By Curt Wagner
6:09 PM CDT, April 18, 2012
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 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.]
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.
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