From playing Start James in the original British series Queer As Folk, to Tommy Carcetti in The Wire, actor Aidan Gillen has starred in some of the greatest TV series of all time. But he may have topped them all with his latest role as Peter Baelish AKA ‘Littlefinger’, in TV’s most talked about show Game Of Thrones, which is also the most illegally downloaded TV show of all time. Thanks to GOT’s New Zealand home SoHo, express has this exclusive interview:
Q: This is a large ensemble cast with correspondingly limited screen time for each cast member. Is that frustrating when you have a character as rich as Baelish to work with?
AG: Not at all. You have to bear in mind that somewhere down the line there’s going be even just one scene that changes the perception of the character for the audience or for yourself. Having worked in a couple of series like that before I know that it’s okay to wait – it’s better to be in a few scenes of a good episode or a few episodes of a good season than to be all over something that’s subpar. The quality of the writing and the production on this series is really high so as long as the pieces you’ve got are good it’s fine. The fact that they have these parallel story lines running that have yet to intercept, four seasons in – that’s pretty brave and ground breaking. It puts a lot of faith in the audiences and they repay that faith.
Q: Was that something you also found working on The Wire?
AG: Yes, but Game of Thrones has pushed it even further than The Wire, I think, in term of Daenerys’ character and journey – it’s four seasons in and for her to be still on the road is amazing. That’s what makes it interesting to me. If you had all of that together by the end of season one well, where do you go from there?
Q: Did you have any idea when you joined this show that it would be so big?
AG: I wouldn’t have predicted that what’s essentially a fantasy show based on a series of fantasy novels would be as mainstream a hit as it has become. And it’s not just a hit but a pop phenomenon where you’ll see references coming up from episodes of The Simpsons to Mad Magazine to Saturday Night Live: everywhere, basically. To have such detailed parodies on there is a reflection of how deeply ingrained in the culture it’s become. I think the reason is that it surprised people in its approach to the fantasy genre – it was so real for the first season, and there was barely any magic. We didn’t see dragons until episode ten. When we saw them we believed them because we believe the people. It was all rooted so much in human experience that we can relate to, like family and power and war, revenge, all of those things.
Q: Did you model Baelish on anyone in particular?
AG: Any modern politician will surely have read Machiavelli’s The Prince. That was one reference point. Physically, when I read it I thought, “This guy reminds me of Peter Mandelson,” and I brought in a picture of Peter Mandelson and I said, “Can I look like that?” The look, it’s not identical but it’s close enough. And the whole prince of darkness thing and his position within Government and everything. And his personality – it’s not shady, it’s something a bit more mercurial and a bit more shiny than that. He’s a bit of star, Mandelson. So I definitely initially considered the character to be a politician – yet he’s not really a politician. This guy is a player and a schemer and a manipulator but he doesn’t have an official position as a politician. Initially he was in the court, he was a politician, he was a Treasurer. But even now he’s not, he still plays political games.
Q: Aside from any other motivation, does he get a thrill from just playing the game?
AG: Totally, it’s gone beyond self-defence. Playing the game is definitely where he gets his kicks, for sure and it’s all about the journey. I don’t even know where the end is – it’s not necessarily power, ultimate power; it is definitely about playing the game, laying out the tracks, watching it come into play, watching the things drop into place as placed by him.It’s more like not directly controlling one person but playing people off each other so that way down the line stuff is unfurling. His plans reach quite far and they’re daring, but there’s a certain amount of thrill seeking also. He’s not a safe player: you can have those people who play those games but in a safe way; then you’ve got people who are daring. You’re probably going to gain more from being daring but it’s also going to be just more exciting for you.
Q: Do you think he fears for his own life?
AG: Everyone risks death in Game of Thrones, all the time.
Q: Do you think he cares about other people? Does he care about Sansa?
AG: I think he does care about other people, yeah. But he is slippery and he should be hard to read. I would hope it’s not too obvious that he cares. Probably my ambition would be to try and keep spinning that, and continue thinking about it and trying to find new ways of behaving, of being with other people. I definitely do think there is some of that in season four – and hopefully beyond!
Q: What’s it been like being part of arguably the biggest TV show the world?
AG: It’s been good. I don’t have a problem with being in the biggest show in the world at all! I’ve been in a few TV series but this is probably the biggest. The Wire attracted a lot of critical acclaim and all the rest of it and ultimately did become a very widely watched show. But this has been huge from the beginning. It’s not what I’m out for but it means that because I’m doing it I can do things from completely the other end of the spectrum, like making a zero budget film in a pub in Brixton with no catering and no transport and no pay. I’m not into it for being famous or any of this stuff. I just want to be in stuff that’s good and if that happens to be a massive TV show that’s fine.
Q: And how will things proceed for Littlefinger in the new season?
AG: What I think we’re going to get more of in the new season is more of him exercising his duties as a type of surrogate parent to Robin Arryn. Because Robin, as we know, is fatherless and needs some guidance and some structure in his life.
Q: Where is Littlefinger heading and what is his motivation?
AG: I can’t tell you what the end of the line is. I don’t know. I have ideas but it’s not always good to be trying to play something that you know. I think it’s important that the books aren’t written yet, aren’t finished, in that sense. What drives Littlefinger is rejection and humiliation but way, way back. He is about getting himself to a position where no one can hurt him. It’s not about hurting other people though – although other people do get hurt along the way and he is devious and he does some harsh, hard things – but I also think there’s a gentle side that we may see a little more of, a more wistful side. Always remembering of course that the world is brutal and being good doesn’t guarantee you’re going to make it through.
Game Of Thrones Season 4 is screened on Monday nights on Sky’s SoHo channel at 8.30pm, and is repeated on Sundays at 9.30pm.