Exclusive: Alexander Siddig on ruling Dorne on Game of Thrones

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Apr 20, 2015, 5:39 PM EDT (Updated)

Audiences got their first taste of Doran Martell, the ruling Prince of Dorne, in the "The House of Black and White" episode of Game of Thrones. There's still a lot to discover about the brother of eye-murdered Oberyn "The Viper" Martell (Pedro Pascal), played by genre favorite Alexander Siddig with regal grace and steely countenance. Per the episode, we do know that Oberyn's life partner Ellaria Sand (Indira Varma) is more than a little pissed that Dorne hasn't already marched on King's Landing to lay out a mighty ass-whoppin' on the Lannister clan. Ellaria openly challenging Doran about his lack of immediate vengeance as she wore her rage card on her sleeve clearly didn't sway the Prince's more measured approach, which only makes us more intrigued about the man on the Dorne throne.

Luckily, we got the chance to talk exclusively to Alexander Siddig about joining HBO's epic drama this season. As always, the conversation will include spoilers for those who have not read the books, so proceed with caution.

How did the role of Doran Martell come to you? Any chance you reached out to showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss to remind them you are kind of perfect for the part?

It actually came across my agent's desk. Very rarely do I ask to be on a show these days. It's not because I'm too grand or anything but I just don't think of it. It never occurs to me. [Laughs] Besides, I think you get more chances of getting on a show if you get asked rather than asking.

Fair point. But at least they were smart enough to make the connection themselves. Describe the process of getting the role.

I got asked to come and audition. While I was auditioning, I got to see Pedro perform as [Doran's] brother and that gave me all the information I needed. I knew this guy was coming from a passionate family. They have a lot of Spanish in them, and obviously Pedro is Chilean. So, I unashamedly copied everything I could about him with a few of the things that are unique to my character overlaid. Doran couldn't be quite as dramatic or quite as romantic because my character is the ruler and [Oberyn] wasn't a ruler. Oberyn could afford to misbehave in a way that my character cannot. There's a difference there.

[Spoiler alert] There's also the major revelation that Doran can't walk and is relegated to that chair we see him seated in during his introduction. Did that help define how you would play him?

It did. I was really excited by that, not just from an actor's point of view - because it's always exciting to play under some strict limitation - but it was really, could I possibly figure out a way to give this guy gravity, authority and a sense of romance? This race of people seems to imbue that in their nature which is quite different from the other families who can be quite stern or mysterious. I was hoping I could do that in a wheelchair, and it was a great challenge.

It's definitely clear that Ellaria is only too happy to exploit that perceived weakness in him in order to provoke him into action. Will that malice continue?

Ellaria is my sparring partner and it not at all happy with Doran Martell. I have to look over my shoulder the whole time that she doesn't do something unpleasant. It was great fun. I know the producers love Indira, and when they were telling me any information about Doran, they said just use her accent and her way of doing stuff. Of course, I didn't and went with Pedro's, but that was my prerogative, but she was a real inspiration.

She also has a trio of daughters known as the Sand Snakes who are ready to strike?

Yes! The three nieces are just astonishing and because they are family, I love them even though they are problem children. They were trained by Oberyn to be warriors with each in a different discipline. They were amazing as I watched them working out on set.

Are they going to set a new standard of scary warriors on the show?

They certainly are, and yeah, they put the snakes in sand snakes. I wouldn't cross them!

What kind of leader would you say Doran is?

I don't think he gets out very much, because he's a little bit ashamed of the fact that he's meant to be a masculine guy in a really macho culture. The fact he can't get out of his chair is a real disability to him. I think it forces him to be more philosophical, or at least attempting to be wiser. Where he ends up, I have absolutely no idea. But I'm playing him right now as being a pretty equivocal, pragmatic, wise ruler who doesn't want to rush to judgment and, more importantly, doesn't want to subject his whole kingdom to a state of war. But that is obviously in the cards, and goodness knows there's enough reason for it with what happened to his daughter [Ed. note: Ella Martell, who was raped and murdered per a Tywin Lannister scheme] and his brother being slaughtered abroad.  It's going to be very difficult to decide what to do and he's making a lot of enemies by taking his time and not just rushing out there. I hope he comes off as wise, but I'm smart enough to know the producers could do a reverse turn on him at anytime and turn him into a monster. And that's OK. I'm ready for that as it would be good fun.

Doran is going to end up welcoming Jaime Lannister to Dorne as he seeks to get his daughter, Myrcella, back to King's Landing. How would you define their interactions this season?

Well, Nicolaj is great fun and such an amazing guy. He's such a normal human being and family man.  But [Jamie's arrival], I think provides Dorne an opportunity and makes a simple knee jerk reaction a more complicated, nuanced diplomatic conundrum and that's the playing field on which the drama is played out.

Going back to your casting, the books and the series have a massive fandom and they often like to fancast upcoming roles. Was it made known to you that you were matched with Doran early on by the fans?

Yes, and I was kind of astonished. I was told by one of the producers that there was an online forum where fans suggested who they would like to play characters and I was thrilled to find out that I was one of the names on the list for Doran. It was exciting, but then terrifying, because I had to play the guy right because so many people expect me to!  I was really honored they even thought of me. It's always astonishing as an actor - especially one who operates below the radar - that anyone knows who you are at all. I generally have a career as a supporting actor and as such you tend to stay low level and unknown. Obviously, Star Trek and 24 get you out there a little bit, but I'm still trying to make my mark. But then, you don't want to become too famous, because then you lose your life. 

It's been made very clear that Season 5 will veer away from George R.R. Martin's novels, and a lot of fan ire has been directed at the character of Arianne Martell not making it over to the series from the books. What would you say to maybe assuage those fans?

I have to say, [David and D.B.] are pretty smart, and it's not some divine error that they've hit on such a great show and done such a good job of it. I'm not going to put words in their mouth right now, but the relentless pressure for George to keep writing novels year after year is going to catch up with someone somewhere. I think it's just a practical consideration.

By the same token, does that mean we could see more of Doran than expected?

Well, I'm looking forward to doing more if I get a chance to do more. [Laughs]