Concealed under heavy makeup as Sandor “The Hound” Clegane, Knight of House Baratheon in Game of Thrones, Rory McCann may not be immediately recognisable, yet he has an impressive list of credits stretching from the drama of Lynne Ramsay’s Ratcatcher, Oliver Stone’s Alexander and Shameless to the comedy of Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz and The Book Group for which he won a Scottish BAFTA award. On Sunday 18th March the imposing yet personable actor was kind enough to sit down to a pint of Guinness in the bar at Birmingham’s Hilton Metropole Hotel while attending Starfury Throne Con.
Geek Chocolate – Glasgow is fast becoming a major filming location for its architecture, its scenery and its amenities, with World War Z and Cloud Atlas shooting there over the last year, and the city now has its own successful film festival. How far do you think a homegrown film industry can develop?
Rory McCann – Well, the talent is there. Scotland is ready to take on anything like that, I’m sure. It’s very frustrating that it’s not a regular occurrence, every week. There’s all the facilities just sitting there, all that talent. It’s a small world, the film industry, and when I travel around the world, I’m meeting Scots working in the industry, spread out all over, and they can’t get any work back home.
GC – You’ve worked with many of the big names of Scottish film, David McKenzie, who directed you with Ewan McGregor and Tilda Swinton in Young Adam. What are your reflections on them?
RM – Young Adam was a nice little break for me. I knew David socially in Glasgow before, and I was hoping I would get a call, just for something, and I got a little part in a great film, and I got to meet absolute heroes of mine, in particular Peter Mullan who inspired me to be an actor, I would say, watching him in My Name is Joe, for example.
I’ll never forget being on set on the first day, I was very, very nervous, there was a knock on the door, and there was my hero, Peter Mullan, and he looked up at me and said “You’ll no have had your lunch, big man, do you know that we’re on afterwards?” And I said nervously, “Yeah I know we’re on afterwards, I’m not having any lunch.” And he said “Do you know there’s a pub just a few hundred yards up the road, why don’t we just go for a pint,” and he put me at ease. And that’s the kind of man he is.
And I met Tilda Swinton, and Tilda Swinton was absolutely fantastic. What an amazing woman she was. She actually found me my first London agent. So that was just a wonderful experience.
GC – The experience on an HBO show must be quite different to the normal television routine.
RM – Yeah, it’s obviously so much bigger, in budget, in size, but the one thing which I’m only starting to understand is directors are coming in for different episodes, and that can throw you a little bit, because everybody works on different wavelengths. It’s very good for your job in a way, as it keeps you on your toes. That’s the big difference that I’m seeing. But they are still very open to changing things, and they have great knowledge. It’s great to be on HBO, it’s absolutely fantastic. I would say it’s better being on HBO than being in films.
GC – And the content is quite different, too. One of our writers refers to the show as Game of Boobies. And that’s just Jason Momoa, I think.
RM – Aye, that’s Jason for you, god bless him. Game of Boobies as in because there’s a lot of boobies in it? Yeah, there is a lot of boobies going about. I had friends watching Game of Thrones the first time, and I’m getting a few phone calls going, “Hey, big man, you never told us there was nudity, I had to throw my kids upstairs after the first ten minutes.”
GC – So the beheadings didn’t bother them?
RM – Exactly. What’s that all about?
GC – You filmed in quite a few locations for the first season of Game of Thrones and you’ve indicated that the second is even more epic. What can we expect?
RM – We were in Malta, a little bit of Scotland, and Ireland for the first, and for the second we moved to Croatia and Iceland, and everything got bigger, and the storylines got bigger. People who were on set in the first series, had a few lines, their first jobs, were coming back as kings and queens, and everything has just totally exploded. I just still can’t comprehend how they’re managing to make it understandable, that there are people following it, even the people who haven’t read the books are understanding this epic that’s going on. It’s wonderful, it’s very, very exciting.
GC – And you’re reading the books yourself. How far ahead are you, and have you spoiled anything for your castmates?
RM – I am staying ahead of the game, just and no more. I’m nervous to think that it might end for me, so I’m staying just ahead. I do know the story for the next season, fingers crossed, if it goes ahead, and a couple of new actors I’ll be working with I’m very much looking forward to.
GC – You got to meet George RR Martin on location on the pilot, carrying your copy of the book with you.
RM – Yes, that was a funny experience. I like the outdoors, and I like my own company, and before I was an actor I was a lumberjack, and I remember at mealtimes, everywhere we were spread in the forest, all the saws would stop, and there was silence, and it was the time to read The Lord of the Rings for an hour, and I did the same thing with George’s books.
I went out to the wilds, round a fire, in the wet, in the rain, in the woods, and I read that book, and I read it again and again, and I found out that I had got the part, obviously, and when I did meet George, the book was literally twice the size and smelt of stale woodsmoke, and I remember he grabbed it and said “What the hell have you done to my book?” and remember saying, “George, this is how you’re meant to read it, round a fire at night, in the drizzle.”
GC – Despite being in an environment rife with treachery, the Hound is one of the characters who stands up to do the right thing, specifically I’m thinking of the jousting scene in the first season when he stands up to his brother. Can we expect more of that?
RM – You certainly can. It’s going to be double trouble with the Hound standing no nonsense, no bullying, in the thick of it. There’s going to be battles this time. There’s been a real call fo
r proper battles and he’s going to be drenched in blood for most of the time, so it’s a very exciting time for the Hound’s story.
GC – Excellent. I understand your armour causes a lot of problems with the sound.
RM – Yeah, that’s a problem. There’s a lot of rattling around, you just can’t do anything about that. There’s chain mail bouncing off pieces of metal, other bits of armour, never mind the poor swords and all the people about, and that’s always been a problem. Shakespeare said “Do not sully too much the night,” but you can’t help but move a little bit, and any slight movement, there will be a squeak or something, and unfortunately sometimes this means you have to go six months after the event and record the sound over again in a studio. Microphones are getting better these days, but the problem is still there.
GC – Is your lip-synching becoming any easier now you’ve been doing it for a year?
RM – I’ve really always struggled with it, but I’ve got now a system. I’ve worked out how my brain works, and I don’t look at the screen at all now. I close my eyes, I listen to the line how I said it, and just by ear, recreate it right away, and don’t look at my lips. I remember the sound recordist in London doing it recently said “That’s exactly how Cate Blanchett works,” I said “Well, if it’s good enough for Cate, it’s good enough for me.”
GC – Between Game of Thrones, Season of the Witch, Solomon Kane and Clash of the Titans you’re doing well in the fantasy genre. Is that something you particularly aim for, or something your agent feels it’s easy to place you in because of your appearance?
RM – It’s such a physical medium. I’m a big guy, put a sword and some armour on me and I look the part, I suppose. No wonder I get a chance to audition for these parts, which is always a pleasure. My first job was as an extra on Willow.
GC – You must have been fairly young.
RM – Yeah, I was young, I was sixteen, seventeen, living in caves in Llanberis Pass in North Wales, moving around out there, and I was climbing and I found a film set in a slate quarry that I was climbing in two weeks before, and a castle there. I arrived, and there was all the locals and an American shouting at them, this casting man, and he said, “Look, thanks guys for all coming, we really do appreciate it, but there’s no more parts unless you can ride a horse,” and I thought, I can’t ride a horse. And he said, “We only need two more people, they’ve to be tall and they’re playing drunks.” And I stood up and I said “I’m Rory McCann from Glasgow, and I’m six foot six,” and I got the job.
I worked with Pat Roach, who was inspiring. I wasn’t that big at the time, but suddenly I saw that a big man could get the job, and that’s the first time that I met Val Kilmer, and thirteen years later I was in a hotel room with Val Kilmer, holding a script, going “Do you know how you work with stone, this is how you work with stone.” And another six years later I was in the exact same quarry that I had been climbing and an extra in Willow in, and I was a featured artist on Clash of the Titans. It’s amazing how it goes, and I’m so grateful, and it’s just the way my path is at the moment.
GC – You’ve played piano for a while, and you’re moving into guitar, banjo and mandolin. Do you think you’ll ever have the opportunity to use those skills on Game of Thrones or another show?
RM – You never know. I would say if there was any chance on Game of Thrones it would be the mandolin, because it’s part of the lute family, but would the Hound be picking up a mandolin? My god, he’d have to be throwing his sword away. Will he ever throw his sword away? I don’t know, maybe the readers know that, I don’t know.
GC – One of your directors on the show is Neil Marshall, who made Dog Soldiers and The Descent, but they’re not your kind of films, you said.
RM – I can’t watch. I get so frustrated. The amount of times I’ve gone to cinemas and realised I’ve spent literally sixty percent of the time looking through my fingers or going “la la la la” and not looking at the screen. I’m a big scaredy cat and I can’t watch horror. I tried to watch Dog Soldiers once and it terrified me. I think it would be different doing scary stuff when you’re an actor, but as a viewer I get really involved, and that’s just the way it is.
GC – One last question. If Edgar Wright ever called you up and offered you a role in another film, what would you say?
RM – Well, I think I would only say one word, and I think you know fine well it’s a big yaaaarp!
GC – Rory McCann, Sandor Clegane, the Hound of House Baratheon, thank you so much for taking the time out to talk with us.
RM – It’s a pleasure. All part of the service.
Special thanks to Rory McCann for his time, and Sean Harry of Starfury Conventions for arranging the interview, and Grant Gowdy for the photos from the event. Details of upcoming events can be found at www.starfury.co.uk
Game of Thrones season one is now available on DVD and Blu-ray, and season two broadcasts in April