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Eugene Simon's 'Games of Thrones' role more than kissing cousin

By Curt Wagner

RedEye

6:09 PM CDT, April 18, 2012

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When you're a young British actor starring in two hit series at once, even a visit to the U.S. isn't all down time. Eugene Simon wrapped up his 22-day stay Wednesday, but not before a round of phone interviews earlier in the week.

The 19-year-old Londoner plays Lancel Lannister in HBO's "Game of Thrones." In Season 1 Lancel, then a squire to King Robert Baratheon, indirectly killed the king at the behest of Robert's wife, Cersei, who is Lancel's cousin—and lover. In Nickelodeon's English-boarding school set "House of Anubis," Simon plays a jokester named Jerome Clarke.

Simon filmed both shows at the same time last year, living in Liverpool where he shot "HOA." But when he was needed on the set of "GOT," he would head to Belfast. The productions worked their schedules so he could be in both shows.

"You have to learn to kind of switch off one part of your brain and turn on the other," he said of playing two parts at once. "So that was a good learning experience, really. They definitely couldn't be more different than they are."

In Sunday's episode of "GOT," titled "Garden of Bones," Lancel crosses paths with yet another manipulative Lannister, Cersei's brother Tyrion, and things continue to go badly for the newly minted knight as he becomes a pawn in their battle for power. Simon believes Lancel's inherent naivete; makes him susceptible to the will of others.

"He's quite a tragic figure in my mind because of his desire to have a romance with Cersei. He has an utter infatuation with Cersei, and I think that kind of desire is sort of both Lancel's greatest strength and also his greatest weakness, his kind of undoing...," Simon said.

"Tyrion and Cersei just have such an opportunity to use him for their own ends, which, ultimately, is what 'Game of Thrones' is all about. It's all about power and how you dominate that power over your peers."

The actor says he's looking forward to hearing fan reactions to Lancel's story this season and, if creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss follow George R.R. Martin's books enough, Lancel's transformation into a man who "takes life by the reins" in later seasons.

Simon and I talked more about both his shows, why he was pretty much naked when he first met Lena Headey, how he got into acting at age 8 and the "Game of Thrones" cast member he unexpectedly, and happily, ran into in L.A.


How are you?

I’m very good, man, very good. How are you?

Good. Are you in L.A.?
Yeah, I am. I’m at a café at the moment. I just had like a really, really, really nice little strawberry kind of desert, so I’m just sitting here feeling very, very smug. [Laughs.] I had a strawberry bowl with whipped cream, so I’m just pigging out. I thought I might as well treat myself before I head back to London on Wednesday.

When did you get into the States?
Well, I’ve been in now for about like 20 days, 20 days as of this morning. And I’ve been staying with a couple buddies of mine in a really, really great apartment just off Hollywood. That’s been it, really. That's been kind of my stay. Unfortunately, it’s a bit too short for my liking. But, yeah, I had no idea what was going to happen when I first came out here or the activity that was going to go on. So, yeah, that's life, unfortunately. It’s being an actor. It’s not knowing and getting it wrong. [Laughs.]

So did you come out for like auditions and everything or just to hang out?
Well, I came out here for a couple of auditions, which I’ve been doing over the course of the past few days, of which I’m now waiting to hear back. ... A lot of press is going on for "House of Anubis" and "Game of Thrones," so I thought I'd be obliging and just come out and meet some people in person and speak to people like your good self.

Well thanks. Have you been staying with any British actors we might know?
Well, you may. If you’re a fan of “House of Anubis,” you’ll know them, Alex Sawyer and Anastasia Dhanraj, who both star in the show along side me, are the two people I’m living with.

But what's been nice this year, I’ve managed to kind of see people from both sets, both “Game of Thrones” and “House of Anubis.” By sheer coincidence, I was having a meal in Hugo’s the other day and of all people to wander through the door [comes] Kit Harington—the famous Jon Snow—was in with a few friends of his. And it was just great.

I saw him; I popped out of the chair and I gave him a big hug, because he and I—unfortunately, Lancel doesn't have any scenes with Jon Snow—but he and I happened to be in Belfast at the same time for the first season, so we’re buddies now. Me and him and John Bradley as well. So it was good. I’ve got the best of both worlds.

Lancel’s back this coming Sunday. What do you think about the character?
What I’ve kind of come to appreciate, particularly within the past eight months and having finished doing the second season and also reading the books, is that he’s one of these wonderful characters, Lancel [is]. But I’m lucky to say I can't really compare him to many other people within the story. He’s one of the few characters that I’ve encounter with this inherent naiveté, which I find to be incredibly sort of moving but also quite tragic. He’s quite a tragic figure in my mind because the desire he has within the story is to have a romance with Cersei. He has an utter infatuation with Cersei, and I think that kind of desire is sort of both Lancel’s greatest strength and also his greatest weakness—his kind of undoing within the plot.

So I kind of related to him in that sense that as you’re a teenager growing up, you do develop these kind of absurd, irrational love interests. They’re your first. And I like Lancel because I like to see that obviously this completely unrequited love is what leads Lancel to become a much more interesting and much more kind of tragically messed up character later in the series.

I’m so looking forward to kind of having the opportunity to be able to bring that to screen, really. I was nervous with Lancel because obviously reading the books he’s one of these characters that’s always on the peripheral of the scene. But at the same time, he’s always intrinsically involved. His involvement with Robert Baratheon within the first season is so important to how the story developed, particularly for the Lannisters. But we never quite see Lancel actually, what it is that's going through his head as he decides to kill the king for the sake of the love that he bears for Cersei.

So I have a huge amount interest in him. I really do. I wouldn't want to play any other character, that's for sure.

Do you see him as a pawn?

Oh, absolutely, absolutely. The thing about Lancel I’d say is that he is pretty much a glorified informant. He’s a glorified informant and this is when I say when I go back to the whole naiveté thing, because it’s that naiveté that makes him so open to the will of others. And Tyrion and Cersei just have such an opportunity to use him for their own ends, which, ultimately, is what "Game of Thrones" is all about. It’s all about power and how you dominate that power over your peers.

But with regard to Lancel, it’s the fact that he's a pawn that leads him to become such an interesting character in the later [part of] series. And whenever I read the books and whenever I kind of looked at the scripts, it hit home. It hits home to me more and more just how much of a victim this guy is. He really is kind of someone who has primarily good intentions. It’s the way he goes about trying to achieve them that are pretty immoral with regards to Robert Baratheon. But you're actually right. He’s always the pawn, always, always, always.

I just watched your scene with Peter Dinklage from the upcoming episode.
I love the way that Lancel goes from the "queen's man" who is very cocky to sort of begging for mercy.
Absolutely. That's obviously a perfect example of the kind of power that characters such as Tyrion and Cersei manage to lord over him. Lancel does change. When I read the script, I couldn't help but think to myself, "My God, what an arrogant, pathetic almost child this guy is." But at the same time, I kind of had this sort of inherent mercy toward him, really, because all he’s trying to do is impress upon people this authority that he just doesn’t have. He just doesn't have it. He’s doesn't have the, almost if you like, the guts.

At the same time, I would never kind of call him a coward. I would never go as far as to call him coward, which is why later in the series hopefully you'll understand why. That scene was definitely one of my favorites to do, and trust me, you're going to be seeing more of that as the series progresses.

So will we see a lot more of you this season than last?

Yeah, Lancel’s involvement is increased within the second season, as it is in accordance with the books, really. But his storyline very much sticks to his family. Playing Lancel I have, really, kind of a secretive character sort of oriented around the Lannisters that I stick with. I have Joffrey, played by Jack [Gleeson], I have Tyrion played by Peter [Dinklage], Cersei played by Lena [Headey] and then the Hound [Rory McCann] will come in, too, occasionally.

But he’s very family orientated. And what I really liked about that is that you're going to see just how committed to his family he is, as is in accordance with the books, which I thought was a fantastically well written part of the script. So he will be appearing more and I’m looking forward to how people will respond to that.

Do you think he changes a lot, or remains sort of somebody that you may not like, but maybe you forgive because he’s just getting screwed over?

He does change. There's no other way to describe it. There is this kind of transformation with this guy. Very often we see him acting in a sort of slimy and sort cowardly way. But he isn't the coward, and the reason I say that is because of the transformation that we see in Lancel as the series progresses.

And what I saw when I read the books was that by the time that we arrive with Lancel a few years after his love with Cersei, he’s just a completely different guy. He’s this tortured sort of man as opposed to this aspiring boy. And I have a huge amount of pity for Lancel. But at the same time, that is the way they’re world works when you play the Game of Thrones. So you have to kind of take it as it comes, really.

Would you have liked to have grown up in a family like the Lannisters?

[Laughs.] Well, the Lannisters are certainly my favorite family. They’re definitely my favorite family because I always see them as the most human family, the most real in terms of their limits, their sort of fundamental limits of humanity.

But if I was to grow up with one of the families of the Seven Kingdoms, I would feel that I would like to grow up as one of the Ironborn. It’s this sort of question of growing up with this incredibly hard upbringing. You don't find any much stronger personalities than the Ironborn, and you’ll see that more and more as this series progresses because Theon Greyjoy has already become such a fantastic character, as he is in the books, and all credit to Alfie Allen for his performance. So I think if I had to choose any other house other than the Lannisters, it would be House Greyjoy.

How did you get involved with "Game of Thrones" in the first place?
I originally auditioned for the role of Joffrey Baratheon. And the role, rightly so, was kind of made for Jack Gleeson. There's no one who could have played him better, really. It’s really such an incredible performance.

But I was brought back in to read for the role of Lancel. And I think it was very much two auditions that I did, really, and that was it. I did feel kind of a strong connection to the character. There wasn’t a huge amount of script for me to read, but I sympathized with him, as I’ve mentioned before, given his love for Cersei.

But it was very much out of the blue for me. I’d be lying to you if I said that I saw this part and I immediately kind of took to him. I sympathized with him, but having read the books, having read the script, having been exposed to him, but it’s only now have I really kind of fallen in line with him and do I sympathize with him and do I emote with him. And the part just really, I hope I’ve kind of made it into my own, really, so we’ll see how the audience responds to it.

You said you originally auditioned for Joffrey. Are you glad you didn't get that part? He’s really turning out to be like the most reviled character.
I’m glad I didn't get the part because I wouldn't have been able to give it the credit that Jack’s done. I mean that. I was in the room for when he was doing one of his scenes, when he’s basically torturing Sansa Stark. I was watching it and just the malice that he emits is just so shocking. It’s very, very intense, almost kind of awesome.

I was also glad getting Lancel. He has huge transformation that I feel I’m very much up to the test portraying on camera. I always enjoy reading a lot of Lancel. He is one of my favorite characters and would be even had I not been even involved in the project and just read the books. I’m always excited by what he’s doing because in the books we never see Lancel in kind of the full light. He’s always the pawn. He is always the pawn. And later in the books he becomes the vengeful kind of pious human kind of character who wants to take revenge for all the bad doings that have been done to him. I love that. It’s that translation that I want to stand up to the challenge of.

Did you find any similarities between you and Lancel?
The similarities between me and Lancel? I’ve spoken of us being young and in love and then having that love kind of unrequited. But we all have moments in our lives when we develop kind of what we believe to be serious crushes. I share that in common with him on some level.

But the reason that I really sympathize with Lancel is because all he wants is to be taken seriously. And it’s his youth, it’s his lack of dominance that just renders him incapable of being able to do so. And I think very often people in the real world, we all want to be taken seriously. We all want to try and aspire to be, on some level, a kind of alpha male. I’ve tried to at some point in my life, whether it’s at school or in real life. And it’s that inability to actually be able to do so, he’s not capable of it. He doesn't have it in him to start with, and I sympathize with that. I sympathize hugely with that, as I think most people would who have ambition but maybe don't have kind of the guts to follow it up.

How is working with Peter and Lena? Those are two big scene partners you’ve had.
For starters, just to say kind of they’re both just so wonderful. I met both of them having walked in to do one of my first scenes with each one. I didn't have any scenes, I believe, with Peter in the first series. So I was always aware of him being my cousin, and I was always aware Charles Dance and I was always aware of Nikolaj [Coster-Waldau].

Lena was the first person who I met, and actually the first time I believe that I met her was to do my nude scene with her. [Laughs.]

Right.
And so it was very kind of, "Hi, I'm Eugene. I can see you're wearing the same dressing gown I am." [Laughs.] They’re just wonderful people. I feel very kind of honored because they're wonderful actors.

And Peter, who I now consider to be a good friend of mine after working with more closely this season, he’s a fantastic actor. Definitely he’s very easy to work with. He’s got this great energy that I hope is something you’ll later see. My scenes with him are incredibly—well, they were frightening, at least to me given what exactly is going on between Lancel and Tyrion. So it was fantastic. It was an honor, really. It really was.

Do you have any behind the scenes stories from either season that you want to share?
I think most people are anticipating, when I had to do my five-day night shoot for the siege of King’s Landing, Lancel will be intrinsically involved in that. And I just remember that behind the scenes whilst we’re doing it, you know, it was pouring rain. We had 200 extras surrounding this castle and that scene is just going to blow you out of the water when you see it. It really is. Being behind the scenes and watching all these people rushing toward the walls holding these weapons, I can tell you it is going to be something that's going to absolutely blow you away. You’re not going to want to miss it.

Do you miss having King Robert around?
I do. I miss having Mark [Addy]. I do miss Mark. I saw him recently at the screening of the first two episodes. But being his squire, being Robert Baratheon’s squire, even though we might have had a troublesome relationship, yeah, it’s a shame that we ended things the way we did. I would have liked for us to at least share a cup of wine before I put something in his cup of wine, you know what I mean? [Laughs.]

And, unfortunately, we didn't. Unfortunately, that was my first scene and there was not enough wine to go around because he's quite the alcoholic. [Note from Curt: I think he means King Robert.] But I do miss him. Mark Addy, again, one of these actors who I had a brief few scenes with but just the nicest guy on the planet. You don't find people who are just such kind human beings and have such an ability to put on such a performance as Mark did playing Robert Baratheon. He’ll be missed.

Do you feel that you’ve learned things just from being around these people?
To put it the answer’s simply: yes. What I notice about all of them, which is something that I think every actor wants to have, is their control. Even though the scenes there are a lot of ways that you can adapt them and a lot of ways that you can choose to perform them, they are decisive. They're decisive and they’re in control. And they rationalize how it is they want to do the scenes, but they don't do it in a way that kind of tread on anyone’s toes.

So it’s that kind of thoughtful control that I’ve picked up from all of them. From Lena, from Peter, from Jack, who is around my age. You know, just fantastic actors, so that's something that I would want to apply.

I understand you’ve been acting since you were eight.
Yeah, that was when I started, back when I was wee lad.

What got you into it?
I’d be lying to you if I said at 8 I went up to my parents and said, “Listen, I’m going to become an actor.” That was not the case. What happened was that I’ve always kind of been a fairly lively, bouncy kind of guy. I generally just had quite a lot of energy to go around when I was a kid, as I still do now. But the turning point was I was seven years old and I used to love listening to poetry on the way to school in my car and I used to love to listen to Roald Dahl. And I listened to the tape and I was with my mom, and one day I stopped the tape and I said to my mom, “I’m going to recite all those poems to you.” And I did. And, as I said, I was quite lively and bouncy and it was her, really, you know, “If he can remember a poem, maybe he can remember a script and let’s just see.” It’s often the parents who think the kids can become actors.

I did a few commercials when I was young. I did a lot of plays, a commercial. I did my first series. Then, when I was 13 I decided this is what I want to do. I really got sort of into it because I did my first series, “My Family and Other Animals,” and I watched Imelda Staunton and Russell Tovey and Tamzin Merchant and Chris Langham and that's when I decided this is what I want to do, really. And the past two years have been, I hope, a tribute to that.

You have a show that airs here on Nickelodeon, too, called "House of Anubis."
Yeah, that's right. Yeah, just confirmed for our third series.

And that couldn’t be anymore different, really, could it?
[Laughs.] No, it couldn’t. It couldn’t. People often ask me how is it that you manage to do two completely different shows at the same time. And the truth is, because they’re so different, switch on one engine and you turn off the other, if you like, because, honestly, it’s doing a kind of soap then a literary drama. It’s at an English boarding school and then go into a fantasy period piece where you spend half your time walking around with a sword. As you said, they’re so different, you have to learn to kind of switch off one part of your brain and turn on the other. So that was a good learning experience, really. They definitely couldn't be more different than they are.

Were you filming them at the same time?
Yeah, we were. We filmed “House of Anubis,” the Nickelodeon show, between July and January of this year. But “Game of Thrones,” given the schedule, we’re sort of on and off. It could be three days here, four days there and then a week maybe at the end. So it was all happening at the same time between Liverpool and Belfast.

That’s pretty nice that they gave you the leeway with your schedule.
Yes. I was very fortunate because the timing just [clashed], but luckily both production teams were kind enough to provide leniency. It ended up working. I’ve done two seasons now and hopefully, the third season will be the kind of same policy, really. So I’m very lucky, very lucky indeed. I was very fortunate that that happened.

Do you just sleep for like a month when they’re both done?
[Laughs.] Yeah, I have my downtime. I said to my friends who I work with, “Listen, I will gladly give you the whole of January, I will commit to you 100 percent, but you’ve got to give me two weeks so I can have my downtime. I need some time with my family. I need some time with my sofa and my TV and a cup of tea. I need to relax.”

Where did you do most of your "Game" filming this year, in Ireland?
Yes. My shooting was done only in Ireland. We shot on location for the siege scene and then in the studios for the rest of my scenes, for example, the one with Tyrion that you just saw the other day.

Have you sat on the Iron Throne yet?
[Laughs.] Yes, I did. I sat on the Iron Throne. I walked on set and I saw it by itself and I just thought I would sit there. I promise you, Curt, honestly, the moment you sit on that chair, I can't tell you. I mean, this is a fictional story, but I can't tell you how much blood rushes to your head. You get so full of adrenalin because you just think to yourself, pardon my French, but, “[Bleep] yeah! I’m sitting on the Irone Throne!” [Laughs.] It’s actually just as sharp as it seems when you look at it.

Is there anything you want to tell me that you want Americans to know about you?
Well, one thing I just want to tell everybody is I hope you’ve enjoyed both shows, really. I’m very, very grateful that both of these shows managed to come out in the U.S. and the U.K. So coming out to Los Angeles and America is new to me, so my main thing to say as you as a group is, well, thank you for having me.

And what are your long-term aspirations as an actor?
Well, I’ve been thinking recently about what I’m going to do next year once I finish shooting and the main thing that kind of dawned on me recently was that, “Game of Thrones,” “House of Anubis,” coming out to L.A., working here for a while, all of this has happened to me under the presumption that I’m capable of acting. And it kind of dawned on me the other day that it would be insult to anybody who wants to watch me if I didn't make sure that I was capable of doing my job. So my aspirations are definitely to kind of, besides doing film and theater and TV, but I want to be sure that I go and professionally train. I want to feel that I’m worthy, and I think a lot of actors, particularly around my age, always have that question in the back of their heads, that's kind of the shadow in the corner. Are you worth it? Are you good enough? And like I said, it would be an insult to you if I didn't at least try, so that's my aspiration, if you like.

So you plan on going for further study, then?
Yeah. I say professional training and I don’t know what I mean by that. But I have some very close friends who have been in the industry for a while and they’re very close to me and I want to be able to talk to them and say, “I’ll keep my mouth shut and you tell me anything you want to tell me and let’s do it.” The only way you learn is by doing. You learn through deed, so that's kind of my aspiration for the time being.