Actress Michelle Fairley tells Time Out how moving to Westeros has changed her life
At the centre of the storm of dragons and eunuchs and pathological young monarchs that drives the drama of cult-hit TV series Game of Thrones is a fiery-haired mother from the north named Catelyn Stark. Strong-jawed and flare-eyed, Lady Stark has become a viewer favourite over the show’s two seasons and, leading into a third, is still our pick for ‘most sensible citizen of Westeros’ – where the men are all hot bloodlust and wounded egos, Catelyn is unyieldingly focused on protecting her family and on good, old-fashioned, regicidal revenge.
For Michelle Fairley, the northern Irish actress who plays Catelyn, the death of screen husband Ned Stark at the end of season one was a turning point. “She’s not just a castle wife anymore,” Fairley tells Time Out. “She has had to become a politician.” Strong women dominate the show – think of little sword-wielding Arya Stark, the horde-leading Daenerys, tank-ish knight Brienne, or even the shrewd Cersei (when she’s sober). “The women are evolving,” says Fairley, in Sydney recently to promote the release of season two on DVD and Blu-ray. “The women realise that in order to survive in such a male-dominated world, they have to pre-empt the men. They have to be smarter than them, more cunning than them – they’re tacticians.”
Landing the role of Catelyn was its own turning point in Fairley’s career. Game of Thrones co-creator David Benioff spotted the stage actress playing Emilia alongside Ewan McGregor’s Iago in an acclaimed production of Othello in 2007 and called her in – she landed the role of Catelyn and her profile rocketed as the show entered the zeitgeist (see fuckyeahmichellefairley.tumblr.com for all your Fairley gif needs). Fairley is grateful for the newfound attention: “As an actor, all you want to do is to work and do good work.” And going to work every day is a joy, even with King Joffrey. “Jack [Gleeson, who plays Joffrey] is gorgeous – a wonderfully sensitive, quiet, intelligent scholar. He’s the antithesis of that character.” Er, we’re not so sure we believe her.
In person, Fairley speaks with the same deep, smoky tones with which Catelyn so often counsels war-leading son Robb, but she’s a lot more fun: wide-eyed and enthused, at one point she apologises for slapping our leg in a fit of laughter – “Oops, I shouldn’t have done that, you might charge me with sexual harassment!” It’s only when we cheekily ask her about details of season three that we get a flash of that trademark Winterfell sternness. “Life wouldn’t be worth living [if I told],” she says, eyeing the publicists in the room. “And I like living.”
Game of Thrones: The Complete Second Season is available now on DVD and Blu-ray. Season three premieres on Showcase at 4.20pm Mon Apr 1.
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