The HBO series Game of Thrones has become one of the most popular shows in history. What is it that makes this TV series such a masterpiece? Well, for one thing, it is adapted from the best-selling books by author George R.R. Martin. The Game of Thrones universe is one of magic, danger, and intrigue and the characters truly help to bring all of this to life. There are dragons, sword fights, and a whole lot of explicit content. This show really isn’t for the faint of heart, so viewer beware! That still hasn’t stopped it from amassing a huge following and beating the competition week after week.
As a result of the show’s success, it has helped to propel the careers of many of the actors and actresses that appear on it. While many viewers have their favorite characters, you may be wondering, what were these actors doing before they made it big on the show? To find out, we did our research and now we’re presenting it to you in our list of The 15 Best Game of Thrones Actors: Where Were They Before?
Some of these actors and actresses got their first big break with the HBO series, while others were scouted out for their hard work and stellar track record in other big-name productions. We all know that some of these actors have been killed off of the show, but don’t worry. Many of them are continuing to make great gains on other projects in Hollywood and beyond. You will be fascinated when you learn what Daenerys, Tyrion, and Cersei were doing before they made it to Game of Thrones. Can you also guess which star has experience in a band, or who has experience in theater? You’ll even learn which actress was originally going to play Daenerys, and trust us when we say, it would have would have changed the way you view the show.
15. Jack Gleeson – Joffrey Baratheon
Whether you loved Joffrey Baratheon or hated his guts, there is no denying that Jack Gleeson did a wonderful job of portraying him. The 24-year-old actor from Ireland has been studying acting since a young age. A member of the Independent Theatre Workshop, Jack was acting when he was just 7 years old. Despite this passion, when he attended Trinity College in Dublin, he chose theology and philosophy as his majors. After starring in the film All Good Children in 2010, he was scouted by the big time producers. It was then that he moved on to Game of Thrones, pursuing the role of Joffrey Baratheon. Most people know what happened to his character, but I doubt he minds. Gleeson has been determined to retire from acting after the show. Retire?! He’s only 24! It is clear that he has other things in his life that he would like to accomplish.
14. Carice van Houten – Melisandre
The mystical Melisandre is played by Carice van Houten, a 39-year-old actress from Holland. Before landing a spot on Game of Thrones, van Houten starred in lesser-known films. That being said, she did have a scene with Leonardo DiCaprio in Body of Lies, but that scene ended up on the cutting room floor. Such a pity! After appearing in a movie that tackled the issue of domestic violence (Singing in the Dark), Carice was featured in the Vanity Fair magazine in 2008. Van Houten has been seriously acting since the early 2000s, and back then producers and directors were comparing her to the great actresses of Hollywood. Now that she is playing the role of Melisandre, she is finally at the forefront where she belongs. She studied briefly at the Maastricht Academy of Dramatic Arts, followed by the Kleinkunstacademie in Amsterdam. Did you know that she released an album in 2012 called See You on the Ice? She’s a singer too, and she isn’t the last one from the list who has that talent.
13. Nathalie Emmanuel – Missandei
This lovely Essex girl plays the character of Missandei on Game of Thrones. She is the loyal interpreter for Daenerys Targaryen as she treks throughout the kingdoms. Before she rose to fame on the HBO series, Emmanuel starred in several TV shows, including the Hollyoaks series. She is also a total hottie, in case you didn’t notice, which has led to her being ranked by FHM Magazine on their list of 100 Sexiest Women of 2013. She has graced the pages of other publications like GQ and InStyle. Her success on Game of Thrones probably helped her snag other film roles, such as in the Fast and Furious series and The Maze Runner film series, in which she plays Harriet. Essex girls are known for being ditzy, but Emmanuel is gorgeous and intelligent. Her stunning good looks are attributed to her Dominican mother and her father who is of mixed descent.
12. Rory McCann – The Hound
“The Hound”, also known as Sandor Clegane, is one of the fiercest characters on Game of Thrones, and that’s saying something! This character is portrayed by Rory McCann, a Scottish actor from Edinburgh. In his younger days, McCann was actually a different kind of artist, working as a painter before he turned to acting. Not a fine arts painter, but a painter of bridges. McCann went to the Scottish School of Forestry and did work as a landscaper and gardener as well. What a tame profession for someone who ended up playing the rough and tough Hound on Game of Thrones. Before he got that role, he was acting in some physically and emotionally demanding productions, including The Book Group and Alexander. McCann is also a tough dude, he broke some bones while rock climbing in 1990 and he was even the frontman of a band called Thundersoup. Rock on!
11. Aidan Gillen – Littlefinger
Aidan Gillen is an Irish actor with boyish good looks and he plays the role of Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish on Game of Thrones. Many people will also recognize him from The Dark Knight Rises, in which he played the character of Bill Wilson. Before hitting the masses with the widely popular HBO TV series, Gillen spent the first decade of the 2000s working on another HBO show, The Wire. His role as Tommy Carcetti earned him an Irish Film & Television Award in 2004. For the next few years, Gillen starred in other British TV shows and dramas, and then he got the role of Petyr Baelish on Game of Thrones and his career seriously took off. Yet film and television aren’t the only avenues that he took. He also worked on Broadway for a time and appeared in American Buffalo and The Caretaker. As a teen, Gillen acted with the Dublin Youth Theatre.
10. John Bradley – Samwell Tarly
John Bradley is the cute teddy bear who plays Samwell Tarly on Game of Thrones. The HBO series was the first legit acting project for Bradley, but he went on to star in other productions while filming Game of Thrones. Those other productions included Borgia, Merlin, Shameless, and Anna Karenina. He is also working on two new films: Patient Zero and American Satan. Bradley is a pretty low-key guy, so how did he end up being cast in one of the most prolific TV series in history? A lucky break, he was a standout among the auditioners and his demeanor made him a shoo-in for the role of Samwell Tarly, a character who is very shy, timid, and a bit on the comedic relief side. He is most often playing off of Kit Harington’s character, Jon Snow, so when you have the two men standing next to each other, there is this strange balance that just works. As for Bradley’s acting education, he attended the Manchester Metropolitan School of Theatre.
9. Alfie Allen – Theon Greyjoy
Game of Thrones’ Theon Greyjoy is played by English actor Alfie Allen. He is 29 years old and has an impressive Alma Mater, attending The Fine Arts College in Hampstead, United Kingdom. Allen has been acting for years and was first noticed for his abilities and talents in 1998 when he starred in You Are Here, as well as in Elizabeth. The former was a TV series, while the latter was a feature length film that also starred Alfie’s sister. You might have seen his face in other so-so films such as Agent Cody Banks 2: Destination London and Atonement. Allen also took over the protagonist’s role in Equus, subbing in for Daniel Radcliffe. Allen originally wanted to get the role of Jon Snow, but that went to Kit Harington. Nevertheless, Allen was able to get the Theon Greyjoy role and helped his cast mates earn an Empire Hero Award in 2015. Not too shabby!
8. Iain Glen – Ser Jorah Mormont
At 55 years old, Iain Glen plays the part of Ser Jorah Mormont on Game of Thrones. Prior to that, he was most famous for his roles in the Resident Evil films. The Scottish actor was working on other projects when he got the role of Ser Jorah. He was starring in cameo slots on the acclaimed TV show Doctor Who, in which he played Father Octavian. He was also a cameo actor on Downton Abbey, where he played Sir Richard Carlisle. Way back in the early 1990s, Iain was already a famed actor. In fact, he had been awarded the Silver Bear Award for Best Actor (for Silent Scream) at the Berlin International Film Festival. Perhaps his acting success can be attributed to his school at London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. After all, it was there that Glen was awarded with the Bancroft Gold Medal. This dude is no joke!
7. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau – Jaime Lannister
Who cares if you can’t pronounce his name? Coster-Waldau is the hot Danish actor who portrays Jaime Lannister on Game of Thrones. One of the most attractive and famous actors from the show, Coster-Waldau first burst onto the U.S. acting scene ten years before landing his big Jaime Lannister gig. In 2001, he starred in Black Hawk Down, and then he moved onto television shows like New Amsterdam and Virtuality. In his native Denmark, he had been a famous actor since the early 1990s, starring in the film Nightwatch after graduating from the Danish National School of Theatre. Working in both Danish and American productions helped Coster-Waldau to extend his reach and get his foot in the door for more acting roles, both on the big screen and on television. Even while working on Game of Thrones, Coster-Waldau took other roles in Mama, Oblivion, A Thousand Times Good Night ,A Second Chance, and Gods of Egypt.
6. Maisie Williams – Arya Stark
Arya Stark is played by the young and delightful Maisie Williams. The 19-year-old actress is from Bristol, United Kingdom and Game of Thrones was her first acting project. What a fantastic way to start out! Williams studied at the Bath Dance College, where she majored in Performing Arts. It looks like the education worked out because she is one highly successful Game of Thrones actress. To date, she has won seven different acting awards for her role as Arya Stark and she just finished production on the movies Boy and A Storm in the Stars, so look out for those soon. Her life has been totally transformed by this HBO series, and we expect such great things from her. This small teenager, who claims she used to just goof around three older siblings is now an international actress. Williams is also an outspoken advocate for equal rights and feminism, which makes her even more awesome.
5. Sophie Turner – Sansa Stark
Sophie Turner has been making waves for her role as Sansa Stark in Game of Thrones. What was this young actress up to before she hit it big on the super successful HBO series? Just going to school! It was her drama teacher who suggested that she audition for the role on Game of Thrones, and we are so glad that Turner went for it. Being Sansa Stark has earned her an Empire Hero Award, a Glamour Award for Best UK TV Actress, and a Huading Award for Best Global Actress. Prior to all of that success and fame, Turner was a nearly lifelong member of the Playbox Theater Company in the United Kingdom. She also enjoys playing on the farm with her brothers, but she probably won’t get an award for that. Turner was still in school when she got cast in Game of Thrones, so she had to work with a private tutor while on the set. She got straight A’s and B’s, clearly she’s got brains as well as beauty.
4. Lena Headey – Cersei Lannister
During the first decade of the 2000s, Lena Headey was not Cersei Lannister. Rather, she was acting in some odd jobs, such as Laid to Rest and The Devil’s Wedding. While these were lesser-known productions, they earned Headey some well-deserved acknowledgement and helped her get the leading role of Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones. Other film projects for Headey tended to gravitate towards serious and dramatic horror-type roles. These acting gigs probably helped her to be such a stunning representation of Cersei! We are certainly glad that the actress now has more recognition and fame because she was a bit stuck in those more independent studios and productions. During the 1990s, Headey starred in some movies and TV series, such as Mrs. Dalloway, The Remains of the Day, Aberdeen and a 1994 version of The Jungle Book. Aberdeen won her a Silver Iris Award for Best Actress in 2001.
3. Kit Harington – Jon Snow
Who hasn’t had a crush on Jon Snow? Kit Harington really brought this character to life, and people were on the edge of their seats when it seems as though he might have been killed off the show. Kit Harington is one of the best Game of Thrones actors, but did you know that he didn’t even plan on acting professionally? He originally wanted to work in journalism, either doing camera work or being a correspondent on war events. But then he performed in the production of War Horse while attending University. He was such a great actor that people started noticing him. That led to another performance in Posh, and then Harington set out for auditioning for the role of Jon Snow. That’s quite a jump! We all know he ended up snagging the role and he was even nominated for a Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actor on Television in 2012.
2. Peter Dinklage – Tyrion Lannister
Peter Dinklage became a household name when he took on the role of Tyrion Lannister at the start of Game of Thrones in 2011. Before that, he was a favorite character on Threshold, a CBS series that only lasted for a short time. Even so, Dinklage has been acting for years now. He starred on Life As We Know It and Entourage, and although he wasn’t a regular cast member, he made frequent cameo appearances on the shows. You may have spotted Dinklage in Hollywood films of the early 2000s, such as The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, Penelope, Death at a Funeral, and Elf. During the ’90s, he was acting in theatrical production like Richard III and Imperfect Love. His drama education was completed at Bennington College and he is a New Jersey native. That’s quite an impressive resume who comes from the hunky dory state of New Jersey.
1. Emilia Clarke – Daenerys Targaryen
The British actress is best known for her stunning role as Daenerys Targaryen in Game of Thrones, for which she was awarded an Emmy for Best Supporting Actress in a Drama in 2011. Clarke has been playing the role of Daenerys since 2011, and is still going strong as “The Mother of Dragons.” Yet, where was this dashing actress before all the Game of Thrones success? Well, she had recently finished her studies at the Drama Centre in London and then she was cast in the film Triassic Attack in 2010, in which she played the character Savannah. Triassic Attack was a lackluster TV movie, and featured a lot of lesser-known actors and actresses. It was truly a lucky break that Emilia got cast as Daenerys, but we are sure the studio is not complaining. The role was originally set for Tamzin Merchant, an actress who may be best known for The Tudors, which also starred Natalie Dormer. Clarke’s stock is never higher with some great upcoming films, as well as she recently starring in Me Before You.