with such production chores as handling recorded sound effects and background music.
‚ÄúOnce, when the curtain was coming down, I was supposed to play ‚ÄėRide of the Valkyries,‚Äô‚ÄĚ she says. Instead, she mistakenly cued up a polka. ‚ÄúThe looks I got from the rest of the cast at our curtain call!‚ÄĚ
Rigg and Dance are cracking up at their shared memories of starting out so long ago. But both are caught short by this inquiry: When did you know you had finally made it?
‚ÄúWhen I could book a holiday,‚ÄĚ Dance replies after a bit of thought, ‚Äúand know there was a job to come back to.‚ÄĚ
As for Rigg, ‚ÄúIt was when I found money in a handbag I didn‚Äôt know I had: ‚ÄėHow did THAT get in there and how did I not notice it? I must be on my way!‚Äô‚ÄĚ