ByVaria Fedko-Blake, writer at Creators.co
Staff Writer at Moviepilot! [email protected] Twitter: @vfedkoblake
Varia Fedko-Blake

We're only two episodes into Season 7 of Game of Thrones and already the events of Westeros have transformed us into a horde of deranged animals, losing our heads over the consequences of our favorite characters's actions.

Thankfully, while we wait to see where George R. R. Martin's TV adaptation takes us next, we have the show's casting director Nina Gold spilling the beans on what it was like finding the show's key players in the first place, as well as shedding light on what could have been.

So, without any further hesitation, plunge right into what the three-time Emmy award winner had to say when she chatted behind-the-scenes secrets to Vanity Fair:

1. Nina Gold Turned Down Mahershala Ali And She Can Hardly Believe It

That's right, Moonlight Oscar-winner Mahershala Ali once auditioned for a role on but unfortunately lost out when a particular seating arrangement threw a hefty spanner in the works. Going for the role of Qarthian merchant Xaro Xhoan Daxos — later played by Nonso Anozie — Ali had his entire sequence expertly prepared upon entering the room. Once in though, he found a high backless stool, which threw his entire routine into a funk. Watch him explain what actually went down during an interview with Jimmy Kimmel:

Now, seven seasons on and although Gold is incredibly pleased with Anozie's performance in the role, she's still still shocked at having declined one of the greatest actors of his generation:

"Wow, how could I have ever turned down Mahershala Ali?"

2. Sam Heughan Really Wanted To Be On Game Of Thrones

Kilted heartthrob Sam Heughan — best known for his role of buff Scotsman Jamie in — also attempted to snag a GoT role, revealing to Vulture in 2014 that he auditioned a whopping seven times for roles including Renly, Loras and some of the Night's Watch. Sadly, Nina Gold wasn't as into it as he would have hoped.

3. Gillian Anderson Wasn't Interested

Gillian Anderson in 'American Gods' [Credit: Starz]
Gillian Anderson in 'American Gods' [Credit: Starz]

Apparently, The X-Files and American Gods actress Gillian Anderson just so happens to be one of the casting director's favorite actresses. However, when she was approached with the prospect of dipping her toes into the brutal landscape of Westeros, Anderson politely declined. In 2013, she even spoke to a British newspaper regarding the decision, saying:

"My 18-year-old cannot believe that I would turn down 'Game Of Thrones' or 'Downton' — things she loves to watch. But if I am going to be spending that amount of time working on something, I would rather be working with a director like Martin Scorsese."

Fair enough.

4. Some Actors Never Actually Had To Audition

Unlike most of the cast in Season 1, Sean Bean and Peter Dinklage were the only ones who never had to go to any casting calls. Instead, they were hand-picked out of a selection and straight-up offered their roles of Ned Stark and Tyrion Lannister. Gold did add though:

"We did have a nice lunch with Sean Bean."

These days though, Nina Gold admits that the show has finally found a perfect balance of well-known names and newly-found talent. Talking about not having to fear high-profile talent overshadowing the lesser known members of the cast, she said:

"We’ve got to the place where it doesn't unbalance it—the other actors have become stars in their own right—and we haven't overdone it. It’s quite a subtle smattering. We’re not casting them because they’re names or they’re not names, we’ve just been casting them because they seem like they’d be really great in the part. And when you say, ‘What about Max von Sydow?’ and David [Benioff] and Dan [Weiss] really respond to it, once you start thinking about it, it’s just kind of irresistible."

5. The Casting Director Is Influenced By Nordic Crime Dramas

Gold also revealed that over the course of the seasons, her love for Nordic crime shows managed to spill over into a few of her casting decisions. Revelling in her admiration of "Scandinavian stuff," she said:

"I was just completely obsessed with 'The Killing.' It’s really great when you do casting to watch that Scandinavian stuff. You don’t know anyone, and it’s a complete thrill to see what seems like completely new people. I started to believe I could speak Danish really quickly, even though I obviously can’t. 'Borgen,' I just love them. 'Trapped'—I don't know what it’s called in Icelandic—I love 'The Bridge.' And the other one with Aksel Hennie who was in 'Headhunters' with Nikolaj [Coster-Waldau]."

And that's how Birgitte Hjort Sørensen came to play Season 5 Wildling warrior Karsi and why Pilou Asbæk could well become the most menacing villain of Game of Thrones Season 7.

6. Kristian Nairn Auditioned At 15-Minutes Notice

Poor Hodor — a man of very few words but so much significance. And according to the casting director, the gentle giant Kristian Nairn's audition was no walk in the park either as the actor had to do his audition at "fifteen minute's notice."

Nairn recalls crashing his friend's 40-year-old birthday party to borrow a child to carry around on his back as he ambled about as Hodor, shouting at monosyllables as much as possible. Here's the footage:

7. Re-Casting Characters Is A Nightmare

As in most aspects of life, mistakes are often made and the Game of Thrones casting directors are no different. Over the course of the series, the behind-the-scenes team have admitted to swapping some actors around, deciding to go with someone else. And Nina Gold is the first to admit that making that choice can be the hardest part of the job:

"It’s terrible to disappoint... it’s difficult to let down... that’s hard. It’s tough, but you've got to get it right, ultimately."

In particular, she addressed having to let Jennifer Ehle go — the original actress cast to play Catelyn Stark before Michelle Fairley — and swapping Tamzin Merchant for Emilia Clarke to bring Daenerys to the small screen. In addition to this, Gregor Clegane had to be re-cast a number of times due to "availability problems," as well as little Tommen and Myrcella.

8. Khal Drogo And Daenerys Busted Out Some Moves For The Casting Directors

It's now probably common knowledge that Emilia Clarke performed a hilarious rendition of "The Funky Chicken and The Robot" when she was trying to land the part of Khaleesi. And it appears that her on-screen husband Khal Drogo also had similar ideas.

Speaking to The New York Times recently, he recalled taking a different approach to the auditioning process, saying:

"[Drogo] doesn’t say much. So how do you convey him? There’s nothing in the script. So I said: ‘I have this idea. Is it O.K. to do [a dance] before the audition?’ And they were like, ‘Oh, sure.’ Then I did the Haka. It was challenging to do the audition afterward — I couldn’t stop my heart from beating. The first time I did it, they were very scared. But then they wanted me to come back in so they could put it on tape."

Looking back to both auditions, Gold had this to say:

"It’s fun, and sort of a welcome relief when something like that happens. There’s so much heavy stuff in 'Game of Thrones' that sometimes it’s quite nice to laugh for a moment."

9. Pedro Pascal Used His Contacts To Get To Gold

Nina Gold also revealed how Pedro Pascal — who played the ill-fated Oberyn Martell before he got his eyes squished in Season 4 — got his part. Apparently, after asking his friend and fellow actress Sarah Paulson to lean on David Benioff's wife to get him an audition, he waltzed in with a Chilean accent that won over the casting team and nailed the "Latin element" they were after in Dorne.

10. Iwan Rheon Could Have Been Our Jon Snow

Iwan Rheon as Ramsey Bolton [Credit: HBO]
Iwan Rheon as Ramsey Bolton [Credit: HBO]

fans have long known that Iwan Rheon — who went on to play colossal a-hole Ramsey Bolton — actually rocked up to try for the role that eventually went to Kit Harington. However, Gold has now revealed that it's actually a common occurrence to see an actor land a different part to which they auditioned for.

For example, Conleith Hill (Lord Varys) originally read for the part of Robert Baratheon and similarly, Richard Madden (Robb Stark), Alfie Allen (Theon Greyjoy), and Gethin Anthony (Renly Baratheon) all read for numerous roles.

11. The Auditioning Process Has Undergone Several Changes Since The Beginning

Finally, Gold revealed that the casting process has changed dramatically since the show first landed on our HBO screens back in 2011. She said:

"It was quite secretive at the beginning but everybody’s so desperate to find out what’s going on these days."

That's partly why actors are no longer provided with familiar lines of dialogue to deliver to the casting crew, a move to avoid spoiler-hounds leaking potential content. Instead, they are asked to audition with invented scenes that will never make the show. Gold added:

"Everything comes with a password and special, secret names. You have to really have your wits about you to figure it out, even if you’ve been doing it for eight years."

Keep it up gang! The next episode of Game of Thrones, "The Queen's Justice," hits HBO on Sunday

Which Game of Thrones casting detail surprised you the most?

(Sources: Vanity Fair)

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