One of Game of Thrones' production hallmarks was finding roles for actors that showrunners David Benioff and D. B. Weiss liked but weren't exactly right for the original role they'd auditioned for. Iwan Rheon didn't get Jon Snow, but he got Ramsay Bolton. Lord Varys' Conleth Hill initially went after Robert Baratheon before Mark Addy snapped it up. But some of these cases of "right actor, wrong role," like those of Liam Cunningham and Natalie Dormer, have remained secretive behind-the-scenes stories until now.
Revealed in James Hibberd's new oral history Fire Cannot Kill a Dragon: Game of Thrones and the Official Untold Story of the Epic Series, a pair of actors could've played two very different characters. First is Liam Cunningham AKA the ethical fan-favorite Ser Davos Seaworth. Cunningham initially auditioned for another gruff character beloved by fans.
"I first met Dan and David a year before [while auditioning] for a different character. I’ve never told anyone this, but it was for Ser Jorah," Cunningham said. "Within five pages you know if a script is going in the trash can or not, and these I couldn’t put down. It’s like for an actor you finally found what you’re looking for. They told my agent they were 'going a different direction,' which is the nice way of saying you didn’t get the job. They added, 'We have some more characters coming in next season,' and I’m thinking, 'Yeah, sure, ‘Don’t call us, we’ll call you.’'"
"But they put me on the list to come in the following year," the actor said. "By then, everybody in the UK wanted Game of Thrones on their résumé. It was a badge of honor, a mission everybody wanted to be on."
Davos and Jorah are close enough that the audition makes sense: devoted second-in-commands trying to do what's right. But for Natalie Dormer, the roles were quite far apart.
"I’ve never spoke about this previously: I didn’t audition for Margaery Tyrell originally. I auditioned for Melisandre," Dormer said. "Then I got a call from my agents saying, 'They loved you but want you to audition for another role.' And I’m like, 'Damn, this Melisandre role looks fucking cool!'"
But the magical Red Witch wasn't to be for Dormer, who ended up with a far more royal part - with less shadowy murder babies involved.
"Dan and David said, 'There’s this character Margaery, and we’re still exploring what we’re going to do with her.' You look back and realize Melisandre couldn’t have been anyone else, Carice [van Houten] did an amazing job, but I always had a chuckle on the couch when a Melisandre scene came on," Dormer continued. "Margaery brought a very sort of modern PR kind of angle [to the ensemble]. She was canvassing the common people’s hearts and minds. I tried to think of her as like a hybrid of Michelle Obama and like a Kate Middleton or Princess Diana."
Would you have liked to see these actors in the roles they originally went out for?
Fire Cannot Kill a Dragon is out in bookstores now.