[Pinned from event in Summer of 2019 – See latest updates below this interview article!]
This past weekend, people from all across the Seven Kingdoms descended on Nashville, Tennessee for “Con of Thrones“. Over the course of three days, fans of both the literary and television versions of “Game of Thrones” were treated to panel discussions on a range of topics, including some featured panels with stars from the HBO series.
One of these spotlight panels featured “The First Sword of Braavos” himself, Miltos Yerolemou, who played “Syrio Forel” in the first season of the show. He also teaches Syrio’s “Water Dancing” to con goers lucky enough to score a spot in his coveted class (pictured above).
When I learned I was going to have a chance to sit down with Miltos for a one-on-one after his panel, I sent ravens to Thrones fans online, soliciting questions or comments regarding Syrio. One fan comment immediately jumped out as a pretty commonly held sentiment:
“Compared to the length of the series, he was only in a few episodes. Yet, because of an unforgettable performance and character, every time I think of Arya’s character arc, I think of Syrio. The two are inseparable for me.”
This seemed to be the perfect jumping-off point for our conversation about the man who set Arya Stark up for survival along her eight season long path (and beyond):
When you took the part, did you get the impression that Syrio was shaping Arya’s future in such a significant way?
I think so. Although we didn’t know what her ultimate destiny was going to be in the story in the TV show, we always knew that she was going to end up being an assassin. I definitely remember having those conversations with Maisie. She was only 13. She was only told what her mother had told her. We did know that she was going to become a blind assassin.
So, it was quite clear that her pursuit of these lessons – and being good at them – was going to be the constant in her character. That was quite profound. Obviously I didn’t realize that “What do we say to the God of Death”, would turn into the *most literal interpretation* of that. Of her *literally* killing death.
One of my favorite parts of that episode [Season 8 Episode 3, “The Long Night”], is when “The Hound” really loses his shit and he just starts cowering “There’s nothing we can do. We cannot defeat death. You can’t kill death.” and Beric goes “Try telling her that”. And it’s like “OH, YES. OF COURSE”. It was that moment when I went “This is all about the God of Death” and this is when I first thought “She might be the one to do it”.
And then, of course, when they literally had Melisandre going “What do we say to the God of Death?” I was like “OK, this is what’s going to happen.” I really felt it.
What drew you to the role initially?
It’s that kind of Eastern mysticism. I think that’s the thing I loved the most. I grew up on martial arts films and Bruce Lee films. Films about the Shogun. I used to love all of that. I mean, I loved “Monkey”. In the 70’s there were two shows: One was called the “Water Margin” and the other was “Monkey”. It was badly dubbed, but were these stories about how god-animals take this Buddhist priest on journeys. I always had this deep fascination with Eastern philosophy.
That was the thing that connected with me the most. I really understood when he talks about “The seeing. The true seeing, is not with your eyes”. How you are in the moment. We talk about this a lot when we do acting exercises. How do you become in a place where you are so relaxed and so open that your reaction is instinctive & precise & clear. I love all that stuff. I completely understood it, so I could say those lines and believe them. That’s what I think I connected with the most.
– and also playing a character who is much cooler than you, as a human being. It was incredibly daunting, because you have only a little bit of time and you really need to look like you were born with a sword in your hand.
During your panel you brought up learning the “Water Dancing” with the fight and stunt coordinators –
– and with William Hobbs. William Hobbs was my mentor. He was the one who really created the vocabulary with me of the “Water Dance”. The fight and stunt coordinators actually put the fights together, but the actual quality of what that movement would be…that was William Hobbs.
You mentioned having experience with stage combat. Was learning the “Water Dance” something like a musician learning a new song?
I guess so. It’s interesting because I always had a natural aptitude to be shown movement and I could replicate it. You could show me a couple of times, and I could do it. Some people can do that, and some are really good at maths. When I was younger, I loved all that. I would do circus skills, and anything that was kind of physical. If you ask me to do aerial trapeze, I’d go “YES I want to do that”. Learn to do back flips, “I want to do that.” All the kind of crazy stuff.
So, learning dance choreography I really enjoyed. When I got a chance to work at the “Royal Shakespeare Company” where there was lots of dueling to do with sword play or knife play – I played Mercutio once in “Romeo and Juliet” – I *loved* that. The fight choreographers would love me because they could give me something really complicated to do and I would learn it and they’d look really good.
The thing is, you don’t cast an actor *ever* based on how good they are at stage fighting. You cast someone that can play the part. So when it comes to the fight choreography, you have to work within what you’ve got. Some people are good with it and some people aren’t. So when you do find someone who picks it up quickly, it allows the fight choreographer to do much more complicated things.
It sounds like you have something like a growth mindset, wanting to explore these different skills.
Yeah, I think so. It’s also that it’s the way my mind processes things. If I can do it successfully, I want to do it more. If I did it and I was rubbish at it…“I’ll do something else now”.
How long before the first shoot day for the scene with Arya and Syrio did you start training?
I worked for about two weeks in London with Maisie’s stunt double, because Maisie was in Belfast prepping. We shot that first lesson pretty early on. I remember doing the read through of the first three episodes, which was one of the first things we ever did as a group. We were shooting two weeks later.
I’d already been working with William Hobbs in London, because I said “I need to work with someone. I need to get up to speed so that when we start filming I kind of understand what I’m doing”.
The thing about filming is you don’t really have time to rehearse these things. So, they asked me whether I could sword fight before they gave me the job. Because with the little screen time he has, you need to really believe that he is the “First Sword of Braavos”. I think they had in their heads that if they could just get someone who was just good at it, that would sell itself.
Me and Maisie both took it very seriously. “We’re not going to use our stunt doubles. We’re gonna do everything ourselves.” And we stuck to that. We were very proud of that. I’m sure Maisie has done all her own stuff, because she’s so good at it.
So, about two weeks in London without Maisie, then I went to Belfast and we spent two days and I showed her what the movement would be in the scene. She picked it up really quickly. And then we just shot it.
We honestly didn’t know it that well. It was a three and a half minute scene. Not just lines to learn, but *really* intricate movement. And the stunt coordinator [Buster Reeves] said: “Do not worry. They’re going to shoot it in bits, so you’ll only have to remember one bit a time.” He said that to reassure us.
When we turned up, on set, in costume…even then Buster was still going “Don’t worry we’re gonna do it in bits. So just remember this bit first. Just focus on that, and then we’ll move on and you’ll have half an hour while they’re resetting stuff to rehearse”. Then the director comes up and goes “Right. We’re gonna shoot it all in one take. We’re gonna do three cameras. We’re gonna have a tracking shot, steady cam, and a static. And…just do the scene, and we’ll catch it all.”
So we start, and Maisie and I are like…fumbling our way through. “I’m gonna get sacked. It’s my first day and I’m already gonna get sacked”. The thing is, we spent nearly three days doing that scene, because David & Dan said “This scene is really important, and we’re going to do it a lot because I want you both to be really comfortable”. It’s also that we had lots of time because it was really the beginning of shooting anything for “Game of Thrones”. They just wanted to get this one scene right because they said it’s really going to be important.
That’s when I realized this was going to be important. Let’s just spend the time. We’re not gonna rush it.
I could never really get into comic books in my youth.
I definitely tried. I loved the characters and stories, but ingesting the short stories only once per month greatly tested my patience. Like with how I do most of my TV viewing now, I’d need to wait till there were plenty of back issues then binge…and it would need to be a story-line I was into.
Those story-lines were rare and almost exclusively Batman. The darker the better. When I read “The Killing Joke“, my eyes were opened to the idea of a grittier world for these heroes. This was something I could really get into. Still, by and large that particular means of taking in these stories escaped me.
Little did I now, around that time Tim Burton got his hands on a live action Batman film.
30 years ago today, I found the way I needed to ingest these stories.
“Where does he get those wonderful toys?” The Joker’s envy over Bruce’s gadgets was what I would imagine other filmmakers felt about the cast and script that Burton had to play with on this film.
Michael Keaton is still the greatest all around Bruce Wayne/Batman. Argue otherwise, and I may fight you. He carved out this character (both sides of it) leaning on nothing in film history…at least this genre, as there was nothing to draw from. He created the blueprint for all others to follow, and in 30 years it’s yet to be improved upon.
Then, there’s Jack. “Winged freak terrorizes? Wait till they get a load of me.” It certainly was something to behold. Nicholson’s Joker had some of the all time great one-liners, which would’ve been wasted on most other actors.
A villain who made you love & hate him while attempting to poison a large number of Gotham civilians (remember “Smylex”)? Not many could pull that off.
Thankfully, The Joker’s tale is built in mystery. This has left the door open to more opportunities for others to have their own very unique take. Only one has measured up since.
A moment that stood out to me well after leaving the theater back in 1989, was when we first meet Batman doing what he does. He grabs a thief who was hiding on a Gotham rooftop, and dangles him over the edge:
Here, we learn this Batman knows how to play this game, without only violence:
“I want you to do me a favor. I want you to tell all your friends about me.”
You’d think after seeing Endgame twice, writing a farewell to Tony & Steve, then praising the greatness that is Nebula…I’d be fresh out of an inclination to write more about The Avengers for a while.
That was true till Robert Downey Jr. showed his true colors. And they’re…whatever awesome colors GRATEFUL would be.
Here and there, the cast of Endgame has been posting behind the scenes photos and videos, reminiscing about their time on set and providing fans with a glimpse into the fun (and stress) of working on such an epic production. Chris Evans was excited to learn when he could post this BTS vid from Endgame on twitter:
Video ban lifted! I guess I’m not the only one who broke the rules on this day of filming. (My camera work is annoyingly shaky) pic.twitter.com/D0f0e2PnXo
While any singular post wouldn’t necessarily stand out, the sum total paints a picture of a man who is grateful. Grateful for fans, for the experience, for his family & friends, and of course for his fellow Avengers. You’ll notice a tendency to include #thankyou on his posts, especially after the film was released:
While the legacy of RDJ’s portrayal of Tony Stark/Iron Man won’t dim in our hearts & minds any time soon, they’ve also taken a more physical approach to solidify this legacy at the infamous Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, CA 🙌:
To whoever was my boss 20 years ago today: Sorry, not sorry.
If reserved seating at movie theaters was a thing back then, I wouldn’t have had to call in “sick” to be sure I had a decent seat. I’d direct you to aim any judgment to the theater I went to, but apparently it’s now just some random parking lot full of trucks.
Since there isn’t anywhere to re-direct your judgement, let me explain. It had been 16 years since “Return of the Jedi” had been released. Star Wars fans had put the idea of any new films behind us, only to have George Lucas drop a Darth Vader origin story in our laps out of the blue.
I can’t say I had to see it opening day to avoid spoilers, since social media wasn’t a thing then. I just had to. I’m glad I did. Sitting in that theater (with an aisle seat only half way back 🙌) with die-hard Star Wars fans who ROARED when that “Lucasfilm” logo came up will be a memory I cherish forever .
If you’re still feeling sour, I’ll stop by sometime and clear out some fitting rooms for you. In the meantime, I’ll share with you (and only you 😉) some fun moments from “The Phantom Menace” 20th Anniversary panel at this years Star Wars Celebration. Hope this helps smooth things over a bit.
Hosted by Warwick Davis, the panel featured actors from both the light & dark side of the Star Wars universe. Starting with the DARK SIDE, Ray Park talks about the moment those doors opened revealing Darth Maul ready to throw down:
After Warwick gives some grief to Anthony Daniels (C-3PO) for his sock fashion (their multi-panel ‘rivalry’ was the stuff of legends), Ahmed Best gives some background on the casting/discovery process for Jar Jar:
Earlier in the convention, Ian McDiarmid‘s maniacal laugh was heard on the “Rise Of Skywalker” trailer just before he sauntered out on stage. Speculation was obviously rampant about how The Emperor could be alive. Here, Ian goes into how emphatic George Lucas was that he was truly dead while filming “Return of The Jedi“, and how he was introduced again in the prequels:
Thankfully, J.J. Abrams has decided otherwise, and we’ll be getting more if Ian…in some shape or form.
Getting this off my chest after all this time has certainly made me feel loads better 😉. If there is still any sort of sting from my workplace betrayal from “A long time ago”, I’ll leave you with this happy, peppy little ditty from Weird Al about some “small fry” named Anakin:
Yell it toward your parents or siblings or dog/cat/hamster so someone can hear you (if they’re sitting right next to you, feel free to just say it at a normal volume).
Don’t tell them WHY just yet…that comes later.
Now, tell the grown-up reading this with (or to) you that they can hang out…but you’ll need to initiate them with a “Shake of Secrecy“.
If you don’t already have one, you can invent one with them now. This will require they keep your mission a total secret…or else they have to buy you pizza every night for a month. Go ahead and do that now. I’ll wait:
Cool! I asked some parents, aunts, & uncles who their fav kids favorite characters were (I’ll include those at the end), and just hearing the responses I have to say you guys definitely have WAY more fun than we older people do.
Sometimes us grown-ups take things a little tooooo seriously, and we need you to remind us to JUST HAVE FUN with these stories. Sometimes we’re thinking too much about the small details that really don’t matter.
You’ll hear us call it “trivia” or whether or not something is “canon” (don’t worry about what “canon” means, it’s not at all important). You might hear us complain about small errors in these films & shows that are just supposed to be FUN. Please stop us.
THIS. IS. YOUR. MISSION.
Teach us old folks how to just have FUN with these awesome characters, shows, and movies again. How to be giant dorks like Chris Pratt (STAR LORD) here:
Now, go tell some grown-ups WHY you love the character you shouted earlier. Tell them your favorite scene, if you can remember it. Better yet, ACT IT OUT WITH THEM. You’re the director, so you get to say “ACTION!” and “CUT!”. I’ll wait:
NICE WORK! Every time one of these big new movies comes out, be on the lookout for the older folks in your life getting too stressed about the small stuff that doesn’t matter. If you see us looking too much like grumpy Dumbledore here:
…make us act out another scene with you! You should also ask us who our favorite characters are, and make us tell you WHY. If it doesn’t put a smile on our face to tell you, we’re doing it wrong and we need you more than ever!
Thanks to all of the kids who contributed their favorite characters and ENTHUSIASM. You all are an inspiration! Here are the favorite characters our young correspondents submitted, and what they love about them!
(Grown-ups take note: We should be talking like this way more often 👇)
As one chapter closes, another one begins. It’s time to talk about my favorite character in all of the MCU. Nebula. Not only because any mainstream representation of curmudgeon-hood makes my grumpy ass feel ever-so-slightly less grumpy, but that is certainly a tiny part of it.
I once audited a class with a dialect coach who works with film actors. Just the initial screening to start to find my ‘base’ dialect was a conversation that took an hour (turns out I have a very general American dialect…the only giveaway of hailing from where I do being my liberal use of “dude”).
Karen Gillen has etched out a character so specific in dialect, movement & emotional tone, that I’d defy you to find another to compare Nebula to. Strip away that blue & purple-faced, black-eyed facade, and you still have a performance (spanning four films so far) that is one of a kind and unforgettable.
The work that has gone into each aspect would be exhausting in itself, but the sum total…I’m not sure how she’s not in a coma.
Do we dare look at the emotional thread? Who in that universe has been more tortured? Literally. Her own (adopted) father. Stripped down and rebuilt to be a better warrior, but what you get from her performance is still very raw, damaged, vulnerable humanity (Luphomoidity?).
It’s true that talented scene partners will elevate your own performance (I’ve dabbled, & you will certainly ride the wind of the genius around you). So, I would imagine doing scene work with the likes of Josh Brolin, Lee Pace, Zoe Saldana et al would inspire some pretty epic moments. I’d also likely soil myself if I had to go toe to toe with them.
Thanos would pit Nebula and Gamora in battles against each other, with Gamora winning “again and again, and again, never once refraining“. Thankfully in the case of these scene partners, neither side refrained and we’re all reaping the benefit.
We’re still fresh in Endgame territory, so we can only assume we’ll be seeing Nebula in the next Guardians of the Galaxy installment (safe bet). Who knows where in the MCU timeline or Nebula’s own emotional journey we’ll be lucky to witness when that finally hits screens.
Ms. Gillan has also recently suggested she’d be interested in directing a Marvel film. If her debut feature “The Party’s Just Beginning” is any indication (she wrote, directed and starred), she’s well versed in unearthing stirring performances from others as well as herself.
A solo Nebula film? I’m down. Whatever it ends up being I’m fairly certain what I’ll be saying dryly yet very sincerely as I leave the theater: “I had fun”.
It’s probably unwise to try and write this in public, but the people around me will just have to assume I’m writing an obituary and deal with it.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe will continue. New directions, characters, “big baddies” etc. However, it felt necessary to look back as this particular chapter came to a close. We all know that some of the actors involved have announced they’re done playing their characters, so there aren’t any spoiler threats here.
Storytelling is at the core of the human experience. It has been since the dawn of time. Stories (real or imaginary) can help us learn how others deal with setbacks. They can help us remember. They can help inspire us. They can help us connect with others around us simply by sharing them…our own, or the one’s we take in from gifted storytellers.
Not all people have the same entry point when it comes to storytelling, but there may be a few invested in this one. Starting with Tony Stark in that dang cave, Robert Downey Jr. and Jon Favreau were definitely on to something. Introducing a lesser known (to the masses) superhero to cinema goers was bold, but boy did it pay off.
I am very thankful for this boldness. Admittedly, there have been too many of these films (in my opinion). Not all of them have been great. However, a few of these actors have found a thread in each appearance that has felt real, and somehow close to home despite the other-worldly nature of the films. This has made “suffering” through the few stinkers worthwhile.
Enter Chris Evens and Robert Downey Jr. The heart and soul of this universe for me. These two exemplified a commitment to character throughout the last 10 years. The work they’ve put into their characters has risen above any reductive argument about these being “just superhero” movies.
While the colorful, thrilling, flashy, popcorn inducing wrapping on these films may seem “easy” (it’s certainly not), you can find something in the work these two put into their characters that will stand the test of time. Take the heart of this character work from these films, and put it into a period drama, thriller, or what have you…it wouldn’t feel out of place.
The roads Tony and Steve have been down during the last decade are exhausting, when thought of as an actual period of life for any human. Physically, emotionally…I cannot fathom. From their most vulnerable places (Steve’s “I can do this all day” while being bullied pre-super soldier serum & Tony’s determination to build his original suit “with a box of scraps” to escape captivity), these actors proved these were characters worth following from the get-go.
The characters are well written, sure, with a wealth of material for the screenwriters to draw from. Somehow, though, these two were able to elevate even from great writing & connect two characters to the hearts of fans around the world in a very real and tangible (and somehow relateable) way.
Two vastly different characters, similar journey’s, same goal…and destination. They’ll be in our hearts and minds (and stories) for life.
It is a period of celebration for Star Wars fans. Lucasfilm executives & creatives, working from a not-so-hidden ranch in Northern California, have ushered in a new era of exciting new original content and brought this work to Chicago to display to their biggest fans.
During this event, fans managed to capture not-so-secret photographs of panels, cosplays, and the overall excitement surrounding this new content…which has enough power to launch an entirely new TV streaming platform.
Pursued by a convention schedule too packed to capture literally everything, one journalist raced around this windy city, attempting to bring as many images as possible of this exciting event to the rest of the galaxy….