The world is basically undergoing yet another round of Westerosi fever. For the next six weeks or so, all anyone is going to be talking about is season seven of Game of Thrones. We’re not just fascinated with the world of Westeros, we’re fascinated with the characters as well. To take that fascination into the real world, we’re also a bit enamored with the actors as well. This goes beyond thinking some of them are attractive or anything like that: we want to know what they’re thinking when they’re in character and the kind of headspace they put themselves in to live in Westeros. While some of the actors on Game of Thrones don’t have to change too much about themselves physically in order to live in Westeros (examples: Oberyn Martell and Ramsay Snow), a lot of the actors on the show have to.
Some of the men and women on this show have to put on fake beards and wigs in order to pass as their character. Others needed to downplay their own attractiveness in the real world so they could play a character known for not being so pretty. Still, others have to go through a real life appearance change every time they film for the show, and some of them are even obligated to thanks to their contracts with HBO. There are also those who might not have to go through a huge physical appearance change, but they have to do something subtle that changes everything about how they look. While some of the people who have to do this are secondary characters that we might not have seen in awhile, others are main characters in positions of power that we’re constantly rooting for. Here are fifteen actors and actresses on Game of Thrones who are totally unrecognizable when they’re not filming for the show.
15. Osha – Natalie Tena
Natalie Tena is no stranger to changing her looks for a part. She’s famous not just for playing Osha, but for playing Nymphadora Tonks in Harry Potter, a character who’s able to change their appearance at will. She can also play the accordion! As Osha, she has to look much wilder and less pretty than she does in real life, and her demeanor as the character is totally different than how she is in real life. Osha had been offscreen for a couple of seasons, so when she came back for season six, everyone had seemed to forget that she was the person who played Osha in the first place. She’s not the only Harry Potter alum to take a turn on Game of Thrones, either. Walder Frey is played by David Bradley, also known as Argus Filch, and Catelyn Stark is played by Michelle Fairley, the same person who played Hermione’s mother.
14. The Hound – Rory McCann
The Hound has been out of focus for the last couple of seasons, but that changed entirely with the back half of season 6. It’s easy to see that the actor plays the Hound (if you get past that smile we never see in the show), but he has to go through wigs and prosthetic makeup to make it look like he’s been severely burned and scarred as a result. According to him, filming always means that he has a much earlier call time to account for hair and makeup. “I’m in a grumpy mood anyway before I walk on set because I feel like I’ve done my day already before the other actors arrive, because it takes so long to put my face on,” he told Hollywood Reporter. As a result of being burned when he was a child, the Hound hates fire. However, season 7’s premiere shows him looking into a fire, fascinated at what’s about to happen.
13. Melisandre – Carice Van Houten
Carice Van Houten didn’t have to go through any major transformations to play Melisandre, but when you look at her, it’s actually kind of hard to recognize her as the same woman. Van Houten, 39, looks younger than she actually is, but she doesn’t have the same ageless look that Melisandre does. However, Van Houten does a great job portraying the complex character that is Melisandre. One great example of that is during the season six premiere, that shows her finally letting down her hair, not to mention her skin and clothes as well. In order to show Melisandre as an old woman, she did facial prosthetics and wore a different wig. She talked about it to EW, mentioning how interesting it was to play that. “It’s changing and I really like it. We see her from a really different side of her now. We see somebody whose whole belief system is tumbling down. She’s completely confused, and I really like to play that. After all the security and strength and pride, now we see something completely different. I’ve been really waiting for this moment.”
12. Hodor – Kristian Nairn
Hodor hodored his way into all of our hearts with one word, and you’d be hard-pressed to find any Game of Thrones fan who wasn’t totally heartbroken by his departure. He spent six seasons as a stalwart companion to newly minted Three-Eyed Raven Bran Stark, but now that he’s not on Game of Thrones anymore, he’s still keeping himself busy. When he’s not being Hodor, he’s a DJ! He just surfaced at a pool party in Las Vegas, of all places. He’s been a DJ for years, even headlining the Rave of Thrones multiple times. Hodor was a unique character because of how selfless and kind he was in a show that doesn’t really value those traits. Hodor might have one more trait that other people in Westeros don’t have: the ability to drop a truly sick beat. He’s not the only musically inclined cast member either. Iwan Rheon, who played Ramsay, just released his first album and was in the West End production of Spring Awakening, while Carice Van Houten makes folk-pop music.
11. Gilly – Hannah Murray
I don’t know about you, but this almost doesn’t seem like the same person who plays Samwell Tarly’s girlfriend Gilly. Unlike the brunette Gilly, Hannah Murray is a blonde. If you’re not sure who she is, she’s one of the many people who rose to fame off of the drama series Skins. She was one of the first actors to get cast on the show, where she played Cassie Ainsworth and was quite the icon before she got her start on Game of Thrones. She’s also been in several movies, one of which should be coming out this year. While Cassie Ainsworth and Gilly come from two completely different worlds, the thing that they have in common is their strength and vulnerability, which Murray portrays exceedingly well. Here’s hoping she’s one of the ones who get to live through the wars to come.
10. Syrio Forel – Miltos Yerolemou
Miltos Yerolemou is best known for playing Syrio Forel, the first Sword of Braavos, but he’s played other parts you’d probably recognize him in. However, he doesn’t look all that much like Syrio Forel. From 1997 to 2003, he was a regular on the TV show Hububb, and in 1999 he was in a film adaptation of The Winter’s Tale. Much of his career has played out on the stage, specifically in Shakespeare’s works. However, his other big name role was in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. He could also have been the main villain for season four of The Flash. He talked about his experience on Game of Thrones on Reddit during an AMA and he opened up about working with the actors and the process of shooting scenes on the show.
9. The Waif – Faye Marsay
Love the Waif or hate her, you can’t deny that the woman who plays her is gorgeous. She looks almost nothing like The Waif simply because the Waif downplays all of her really beautiful physical traits. She’s known for roles in movies like Need For Speed and Pride, and is known for taking roles in TV shows like The White Queen, Doctor Who, and My Mad Fat Diary.
Unfortunately, while Faye Marsay is awesome, her experience playing one of the most hated characters on Game of Thrones was not the best one. This isn’t because of the show itself but because of fans who kept associating her with her character. She was so worried about fans and the press hounding her that she quit Facebook. She confessed that when she sat down with Digital Spy, “I’ve just come off Facebook three days ago. But I’ll go to check it and be like, ‘f**king hell, I’m not on that anymore’, and thank god I’m not. It’s terrifying, social media, it terrifies me.” As much as The Waif was easy to hate, Faye Marsay is easy to love, and she strikes me as a possible rising A-lister we should all be watching.
8. Jaqen H’ghar – Tom Wlaschiha
It’s fitting that Tom Wlaschiha looks very different from his on-screen counterpart when you consider that Jaqen H’ghar is literally “no one.” The character is designed to change his face, and Wlaschiha is very good at pulling off the enigmatic factor needed for a character like that. When he was asked what it’s like to play a character as enigmatic as his, he said that he’s just as in the dark as we are. “I don’t really know much more than the audience does. As an actor, you play different sides of the character, and if they’re contradictory, then there you have the secret or the enigma. It’s great to play a character that is multilayered and not straightforward because it gives you an opportunity to discover different shades of the character.” He also said that he wishes he could get the same stunt work that Arya and the Waif get, but it makes sense in the story that he wouldn’t get to do that. “Jaqen doesn’t like to get his hands dirty. If he does something, he is very secretive. He would never show that things take an effort; he makes everything seem effortless.”
7. Margaery Tyrell – Natalie Dormer
Natalie Dormer is no stranger to period dramas where she gets to be the hot consort to a king. Before taking a pivotal role in Game of Thrones, she played Anne Boleyn on The Tudors. She wears a brown wig to cover up her blonde hair on the show. She’s also spent some time with her head halfway shaved thanks to her time on The Hunger Games. “The key is the wig. The hair department of Game of Thrones is incredible,” she said. “I go from my long blonde hair to this brunette color…. I look in the mirror in the hair chair and that’s when I see Margaery.” She also wears clothes that are a lot more complex than they look. “There’s so much infrastructure in Margaery’s costumes because my breasts don’t naturally sit in that position,” said Dormer. “They’re incredibly made.” She’s gone on record talking about how inspired she is by the fans who painstakingly recreate her costumes and how inspiring Margaery herself can be. “When people ask me about Margaery, I say they’re not mutually exclusive. You don’t have to be practical and politically savvy and not be a good person. You can be a good human being and just be shrewd.”
6. Brienne Of Tarth – Gwendoline Christie
Unlike most actresses on this show who’ve had to wear wigs to give themselves long hair, Gwendoline Christie had to chop her long hair off to play the more androgynous Brienne of Tarth. Unlike Brienne, who is described as homely looking, Gwendoline herself is gorgeous. As a model, many fans of the books were concerned when she got cast as Brienne that she wouldn’t be able to fit the bill to play someone unattractive (she’s described as “the ugliest woman in Westeros”). However, author George R.R. Martin approved her casting himself, talking about how she truly embodied the character.“This was another one of those cases where there was hardly any debate…her look was just perfect….She came in looking… well, like Brienne.”
Gwendoline has also been upfront about how transforming into Brienne wasn’t all fun and games. She had to train to fight and learn how to carry herself in a less feminine way, and she had to overcome the pain of chopping off her long hair. “When they cut my hair off, the transformation was complete,” she says. “I really, really miss it. When I had it cut I was a good girl on set – I went to my dialogue session and my horse-riding session – then I went to my hotel room, shut the door and sobbed for two hours.”
5. Shireen Baratheon – Kerry Ingram
Kerry Ingram is an accomplished girl. I actually feel confident saying that she’s achieved more as a teenager than most will achieve in their entire lives. Before coming to Game of Thrones, she rose to fame as Matilda Wormwood in the Matilda musical. She was the only kid playing Matilda who went on to play the role in the West End production. She was also in Les Miserables in a small role, and she’s the kid who sang the Rings Of Akhaten song in season 7 of Doctor Who, which is probably the best episode in the Eleventh Doctor’s run of the show. She then went on to play a role in Game of Thrones, where she had to drastically alter her appearance to play Shireen Baratheon. Shireen doesn’t just have different hair, she has greyscale on her face which drastically altered her appearance.
Fun fact: Stephen Dillane, who plays her father Stannis on the show, would hug Shireen kind of awkwardly, which we all thought was just another example of how awkward Stannis could be. However, the actual reason for that was because Kerry Ingram has a form of brittle bone disease and Dillane was going out of his way not to hurt her.
4. Yara Greyjoy – Gemma Whelan
The first time I saw Gemma Whelan on the red carpet, I was shocked that that was the same person who plays Yara Greyjoy. Unlike some of the other women who play high-born characters in Game of Thrones, Gemma needed to be dressed down to play the future war queen. She’s been a supporting character up till now, but now that her character is deeply involved in Daenerys Targaryen’s plans, she’s been more of a force on the show. Season 7 just began and we’ve already seen her in the middle of the drama way more than before. What’s more, her kiss with Indira Varma, the woman who plays Ellaria, was entirely unscripted! “It wasn’t directed that we would kiss,” Whelan says. “It just seemed like something we should do. We led it, very much so. It was meant to be a suggestion [of flirting] and then it became more sexual than we expected because it seemed right. There was only a skeleton crew working because the rig could only take so much weight, so we were left very much on our own. And who wouldn’t want to kiss Indira? I mean, come on!”
3. Tormund Giantsbane – Kristofer Hivju
Sansa Stark isn’t the only iconic redhead on this show. Kristofer Hivju looks about the same as his wildling character Tormund Giantsbane, only much less scary. While one of Tormund’s bragging rights on the show is literally copulating with a “she-bear” and living to tell the tale, Hivju is known for being one of the nicest people on the planet. Before playing Tormund, Hivju was a staple in Norwegian cinema. He’s played parts in several movies, including 2013’s After Earth. He’s also guest starred on several Norwegian TV shows. However, after his time as Tormund, there’s nowhere for him to go but up. Recently, it was announced that he was going to star in an eight-hour drama-thriller called “Twin” where he’d be playing a man who takes over the identity of his twin brother. He also plays a role in The Fate of the Furious.
2. Theon Greyjoy – Alfie Allen
Alfie Allen doesn’t look all that different from his character Theon Greyjoy, but he made this list because of the profound transformation he had to make to become Reek, Ramsay’s human pet/pincushion. He does a great job of portraying someone who doesn’t really fit the description of a hero but is also painfully sympathetic. No matter how you feel about Theon’s earlier actions in the show, it’s impossible to look at the person he eventually becomes and say that he deserves that. Allen did an interview with Mic talking about how he basically plays three characters at once and how much of an opportunity that was. “If you’d say to any actor, “You get to play three parts in one person, how do you feel about that?” I’m pretty sure they’d be ecstatic. It’s definitely always a challenge to find empathy — as a viewer, but also as an actor — for this character. It’s difficult, a lot of the time. To find that in myself, it’s really interesting, as an actor, to be able to explore that.”
1. Samwell Tarly – John Bradley
John Bradley might very well be playing the single nicest person in Westeros right now. Samwell Tarly might not be the in-universe heartthrob his best friend Jon Snow is, but he’s won the hearts of women everywhere regardless with his White Walker killing and his devotion to Gilly and their son Sam. Bradley has even said that Jon Snow might be even more handsome than the world thinks he is.“Seeing [Harington] on-screen is nice enough,” Bradley told Conan O’Brien at Comic-Con, “but it’s nothing compared to what I’m going to call the ‘live experience.’”
He’s another actor who’s been taking center stage in season 7, thanks to his position as an intern maester in Oldtown, a previously unseen location. He looks the same as Sam, but somehow much cooler. The second episode shows Sam in a scene with Jorah Mormont in perhaps the grossest scene in the whole show’s history, which is really saying something. According to Bradley, it’s just as gross even when you know how it’s really done. “As I was pulling away at the prosthetic, they were pumping away and releasing more pus through the prosthetic. It looked disgusting on the day, too. It looks disgusting even when you know it’s latex and that there’s a man nearby with a bucket filled with creamy gunk. It looks so disgusting. You look down, and you genuinely believe in what it is … you can imagine that it’s pretty grim.”
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