Jonathan Pryce has certainly arrived the Game Of Thrones party rather late. His character, the High Sparrow, only appeared in Season Five. But wow, what an impression he has made already!
The High Sparrow, a snowy-haired, sack-cloth wearing religious zealot with a fervour for punishing sinners, has definitely been one of the most interesting personalities of the last season, given his rise to power and role in Cersei Lannister’s (Lena Headey) Walk of Shame.
Infusing his character with an odd combination of meekness and mercilessness, Pryce certainly is a delight to watch on screen.
Not many people know, however, but Game Of Thrones viewers might have been able to watch Pryce a lot earlier; the actor revealed he had been approached to be in the show much earlier.
“It must have been six to seven years ago. I was sent the script to the first series. I read it knowing that genre, fantasy, was something I don’t find interesting to watch. So I knew I wouldn’t want to be in it,” said Pryce at a press junket in London.
“And I remember looking through the script, and seeing all the weird names, and thinking, ugh. Why would I want to do that? So I passed on it.”
Pryce sadly does not remember who he was approached to play, only recalling the character had an unpronounceable name.
(Aemon Targaryen? Illyrio Mopatis? Who knows, it might even have been Daenerys. The actor is known for his amazing acting versatility, after all, having played diverse roles in films such as Brazil, Evita, Tomorrow Never Dies and the Pirates Of The Caribbean movies, among others. He played Cardinal Wolsey in the acclaimed BBC2 miniseries Wolf Hall, and has won two Tony Awards, one for his role as The Engineer in the musical Miss Saigon.)
He added, however, that may have been a blessing in disguise, as if he had taken the part, he wouldn’t have got to play the High Sparrow.
“Years later, they sent me another script with the High Sparrow. I still hadn’t watched the show, but I knew people spoke highly of it, and it had a huge following. And as I read the script, I realised the High Sparrow was a character I was very attracted to,” Pryce recalled.
Being on Game Of Thrones, he said, had been a really enjoyable experience for him so far.
“My first day of filming at Belfast, it was very strange. There was no rehearsal, I got dressed and was on the set. I was expecting some sort of cynicism (in the filming), ‘Ooh, we’re a big hit, we don’t need to try very hard, here comes another scene, another actor’ but it wasn’t like that at all!” Pryce said.
“I felt no sense of cynicism at all about it. And that’s why it’s the No. 1 show. I worked with some of the best crews I ever worked with, and some of the best directors.”
In playing his character, Pryce said he drew inspiration from another religious figure who was attracting controversy at the time: Pope Francis.
“He was a role model when I started Season Five. Pope Francis’s election kind of coincided with the appearance of the High Sparrow. There was Francis, going around very publicly administering to the poor, and wanting to do away with all the finery of the Vatican,” Pryce said.
“And that’s how the High Sparrow started. He walks barefoot, he dresses in rags, he wants to be a man of the people. Unlike Pope Francis – who is pleading for understanding – on the other hand, (High Sparrow is) dishing out punishments in quite a violent way.”
Playing a character with such extreme views was not an easy task, but Pryce focused on the good the High Sparrow believed himself to be doing.
“He’s a wonderfully complex character. On the one hand, he appears to be doing, and talks about doing, good for the poor and the working people.
“On the other hand, he’s a right-wing, homophobic, religious zealot, who sees punishments as a way of suppressing the rulers so people can take over.
“Whether he’s sincere in his beliefs, you don’t know. I think you’ll find a lot more about what makes the character tick in Season Six.”
On that subject, what can fans expect to see in Game Of Thrones’ new season?
“I think the musical numbers are going to be a bit surprise. I’m doing songs from the show, The High Sparrow’s Greatest Hits,” Pryce said, the slightest hint of a smile on his face.
OK, perhaps best to take that with a grain of salt: if there’s anything we’ve learnt from his character, after all, it’s that misplaced faith can lead to ruin!
Game Of Thrones S6 airs every Monday at 9am on HBO (Astro Ch 411).