From wildling to rock star for Game of Thrones siren
In case you were in any doubt as to the new world order, swords and dragons are the new rock and roll. Just ask Game of Thrones star Rose Leslie who has been shocked at her new found star status ever since her first San Diego Comic Convention in 2012 after appearing on only a handful of episodes as the wildling Ygritte, love interest to Jon Snow.
“It’s mind blowing,” she says of walking on stage in front of thousands of screaming fans. “It’s the one moment in your life where you go, ‘So this is how Mick Jagger feels’.”
I had no idea who George RR Martin was … I didn’t even know what a wildling was!
There’s a flip side to her fantasy epic rockstar status though. Leslie is constantly monitoring her words, careful not to give anything away about future events in the smash hit HBO series based on George RR Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire book series.
“There is that persona, that kind of battle guard that comes up,” she admits while in Sydney to promote the home entertainment release of the third season. “It’s tricky relaxing and enjoying interviews without giving anything away.
Leslie with her former offscreen lover Richard Madden (Robb Stark) at a comic convention in July 2013. Photo: Getty
Yet the tour itself may act as a hint of sorts. This time last year Michelle Fairley, who plays Catelyn Stark, came to Australia to promote Game of Thrones‘ season two home entertainment release. Given the ensuing events of the penultimate ‘Red Wedding’ episode of season three, and its consequences for Catelyn, does an Australian tour bode poorly for Ygritte? Is the red-haired wildling set to appear in season four’s second-last episode – one that historically has a high mortality rate?
“She is!” Leslie admits while insisting the Australian tour is just a coincidence. “She is involved. Historically there are climactic events that happen in the penultimate episode.” Without hinting as to her survival chances, she adds “I can safely guarantee that episode nine is going to be mind-blowing. It’s going to be incredible.”
It’s all a long way from 2011 when young Scottish actress Leslie, fresh from the set of Downton Abbey, found herself waiting outside an audition room surrounded by red-haired actresses.
“I was one of many ginger girls in London and I was absolutely distraught because I remember thinking I had a monopoly. But no, for every character there was a cattle call.”
Going in, Leslie knew surprisingly little about her character or the series.
“Ignorance is bliss,” she laughs. “I remember walking into the audition completely oblivious to the fact that this already had a cult following with the books, [or even] that this was already airing on TV. I had no idea who George RR Martin was … I didn’t even know what a wildling was! So it was very lucky, I think if I did have a scope of the scale of everything I think I would have been a bag of nerves.”
As Gwen Dawson in season one of Downton Abbey. Photo: Supplied
Nerves haven’t proved a problem for Leslie. Quite the reverse, as she cites shooting the scenes in which Ygritte scales the 800 foot wall of ice as “the toughest and also the most enjoyable”.
Shunning the oft-parodied method of turning the camera on its side and having the actors crawl along the ground pretending to be scaling a cliff, the show’s art department instead constructed a fifty foot wall of polystyrene covered in wax in the show’s massive former-shipyard studio.
“It was incredible. It took about 10 days to shoot. You were 40 feet up in the air and harnessed, so incredibly safe, [but] you’re hanging on for dear life because they suddenly drop the rope that you’re attached to by an inch so that your biceps start moving and you’re genuinely holding on to your body weight. Then there’s a wind machine from the left and a snow machine from the right. Doing that day after day was so exhilarating. It was thrilling.”
The problem was the script didn’t call for Ygritte to be thrilled.
“There was a shot where I had to fall. They dropped me maybe twenty feet. And we did it over and over again because I was enjoying it too much! The director was like ‘can we act please? Can you not have a smile on your face when you’re being dropped?’”
“I think he was looking for the fear in the eyes. He wasn’t getting that. So he decided to tell the guys on the ground to drop me at a faster rate, but without telling me, so there is that genuine shock of ‘holy s—t!’
“So he finally got what he wanted,” Leslie laughs.
Her response was hardly that of the ego-maniacal rock star. “I giggled. I loved it. I said ‘let’s do that again!’ I was like ‘this is why I went to drama school!”
Season 3 is available now on DVD