I was born in Dublin. At the end of the main street is the main maternity hospital, called The Rotunda. It’s the only piece of Rococo architecture we have in the entire city, and I was born there 55 years ago. I grew up about one mile away. I did my schooling and everything in Dublin.
I was walking home from school when I was about 17 with two friends, and they took a left into an electrical shop. While we were chatting away they grabbed a couple of forms and I was handed one. My mum found it and made me fill it in. I got called for an interview, and that’s how I ended up being an electrician for 11 years. There was no career plan. Still isn’t.
The longest I’d been away from my family was a week – and then when I was 22, I hopped on a plane for the first time and went to live in Africa. It was in 1984, four years after Zimbabwe’s independence. A lot of the whites were leaving the country and, of course, they had stolen all the skilled jobs.
I used to do network electricity, high-voltage stuff – I was covered in rubber to stop me dying. They didn’t have people to run the network: I got invited over, and I went.
I came back from Africa at 25. Having been with 16,000 elephants, looking after the national park, which is the size of Belgium – when you go back to driving a yellow van around Dublin, it just doesn’t have the same glamour.
I was kind of bored after the expanse of Zimbabwe, and was looking for a distraction. I saw an ad in the back of a newspaper for an acting school. I was looking for a hobby, but I completely fell in love with the process of acting. And hence you find me talking about Game of Thrones 20-odd years later. Africa was the reason I became an actor.
I came in to Game of Thrones in season two. I had met the producers the first time around. For various reasons I ended up not being in it, but they said, “We’ve got some interesting characters coming in the second year, we’d like to talk to you for season two.”
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I thought it was Hollywood trying to let me down gently, but no, they were people of their word. They called me back in and showed me this character, Davos Seaworth. They said, “He’s going to be hanging around for a bit, would you be interested?” and I went, “You betcha.”
They never tell you if your character is going to be killed off. Sometimes, the producers will ring you up and ask you to dinner. Then you know you’re in trouble. They obviously have to play their cards close to their chest, they don’t want anything slipping out. Quite a few of my fellow cast members have been gutted when they found out they were going.
It’s the quality of this show: you’d like to hang around for as long as possible. My bank manager would like it, too!
I don’t consider myself, and I hope I’m never going to be, a “movie star”. I’d like to be called an actor. If I was offered the choice of an award for best actor or best supporting actor, I would go for supporting actor.
It’s not false modesty; a lot of the time, the best actor award goes to the guy or girl who has the best part, whereas with the supporting actor, you can make something out of it – you’ve done the best job with not-the-best part.
People get their remote controls on Sunday night, and they invite you into their home. They’re sitting there with last night’s cold pizza, watching you go through these hugely dramatic things. They’ve cried with you and they’ve laughed with you, and they’ve been scared for you. You’ve become a little part of their life.
So it’s very odd when you fly to Sydney, walk down the street and people say, “How’re you doing?”, like you’re the cousin they haven’t seen in a while. I’ll never get used to that. It’s very odd being in a strange place, where you’re not a stranger … but everybody else is. We’re simulcast in 180, 190 countries, so there’s maybe a 100 million people watching at the same time.
It’s a global thing, it’s like the Olympics. It’s somebody watching Usain Bolt doing the 100 metres, and there’s hundreds of millions willing this man on. And to think that we’re part of a thing that has delivered this level of emotion … there’s something rather grand and beautiful and human about that.
You know the old saying, “There’s no man lying on his deathbed saying, ‘I should have spent more time in the office’”? I try and live by that. I’ve found that the older I get, the more spontaneous I become. I don’t want to look three, four, five years down the line and go, “Why the hell did I say no to that?”
So I’m trying to wring the neck out of life. We’re here once, there ain’t a rehearsal. I’m not going on to do other things, I’m doing other things now. I did a movie two years ago called The Childhood of a Leader with Robert Pattinson and Bérénice Bejo. We took this beautiful little art-house film to the Venice Film Festival and won two big prizes. I’ve a beautiful little horror film (Let Us Prey ) we made for next to nothing, for less than a million dollars, and we managed to be No 1 on Netflix.
I’m trying to use these opportunities to continue telling really good stories.
I’m very lucky that I’ve been allowed to do what I love. The other thing the show has granted me is that, professionally, my stock has risen. It’s easier to get employed because people know who you are. You’re attached to this gorgeous thing, and you’re regarded as being a little percentage of the success of that. My agent doesn’t have to persuade people that I actually might be good at my job!
With the “fame” thing, I’ve been trying to help refugees. We went with the International Rescue Committee last year to Greece to see the refugee crisis. I’ve always been concerned, but I’ve never before been in the position where I can shine a little light and say, “Look.”
I hope I can continue to tell good stories that don’t insult the intelligence of those who come to see me. I really don’t know what I’m doing – I just have a go and I trust my instincts. Anybody who has some sort of game plan in the job we do is usually lying.
Season 7 of Game of Thrones will air on HBO on Mondays, starting July 17, at 9am, with a prime-time screening at 9pm.