As Michael Palin once famously said, “This is supposed to be an ‘appy occasion! Let’s not bicker and argue about ‘oo killed ‘oo.” And right now I’m listening to my inner Swamp Castle king, because I was tempted to begin this interview with a rant about how ungainly and wasteful it was to kill off Amrita Acharia’s Irri at the end of “The Old Gods and the New.” But that’s a rail for another day, Gatehouse faithful. This is a happy occasion!
I’d been dying to talk to Amrita (“Ami” to her friends) ever since Irri and Rakharo shared that nuance-filled conversation about rabbits and ducks and goats and dogs, back in season one’s “Lord Snow” episode. The subtle looks and the crackling chemistry between Acharia and Elyes Gabel spawned more than a few rumors and launched more than a few ‘ships, not to mention spawned a Tumblr site or two. I was dying to pick her brain regarding some of the subtleties I had picked up.
It just so happened she was visiting L.A.! In between HBO pressers and production meetings, I was fortunate enough to meet Amrita through a mutual friend, LA-based actor and fellow nerd Jake Stormoen (a talented young man who also routinely gets abused by Kristian Nairn on World of Warcraft). Ami joined me and a handful of fellow fans at the La Cienega Cuban restaurant Versailles, where we partook of savory garlic chicken, fluffed rice and beans, and fried plantains. We spent the evening mocking Jake’s priestly garb, showing off FaB’s infamous zombie eye, and making short jokes at Amrita’s expense. A lovely time was had by all.
The one thing I didn’t do was interview her! Thank god for e-mail.
Amrita is sharp-witted and personable, quick with her tongue or a saucy glance. I don’t have to tell you she’s insanely beautiful (pictures can tell you that), but nothing quite captures how lively she is in person. She has an almost dare-to-be-bolder-than-you outlook, and nothing—absolutely nothing—fazes her. She could hear the most raunchy jape and she’d just look at you with those gorgeous brown eyes half-lidded, a quarter-smile playing on her lips. Almost like she might be slightly impressed with your joke, but she’s heard worse, and is only declining to tell it because of the public setting.
I know that’s why they call it “acting,” but she actually seems to be the polar opposite of the quick-tempered, set-in-her-ways Game of Thrones character she portrays. In any other world, I could easily see Amrita playing the exotic bombshell—the cherry-lipped temptress who seduces with a look and a word. The best approximation I can give you is a more petite, wordly version of Salma Hayek, but even that comparison isn’t exactly right.
Probably best to say that Amrita is Amrita, and lordy—she can probably play anything.
Born in Nepal (she’s Ukrainian-Nepalese forged), Amrita moved to Norway at a very young age and basically “learned Norwegian from scratch.” She was schooled at the Academy of Live and Recorded Arts in London, and appeared in various British television series, such as Doctors and Casualty, before landing the role of Irri on Game of Thrones.
Fire And Blood: First of all … Hello, Amrita! Thanks for taking the time to speak to Winter Is Coming!
Amrita Acharia: It’s my pleasure, thanks for having me!
FaB: I’m gonna jump right into it, because I’m still in shock: When did you find out Irri was going to die this season?
AA: When I read my scripts a couple of months before filming.
FaB: It was probably my biggest disappointment in the season thus far. It seemed to me there were so many different directions they could have gone with Irri’s story, yet they chose this end. Were there ever any discussions about other ways for her to go?
AA: I’m sure there may have been many versions – I wasn’t personally involved in any of the discussions!
FaB: If nothing else she could have at least had a nice dramatic death scene. Sean Bean is famous for them.
(In a short but outstanding interview with Hanh Nguyen of seattlepi.com, Amrita talked about shooting a death scene that, for whatever reason, we were not privy to:
I’m waiting for Daenerys to come back so I’m running up the stairs. “Khaleesi, are you back yet?” And the dragons are gone. Out of nowhere, there’s a noose around my neck. I think it’s hard to be strangled onscreen because obviously to an extent to make it look real, you really have to be a bit strangled. So I had massive bruises on my neck the next day. I was proud. Battle scars. Death scenes are fun.
I’m still hoping that maybe we’ll get our very first flashback next episode and see that scene!)
FaB: If you could have chosen any other way to have your character die, what would it be?AA: Strangulation wasn’t a bad way to go – but I believe its going to be more dramatic if and when the killer is revealed! My ideal death scene would probably involve being catapulted out of a ten storey building, mainly for the adrenaline high.
FaB: That’s… that would be an amazing way to go, actually.
(FaB has to recollect his thoughts after that revelation.)
FaB: … Okay! There was a pretty loud outpouring of shock and dismay on the internet when Irri died. But I’m glad, at least, that you know she was loved, and that the work you put in was not in vain. Has the fans’ passion for the show surprised you at all?
AA: It did at first, yes, but I’ve come to understand that fans love every aspect of the show and pick up on the smallest of nuances! I’m glad that Irri made her own impact!
FaB: Speaking of surprises, there seemed to be a lot of people reading into Irri and Rakharo’s “relationship” even before there was one. The “rabbit and duck” scene in the “Lord Snow” episode drew a pretty intense amount of interest and speculation. Was a mutual attraction between Irri and Rakharo ever discussed with the writers? How did it all play out?
AA: The scenes were added in during the course of S1 filming – the writers are brilliant at great story lines and for me it was a privilege to be able to develop Irri more as a character. The rabbit and duck scene was a lot of fun because she gets to be such a stroppy woman in it and its pretty obvious she fancies the hell out of Rakharo!
FaB: Tell me your top three favorite Irri scenes!
AA: “Rabbit and duck,” as you call it! “Dany’s pregnant,” and “Rakharo’s death.”
FaB: And what are your top-three non-Irri scenes from Game of Thrones? What’s made you a fan of the show?
AA: That’s too hard – way too many to choose from!! If I choose something now, I’ll be biting my tongue later when I think of yet another one I love! I’m a massive fan of Joffrey’s scenes and obviously adamantly loyal to Dany’s storyline.
FaB: So let’s talk about Amrita! You are a London-based actress who was born in Norway, and speaks English, Norwegian, Russian and Ukrainian. Most Americans don’t learn more than English fluently (and sometimes not even that). What is your ancestry? Did your linguistics training make learning Dothraki easier?
AA: In bold strokes: I’m half Nepalese and half Ukranian, brought up mainly in Kathmandu, England, and northern Norway, and I think the U.S. should be the next stop. I love languages and if anything would love to learn more!! I’m sure being multilingual helped with learning Dothraki lines – I definitely enjoyed playing around with the sounds and figuring out the word order!
FaB: You’re currently visiting Los Angeles. I assume you’ve had some fun! Tell us about the best day you’ve had so far?
AA: Yes!! I LOVE L.A.!! I’m pretty sure I make a good California girl! My best day was a Saturday when not only did I get to sit on an amazing masterclass at John Ruskin’s School, but also got to weave, Californian-style, in and out of traffic on the back of a friends massive motorbike! The day continued with ice cream for breakfast and a road-trip – with the car roof down – to Ventura, cycling to the pier and then driving all the way back to L.A. for a bbq and hot tub. By far the best thing about this trip is the amazing friends I’ve met and beig able to experience a bit of the industry out here. It’s a very different place than the UK!
FaB: That sounds insanely fun. Would that I were a hot young actress! Did you land a bunch of meetings? Any possible projects in the works? Or is it still hush-hush?
AA: I had some meetings – we’ll see what comes of them!
FaB: I was hoping to hear our mutual friend Jake Stormoen had been tied up and trapped in the form of a yoga pretzel by now but no such luck. Is he a proper tour guide? Hopefully he didn’t charge you for gas.
AA: Yeah, he charges by the hour – only joking! I’m not gonna big him up too much, I don’t want him to get too cocky… ;) But yes he was a brilliant tour guide, friend and fellow actor and he spoilt me silly! And he did get roped into Bikram, but was actually not too bad. Nothing resembling pretzels though.
FaB: You are a proud yoga practitioner. Do you think there is a Dothraki equivalent to yoga?
AA: I’m not actually that great at other yoga – Bikram is pretty much the only one I do because its crazy intense – I’m rubbish at meditation, so Bikram is the closest I get. The Dothraki equivalent? Probably playing catch with slaughtered traitors.
FaB: That’s… both frightening and awesome. In a recent interview with HitFix, you mentioned you and your little sister used to put together these make-believe little clubs. I’m oddly intrigued by the thought of an “Ancient Egyptian” club. Tell me about this thing!
AA: She will kill me if she reads this! We had tons of secret clubs growing up, we had mental imaginations and loved pretending to be other people/ time-travelling/ going on treasure hunts or spying on people. I think most kids do? Our Ancient Egyptian one was the same. We pretended to be Egyptian gods of animals, herbs, war, or whatever. We did make some brilliant membership cards that I’m sure are stuffed in a box somewhere!
FaB: You could pass for Egyptian. You could probably pass for a lot. The sky’s the limit! Have you ever read for a role and immediately thought, “Wow, I’m so not what they’re looking for in this role”?
AA: Well I guess if I get “Pale blonde blue-eyed” in the breakdown… as much of a mix I am, I probably can’t pull that off – but in general it’s my job to transform as well as I can!
FaB: Let’s go back to the start. It seems like Nina Gold almost always gets it right (We always say “In Nina Gold We Trust” at WiC) and it felt like you were cast perfectly. What was the auditioning process like for Irri?
AA: The auditioning was as they usually go. You come in, do your damn best, pretend to forget about it but actually keep fingers toes everything crossed, wait a bit, then you get called back, repeat the process and wait some more… and next thing you know you’re part of this epic journey called Game of Thrones.
FaB: Other than learning Dothraki, what was the hardest part about playing Irri?
AA: The sandals. My feet aren’t made for Dothraki sandals!
FaB: In season one, just before Viserys got a pot of gold dumped on his head in “A Golden Crown,” Irri translates his drunken rant to Khal Drogo, a scene I thought you played brilliantly. There were so many conflicting emotions in your eyes. What was going through Irri’s mind during that scene?
AA: Well she’s the only one that could translate fast enough. The threats he was coming out with weren’t exactly acceptable, especially not by Dothraki standards. So repeating those words aloud was terrifying for Irri… don’t shoot the messenger comes to mind! There was no knowing how the khal would react, the Dothraki knew this Viserys dude was unhinged – and that made him unpredictable. But it’s her duty and she did her duty. Irri doesn’t take s*** and she won’t have her khaleesi take it either, even from her brother.
FaB: A lot of fans thought you were absolutely heartbreaking in “The Night Lands,” when Irri learns of Rakharo’s death. But what impressed me was the ability to speak Dothraki AND cry on-camera at the same time. How did you approach that scene?
AA: It really was a great scene to do, and the Dothraki language is pretty harsh and emotional anyway. Irri just found her beau’s decapitated head in a bag in the middle of the Red Waste, and she never told him she fancied him. That’s rough. Irri was NOT a happy bunny that day. That was my approach to it.
FaB: Haha! “Not a happy bunny” indeed! What was it like working with Elyes Gabel?
AA: A lot of fun, and again like all the actors on set, very inspiring. He’s a brilliant actor and gives lot to play off.
FaB: Weirdly, after interviewing a number of actors, that seems to be one of the most appreciated qualities to find in other actors. Being “giving,” allowing your fellow actors the time and space and opportunity to act and react. I guess it’s something non-actors just don’t consider. Irri’s friendship with Daenerys felt pretty natural. How long did it take for you to form a good chemistry with Emilia Clarke?
FaB: You are friends with Laura Pradelska outside of the show. What can we expect from Quaithe? Or is Quaithe a mystery you cannot speak of?
AA: I am indeed friends with Laura, she’s a huge inspiration and a ton of fun! And yes Quaithe is a mystery, you should know better than ask! ;)
FaB: Drat. Oh, well. Rakharo’s death was very shocking, though it was rumored Elyes Gabel was leaving the show. We had NO such hint about you. Is there a feeling like the show is taking away Dany’s connection with the Dothraki, or will Kovarro somehow step up and remind Dany of the Dothraki’s greatness? He doesn’t seem to be overly bright.
AA: Don’t say that! Kovarro is the bomb!!! He’s true Dothraki! I think the Dothraki have played a huge part in Dany’s development and her husband was the greatest Dothraki, so I believe Dany will always have a spot for the Dothraki in her heart. She understands them.
FaB: If you had one wish for Dany in the future, what would it be?
AA: To win. And maybe find a good king for herself too.
FaB: Pop culture time! Tell us three songs that you most often listen to? What’s on your iPod?
1) “CRAZY” (Gnarls Barkley)
2) “Sexual Healing” (Marvin Gaye) and at the moment – sorry, but…
3) “Good Feeling” (Flo Rida) – I’m blaming L.A. for that one.
(FaB: I think she was humming this song at Versailles…)
FaB: Favourite television show (besides Game of Thrones)?
AA: Mad Men! I’ve also belatedly started watching Breaking Bad as well.
FaB: I love both of those shows. Last question—and this is one I take a lot of heat for: I am in the midst of a personal crusade, which is to remove the colour INDIGO from the seven-colour spectrum, on the basis that it makes no sense to be there. Thus far in interviews I’ve done with GoT cast members, most of them remain pro-indigo (Sophie Turner, Lena Headey, Aimee Richardson, and now even Emilia Clarke and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), with John Bradley being the only holdout to stand steadfast by my side. So my very important question to you is… can you support my ban of that wretched seventh colour, or is indigo too important to be taken from your everyday life?
AA: I’m sorry but indigo needs to remain. The more colours the merrier! I know you’re doing the hurt puppy look but its not going to work. Pro indigo.
FaB: Dratmonkeys! I think I’m losing this war. Richardson and Turner will never let me hear the end of it. Well, thank you once again for taking the time to talk with us! You are fantastic. (it is known.)
(Also, I’m not giving a hurt puppy look. But the zombie eye? Oh yes. Ohhhh yes.)
AA: You and your games! No, thanks very much for your time. It was a pleasure.
The pleasure was all mine! Thanks, Ami!