Liam Cunningham is a happy man. There’s no guesswork about this — it’s nearly the first thing he says. “Especially after seeing last night’s episode, I’m a very happy man.” This level of enthusiasm is a contrast with the gruff demeanor of Davos Seaworth, the working-class hero he plays on Game of Thrones, which wrapped up its seventh season on Sunday. It usually falls to Ser Davos to tell various kings and queens and lords and ladies that they’re about to do something stupid, and encourage them to do the right thing instead. That’s a quality the Dublin-born actor clearly loves about the part he plays.
On Tuesday, Vulture spoke with Cunningham about what made season finale so much fun for the actors, why he’s steered clear of author George R.R. Martin’s source novels, and Davos’s surprising sex appeal among the fandom.
It sounds like there was something about last night’s episode that was uniquely exciting to the cast.
Well, you have to remember that there’s a very serious amount of main cast members on that wooden platform, in this extraordinary place where we filmed Spain. The only time we usually meet are on red carpets and premieres. So to have everyone in costume, playing this really high-stakes game everyone’s playing, with the enemies that are there — apart from Daenerys and Cersei, you’ve got the Hound and the Mountain, Brienne, and all sorts of enemies who have to come together — we were all very much looking forward to this scene. To be standing there and watch Lena Headey coming up with the Mountain by her side was really weird, because normally I only get to see that on TV, same as everybody else. [Laughs.]
If you think about it, it was set up like a play. It was a raised, wooden platform with all these characters onboard. It was so much different than what we’d filmed in the past, and it was just glorious to be interacting that level of magnificent actors on this stage. It was a joy.
More than just about anyone else, Davos had a chance to interact with different groups of characters already, as he’s shifted allegiances and drifted from one leader to the other. How does he make that work?
Davos is this straight shooter. He’s an incredibly good lateral thinker, he’s honest, he doesn’t have that bald, addictive desire for power or leadership, and in a small way, he represents the audience’s view of all this. People refer to him as one of the moral compasses of the piece, and in this madly complicated world, he’s a guy who occasionally steps in and goes, “Hold on a minute, should we not be doing this?” I get the impression that he speaks up for the audience.
As I say, it’s the simplicity, decency, and loyalty of the man. You know, he’s not a Littlefinger or a Varys. Wherever he goes, he tends to find these decent people, like Jon Snow and Lyanna Mormont and Shireen [Baratheon] and Missandei. He has these lovely little moments with Missandei which are full of humanity — nothing untoward! I love this kind of stuff, because I’ve done quite a few baddies in my time.
I read the books before the show started, and the way you play Davos brought that character to life in a way that just reading him on the page didn’t. It’s one thing to read these people, but when you see a living human being, with body language …
I know what you mean! Putting flesh on the bones! It’s interesting you say that, because that’s one of the reasons I didn’t read the books. I didn’t want to be playing a character from a book. For David [Benioff] and Dan [Weiss], their bible — or, for lack of a better word, their blueprint — was obviously the books; as an actor, my blueprint was the script. I didn’t want those two things confused. In fact, George frequently slaps me on the back of the hand, because every time I meet him, he says, “Have you read the books yet?” and I say, “No, I haven’t George! Look, I don’t want to be influenced by what you’ve written in the books.” He intimated that his writing has taken a little bit from the actors that he sees playing his characters onscreen, so there’s a cross-pollination there, hopefully for the better, for his writing. But I promise him that as soon as the show is over, I’m going to sit down with these massive tomes and get my ass reading his version of Westeros. I’m waiting for that luxury to happen, when I’m out of work and nobody likes me anymore.
I’ll try to be circumspect here: Many of my female friends like you a lot. Is this something you’ve noticed?
You know what? As I like to say, the star of Game of Thrones is Game of Thrones. The show is the star. I love the whole ensemble aspect of it. The best work I’ve ever done has been ensemble work, not leading-man stuff. I love doing character roles.
I think there is a certain amount of … [pauses.] Because there are so many morally ambiguous characters in this, maybe some of your female friends have daddy issues or something like that, because Davos would certainly make a wonderful father. Listen, I’d love to be like Davos. I aspire to be that man. You know where you are with this guy. He has a sense of fun, and he’s not fearful of life. As he said to Stannis, he’s not fearful of his death, either. He’s a guy you’d love in your corner. He’s a quiet hero. He’s kind of what we all aspire to be. But if it’s anything other than that, you need to speak to your friends. [Laughs.]
This interview has been edited and condensed.