How ‘Game of Thrones’ star Isaac Hempstead Wright gives Bran that freaky, faraway stare
The defining moment of the first episode of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” came when the sinister Jaime Lannister shoved 10-year-old Bran Stark out of the window of a high tower after the youngster spied Lannister and his twin sister Cersei having sex. Lannister was sure he had killed the curious boy.
Eight years later, in the most recent episode of the blockbuster epic series, the grown-up Bran Stark — now paralyzed and in a wheelchair — seemed to face certain doom as he was approached by the demonic Night King. But instead of fear, the young man displayed a stoic calm. Possessing mystical powers due to his transformation into the visionary Three-Eyed Raven, his expression suggested that he knew he would somehow be saved.
These bookends have been pivotal landmarks for Isaac Hempstead Wright, the British actor who has evolved into one of the series’ most crucial characters as the show moves toward its finale.
The 20-year-old has spent half his life on “Game of Thrones.” As the soft-spoken and wise Three-Eyed Raven, his powers are so extensive that many devotees speculated at the beginning of this final season that he might actually might be the Night King. That theory was dashed when Stark’s warrior sister Arya (Maisie Williams) vanquished the Night King just as he was about to murder Bran.
Wright was warm and upbeat during a recent interview as he reflected on what it has been like to grow up on the phenomenally successful series, his favorite moments and his plans once “Game of Thrones” drops its final curtain.
What’s it been like this season with all the frenzy surrounding the finale?
It’s pretty crazy, this season more than ever. All the dedication that people have put into it is pretty extraordinary. Most of all, it just reminds me that we’re part of something special. It’s hard for me to remember life before “Game of Thrones.” Pretty much every major life event I’ve ever been through is due to “Game of Thrones.” My entire adolescence has been spent on the set and has completely shaped who I am today. lt’s allowed me to visit amazing places. I’ve been working in an adult world since I was 10, so it’s given me and afforded me experiences that are so unique.
Did you have any expectations when the series started about what it would become?
It was all very new to me. I was just a 10-year-old getting to do archery and climb towers and dress up in funny costumes and ride a horse, so I was just loving and enjoying every second. I certainly had no clue that it would blow up into this. I remember talking to George R.R. Martin [author of the epic novels that launched “Game of Thrones”] when we were doing the pilot episode. He said, “Look, I’ve done a bunch of these things. Everyone has tried to make my shows. Seldom does it ever come to anything.” We were very excited to get a first season at all. I think it came very close to not getting picked up. We were thrilled about getting through a whole season, let alone what it ended up becoming years later.
That first episode really established how different and brutal “Game of Thrones” is. You’re playing a kid who is almost murdered.
That scene was really fun because I got to do wire work when I got pushed. I fell on this big pad. There was nothing scary or sinister about it for me. And yes, that is one of the key moments that sums up what the show is all about. In the first episode, they try and murder a 10-year-old. It set the precedent for what you come to expect. That really is the first cliffhanger, the thing that gets you to say, “What? I have to watch that next episode.”
What’s been the most fun about playing this character?
What’s really cool is that Bran became this entirely new character in Season 7. There aren’t many actors who on the same show get to play an entirely different character. I really enjoyed that. Up to that point, I was a kid playing a kid or a teenager playing a teenager. In Season 7, he was the Three-Eyed Raven. It was totally foreign to anything I’ve ever experienced, and a real challenge to totally craft this whole new person. It coincided with me becoming an adult as well. I thought, “Oh I can do something with this.”
Bran’s entire journey is a very special one. From Day 1, you think he isn’t going to do very well … a disabled 10-year-old in one of the harshest universes ever. And yet against all the odds, he triumphs. He makes it beyond The Wall, he survives, he becomes the Three-Eyed Raven. He isn’t glamorous, isn’t physically strong, isn’t able to save the day on horseback. But his weapon is his mind, and that’s a great message — a character who doesn’t use brute force or strength to find their way to victory.
What was your process in developing the Three-Eyed Raven?
[Creators and executive producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss] and I were keen to make sure he didn’t become boring. We wanted to try and keep a sense of mystery about him while also keeping him weird and emotionally detached. There’s a spark in there that makes people want to watch him.
You mastered his strange expression, his unblinking gaze.
Part of that is that I am completely blind with distances — I can’t see far away without glasses. So that has worked out really well. I wind up in this distant stare, not really focused on one thing. It comes across as intimidating and unsettling.
You had a great line this season when you come back into contact with Jaime and he realizes you’re still alive. You turn his words from the first episode back at him, “The things we do for love.”
Bran just gets to freak people out. That line is quite fun because nobody else knows what’s really going on. Bran knew in that moment that Jaime is terrified, and can ruin him in seconds. As if everyone didn’t already have enough reason to hate Jaime Lannister. [Bran] knows he has powers and there’s information in his head that could be used for nefarious purposes. He’s aware that he’s the Three-Eyed Raven for a reason. There’s a reason why everyone can’t access the entire history of the universe. It has to be in the hands of a very responsible keeper and that is Bran Stark. He’s a hard character to read, definitely keeps his cards close to the vest.
How has the show affected you personally?
It hasn’t overwhelmed me. I’ve managed to keep a relatively normal life. I went to school the whole time I was doing the show. And if you’re in a new or strange city and you don’t know anyone, people want to show you around, people want to invite you for a drink. It makes the world a much smaller place, which has been a unique experience. You can go anywhere in the world and there’s someone who’s thrilled to see you.
Does the attention ever get oppressive?
I have not met a “Game of Thrones” fan who is not just completely lovely. There’s something about the fans the show attracts — they are genuinely passionate people. It’s something that people just adore. Some of my best friends back in London I met because I was sitting in a park and [they said], “You’re from ‘Game of Thrones,” and now I talk to them every day.
Getting recognized a lot can get a bit overwhelming, but I don’t get it as bad as everyone else. Maisie [Williams, who plays Arya Stark), or Peter [Dinklage, who plays Tyrion Lannister], they can’t really get away from it. But me, I can get on with my life.
How do you think you’ll feel when the finale finally airs?
There’s no rule book as to how to respond at the end of it. I take every moment as it comes. I’m definitely enjoying all of this press stuff. This is the last time I’m going to be flown around first class and get to visit all these places.
Everyone I’ve spoken to on the show say they are ready to be done. It’s been a long haul, especially for us who have been there since the beginning. But we’re finishing it so well. There’s no way we could do another season that is even close to this one.
It took nine months to film six episodes. It usually takes six months to do 10. The crew worked harder than ever before. There are sequences the like which will never be seen again. Even though it’s sad that we’re going, we’re finishing it so well. It will be an iconic part of people’s memories.
Have you thought about life after “Game of Thrones”?
Yeah, it’s all downhill from here [laughs]. It’s quite a bizarre thing. It feels like I’ve lived an entire life. I’ve already had a whole career, but I’m only just starting my life.
It’s a strange moment, because I started with one of the greatest phenomena of the 21st century. The next move obviously has to be a careful one. We’ve all been so spoiled with the most spectacular scripts on this show. You tend to look at other things and go, “This isn’t as good as ‘Game of Thrones.’”
I’m actually going back to college in September so I’m looking forward to decompressing a bit. I’m studying neuroscience. I’ve always found that fascinating. And it’s not like I’ve got to rush into anything. I’m so young. I can take my time.
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