Daniel Portman talks growing up, Podrick Payne, and what’s next

If you want to see what Game of Thrones actor Daniel Portman (Poderick Payne) is up to these days, you’ll find him on the Roundabout stage at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, wearing a red leotard and arm-wrestling audience members. The show is called “Square Go,” Glaswegian slang for a brawl. For a frenetic and highly entertaining hour, Portman portrays a 13 year-old boy who hides his insecurities behind physical bravado.

“It’s exhausting,” Portman tells The Guardian. “The energy is like a vortex. When you’re that age, your universe is school. It is funny that it’s so grand and operatic in scale but it’s nuclear to these guys. This is the end of the world … at that age you feel everything more.”

Portman grew up in Glasgow, the son of veteran actor Ron Donachie (who played Rodrik Cassel on Thrones, incidentally). He was a rough-and-tumble kid. “I got into quite a few scrapes when I was young,” he admitted. “They always made me very sad. Some men, if they haven’t had that experience, they maybe carry it into adulthood. They still feel like they have something to prove. I don’t have that.”

School ended up being a bad experience for Portman, especially once he’d decided to embark on his acting career. “It makes people uncomfortable,” he says. “They go, ‘Do something real.’” Only his new drama teacher gave him any support, and he ended up losing his friends. And he still sounds kinda bitter about it:

The same teachers who told me not to do it (act) have asked me to go back and talk to pupils about how much the school gave me. Go fuck yourself. There’s no chance. If I do come in, I’ll say, ‘Don’t listen to these people.’

Prior to Game of Thrones, Portman’s acting career consisted of stints in youth theater and a few walk-on film parts. His first Thrones auditions were for two characters who died in season 2. He was asked to audition for Podrick, who made it all the way to the end of the series. The producers later told him that Podrick was originally planned to appear on only two or three episodes, but they “liked having him around.”

Among Podrick’s more memorable scenes came in season 3, where his apparently innocent character is left alone with a roomful of prostitutes and apparently has such a good time with them that they refuse to take his payment…we think. It was never made completely clear. What did the youthful Portman think about his racy scene? “When you’re 20 and on a big TV show and the writers tell you your character is about to become the greatest lover in the world, you tell me how you’d feel!” he says, adding that the sequence has opened up some “interesting journeys.”

On the negative side, Portman has experienced occasional gropings by overenthusiastic fans at conventions. “It has happened a few times, with men and women doing it. It has given me a bit of an insight into what women have to deal with sometimes and it’s very, very unpleasant.”

One of Portman’s most consistent scene partners was Gwendoline Christie, who played Brienne of Tarth. She says Portman has “a wonderful capacity for enjoying the absurd”, which helped them endure “long days swathed in mud or submerged in water wearing leather and metal clothes.” Does she think he has anything in common with Podrick? “A mellifluous singing voice and impossibly jutting cheekbones.”

For his Thrones tryouts, Portman auditioned in both his native Scottish voice and in received pronunciation, and the producers ultimately selected the latter for Podrick. “There weren’t any Scottish accents in the show,” Portman said. “I don’t really know why not. Maybe they were worried people in the States wouldn’t understand.” As for fans confusing Portman with his character, he says “people do take the piss sometimes and think they can push me around. They expect to get Podrick Payne. They expect this shy, timid, little English boy. That’s not what they get.”

As for Portman’s next gig, he’ll be playing Idi Amin’s personal physician in The Last King of Scotland on stage. At the moment, however, he’s thrilled to be treading the boards in Edinburgh where he can hang out with his Thrones buddy Joe Dempsie (Gendry). While the two men were in a pub, someone handed them flyers for Thrones! The Musical Parody. “They say they ‘fix the final season’,” Portman notes. He intends to check out the show and hopes “they don’t try and drag me on stage.”

Next: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau honored by Guinness World Records

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