‘Game of Thrones’ star Michelle Fairley: ‘Everyone’s dispensable’

April 08, 2013 | 6:00 a.m.
1387321 et 0318 thrones 04 Game of Thrones star Michelle Fairley: Everyones dispensable

Maisie Williams, left, Michelle Fairley and Sophie Turner are three of the stars in HBO's hit fantasy series "Game of Thrones." Fairley plays the mother of the two girls. (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

1387321 et 0318 thrones 03 Game of Thrones star Michelle Fairley: Everyones dispensable

Sophie Turner, left, Michelle Fairley and Maisie Williams are three of the stars in HBO's hit fantasy series "Game of Thrones." Fairley plays the mother of the two girls. (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

1387321 et 0318 thrones 01 Game of Thrones star Michelle Fairley: Everyones dispensable

Sophie Turner, left, Michelle Fairley and Maisie Williams are three of the stars in HBO's hit fantasy series "Game of Thrones." Fairley plays the mother of the two girls. (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

1387321 et 0318 thrones 05 Game of Thrones star Michelle Fairley: Everyones dispensable

Maisie Williams, left, Michelle Fairley and Sophie Turner are three of the stars in HBO's hit fantasy series "Game of Thrones." Fairley plays the mother of the two girls. (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

Michelle Fairley is more than happy to talk about Catelyn Stark, the character she plays on HBO’s epic fantasy saga “Game of Thrones” as the show picks up its third season. Just don’t ask her about specifics, please. It’s not details you’ll be met with, but a modest demurral and a simple explanation — were she to divulge too much information about future events, show runners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss would have her head.

For devoted readers of George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” novels, Catelyn Stark’s fate isn’t exactly the world’s best kept secret, but the series’ cast and creators always have been cognizant that not everyone who watches the HBO series, which returned March 31 to record ratings, is familiar with the novels.

Even Fairley has only read as far as the third installment, “A Storm of Swords,” roughly half of which forms the basis for the show’s third season.

“Reading a novel is a completely different experience to watching a television show, and there’s something about energy and keeping drama and pace,” Fairley said. “That’s what the television show does wonderfully. Visually, the camera, the sets, the costumes do that. It’s the dialogue that’s the important thing.”

Michelle Fairley plays Catelyn Stark, who is attempting to keep her children safe. (Helen Sloan / HBO)

Michelle Fairley plays Catelyn Stark, who is attempting to keep her children safe. (Helen Sloan / HBO)

Long before she became known as Catelyn Stark, the Irish actress was a respected presence on the British stage, starring in more than 25 projects, from Shakespeare to Aleksey Scherbak’s “Remembrance Day,” in addition to amassing a number of feature film credits (a list that includes no less a role than Hermione Granger’s mother in “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 1″).

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But wary and watchful Catelyn Stark has provided the veteran actress with a new level of visibility stateside to demonstrate her considerable talents. The role, certainly, isn’t an easy one to play.

“Catelyn, at the beginning of Season 3, you pick her up and she’s in manacles and chains because she has released Jamie Lannister and sends him off with Brienne to King’s Landing in the hope that they will do a swap and she will get her daughters back,” Fairley said in a recent interview prior to the series premiere. “Unfortunately, that action undermines her son’s authority. He is king and he’s expecting people to fight on his behalf… Her son has no other option but to manacle her and keep her prisoner on her own, she’s in solitary confinement basically.

“Releasing Jamie, Catelyn Stark’s goal was to get her daughters back,” Fairley continued, referring to Sophie Turner’s Sansa and Maisie Williams’ Arya. “Her goal was honorable but the act was totally dishonorable.”

While there’s a great deal of talk about honor in the world of Westeros, there are few characters who truly exhibit the quality. Fairley acknowledges that the children of the Stark clan, including eldest son and newly crowned King of the North Robb Stark (Richard Madden), don’t always thrive in the ruthless, unforgiving landscape, chiefly because they were raised to uphold certain ideals that others disregard to advance in rank, position and privilege.

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“The world that the Starks have come from is a very loving world on the whole, a very inclusive world,” Fairley said. “It’s very, very family [-centered], it’s respecting other people and it’s a freedom world — you have people who work the land there and there doesn’t seem to be a distinction between royalty or civilian… With the death of their father, they’re thrust into a cutthroat world that they possibly are not genetically equipped to deal with.

“They make mistakes in learning how to deal with this world,” she continued. “They have to learn to be tacticians. They have to. They’re not stupid, they just don’t think that way but they have to start to think that way. They’re not intrinsically evil, they have to start to play that game.”

Playing the game, however, can prove as difficult as sitting in the Iron Throne without sustaining physical injury, especially for the female characters. Though she isn’t a queen, Catelyn still has the regal bearing of the matriarch, and it’s interesting to look at her character in contrast to the scheming Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey), so clearly a product of her cruel, politically minded father, or Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), the “mother of dragons” who embraces her femininity even as she continues to amass more power in her quest to return from exile to rule Westeros.

“I think George writes wonderfully well for women and women of a certain age as well,” Fairley said. “It is a very traditional role that these women have to fulfill on the surface — mother, queen, lady, household runner, but there’s the other side to that as well. These women have to be really strong. Everybody’s dispensable in this world, and life is so cheap, especially for women.”

– Gina McIntyre | @LATHeroComplex

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Peter Dinklage (Tyrion Lannister), left, and Michelle Fairley (Catelyn Stark). (Kevin Winter / Getty Images

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