“I’m in Spain, watching the sun set on a mountaintop overlooking a village,” Pilou Asbaek says. “It sounds very romantic, except I’m naked.” Asbaek might be joking about that last part — he’s been drinking wine, he says by way of explanation — but either way, it’s a much-needed moment of relaxation for the Danish actor, who’s currently playing the maniacally eye-shadowed Euron Greyjoy on Game of Thrones. (He also has another good reason for the mini-break: “I don’t want to get a divorce before I’m 35.”) Still, he made time to talk to Vulture about Euron’s evolution since his big introduction to the HBO epic.
Did you read the books?
I read bits and pieces, all the things I needed. I come from a Nordic tradition. The way that George R.R. Martin wrote the stories, they’re very inspired by the Icelandic sagas, where you don’t just tell the background story for every character: You tell the parents’ background story, the grandparents’ background story, the great-grandparents’ background story. It comes out of my ancestors’ tradition of writing. So I read everything I could get my hands on. Anything else would be unprofessional and idiotic.
But it’s a difficult balance. I needed to create him new. You have to be strong, and make the decision: We are not going to do blue lips. [Editor’s note: In the books, Euron enjoys a psychedelic beverage called Shade of the Evening, which stains his lips.] We’re not going to do the eye-patch. We have a saying in Denmark: “Only one crutch per character.” You can’t have a wooden leg, a parrot, and an eye-patch.
What was the one crutch you chose for Euron?
My one thing I chose was that he’s a chameleon. He’s changeable. In season six, he’s dressed as a Greyjoy, a proper Greyjoy. Now, he’s dressed as a man who has to seduce the most beautiful woman in the world.
What was your audition scene?
It was the worst audition ever. I was doing a comedy called Stag on BBC in the Highlands of Scotland. My manager from Denmark says, “Game of Thrones wants to see you for an audition.” I was like, “Fuck, it’s the biggest show in the world.” I was shooting all day and reading [the audition sides] at night. I felt very well prepared. English is not my native tongue; I have to read the lines 1,000 times so it sticks in my memory. It sucks, but that’s just how it is. The day comes, I go to the audition — voilà, Dan [Weiss] and David [Benioff] are there. I went from really nervous, now I’m fucking terrified.
I had figured out who the character was. I did some research, so I had the idea that it was Euron Greyjoy. I did the scene, said, “Thanks very much,” and I was leaving the room. They were like, “Where are you going?” Very sweet. I was like, “I did the scene.” “No, you only did 35 to 40 percent of it. You still have the rest of the scene to do, the kingsmoot.” Someone fucked up, probably my manager. I knew I had lost it, coming in unprepared. I got desperate and started improvising. I ended up teasing the guy I was reading with. I felt like I had to do something to impress them. I felt like an idiot, but they were smiling.
They liked it.
I think what they saw was a guy who was desperate and went in. Just like Euron. He’s not desperate, but he’s all in.
Before the season premiere, they promised Euron would be hotter this year. Do you think he got hotter?
Where I come from, what’s attractive is taste. What I find attractive, you may not find attractive. I have no idea if he’s attractive. I just know that when we had a meeting before the season, I was like, “I want to upgrade the costume. I want to make him a rock-and-roll star, a wild kid. Like, ‘Fuck all you guys, this is my time.’” They were like, “This is awesome.”
Michelle [Clapton] did the costume. I thought it was so fun. I love the jacket. It’s so full, it looks like they’d been sitting on a boat cutting it open for days.
Sunday’s episode was definitely a coming-out party for Euron. What kind of direction did Mark Mylod give you in the battle?
“More.” He kept pushing me. He said, “I want more, more.” I said, “Fuck you, Mark. You want more, I’ll fucking give you more.” We had a one-take battle scene — five, seven minutes. He came up to me after and said, “Actually, give me 20 percent less.”
If you were in Theon’s place, would you have jumped overboard?
No. I would have taken him!