Game of Thrones featured an embarrassment of excellent performances, with actors inhabiting even minor characters with a grace and command worthy of top billing. Take Carice van Houten, for example. The red witch Melisandre was a supporting character, but she had enough screen presence to hold down several shows.
Melisandre is also one of several characters to act in nude scenes over the years, whether she was having sex with Stannis Baratheon in season 2, talking with Selyse while taking a bath in season 3, or revealing her true self in season 6. Looking back in light of what’s happened in Hollywood over the last few years, her feelings on that part of her career have evolved.
“When the Me Too movement started, that’s when it started sinking in for me,” van Houten told Insider. “And it did sort of change my perspective on my whole career, not just Game of Thrones. In retrospect, I thought, ‘Why did that scene have to be nude? Why was that normal?’ I did question things and it was not so much that I was blaming anyone, but that’s just how we evolved, and just how the movement affected me.”
Thinking about these sorts of issues is part of what inspired van Houten to form the production company Man Up with director Halina Reijn, which focuses on movies told from a female perspective. “I became very aware of the male gaze, and that’s also why, during that process, me and my friend Halina Reijn made Instinct, very much inspired by that,” she said. “We sort of made it into a dogma where we are done with that [nudity]. We don’t need to show nudity to create intimacy, we don’t need to see breasts.”
Instinct follows a psychologist who becomes infatuated with one of her patients, a sex offender in a penal institute. So the movie is sexual, but sexual doesn’t necessarily require nudity.
That said, van Houten is still in favor of nudity when it’s appropriate. “I was always very liberal and I defended nudity because I thought, ‘Why can you have a machine gun and not see a nipple?’ I thought it was so weird,” she said. But she’s now only in favor of it when it’s necessary for the narrative. She herself is done with it. “I’ve done that enough now. No more.”
According to van Houten, this change of thought is “me confronting my own feeling of ‘that’s what the audience wants’ and not feeling confident to say, ‘Wait a minute, why would I have to do that?’ It’s just our conditioned behaviour as females, and not thinking about what that means. My consciousness is bigger. I’m a bit more woke.”
Game of Thrones had an interesting relationship with nudity. In its early years, it definitely featured a lot of nudity for no other reason than just to have it, something the executives at HBO very much encouraged and maybe even required. As it went on, that stopped, and the few nude scenes we got were more likely to make sense in the context of the narrative. For example, I don’t think the show needed Melisandre to be naked during her conversation with Selyse at Dragonstone — the nudity in that scene was there just because — but I think her stripping down to look at her unvarnished self in the mirror in the season 6 premiere was an important character moment, her coming face to face with herself during a low point in her life.
In other topics, van Houten confirmed that she did not submit herself for consideration at the 2019 Emmys, as did a couple of her Game of Thrones castmates. “I would never, ever do that,” van Houten laughed. “I didn’t even think about it. I don’t even know when the Emmys are.”
A journalist from Gold Derby wrote an article [arguing for me to be considered for an award], and that was picked up by my agent, and then they had a conversation with other teams where they said ‘why is she not nominated?’ And then it was decided to bring me forward to the commission, and I was put on that shortlist to be nominated or not. There’s a lot of misunderstanding about [submitting myself].
Van Houten was nominated in the category of “Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series.” She didn’t win, but it was still “f—— cool,” and a great way to end her Game of Thrones journey, although she now wishes she would have taken some kind of keepsake home from the set; all she kept was a pair of thermal underwear.
“Liam Cunningham [Davos], as he says himself, liberated a lot of things. He’s just a thief,” Van Houten joked. “He has all sorts of things, cups and daggers. And now I’m like, ‘Why didn’t I keep that f—–g necklace?’ I didn’t even think of taking it, but I wish I had.”