With April 1st rapidly approaching, ‘Game of Thrones’ is gaining momentum in the media. The first five episode details have been released. We’ve seen various trailers for the second season, with the promise that “Anyone can be killed”. War Is Coming, and actor Ron Donachie is at the front of it. Mr. Donachie plays Ser Rodrik Cassel, Winterfell’s Master-At-Arms.
Donachie has an extensive history in television and film. In fact, many will recognize him from various television programs such as ‘Doctor Who’ (Steward in the episode ‘Tooth and Claw’), ‘Taggart’, and ‘The Bill’. He’s familiar in playing a Master At Arms, as he was one in the film ‘Titanic’.
In ‘Game of Thrones’ Ser Rodrik Cassel is known for his help to Lady Catelyn, after she finds out the weapon being used in the attempted assassination of Bran is from the Lannisters. I was lucky enough to chat with Mr. Donachie during this very busy time. He is quite the gentleman you would imagine him to be!
A lot of people may not know this, but you are quite the voice-over actor as well. Do you prefer voice work, being behind the camera, or out in front acting? Why?
I do some voice over work, it’s true, and I do enjoy it when it comes along. Like all forms of acting it depends so much on the script as to whether it’s fun or not. As for acting in general, I enjoy live performance and camera work in equal measure. They are very different things, of course; on the one hand you have the audience’s immediate reaction and emotional input during a live piece – and only one opportunity to get it right, while on camera you have the constant input of directors, producers and DPs as everyone tries to make the take as good as possible. It’s hard to make a choice between the two, but I don’t think anyone with a background in theatre work would ever want to give it up completely.
On ‘Game of Thrones’, you do a good bit of horseback riding. Is this something you’d done before? Or did you train for the part with ‘Game of Thrones’?
I had ridden a little before, nearly always on camera, but I trained for several months prior to series one of ‘Game Of Thrones’. I’ve enjoyed it enormously and have continued going just for fun. Given that we all spent so much time in the saddle, it was important to look confident and able. After all, these characters are warriors who have been riding almost as long as they’ve been walking and audiences spot a fake very quickly these days.
Ser Rodrik is very staunch individual. He holds to the old ways of Winterfell. Are you an old fashioned kind of man in your own life or do you like to stay hip and modern?
I’m not entirely sure that anyone would describe me as hip and modern, but at the same time I hope I’m not entirely old fashioned. Like Rodrik, I believe good manners, hard work, honesty, devotion to duty, kindness and respect for persons are virtues which are always in fashion.
Have you read the books on which ‘Game of Thrones’ are based? If so, do you compare the books to the scripts you’re given?
I’ve read all of “A Song of Ice and Fire” thus published. The scripts are the best I’ve ever worked on and I think they do a remarkable job of translating a complex and lengthy work of imagination into television films.
With the second season rapidly approaching, what are you most excited about? What scenes did you find most thrilling to film? What has been your favorite scene in this series so far?
I’m afraid I can’t really talk about series two prior to it’s broadcast, but naturally I’m excited at the prospect of its imminent arrival. Of the many high points in series one, riding into Kings Landing was my favourite moment. We used the Mdina Gate in the small town of the same name in central Malta, a fortified settlement of Arab origins which predates the arrival of the Knights of St. John. In a museum in Valetta I saw a painting of armed knights riding through that very gate, and it was wonderful to do the same thing, especially in Rodrik’s full-scale Stark battle regalia.
Speaking of the costumes, while the detailing is remarkable, the costumes look uncomfortable for ‘Game of Thrones’. How do you feel towards them? Were they an adjustment?
I don’t think you’ll find a single actor in our huge cast who wasn’t thrilled to put his or her costume on. The contribution the costumes and overall design of ‘Game Of Thrones’ made to its success cannot be overstated. It was a thrill for me every time I put the gear on, although chain-mail is damn heavy, no question.
How did you prepare for your role? Do you feel any sort of connection to Ser Rodrik?
When the opportunity is there I always try to go to the source material to begin with, so, as I’ve said, I read all the books before we started filming. As with all George’s characters, Rodrik is very clearly drawn, so that was the line I followed. With the scripts being such a good rendition of the books, it was a very good journey indeed. Scotland was a warrior culture for many centuries, and a great deal of that remains in us still. The House of Stark with its ferocity, bravery and integrity is very attractive to a certain part of the Scots soul. That being said, however, modern Scots might also recognize that inflexibility and an unwillingness to change can lead to disaster – as is all too sadly the case with House Stark. The old ways are not always the best by any manner of means.
Portraying a Master at Arms has to be difficult. Can you describe what weapons training was like for you? Did you enjoy it, or was it something you would prefer not to do in the future?
It was both enormous fun and a privilege being Master at Arms at Winterfell, and I hope that the relationship between Rodrik and the various members of House Stark reflects that. I suppose it is complex: Rodrik and Ned are old comrades in arms, Rodrik is completely devoted to Catelyn, and he has been the boys’ tutor in the most intense phase of their upbringing. Given the surprisingly egalitarian nature of the Stark household, however, it was probably a lot easier being Master at Arms at Winterfell than it would have been at Casterly Rock.
The weapons training was hard work but great fun. Buster Reeves who trained us was a fantastic teacher, and the stunt men with whom we fought on film worked incredibly hard to make us look good. Again, fighting in chain-mail or armour is not for the faint-hearted, but you do feel very cool when the day’s work is done. I’d be happy to scrap on camera anytime.
What brought you to the series? Was there something that attracted you to ‘Game of Thrones’? Do George R.R. Martin’s fans recognize you?
I came to the series like any other job. The opportunity was mooted, I auditioned and waited to hear what the result was. When HBO said yes I could not have been happier. What attracted me? Great material, a great company and really terrific colleagues.
I don’t bear much resemblance to Rodrik off screen – no whiskers and short hair for a start, so I haven’t been recognized that much. I did a couple of small receptions in Belfast during the pilot – a book signing and a moot attended by George and fans from all over the world. I may be able to do a couple of gatherings later this year, I hope so.
Be sure to tune in on April 1st on HBO for the Season 2 premiere of ‘Game of Thrones’.