‘Game of Thrones’ duo: ‘Anxiety and insomnia but no complacency’

March 31, 2012 | 7:43 p.m.

David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, the writer-producers of HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” return to the Seven Kingdoms on Sunday with the second season premiere, and the early reviews are glowing. We interviewed the duo for a lengthy feature on Lena Headey, the glowering queen of House Lannister, but got so much out of it that the transcript deserves a post of its own.

HC: When you look at Cersei Lannister what is it in her situation and persona that you find most interesting?

DB: Cersei is frustrated by the constraints placed on a woman in medieval society, even the most privileged woman in the land. She wishes she were born a man so she could fight her enemies in the open. But she can’t — and so she chooses other methods of combat. As malicious as she sometimes is, Cersei’s motive is familiar to all mothers: a fierce and unyielding desire to protect her children by any means necessary.

d b weiss and david benioff helen sloan Game of Thrones duo: Anxiety and insomnia but no complacency

"Game of Thrones" creators D.B. Weiss and David Benioff. (Helen Sloan / HBO)

DW: Yeah, I think that touches on the core irony in her life: Of all the Lannister siblings, she’s the one best suited to exercise power in this harsh, unyielding world — but one of the features of this harsh, unyielding world is that it won’t let her exercise power openly. There’s also the whole “having your brother’s children” thing. That’s pretty interesting. 

HC: Actors bring different things with them to a project, both onscreen and on the set. What does Lena bring to “Thrones”?

DB: We never thought of Cersei as a particularly funny character until Lena read for the part. We had seen a number of excellent actresses, but everyone had interpreted the character as an emotionless ice queen. Lena took her in a different, stranger and more interesting direction. In her hands, Cersei embodies endless contradictions. The queen can seem both ruthless and fragile, often in the same scene. She can exhibit extreme cruelty but also utter devotion to her own children. And she’s damn funny, which is no surprise if you know Lena.

DW: Another thing that Lena conveys tremendously well is the strain that power puts on those who wield it, how uneasy and uncomfortable it can make them. She does it very subtly; every once in a while, she’ll give you an expression or a reaction that makes you realize, “Hm, Cersei is rich, powerful, beautiful and smart — and it’s not much fun to be Cersei, at all.” To put across “heavy is the head that wears the crown” with such a light touch — it takes a uniquely gifted person to do that.

HC: Would you say that Cersei’s biggest moments on the show still lie ahead of her?

lena headey peter dinklage photo paul schiraldi Game of Thrones duo: Anxiety and insomnia but no complacency

Lena Headey, left, and Peter Dinklage in "Game of Thrones." (Paul Schiraldi/HBO)

DB: By the end of Season 1, Cersei has emerged from King Robert’s considerable shadow. She was never particularly good at playing the devoted queen, but now she no longer has to pretend. Independent and pursuing her own political goals, Cersei finds herself in direct conflict with her loathed brother Tyrion — and those scenes are some of the most memorable of the season. One of the unexpected bonuses of casting Lena was that she and Peter Dinklage are close friends and have been for years. The trust they share allows them to push each other in their scenes — quite literally, at times, as once Lena shoved Peter so hard she knocked him down. And of course that take stayed in the final cut. As paradoxical as it might sound, their affection for each other seems to help them portray siblings who despise each other.

DW: I’d definitely say her biggest moments lie ahead of her. All bias duly acknowledged, in Season 2 Lena takes an already fascinating character and makes her exponentially more fascinating. Interest and depth breed sympathy. Lena is going to make people empathize with an extremely difficult person; I think that’s one of the hardest and most impressive things an actor can do, and one of the most rewarding things a viewer can experience.

HC: After all the success of Season 1 there are high expectations, but what do you two view as the biggest challenge for you at this point?

DB: While we’re immensely grateful for the reaction to the first season, the first season is over. We need to keep a very long, very complicated story rolling along for many years to come — God and HBO willing — so there’s no complacency here. There is anxiety and insomnia, but no complacency.

DW: The production and the writing are both very time consuming, so time consuming that David and I have not been able to realize our greatest dream: to die horribly in our own TV show. We need to find a way to make this happen.

– Geoff Boucher

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