Tim Plester Interview - Game of Thrones
Tim Plester was born in 1970 in Banbury, North Oxfordshire, England.
He is an actor and filmmaker, known for AFTER LIFE (2019), GAME OF
THRONES: DAS LIED VON EIS UND FEUER (2011) and BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY
(2018). He is also the co-director of the acclaimed documentaries WAY
OF THE MORRIS (2011) and THE BALLAD OF SHIRLEY COLLINS (2017) - both
of which are available to stream/download via Vimeo.
- Thank you Tim Plester for being my guest for this interview.
Danke Bernd. It makes a welcome change from home-schooling with my
6-year-old daughter, which is occupying most of my time during this
epoch of unprecedented unprecedentedness.
- Tim you started your career in 2001, appearing in the BBC TV series
THE RESIDENTS. What made you want to become an actor?
Truth is, I don’t really remember a time when I didn’t want to be an
actor. The bug struck pretty early in that respect and probably goes way back to my experiences with nativity plays whilst at primary school. I recall playing The Angel Gabriel one year and then the following year being cast in the role of King Herod. Now obviously
we’re talking about very superficial performances here, but something about being given the opportunity to dress-up and inhabit such contrasting personas had a formative and enduring effect upon me. It
was also whilst at primary school that I first started writing plays -
primarily, it has to be said, as a purely egotistical way of trying to create all the best parts for myself! I went on to study theatre at Dartington College of Arts in Devon, and there was a period of time
following graduation when I put all of my efforts into writing rather than pursuing a precarious career as an actor. However, the urge to
perform ultimately came back to bite me like a Pavlovian dog and so these days I do my best to try and balance my time betwixt the two;
though my writing has mostly metamorphosed into my ongoing documentary
- In 2013 you made your first appearance in GAME OF THRONES as Black
in the Season 3 Episode "The Climb”. How was it the first time on Set?
Although I was aware of the gargantuan reputation of the show prior to my first day on set, I’d never actually seen an episode. That probably
helped suppress any potential nerves actually, as did the fact that I’d worked with both Tobias Menzies (Edmure Tully) and Clive Russell (The Blackfish) before on previous projects. My first scene took place
on the Riverrun set, which had been constructed inside Belfast's voluminous Paint Hall Studios. The scene required all cast members to
be seated around a large wooden table; thus there was very little action involved but a whole heap of talking to get through.
Now, one might assume that those kinds of scenarios are the easy ones to shoot,
but they’re actually rather slow and methodical work, as you have to film each individual actor separately and then obviously make sure you’ve got some wider angles covered as well.
The scene took most of the day to complete if memory serves. The thing I remember most about
that first time on set is something that the director Alik Sakharov did. He was a very gentle director, not tyrannical at all, and after
each take he would come quietly onto set, bend down next to whichever actor was on camera at the time and carefully whisper directions into
their ear. He was basically trying to get as many variations in performance as he could, which is entirely normal, but what stood out
about Alik’s approach, was the fact that once he was completely happy
with the various options he’d got in the bank, he would venture back to set one last time, kneel down and whisper; “let’s do one final take
and this time just give me your own version of it - whatever it is you want to do!”
Now, in my experience, that level of personal direction
is rare, particularly on such a huge show. I’m not 100% sure whether any of those “my” takes actually ended-up in the final edit or not,
but just being given that sense of trust from a director on your very
first day is something I’ll be forever grateful to Alik for.
- In the Episode “The Rains of Castamere” you killed Michelle Fairley
in one of the biggest shock moments for the fans. What was it like to make thisscene for yourself?
Well, there was an almighty amount of pressure built around getting
that scene spot-on, that’s for sure. A few of the background artistes
that I’d spoken to (including the actual drummer from the actual rock band Coldplay) had read the original books, and so I’d been made
painfully aware of what a big deal the whole ‘Red Wedding’ was going
to be and in particular what an iconic moment Catelyn’s unforeseen death was set to become. Often things are filmed out-of-sequence on
film sets, but Cat’s “death" was the very last thing that Michelle ever shot on GAME OF THRONES. It was carefully designed that way, so
that Michelle could channel all the emotions she was feeling about leaving the show into that final banshee wail she utters, prior to my
stepping into frame and slitting her throat like I’m shucking an oyster. ‘The Red Wedding’ took nearly a whole week to shoot and much
meticulous planning went into its execution, with director David Nutter carefully choreographing the way that everything would play
out; often grabbing people during rehearsals and manhandling them into
position whilst bellowing things like; “then stab and kill and move and kill and stab and stab and stab!” David could also never remember
my name, and so kept on calling me “Buddy” instead - something which myself and Tobias Menzies still like to joke about to this day.
The slitting of the throat we actually managed to do in one take, which was a huge relief for everyone as it would have taken at least an hour
to reset the delicate prosthetics and to clean the fake blood off of Michelle’s face and costume. I don’t remember much about the immediate
aftermath of shooting the scene if I'm being entirely honest. There were a lot of tears and hugs being shared by various members of cast
and crew, but I was left feeling dazed and a little numb by the whole enterprise.
I remember walking slowly back to my trailer on my own and then just sitting there for a while staring into space, thankful that I hadn’t somehow messed up the shot after all the grand efforts that
had gone into trying to get it just so. When I first witnessed the
finished scene on screen, I was left utterly shell-shocked by it; even
though I'd obviously been there on set on the day and knew exactly
what was going to happen. The way the camera held steadfast on the
empty screen for several seconds too long, before finally allowing the
credits to begin their silent scroll left me with my jaw firmly rooted
to the floor along with everybody else's!
- What was it like working with some of the main cast of the series?
Because the series had such an epic sweep of characters and was filmed
in multiple locations all over the globe, you only ever really got to
meet those actors whom you shared your scenes with. That being the
case, I never got to meet the likes of Peter Dinklage, Kit Harington or Emilia Clarke - though I did bump into Maisie Williams in the
make-up trailer one afternoon. I took the opportunity to apologise for my boorish behaviour at ‘The Red Wedding’, but got the impression it
was probably too little too late! I had a couple of scenes with Nikolaj Coster-Waldau in Season 6, and he was someone I would’ve been
very happy to have spent a bit more time with. Nikolaj always insisted on walking back from location with the background artistes,
rather than taking a ride in the vehicle with the heated seats that
had been provided for him. He also had a habit of leaving his golden
right hand lying around on set, much to the distress of the
props/wardrobe/continuity departments. I got the distinct impression
that they didn’t possess a great many golden spares. What else can I
tell you? Well, I once stood next to Liam “The Onion Knight”
Cunningham in a hotel lift. We didn’t say a word to each other. Does
- You appeared between 2013 and 2016 in 6 Episodes. What was your
personal highlight and why?
Call me an old softie, but I would have to credit the brotherly love I
was afforded by my two on-screen half-siblings; Tom Brooke (who played
Lame Lothar Frey in Season 3) and Daniel Tuite (who took over the role
from Tom in Season 6). It may interest you to know that Dan had originally been cast as my character Black Walder Rivers, but had then
been unable to do it at the last minute due to a scheduling conflict;
hence my being cast in the role instead (I’d actually originally auditioned for the role of Lothar and been unsuccessful).
Myself and Tom Brooke had bonded swiftly during Season 3, partly over a shared
love of Roger Deakin (the English environmentalist and nature writer) and when I found out he wouldn’t be able to return for Season 6, I was
obviously disappointed. However, the fact that Dan was able to hobble into Lothar’s gammy shoe instead more than made up for it. I knew Dan
already from the London casting-circus and had always felt slightly bad (only slightly) about the fact that I’d effectively hijacked the
role of Black Walder from him in the first place. Having Dan by my side for Season 6 went a long way towards re-balancing the karmic
wheel and since leaving the show, we’ve been invited to attend a
couple of conventions together. I try to keep in regular contact with
Dan and whenever possible, we like to meet-up and eat pie together.
Well, it’d be rude not to wouldn’t it?
Would you liked to play more in GAME OF THRONES?
Considering the unfavourable mortality rate for the vast majority of
characters on the show, I probably did well to appear in as many
episodes as I did to be fair!
- But GAME OF THRONES was just one step in your career as actor.
You've appeared in so many series, like DOCTOR WHO, LIFE ON MARS, GALAVANT, WPC 56 and
many many more. Out of all the series you’ve worked on, what’s been your favorite role?
As strange as this may sound, it’s probably the one that I never got
the chance to complete and which sadly nobody will ever get the chance
to see. In April 2015 I was cast in a HBO mini-series called LEWIS &
CLARK; the true story behind an expedition from the early 19th
century, when President Thomas Jefferson dispatched a team of dogged
explorers to open up the uncharted American territories which lay west
of the Mississippi River (essentially those acquired from France as part of the 1803 Louisiana Purchase). Tom Hanks and Brad Pitt were
producing, Ed Norton had written some of the scripts and Casey Affleck was playing one of the leads. It’s fair to say it was something of a
big deal. A big deal with an equally big budget to suit. So, I willingly translocated my young family to Alberta in Canada and embraced the month-long bootcamp and intensive Crossfit training
regime that had been devised to help get the cast into character. We
rode horses, built camp-fires, practised military drills, sang sea
shanties, learnt Plains Indian sign language and attempted to perfect
our canoemanship. All of this whilst maintaining an historically
accurate paleo (caveman) diet. For someone like me, with a pre-existing and highly developed wanderlust for the American West, it
was truly the gig of a lifetime. A gift from The Great Spirit above!
An opportunity almost too good to be true. Looking back now, I regard LEWIS & CLARK as both the best and the worst experience of my entire
career. I say worst because, just a few weeks into filming, the production was halted, suspended for a while and then ultimately abandoned due to “creative difficulties”. Those of you who’ve seen
Terry Gilliam’s bittersweet 2002 documentary LOST IN LA MANCHA will
know that things can sometimes go wrong on a film set; often catastrophically so. We had tilted at our own collection of windmills
and ended-up with bloodied noses. It took me a good year to even
remotely get over the crushing disappointment of it all and even today
I still carry a little shard of regret close to my heart, much like a
Tolkeinesque wound inflicted by a cold Nazgûl blade. There are other
roles I’ve had over the years which have been lost in the edit-room
(WOLF HALL) or never seen the light of day (BONE IN THE THROAT) for
some reason-or-other, but LEWIS & CLARK will forever be The One That
Got Away from me. The Great What-If, if you will! Curiously, and in a
bit of a throwback to one of your previous questions, if filming hadn’t been halted on LEWIS & CLARK when it was, it’s likely that I
wouldn’t have been able to appear in GAME OF THRONES Season 6 - as the
schedules for the two productions clashed head-on. So maybe, in a
roundabout way, it was all meant to be…
- In 2019 you were cast as "Julian" in the Netflix comedy-drama series
AFTER LIFE. What can you tell us about the series, the cast and Julian?
I first met Ricky (Gervais) 20 years ago, back when he and Stephen Merchant were first developing THE OFFICE for the BBC. I auditioned
for the role of Gareth in the show, and got down to the final two for the part. Apparently, Stephen wanted me for Gareth whilst Ricky wanted
Mackenzie Crook (though it may equally have been the other way around).
Anyway, history will record the fact that things didn’t go my way on that particular project, and so AFTER LIFE, in a way, felt like
a cheque that I’d been waiting to have cashed for a very long time. Julian, the character I play in AFTER LIFE, is a likeable yet homeless
heroin addict whom Ricky’s character (Tony) befriends in Season 1.
It’s an unexpected relationship with a (hopefully) unexpected
- On IMDb, your list of Announced, Pre-Production and Post-Production
projects is long.
What’s you tip for your fans?
Well, with any luck, the BBC will see sense and commission the
aforementioned Mackenzie (Crook) to make some more episodes of a
children’s fantasy series called WORZEL GUMMIDGE. I play a scarecrow
in that one; a role which requires almost no acting at all on my part!
In addition to that, there’s a project not listed on IMDB yet called BACKYARD VILLAGE. It’s a micro-budget feature film that I had the
great fortune to film over in Iceland at the back-end of last year.
I’d met Marteinn, the director, on a previous trip to Iceland in 2011 and we’d made a pact to try and work together on a project one day.
BACKYARD VILLAGE (though the title may change before release) is a
very tender little film. I play the only non-Icelandic character in it and Marteinn afforded me a lot of leeway with my performance whilst
also encouraging some improvisation. We shot the whole thing during an
intensive 10-day period, with a limited window of daylight each day. I survived a red weather alert, ate fermented shark against my better
judgment and lived on set throughout the shoot - all of which helped
add a unique and memorable level of camaraderie to the whole experience. The film will hopefully play at film festivals later on
- Lastly, do you have any words for your fans in the world and Germany?
One of my dearest university friends moved to Frankfurt immediately
after graduation, so I’ve been fortunate enough to visit Germany on
quite a number of occasions over the past 25 years - mostly to visit
him but also occasionally for work. I’ve filmed 3 (maybe 4 commercials) in Germany if memory serves, and I also shot a film (55 STEPS) with Helena Bonham Carter in Cologne a few years ago.
My time in Germany has resulted in a mild addiction to Mezzo Mix and I also
used to love a plate of currywurst before I stopped eating red meat.
For the record, two of my favourite people in the whole world just happen to be German; Werner Herzog and Jurgen Norbert Klopp.
-Thank you Tim Plester for being my guest.