Outside of Game of Thrones, you may best recognize Julian Glover (Grand Maester Pycelle), from his roles in films like Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, and For Your Eyes Only, but Glover has also had a long and glorious career on the stage. He’s currently playing the Duke of Lancaster in Shakespeare’s Richard II, a play set during the War of the Roses, a time of violence and political intrigue that inspired George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. Glover says the two stories are similar: “the same thing, the history of kings fighting for power.” Still going strong at the age of 81, Glover talked to Vulture about his affinity for Shakespeare, the skills of Peter Dinklage, the devious nature of Maester Pycelle, and why he avoided doing a nude scene on Game of Thrones.
At the outset of the interview, Glover gushes over working with Peter Dinklage:
I wanted Peter Dinklage to play my fool in Lear, and he said, ‘I would love to.’ But it never happened. He should play Quasimodo, of course. He was made to be a Quasimodo. He’s one of the most brilliant actors in America. He’s one of those actors where so much happens in his face. So many considerations cross his face when he’s into a problem. That scene where he’s accused of killing Joffrey, when he pours that wine, it’s just, “How the fuck am I going to get out of this one? I know what’s going to happen. I can see it all coming.” And it does. After that, he wriggles, wriggles, wriggles for the rest of the series. How they hold him down for the show, I don’t know. He must be in such demand.
When Glover first started playing Pycelle back in Season 1, he found the character too one-dimensional to be interesting. “I’d done about three weeks on it, and I was really getting bored sitting at that table with people talking all around me, and the remarks were sometimes pretty stupid,” he said. “I’m just sitting there being an old fart. I hadn’t got it together why he’d survived to such a long age, except maybe he’s someone people couldn’t be bothered to get rid of, you know?”
So I went to the writers, and I said, “I’m sorry. This sounds very arrogant, but I’m a better actor than this. You must give me something else. I know in the books he’s not very substantial, but if he’s there, and if I’m going to play him, I’m going to play something.” And they went away for a week. And then I had a dream that Pycelle was actually two people. He was someone who was pretending to be a doddering old man, but actually, he was a very active man. And the day after I had the dream, and I promise you this is true, they came to me and said, “We’ve got this idea, and we got it from when after you do a take. The minute they say cut, you stand up to your full height, and you start talking to your friends. So we’ve got this idea that, in fact, you’re hiding somebody under there.” I said, “This is fantastic!” So they wrote the scene where I have this girl … (Ros) … and then she goes, and I spruce myself up and go to the door, hold the door, and then droop down again and go out. People loved that. But I have to say, they actually cut the most important scene.
Glover is probably referring to a deleted Season 3 scene where Pycelle, dropping his charade of feebleness, confronts Tywin Lannister about being dismissed from the Small Council.
Glover was unhappy about the scene being cut. “I was really disappointed, because it was the thing which explained it: “I know I’m old, I’m going to die any minute now, but I’m not going to die like these other buggers.” Tyrion caught on, too, in the scene where again, I’m with a girl, and they come in and cut my beard off and it takes two men to restrain me.”
Pycelle was supposed to be naked in the beard-cutting scene, but Glover decided that nudity wasn’t a good career move for a Shakespeare man:
The script said Pycelle is lying naked on his bed except for his chain of office and is being pleasured by … And I showed my wife this. She said, “Julian, if you, a famous Shakespearean actor, do that scene, it’ll be on Facebook. You do know that, don’t you?” So I went in and said, “This won’t do, I’m afraid.” We can still get the point across. He’s good with the ladies, or he likes the ladies, but there’s no reason for being gobbled up in front of the camera. I don’t mind being there in my shift, and it being very obviously postcoital. I said, “You’ve got lots of scenes like that in the series, and it might be very funny for Pycelle, but it’s not good for Julian.” So we changed it.
Along with nixing his character’s nudity, Glover also defended Pycelle’s mettle and teased what’s in store for the character in Season 6.
Also, we changed the moment when Tyrion came in. It was going to be, Pycelle is cringing in the corner and he wets himself. Very funny, but I said, “I don’t want that for Pycelle.” Because how does Pycelle survive in court if he’s going to be so rattled that he pisses himself in the corner? No, no, no. Don’t do that. It’s undignified enough as is. But it goes to the point, Pycelle was playing two lives. He was actually a very bright fellow, playing politics, but he’s got it pretty bloody awful now, and people insulting him quite a lot, as you’ll see in season six. There’s some good stuff coming.
Pycelle gets insulted a lot of Season 6, huh? Will the consummate manage to come out of whatever ordeal awaits him unscathed?
Finally, Vulture asked Glover about the Grand Maester’s Conspiracy, which posits that the maesters are actually conspiring to eradicate magic from the world, and are manipulating events more than anyone realizes. Glover had heard the term, but hadn’t looked into the details.
Oh, brilliant. I know nothing about all that. Fantastic. How clever. How clever. There was a running joke for several weeks on season six that actually — surprise! — Pycelle would become king. [Laughs] He was going to take over. But he didn’t ever want that. Never. He just wants to keep going, as do I.
Sounds like Julian Glover is having a blast playing Maester Pycelle. I hope they both keep going.