Casting Catelyn Stark Michelle Fairley

Getting to know Fairley

I felt like there was a bit of an over-reaction to the news of Michelle Fairley replacing Jennifer Ehle. I think it was a combination of people’s disappointment that Ehle was leaving and Fairley being essentially an unknown without many good photos or info out there. Oh and us posting the wrong photo certainly didn’t help. Now that things have calmed down, I think we should take a closer look at the woman who will become Catelyn Stark.

Fairley, who is from Northern Ireland, is primarily a stage actor. She has years of experience acting in theater productions in London, where she has garnered almost all positive reviews. Her most recent role, as Paulie in Greta Garbo Came To Donegal, was no exception. Prior to that she received good reviews for her performance in Dancing at Lughnasa. She was also nominated for an Olivier award (London’s version of a Tony award) in 2008 for her role in Othello.

In addition to her stage work, Fairley has also appeared in some TV and film projects. She will be appearing in the upcoming final two Harry Potter films, as Hermoine Granger’s mother. She also had small roles in the films Hideous Kinky and The Others. These two YouTube videos (Hideous Kinky, The Others) show her roles in those films and I think I see a hint of Catelyn in each of those clips. Fairley also appeared in a BBC2 TV movie titled Best: His Mother’s Son. These two articles (Belfast Telegraph, Rapid Talent) talk about her role in that project.

I think, after reading a little more about Fairley and watching the above videos, that most fans will come around to her as Catelyn. Looks wise, she matches more closely the Catelyn in my head than Ehle did. Does she have the name recognition or fan base of a Jennifer Ehle? No. But she seems to be just as talented and I, for one, can’t wait to see her interpretation of Catelyn.


  • Thank you for posting this! I too was surprised by the reaction to the recasting. I'm a long-time fan of Jennifer Ehle, but I felt from the beginning that she was too soft-looking for Catelyn. She would be great as the Catelyn in the beginning of GoT, but after that I wasn't sure about her ability to look as hard as Catelyn eventually got. Fairley looks just as I imagined her – a once-beautiful woman who's had a bunch of kids and a rough couple of years. She'll be perfectly fine (with the right makeup) for the early Catelyn, and completely perfect for the later, more weathered version.

  • For me, she has the exact same name recognition that Ms. Ehle has, none. I wasn't familiar with either actress before they were cast in GOT. I'm sure that Ms. Ehle would have done a great job, just as I'm sure that Ms. Fairly will do a great job. It is HBO doing the casting and given their history I'm going to trust them.

    On the appearance front, Michelle looks more like what I picture Catelyn looking like. Best of luck to her and I can't wait to see the job that she does.

    • Ditto on all counts, David.

      If you want name recognition, "Mrs. Granger" will be making her American debut in November 2010, mere months before GoT premieres on HBO. It doesn't get much bigger than that.

      • I agree with this. I'd never heard of Ehle before she was cast, and was never all that excited about her to be honest. I was fairly neutral.

  • Yeah, well, I wasn't too displeased with the change. Not that I ever had anything against Ehle, but to me both she and Fairly are equally unknown names. So I don't know about how much of a huge fan base we've lost with Ehle.

    I haven't seen neither Ehle nor Fairly act, so I had – and still have – pretty much blanc expectations on that front. Look-wise, Fairly seem to fit my mental image of Catelyn a bit better than Ehle did, although it's hard to say without a big enough picture.

    All in all, there is no need for fuss.

  • Thanks for posting this, WiC.
    I know it was my mistake that wrong photo, but I admit I was too fast, and there were not really any wiser photos of her.
    Yes, I share your opinion on her as Cat, she is more Cat in my head than it was case with Jennifer Ehle.

    Losing Ehle, definitly is minus to the show at that stage, because she is more familiar to the vast audience, but who knows maybe it is good move form HBO for the future.

    As I saw her photos and videos, I would say it is, but at leat that is my opinion.

    • I wouldn't get too concerned about the photo snafu. A lot of the HARRY POTTER websites are still carrying the same, incorrect photo as well and haven't cottoned onto their error either yet, and as a result it does come up when you Google her name.

      Understandable mistake, anyway.

  • Seeing those youtube-videos I'm even more assured she will nail this role. Can't wait to see her in 2011.

    Great post Winter!

  • Cool! I was iffy about her, but now that I see her in The Others, I think she'll be good!

    Also, I thought it was neat she was in a clip with Keith Allen, Alfie Allen's father ;) Or maybe I'm just being a nerd.

  • I agree, it was an OVER-reaction… mostly based on shock, and disappointment at losing a big name.

    However, I am totally in favour of Fairley, who has quickly grown on me. She looks more like the Catelyn from the books than Ehle ever did. Her acting skills seem top notch (I've watched some youtube clips, and have skimmed scenes from "Best: His Mother's Son"). I like her eyes, her energy, her mannerisms. I can definitely picture Fairley in many of Cat's best scenes, such as arresting Tyrion, instructing Robb, and clawing at her face in a madness of grief and despair. I cannot, on the other hand, picture Ehle in all of those moments.

    My only small concern is still the age thing, but I'm pretty confident that make-up will take care of that. I'm very happy with Fairley… I just hope we don't have many more casting changes!

  • To me, Michelle's acting pedigree is as good as it gets. Fantastic clips, WiC. Those nail it.

    Regarding Michelle Fairley's age, I think for the majority of people the question will be, "Can I look at her and believe this woman birthed someone as young as Rickon?"

    Let's assume HBO knows what it's doing. Laura Linney, age 45, convincingly played a mother of young children in HBO's John Adams–a production helmed by many of the same people doing GoT, and famously devoid of beautifying makeup (they even went with authentic period clothing that made the actors itch constantly). Michelle Fairley, also age 45, will likely have the benefit of makeup, lighting, and costuming that will have her looking spectacular in the first episode …

    … and as we know, it's all down hill from there. Even Littlefinger has given up on Catelyn in lieu of her younger, prettier daughter. His dealings with Catelyn even in what will be episode three aren't exactly lascivious.

    As an aside, Ms. Fairley's carriage and posture are nobility unto themselves. Her silhouette alone says Catelyn to me.

    Sean Bean turns 51 in April. His "wife" is 6 years his junior. Let's assume HBO will make her shine for one bloody episode. The rest, as they say, is acting.

    • I'm one of the people who was concerned about her being Rickon's mother. (Thanks for not emulating my mis-spelling as "Rickton," or it would have cut too close to home. ;) ) As my wife pointed out to me after I asked the question, the biggest hurdle of older women and childbirth around the time of the War of the Roses would be living past forty in the first place. Add the fact that there are Maesters and servants, etc., and it becomes much more believable.

    • what the heck does that even matter really? Why do you wish she was prettier (as in prettier in your specific taste mind you).

      • It matters when a character is supposed to be beautiful, which she IS.

        Notice how no one was saying Jennifer Ehle was too pretty for the role. But now that we've got this very spinsterly lady in the role, suddenly everyone is shouting that they thought Catelyn was a worn-out old bag from the get-go. Complete hogwash!

        • The books do not say Catelyn is "beautiful", but rather "handsome"

          Everyone is not shouting that she was a "worn-out old bag", but rather… "handsome"'

          Michelle Fairley (at least with a nice layer of make up will be looking "handsome",

  • Main thing I want to say is- if you don't know who Jennifer Ehle is, even being a dumb american like myself then you have no footing for any comments and really your opinions have no substance. She is a great actress, a beautiful woman, and could have brought a LOT of attention to the show. I'm saddened that she will not be part of the show now- she would have been a perfect fit for Cat.
    I don't know much about Michelle Fairley but I will disagree with anyone that thinks she is more "Cat like looking". AFTER ALL she was second pick, not first. I shouldn't really care being that Cat is one of my most disliked characters in the story, so having an actress I don't really care about shouldn't be a problem.

    • she might have got first pick, but ask yourself why? no harm ment to mrs Ehle but she is an american and maybe with h b o putting the money forward they wanted an american in the role, Fairley on the other hand might well have been everyone elses choice! the decision is made give fairley a chance and let her work speak for itself. Anything i have seen her in she has been bloody brilliant and in my eyes more fitting for the role, lets wait and see!!!

  • I was certainly disappointed that Ehle was out, not because I had a dislike of Fairley, but just because I loved her in P&P, and was looking forward to seeing her play one of my favourite characters.

    However, especially after watching the Hideous Kinky clip, I see the raw power and strength that is in Fairley's every action and word, and am amazed. She'll be a rocking Catelyn. Those EYES, soooo expressive. I think she has the ability to look very vunerable and soft as well, which I think Catelyn experiences in moments away from others. She looks like a lady, and looks like a warrior. I'm SO looking forward to seeing what she brings to the table!

    I can't agree more that HP will bring her a little more fame too, which is only for the better for Game.

  • @ jeremy:

    What a ridiculous comment. If we don’t know who Ehle is, our opinions have no substance? LOL. Idiocy at its finest.

      • Wow, somebody less familiar with relatively obscure actors than me. I knew Bean, Headey, and McNeice. After looking them up on IMDB I could look at Glen, and Donachie and say "oh yeah, that guy". That was about it for me.

    • It's idiocy to comment at a re-cast when you know nothing about the person who is being replaced-please enlighten us more with why Ehle should or shouldn't have been replaced….oh wait you can't.

      • This isn't about Ehle! This is about getting to know a little bit more about Fairley. Your earlier comment is still ridiculous.

        • i agree with lex.

          its time to move on from ehle and start getting behind Fairly now.

          Its done and dusted, quit your bellyachin.

          Good to see an acclaimed Northern Ireland actress getting a key role!

  • "Also, I thought it was neat she was in a clip with Keith Allen, Alfie Allen's father ;) Or maybe I'm just being a nerd."

    A little of both, my friend, but that's why we're ALL here!

  • Hopefully her detractors will look at those youtube videos and realize that she is actually quite good looking in a refined and mature way, which I think is ideal for Catelyn.

    I think she will nail Catelyn in the series. Additionally, critics and awards bodies alike tend to love stage actors that move to movies and television, and, particularly in an emotionally charged second season, she might be "awards bait", which will only bring more publicity to the show.

  • Do not see actually any age problems, because she is still younger than Bean, wich relates good to the age differnece in the books.

    On the other hand, I admit that I had same concerned too with imagining Ehle in those scenes you pointed out.
    That is why, I am more satisfied with that choice.

    • I think Ned is supposed to be (at most??) 2 years older than Cat. So to be honest she's still too young! :p

  • Ehle was a bit of a name, definitely relative to Fairley, let's not cover that one up. Not American TV star level, no, but P&P gave her considerable of exposure.

    Best of luck to Ms. Fairley. I still don't get where people come from with the mom logic or the idea that makeup takes care of early Catelyn (if anything, it should take care of Stoneheart, you know, the undead zombie), but as for the actress, hope she knocks it out of the park.

    • After appearing in Harry Potter, Fariley will likely become better known than Ehle. I've never heard of either of them, though, before reading about them being cast on this blog.

      • Yeah I don't think Ehle was the most well known (though, BAFTA and Tony are pretty prestigious in the acting world), but you can find more people who knew about her than about Fairley, I'd bet, even if there'll be plenty of individuals who knew about neither. That's all I'm saying. It doesn't invalidate Ms. Fairley, this could be her big break, I'm just not so much a fan of covering up the realities. Ehle *is* more well known, and that's a matter of many people's recognitions, not just a few, but that's okay, because many things go into a casting choice. That's all.

        • Still, Ehle is much less known than Bean or Headey. She might be more well known than Fairley, but both of them are total unknowns to me and many others.

  • Yeah I agree, these clips are ten years old. I still think she might be too old for the role, but hey, just my opinion

  • Okay, yes. Now that I've seen her in some clips, I can dig this. I, too, worried about her age, but I forget that some of the photos we've seen of her on stage likely have make-up on, and if that's a recent photo above, she definitely isn't too old looking.

    I can totally see her saying "It should have been you."

    • Not worried about her age, and certainly, after seeing those clips, NOT worried about her acting chops.

      I'm with you Josh. "It should have been you" was THE Cat line, for me, I can I definitely see Fairley nailing this.

      Super excited.

    • Yes, too bad non-UK people can't see it. I was looking around for her films Suicide Man and Cup Cake, but I can't find any info on those…

  • I started re-reading A Storm of Swords last night, and I could definitely picture Fairley during the first Cat chapter.

  • I'm sure she's an excellent actress, but I saw Dancing at Lughnasa last spring at the Old Vic, and that play was unbearable…

  • I think Mrs. Fairley is just perfect! I liked Ehle because I loved her role at Pride and Prejudice, but this lady is exactly as I pictured Catelyn. She is going to shine in GoT !!

  • Wow. I watched The Others youtube video and I am amazed at what I saw. I could totally imagine Fairley as Catelyn. I was one of those who were apprehensive about her age, but that clip convinced me that she's downright perfect for the role.

    • Totally. Interestingly, I also just watched an Ehle youtube clip, and although she's good, she didn't feel as "right" for Cat.

  • Liking it. Liking it more and more. I just watched the Misfits clip, and I could see Catelyn.

    Yes, she's older than I imagined Catelyn, but considering they've raised the ages of the other characters, this is fine.

    This also makes it easier for me to see Tom Hollander as Littlefinger. My biggest issue with that was that he was clearly older than Jennifer Ehle, and Catelyn sees Littlefinger like a younger brother. But this will work just fine.

  • I am happy with the change. Ehle was just too hot to be Catelyn. She can't be on the same level as Headley as Cersei based on beauty. She was too beautiful to be Lysa's sister too.

    Fairley seems to be more a devoted housewife in appearance. So I'm glad.

    That's my 2 cents.

    • Catelyn is supposed to be hot. Both Tully sisters were described as beautiful. Even Jaime Lannister considered Catelyn in her youth both pretty and sparkly. Petyr Baelish has wanted her for fifteen years, and at least challenged her fiancé to a fight. Cersei is described (by Jaime, let's not forget it) as more beautiful, granted. But Cat is very beautiful too, or should be.

    • LOL I guess Lena Headey is too beautiful to be Tyrion's sister. More devoted housewife in appearance, that's just sad.

  • I watched some of "The Misfits" stuff and Fairley is pretty much Catelyn in the flesh. Excellent!

  • Well, sorry to disagree but I'm also pretty disappointed with Fairley. If Fairley had been first choice… i wouldn't have liked her much, anyways. But comparing to Ehle, the disappointment is great. Ehle was perfect: looks like Sophie Turner a bit, is very pretty but not drop-dead gorgeous (that should be left for the likes of Cersei and Dany), and looks like a tender mother, but can pull up the fury. I don't doubt Fairley is a good actress. But she isn't Catelyn Stark. She doesn't look regal. When I see that clip of The Others, I see a perfect Septa Mordane, not Catelyn Stark. I can see Petyr Baelish obsessing fifteen years for Jennifer Ehle, who behind the manners has a certain sexiness, some spark that Ehle portrayed perfectly in Pride and Prejudice. Fairley, though a very talented actress, just doesn't match the character for me. It's not that she's a bad actress, she's great. She's just not Catelyn Stark. I hope the producers had great reasons to fire Ehle. And it's not only bad that Ehle was lost, but that her replacement is painfully short.

    I hope they keep Tamzin. Any replacement as this one won't be good news.

    • Although I really like Fairley, you're right about one thing at least. I'm still not totally sure I can picture Littlefinger obsessing over her for 15 years. But before we can really judge that, I think we need to see who they cast as Littlefinger, and see their on-screen chemistry as well.

    • I can appreciate your arguments, but try to keep an open mind. Most of your points about Fairley vs. Ehle seem to be based on looks. That's fine, it's all we really have to go on right now, but looks will probably end up being a small part of her portrayal. Let's wait until we see her try to embody Catelyn. I bet she will surprise you. It's the actor who plays Littlefinger's job to make his infatuation and heartbreak believable.

      I notice that a lot of complaints about the actors are about the "hotness" factor. It's not even just appearance (no one complained that Isaac Hempstead-Wright doesn't have the blue eyes and auburn hair that Bran is supposed to have), but specifically how attractive the adults are.

      Frankly, I think choosing actors who have the ability and are slightly plainer will add more reality to the production. It's the difference between HBO and the CW, and I think we can all agree on which network makes better tv.

  • I feel like ultimately if she is great I won't care, but without seeing the performance my instinct is to say that she is too old and not as pretty as I picture Catelyn. That being said Ehle wasn't right either. So I guess I will wait and see.

  • Good for all of you trying to be open minded, but I'd bet that most of you are still secretly thinking GROSS casting choice!!

  • Fairly isn't gross, but still disappointing. Why is a big name like Lena Headey playing the smaller part of Cersei Lannister but an unknown like Michelle Fairley playing the bigger part of Catelyn Stark? And don't give me any nonsense about Ehle being equally unknown, Google quickly proves you wrong.

    If you ask me this was about money. They won't dare touch Tyrion or Ned, but Catelyn is considered disposable. This very blog itself said she's just a typical soccer mom, don't deny that. Too bad then it seems like HBO is taking the more stereotypical route with Cersei and Catelyn. Martin wrote it way better and I expected more of HBO.

    You can say that age&looks don't matter, but saying that Catelyn _cant_ be attractive like some of you did just betrays your own stereotype. If you care so much about that you shouldve insisted Sean Bean was too attractive for Ned, who's not handsome in the books. The books never come out and say Robb is handsome either, but I know lots of people think Maddens perfect because he's such a teen posterboy. And yet people say the books never say Catelyn is a great beauty (they imply she's quite attractive), she should be unattractive (it doesn't matter for the plot so at best your opinion should be neutral).

    Say you have faith in makeup/Fairley, or believe that HBO had a reason they're not revealing that forced the choice. But these points are stupid:
    – Catelyn can't be attractive because she has to look motherly (Cersei and Ellaria Sand are also mothers but people put them in "sexy women" stereotypes)
    – Catelyn goes through hell so she should look bad (Brienne meets her in the middle of all her pain and says she's very handsome)
    – Catelyn lived in the north so she should look bad (so did Lyanna, so did Sansa, and Catelyn lives in a luxurious castle away from all the elements, she's not a hardy warrior woman)
    – Catelyn has five babies so she should look bad (no woman would have better health care. She is also healthier than most with no miscarriages. Cersei had three babies and Ellaria had four, if they get the fantasy handwave why not Catelyn?)
    – Catelyn becomes Stoneheart so the actress shouldn't look too pretty (as if makeup should be more important for creating Catelyn than Stoneheart!)

  • Oh, and my own opinion is, there's more actresses out there than just Ehle and Fairley. If they couldn't use Ehle, they couldve found someone more like Catelyn yet just as talented. It was obvious to everyone that Lena Headey would be the perfect Catelyn. Only after these choices are made do people say HBO is doing everything perfectly. The show obviously found Headey (for another role) so their casting scouts are obviously at work. I hope HBO isn't beefing up Cersei to be more important than Catelyn by playing the evil sexy/good frumpy stereotype, but their making it easy to believe. If not Ehle, why not someone else, someone with some star power who looks the role? That's what nobody has answered yet.

  • That's a good point but then they shouldn't cast heartthrobs like Sean Bean and Richard Madden and Kit Harrington either if they want realistic looking people. If they want realism they already missed the boat.

  • So, so, so disappointed in this casting choice. Cateyln is my favorite character of all time. I didn't like the choice of Ehle either but this just ruined my holiday weekend. /sigh

  • funny to read through here, now that Michelle Fairley has become the personification of cat. i cant imagine anyone else but her.