Diana Rigg (Olenna Tyrell) never watched an episode of Game of Thrones

Image: Game of Thrones/HBO
Image: Game of Thrones/HBO /

Diana Rigg looks back on her career, why she enjoyed playing “bad” characters, her efforts to secure equal pay for women, and why she loved Olenna Tyrell.

It’s been almost a week since we learned that Dame Diana Rigg, known to Game of Thrones for playing the indomitable Lady Olenna Tyrell, had died at the age of 82 following a months-long battle with cancer. As her costars pay their respects, I’ve learned more about Rigg’s career and outlook, and the more I learn, the more respect I have for her.

Rigg was an icon long before she was cast on Game of Thrones, having played super-spy Emma Peel in the 1960s show The Avengers and Tracy Bond, the only girl to ever get James Bond to the alter, in 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. During her time on The Avengers, she discovered that she, the lead actress on the show, was making less than one of the cameramen, and certainly not as much as her male costars. She successfully lobbied to get herself a raise. “I remember thinking, ‘something’s very wrong here,'” she said of the incident at the Canneseries TV festival in 2019. “When I complained publicly, the newspapers got hold of it, and I was represented as a mercenary young woman stepping out of line and demanding money.”

"I was lonely as well because no one supported me. I did get more money, but thereafter I was labelled as go-getting and ‘hard’ – and it was unfair because I wasn’t."

As Rigg acknowledged, the fight for pay equality continues to this day. Fighting for it way back then made her a pioneer, both onscreen and off. “I go to see a female lead as often as a male one, so why there’s disparity in the pay cheque I have no idea. Bosses need to be talked to about this.”

Fast-forward to getting cast as Olenna on Game of Thrones, and Rigg was ready for anything they threw at her. “Interestingly enough, they tested me very early on,” she recalled. “One of my earliest scenes was incredibly difficult, listing all the things my marching army would need. It went on forever, talking about the sheep and the cows and the soldiers. I read that and thought, ‘these guys are testing an old actress to see if she can get it into her head.’ I thought, ‘I’m going to do it in one take.’ And I did.”

Rigg also had an admirable detachment from her work. As good as she was, she knew that at the end of the day, acting was a job for her. “Just like The Avengers, I wasn’t watching Game of Thrones and had absolutely no idea of its influence in the world,” she said of when her agent got the offer for her to audition for the show. “[T]hey sent me a script, and I thought ‘I can do this.'”

But don’t think that she didn’t enjoy playing Olenna; on the contrary, she seems to have had a ball. “I love playing bad [characters],” she said. “They are so much more interesting than good. There are some actors who don’t like to play bad; they like to be liked. I love to be disliked. Olenna had the best lines, they were very kind with their scripts.”

Rigg saved special consideration for Olenna death scene, which she thought was “just wonderful.” Unwilling to go meekly into that good night, Olenna uses her final moments on Earth to twist the screws on Jaime Lannister, and it’s just awesome. “She does it with dignity and wit, and wit is not often in final death scenes.”

As for not watching Game of Thrones “before or since” appearing on it, Rigg says that’s just not how she does things. “Been there, done that, all of it. Dredging up the past is not my style. I prefer to move on.”

Next. Samuel L. Jackson’s tribute to Diana Rigg is as awesome as it sounds. dark

To stay up to date on everything fantasy, science fiction, and WiC, follow our all-encompassing Facebook page and sign up for our exclusive newsletter.

Get HBO, Starz, Showtime and MORE for FREE with a no-risk, 7-day free trial of Amazon Channels