Belfast Telegraph

Sunday Life

Conleth Hill sets record straight on his exit from Game of Thrones

Thrones transformed my career, says actor as he prepares to direct famine drama at Lyric Theatre

Pictured director Conleth Hill. Credit: Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX
Pictured director Conleth Hill. Credit: Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX

By John Toner

Game of Thrones star Conleth Hill has rubbished claims he was disappointed with the way his involvement in the show came to an end.

The Ballycastle actor's character Lord Varys met a grisly end in the eighth and final season, with press reports afterwards claiming he was "disappointed" by the way he exited the fantasy drama.

But speaking exclusively to Sunday Life, Conleth (54) said his comments had been misrepresented in the media and insisted the show transformed his career.

He said: "That was the first half of a sentence (that he was disappointed to be killed off). I went on to say that it was one of the consequences of being in a multi-character show. I felt the reaction was kind of media-led, I don't mind doing interviews and being very honest, but when only half of what I've said is used I get annoyed about that.

"After the initial interview people came along and just took bits they wanted out of it and made it sound like I was leading some kind of backlash against the show that changed my life and that I was very grateful to have been part of.

"I'm not sure if they expected me to be thrilled that I was killed off. I was just being honest, it killed me that I was killed off, I was gutted, but that's part of being on a multi-character show.

"Varys had brought the protagonists together two seasons earlier and I felt like he had kind of done what he needed to do.

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"I was always happy and grateful for the work and to be a part of the show. It was life-changing for me, how could I be disappointed? In the first season loads of people we loved were killed off, so it shouldn't have come as a shock."

Many fans were left angry and frustrated by the end of the show, which led to a petition to remake the final series and abuse being directed at cast members and writers.

Joking about the petition, Conleth said: "Yeah I started that!" He added: "No but seriously I understand the anger and the frustration because people were so involved in it and I understand all that but I don't like it when they have a go at people on a personal level.

Conleth Hill as Varys in Game of Thrones
Conleth Hill as Varys in Game of Thrones

"The creators are geniuses and great writers and there was no malice in their process. I think the abuse directed at them is really unfair.

"If you really care about something use that energy for important things, although I do accept the show was very important to people."

In June, Sunday Life exclusively revealed that filming for a prequel series of Game of Thrones had begun in a number of locations across Northern Ireland.

Conleth added: "I wish everybody involved with it all the luck in the world, I hope they have as good a writing team as we did, but they're doing their own thing. It's theirs and it's not ours anymore, so I wish them the best of luck. I'm looking forward to seeing the pilot."

Conleth was speaking to Sunday Life during rehearsals for a new play he is directing at the Lyric Theatre in Belfast.

Spud! is set in rural Ireland in 1847 and is described as "a deep, dark comedy from the moral grey zone".

Conleth says the production, starring Co Tyrone actor Conor Grimes and Derry Girls star Kevin McAleer, is comedic but respectful of the famine's devastation.

He said: "It's comic but there are dark moments in it, we're not pulling any punches about the horror that was going on then. We're quite methodical in our details around the workhouse system, soup taking, everything that was going on then, we address it. There are funny moments, but it's definitely not in any way belittling the tragedy.

"Initially we called it 'the famine project' and people were very reticent, I had a terrible habit of saying 'do they think it's too soon or something? Do they remember it?', because obviously nobody does.

Kevin McAleer, Conleth Hill and Conor Grimes
Kevin McAleer, Conleth Hill and Conor Grimes

"Historically, the fact the three of us are still living here means our families survived. Whether they were lucky enough to live by the sea or whatever, I don't know how they survived, but they did, and we're here as a result. We are sensitive to the horror and the waste of life, so we're not being irreverent that way or disrespectful, I don't think. We're nodding to all that loss as well.

"With comedic actors, sometimes when they're being at their most serious is when they're the most funny. This play is about the genuine desperation of two men.

"It's Ireland, 1847. One cottage, two brothers, no holds barred. It's just that simple. It's set in the one place and is not over a very long course of time.

"One brother has come back from London to find only one member of his 18-member family left. That's where it starts and without giving away any spoilers I'd have to stop there, I don't want to spoil the ending. If you read your history you'll have a good idea of the ending.

"Gallows humour has always been something we're described as having as Irish people throughout history and I think that's what it's about, rather than any disrespect. How we always deal with the worst of times is to laugh and get through it somehow.

"They speak to each other the way only brothers can and lose it with each other the way only brothers can."

Conleth also spoke of his joy at returning to the Lyric Theatre and working with Conor and Kevin, who he has known for some time.

He said: "I'm a big fan of both Kevin and Conor and that makes it a lot easier. I laugh in spite of myself, even though I've read and seen it so many times already. I'll still find myself laughing at a turn of phrase or action.

"Conor especially has this kind of Eric Morecambe quality, he's just a very funny man. It's lovely to be back at The Lyric and be back in Belfast too. This is a great environment for artistic creation.

"It's very enjoyable, it doesn't feel like work or art, it's just fun.

"We're a few days in and nobody's been fired yet. I had worked with Kevin over 20 years ago on a project in Ballycastle and recently we both put feelers out about working together again and just very fortuitously we got in contact.

"It was already being worked on as a script and then I came on board to help and see if we could get it on, see how good it was and how much life or future there was in it."

Spud! is due to run from August 31 to September 14 at the Lyric Theatre with 8pm shows Tuesday to Friday as well as Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2.45pm. Tickets are available from £12 at www.lyrictheatre.co.uk or on 028 9038 1081.

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