'Game of Thrones' Exclusive: Actor Conleth Hill looks back on playing the scheming Lord Varys
In the days leading up to the eighth and final season premiere of HBO's Game of Thrones on 14 April, we will be taking a look back at the evolution of the show's four most fascinating supporting characters. Along with brief highlights that include their backstory, an iconic mic-drop moment and speculations on where they might be headed (read: dead), we'll be reminiscing with the outstanding actors who play them, in a Singapore-exclusive interview courtesy of HBO. Up first: the conniving Lord Varys played by actor Conleth Hill, who's certainly far from bald IRL.
Backstory: As a boy, Varys roamed cities with a troupe of actors. One fine day, a mysterious man turned up and bought him from his master. The sorcerer gave Varys a dark potion that stripped away his ability to move and speak but did not take his senses. He cut Varys repeatedly while chanting and then burnt Varys' private parts, rendering him a eunuch. Varys then heard a voice answer the sorcerer's call. Whether it was a God or demon, little is revealed about this voice but it has continued to haunt Varys ever since. As revenge, Varys imprisoned the sorcerer in a box. In episode four of season three, Varys showed his prisoner to Tyrion; his body was wasting away and his mouth was sewn shut.
Breakthrough: As a worthless slum boy, he began stealing and selling his body to survive on the streets of the ancient city of Myr, but he soon realised that information was far more valuable than any gold or product. He went on to steal letters and build a network of spies that supposedly extends from the North to the South that he would endearingly refer to as "Little Birds".
Iconic mic-drop moment: His alliances haven't been clear throughout the seasons. After all, he has served a succession of Kings and families including the 'Mad King' Aerys II Targaryen, Robert Baratheon, Joffrey Baratheon and the Lannisters. However, it became apparent last season when he was confronted by Daenerys who he currently serves, as thunder and lightning added to the dramatics of Dragonstone in the background. "You wish to know where my true loyalties lie? Not with any King or Queen, but with the people", he declared as he stood his ground against the threat of being burnt alive by one of Daenerys' dragons.
Prediction: We're guessing that he'll most likely meet his death at the cold hands of the White Walkers in season eight. Obviously, this speculation is fuelled by the red priestess Melisandre's shady retort in season seven when she meets Varys on the cliffs of Dragonstone: "I have to die in this strange country, just like you." Add to that prophetic statement, Varys is also distinctly averse to magic, which the White Walkers are charged plenty with. In the season's trailer, we see Varys hiding away in the depths of Winterfell's crypts along with the other common folk but the question remains: Will he have the balls to stand up to the terror that lurks above to save the people and the realm he so solemnly serves?
Where do we find your character at the beginning of the final season?
I am still in Dragonstone. I've just come back from the meeting in King's Landing that you saw at the end of season seven and we are awaiting instructions.
For Varys, he's always been a character for whom his goals aren't quite clear.
It's weird that everybody says that. To me, it's always been obvious that his motives are for good. That was one of the first notes GRR Martin said to me: ultimately he's good. That's all I held on to the whole way through. It's very complicated with him because he's been given a prophecy. We don't know exactly what was said to him but all the red priestesses and red priests seem to know that he's involved in some way. Melisandre says to me, in our lovely scene together last season (episode 3), which should've won a Bafta, clearly, that she has to come back one more time just like me, to die here.
He's always known about the prophecy — it's just he doesn't know in what context. When you see what happens you go, you'll know that he knew. He does something very selfless because he sees what he chose isn't going the way it should go, and that it's dangerous and that he has to do something.
What was it like when you found out what was going to happen in the show?
I was absolutely depressed.
What won't you miss from Game of Thrones?
The cold! And having to shave my head every season.
In the old days, it was like six or seven vans and the trailer and the makeup truck. This season was like a rock festival. I must admit my favourite scenes were always the two-handers with me and Littlefinger or the two-handers with me and Peter (Dinklage) or even me and Diana (Rigg) in those early seasons. I do prefer the more intimate stuff. I think most actors do.
How was your final day?
We all got a gift of a storyboard, a nice mention and a nice note from David and Dan on the back of it.
What was your storyboard?
It was my speech when I unboxed the sorcerer (in season 3).
How have you coped with all of the secrecy that's required?
People don't recognize me from it so I don't really get asked what happened — that's the joy of having no hair on the show but plenty in real life. No one ever has asked me seriously apart from yesterday. One driver said, "Who actually ends up on the throne?" I went, "Do you think I'm going to tell you!" I am actually surprised that nothing seems to have come out because by the time we get the scripts, every head of department has already seen them. Lots of people know out there what's going on and they have to be equally as secretive. The good thing is that genuine fans don't want to know.
I can't wait until this series is all out and over — there are so many more secrets to this season than there were before.
Is there a set, a location, a moment from the series as a whole that you think back on as a highlight?
It was on Fair Head, which is five minutes from where I grew up. It was just very surreal, very brilliant, and couldn't have been with nicer company. That scene on top of the cliff where we used to play as kids was all very strange but brilliant.
Stream the eighth and final season on HBO GO (available on the App Store, Google Play, SingTel, StarHub, and Toggle) or watch the premiere on HBO (Starhub TV Ch 601/Singtel TV Ch 420) on 15 April at 9am, with a same-day encore at 10pm, or catch it on HBO On Demand.