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Ciarán Hinds as Mance Rayder.

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Ciarán Hinds on Playing Game of Thrones’ Mance Rayder

Ciarán Hinds was worried when he was cast as Mance Rayder in Game of Thrones that fans might revolt — at 60, "I'm probably a bit older than some people might have thought of" for the King Beyond the Wall, he says. But since there was no script for season three when he was offered the part and he hadn't read the books, he was unaware of just how large the role would be, until his goddaughter clued him in. Now that he's shot scenes in the first three episodes (plus a reaction shot in a later episode), Hinds is starting to get caught up on the GoT phenomenon, Jon Snow theories, and what's in store for the wildling army, which he chatted about with Vulture.

Were you a big Game of Thrones fan prior to coming aboard the show? Had you read the books? Were you aware of the phenomenon?
No to all of the above. Well, I was aware of it, because it's filming in my hometown, Belfast, so when I met with them, they asked, "Do you know this?" And I said, "Well, I know of it." So they gave me a pile of DVDs to watch. I'm halfway through series two.

There's been a lot of anticipation for Mance ...
And then it's only me! There you go. You go, "Oh! It's only him." I haven't had the chance to read the books — they're mighty books; they're big tomes — but I'm hoping to begin them this summer. Actually, when we were filming in Iceland, where I'd never been, it was like being in the Winter Olympics, just like a blizzard in late November, and it was rugged work. You shoot between nine and five, because of the light, and we'd have evenings clear because it was dark.

At least you weren't juggling Political Animals at the same time.
With them having canceled that series, it leaves me open, I suppose, to go back for [GoT] series four. But nobody's said anything. It's funny, when you get into it, you go, "What have I got myself in for?" I got an e-mail from my goddaughter, who is in her early twenties and is an avid reader, and she was like, "Oh my God!!" — you know, with a lot of exclamation marks? — "My God!! You're going to be Mance Rayder!! I can't believe it!!" And I'm like, "What are you talking about?" I always wonder about the people who read the books, how annoyed they might be, either by casting, or, "That's not how we imagined it," because they feel ownership of it. You get announced as Mance Rayder, and what if the vox populi goes, 'Boo'? You know? They might take an ax to him. 

They can't take an ax to you!
No? It depends on what they have in store for me. [Laughs.]

I don't want to spoil anything for you, but they're going to need you for seasons to come. You're going to have some crazy things happen to you.
Oh God. I'm a man of a certain age — they can't do that! [Laughs.]

They can!
They can. And they probably will! Although age probably doesn't particularly matter — it's about soul. He's a tough old bird. He's the kind of guy who doesn't take any prisoners, because this is serious business, the White Walkers. They're all going to have to band together, to stop what's coming.

He also plays the lute and crashes parties.
I can't wait for that. There are also moments of straight talk, when I say, "If you prove false, it won't be hard for me to kill you," and then little smartie Snow gets on with it, doesn't he? Things to be found out. And then after that, he leaves him to go on to the Wall and Mance isn't in it for the rest of the series, except for a shot with them coming back without Jon Snow. The economy of that is just with one look, he knows it's all gone wrong: "You fucked up, didn't you?" That's all I know. I can't worry about it: "You can't do this to me! I'm 60! Get on with it!" [Laughs.]

Did you get to have any scenes with a character named Dalla? Is she introduced this season?
No! Never met her! Never touched her, your honor! It's actually quite fun, not knowing. Have you read all of the books? Can you keep track of everything that happens to everyone? Because there is a lot of stuff going on. I was thinking, Where are they going with this? when suddenly in series two, is it the red witch? Melisandre suddenly gave birth to this thing, and I was like, "Holy Smoley ... " And all this stuff with Jon Snow and his parentage! Maybe he's like Harry Potter, the Chosen One, and yet nobody actually knows.

It's a little more adult than Harry Potter. More incest.
There's no incest in Harry Potter, is there? I missed that bit! Maybe there was, but it was so subtle, I skipped by it. They're making up for it in this, anyway. And the next time I have a scene with Kit [Harington], I can say, "Do you know where you come from?" And if he says, "Father ... " That's a bluff. "I know they told you, or you thought you knew, but anyway ..." Oh, good Lord! At this stage, anybody could make up anything, couldn't they? Crikey blimey! I can't wait to see what happens!

Photo: HELEN SLOAN