Game of Thrones’ Mackenzie Crook on Playing an Eagle and Climbing Fake Ice Walls

Mackenzie Crook. Photo: Jason Kempin/Getty

When Mackenzie Crook first got the part of Orell on Game of Thrones, he started looking up just who this character was and how he fit into the story in the third season — only to be bewildered (“I’m playing an eagle?”). Orell, in the A Song of Ice and Fire books, was a wildling skinchanger who could share the consciousness and control the actions of an animal — in his case, an eagle. Crook’s version of Orell, however, is something altogether new, and it’s a role he relishes, after playing the geeky Gareth on the original, British version of The Office, and the wooden-eyeball-popping Ragetti in the first three Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Crook chatted with Vulture about eye-acting, Wall-climbing, and hot-springs-dipping.*

Orell is trapped in the eagle in the books at this point in the story. Your Orell is an amalgam of him plus Varamyr Sixskins, also a skinchanger.
There’s a limited amount of research I can do about warging, what it’s like to do that, because obviously people can’t. [Chuckles.] But it’s a really interesting character to have, a really deep and thoughtful character. I’m not usually asked to play those types of guys. He’s got depth, definitely. And  meeting Orell, that’s the first time Jon’s ever heard of a warg.

When your character connects with his eagle, your head is back, your eyes are white. Contacts?
That was put in post. I just had to hold my eyes open, unblinking, which was kind of difficult in Iceland, because I was staring right into a blizzard. Snowflakes were landing on my eyeballs, but I wasn’t allowed to blink for the duration of that shot. But then I’ve had all sorts of eye-acting experience, like in Pirates of the Caribbean, they did all manner of horrible things to my eyes, and I had to wear huge contacts in that, so I’m used to keeping my eyes open and not blinking. In Pirates, the contact lens I had for the wooden eye, there was no hole in it, so I couldn’t see through it — I was blind in one eye. And that made things difficult, just because you had no depth perception. You couldn’t see how close or how far away things were. And with the sword fighting, that made things dangerous!

You have some fighting coming up in this Sunday’s episode, because this is when the wildlings climb the Wall.
That was really quite grueling. I don’t want to sound like a whiny actor, but it was absolutely exhausting. They made this mock-up, this wall, and I guess it was foam covered in plaster rendered to look like ice, and we were actually climbing it, with the axes. It behaved just like real ice. And we had to train beforehand, how to climb ice walls. I thought they were going to put us in position and have us pretend, but no — we climbed. So the exhaustion you see in our faces is real. And they were blowing snow and wind in our faces as well. So you felt like you were there. Obviously we were harnessed, and everything’s safe, but it was hairy.

Since you were shooting in Iceland in November, you only had a few hours of light a day. What did you do in your off-time? Besides playing Twister
Oh, right, yes! A friend of mine came up with a crazy idea to do a Twister assister video, and I thought it would be a fun landscape to do it in. If you only have two people, you need someone else to twist the thing for you and tell you, “Right foot, red.”

Did you ever go swimming in the hot volcanic cave pools like the one Jon and Ygritte found?
Yeah, actually, we went in the one they’re supposed to be in. That scene was a studio set, but it was based upon a real cave, so we went out and found it — me and Kris [Hivju, who plays Tormund Giantsbane] and Kit [Harington, who plays Jon Snow] and Rose [Leslie, who plays Ygritte] all checked it out. It seems like a vast plane of snow, but then there’s a hole in the ground, and we all squeezed through this hole, and it opened out into this cavern, with this pool in the bottom of it. And it was so hot! Almost unbearably hot. There are many of these hot springs all around Iceland, and many of them are perfect bathing temperature, but this one was like, once you’re in it, you have to stand almost completely still, because any movement made it too hot to bear, and you could only stand it for a few minutes before you had to get out again. That’s why they couldn’t shoot the scene in the cave, because they would have been boiled alive.

Have you seen the mash-up of The Office with The Hobbit? Where Gareth is Gollum?
Oh, yes! That was great. In fact, I said to my son, “Guess which part they made me?” And he immediately said, “Gollum!” [Laughs.] Great. My son knows. And there’s nothing else they could have made me, is there? I’m used to that.

Do you watch the American version? It’s coming to an end on May 16.
When they first made it, I had a sort of slight problem — I didn’t understand why they had to remake it, when we enjoy so many American shows over here. But now I understand, I’ve made my peace with it. It’s a completely different thing, and it’s taken off in its own direction. It’s brilliant. And now they’re on their ninth season? And we only made fourteen, fifteen episodes, which isn’t even enough for one season in the States. I understand why they did it now.

*This post has been updated to limit spoilers.

GoT’s Mackenzie Crook on Playing an Eagle