As Iwan Rheon strolls into the reception of the central London hotel, I ask the Game of Thrones actor whether he was recognised on the journey into town. “I got the tube here and I was fine as long as I keep my head down and don't make eye contact,” he says. “When I do make eye contact I can see the cogs in their brain start whirring.”
And you have to wonder what they are thinking because the 31-year-old Welsh actor plays television's biggest bastard – literally and figuratively – Ramsay Bolton, a character recently voted “Most Hated Man on TV” by New York Times readers (presumably Donald Trump didn't qualify).
The psychopathic Lord of Winterfell has tortured, crucified, castrated and murdered his way through three seasons of the television phenomenon, and his wedding night rape of bride Sansa Stark saw a new low in his popularity ratings.
“I understand why the reaction's there because people have watched this girl grow up and they love her,” he says. “But at the same time there was such an intense backlash about it, and it isn't the worst thing that's happened on Game of Thrones. You know, burning a child... nobody seems to go mad about that.”
Although Rheon can justify the scene post-facto, that didn't make it any easier to film. “It was horrible,” he says. “I didn't sleep a wink the night before, when usually I'm quite good at detaching from Ramsay. Also Sophie (Sophie Turner who plays Sansa) is young herself and such a lovely girl... it just felt like nobody wanted to be there and nobody wanted to be doing it and it just filtered all the way through the crew. But you've just got to get on with it, and Sophie dealt with it very well.”
I ask him about his co-star Emilia Clarke's recent calls for more male nudity – or at least a “nudity equality” – on Game of Thrones, something that appears to be being addressed, albeit tentatively. While in episode four, Clarke's character Daenerys Targaryen emerges stark naked from the burning temple of the Dosh Khaleen, season five saw the show's first, very brief, flash of penis.
“A bit of a shock wasn't it?” says Rheon, who says he has already shown himself “arse-wise”. Would he perform frontally naked if the script required it of Ramsay? “If it was right for the scene then yeah, I would. I mean Emilia coming out of the fire, she's got to be naked because otherwise why is she wearing asbestos clothes? But then whether it's distracting to have a willy waggling round in a scene and whether it's going to make everyone go... I'm walking into a minefield really, aren't I?”
In the flesh, as it were, Rheon is obviously very different to his character (“I hope people appreciate that I'm not a marauding psychopath”), and I wondered who, if anybody, he based his character on. “Initially Heath Ledger's Joker,” he says. “And then I kind of thought Dennis the Menace... it's great to have that childlike glee in doing all these horrible things, and then Liam Gallagher's attitude and walk. But you forget all that stuff after a while.”
Possibly the only person who hasn't witnessed his performance is his mother, a social worker in Cardiff (his dad's an accountant). “She wouldn't really want to watch it,” he says. “She finds it more difficult than fans to detach because no matter what costume I'm wearing, she still sees a little boy out there. She struggled with Misfits as well, she couldn't handle that everyone was being mean to Simon.”
The role of awkward and shy Simon Bellamy, one of the Asbo teenagers who develop superpowers in E4's Misfits, was the actor's breakthrough role, and the first time I met him, on set of the first series back in 2008. “It seems like a lifetime ago,” says Rheon, who was raised in Cardiff and whose first language is Welsh. Misfits had a global following (“I still get recognised from it,” he says) but nothing like the intensity which he has experienced from Game of Thrones. “I had to do a massive premiere in the Chinese Theatre in LA, which is so famous, for season six! And that really brings it home.”
It was at this premiere that Rheon also realised the depth of feeling for his wronged bride Sansa. “There were a lot of fans there watching,” he says. “In that moment in episode one when Brienne finally rescues her, there was a big cheer and you felt the collective relief.
“I think it's great for her to get that empowerment back. It's great for Alfie [Alfie Allen, Lily Allen's brother] as well, who plays Theon to finally get out of the clutches of Ramsay, and it's nice for him not to be tortured all the time.”
With Sansa and her half-brother Jon Snow (a part that Rheon nearly won, before being pipped by Kit Harrington) now out for vengeance, Ramsay Bolton's demise cannot, surely, be too far off. Will he be returning to Belfast in July to film season seven, I ask, idly fishing for a spoiler. He's too experienced at this game to bite, however, and instead discusses the potential manner of Ramsay's potential death. It had better be epic, we agree, not least to fulfil fans' innate desire for justice. “It would be a shame if he just fell down some stairs or something,” says Rheon.
But where do you go after Ramsay Bolton? Why, a young Adolf Hitler of course. In the satirical Sky Arts drama Adolf the Artist, based on the memoirs of Hitler's only teenage friend, August Kubizek, Rheon plays the future Fuhrer as a struggling would-be painter in pre-World War One Vienna. “It didn't feel like playing Hitler because this was before all the horrible things he did”.
The actor has also been in Savannah, Georgia, making his debut in an American feature film, co-starring with Brooke Shields in Daisy Winters, in which he plays a kindly neighbour who befriends Shields' troubled 11-year-old daughter. He's also finished filming an English-language German production called SUM1 (as in 'someone'), a post-apocalyptic adventure in which is he is virtually the only actor. “I really like Moon,” he says of having no other cast to interact with. “It felt like Sam Rockwell would be attracted to it for the exact same reason. It's a challenge.”
Meanwhile he's returning to his first love, music (“acting is more of a career,” he says), starting work on a follow up to his 2015 solo album Dinard, which was named, very romantically, after the Brittany resort where he met his girlfriend, actor/model/musician Zoe Grisedale. They went skinny-dipping on their first encounter, he reveals, and have been together ever since.
And then scripts are flooding in for cruel psychopaths in the Ramsay Bolton mould, or apparently worse. “I want to try and move away from bad guys because I really fear being typecast,” says Rheon. “Because Ramsay is the first role like that I've ever played and it's a bit annoying it's the one that everyone knows. I'd hate that it would just be that... I wouldn't want to be an actor any more.”
Game of Thrones continues on Mondays on Sky Atlantic at 9pm.
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