Spoilers ahead for the most recent episode of Game of Thrones.
Little cousin Lancel was last seen scurrying away from his cousin — and sometime lover — Cersei during the Battle of Blackwater. This season, as one of the religious order the Sparrows (and now their armed version, the Faith Militant), he's dispensing "justice," as he calls it, to those who cross the faith and the crown. Eugene Simon, who plays Lancel, chatted with Vulture about his nail-splitting scenes, playing a religious fanatic, and making his fellow actors bleed.
How did you feel when you found out Lancel was coming back this season, and as a major player?
I was ecstatic! I was overwhelmed. I didn't know that they were going to bring him back this way. Even though I've read the books, I didn't rely on them to save me. It was never a certainty.
Plus, they seem to have made your character an amalgam of Lancel and Osney Kettleblack.
Yeah, it's a good combination. I mean, Osney Kettleback, if I'm not mistaken, is someone who succumbs to the beauty of Cersei as well, so you could make that argument. I couldn't help but be struck by that scene where Lancel first talks to Cersei in episode one, when they talk by that window together? Lancel finds her there, and it's like he knows where she is. He knows the ins and outs of the palace. He knows this was her refuge whenever she needed to think. And I was quite struck by that, because it shows the odd intimacy that they had, even though it was never fully referenced. It's indicative of their past together. And in some ways, he's a ghost of the past now.
What do you think happened between Blackwater and now to make Lancel turn to the Sparrows? Unlike most of their members, he didn't come from the poorest of the poor, but he did come from a family that doesn't know how to love, outside of incest. Kevan doesn't seem like a doting father, and his cousins either ignored, blackmailed, or manipulated him. And his two younger brothers, lest we forget, were murdered while prisoner.
You're right. I think Lancel was put in the unique position of being able to view his family from an eagle-eye perspective, and his relationship with his dad has taken a negative turn. They actually made a decision in the editing to reverse our lines. In the script, Lancel says, "My deepest sympathies," to Cersei, and then Kevan shows up, and then I walk away. In the show, Lancel says, "My deepest sympathies," and then my father shows up and says, "I apologize for my son's appearance," and then I look at him and walk away. They swapped it around, to show that Lancel's relationship with his father is one of disappointment and rejection.
You have to ask yourself, Why would Lancel become such an oppressive figure? He was a relative underdog before. I think Lancel had that experience at Blackwater where he came close to death, and no one was there for him. He didn't come from destitution and poverty — he came from emotional destitution. Total loss, and complete perdition, and no sense that anyone in the world is on his side. And then along comes this miraculous figure under the skin of Jonathan Pryce, the High Sparrow, to save him. He was offered an answer that became the answer to everything, because that's what totalitarian religion does. It's sort of pure and righteous, but righteous is the most dangerous word in the English dictionary. So I think Lancel has numbed himself to the pain of others, under the belief that what he is doing is good for them on another level, on a spiritual level. That's what's so frightening about him and people like him, because you can't reason with that frame of mind.
I think Cersei and Lancel might be underestimating the High Sparrow.
He's actually a very frightening character, because he's so calmly able to convince you of his relatively moderate views on righteousness, when actually he's really dictating the will of the gods. And his version of justice is so backwards, in so many ways. Lancel sees that as empowering. But never underestimate Jonathan Pryce!
So one of the reasons people might not recognize you from previous seasons is that you cut off your long locks ...
I got such a thrill from that. When I was a baby, I had a massive head, a cannonball-sized head, so I was like, "What if they shave off my hair, and that's me?" But it was fine. I have a scar on my head from when I was a kid, something I'd totally forgotten about, so when all my hair was gone, the scar was there, and that's totally appropriate for the character, because he's got this scar on his shoulder, and now this massive brand on his forehead.
What was it like shooting the branding scene?
This is the part where I'm going to sound insane. [Laughs.] For Lancel, I grew my nails out for three months, because he's supposed to be feral. There's a very brief shot where my hand grips the wood on the side of the table, and what I did before that shot, I cut vertical lines in my nails so that they weren't gone, they were just broken and weak on my entire right hand. And when the director said, "We need to shoot this," I said, "Listen, just let me do this ... " and I put my hand on the side of the wood, I squeezed, and my nails broke. And we got the shot! It's used in the footage, my actual nails being broken. It was so worth it.
The poor actor who played the High Septon, when I picked him up in the brothel, I put my hand underneath him, and my nails were very long and sharp at that point, and I didn't realize it, but afterwards, I looked at his ribs and I looked at my hands, and there was blood on my nails! I went, "Jesus! What the hell?!" I totally didn't mean to do it. It was very painful, very intense, that scene. [Laughs.] For all the ladies reading this interview, I can totally sympathize with you when your nails break. Tell all the men to piss off, because they don't know what it's like! [Laughs.]
It looks like all of your scenes now are without shoes? You must get cold.
Jonathan said to me when we were doing a scene together, "You must be cold." And I said, "No, I'm fine. I'm just doing my thing." And under his breath he goes, "Bloody Method actors." [Laughs.] The sets are freezing. Try doing a scene in there when you're naked. That will really wake you up!