Gemma Whelan: ‘Sex in the Game of Thrones could be a crazy mess’ | Television

Deadlines meant I saw ITV’s twisted police corruption drama The Tower as a rough cut, with on-screen notes on final editing perfections, computer-generated backgrounds, extra dialogs – and the instruction: “Hide pregnancy bulge.”

This was related to the growing evidence of Freddie, now four weeks old, sleeping between meals in a pub garden near London’s home to his mother, Gemma Whelan, who enjoys hearing about this prenatal technology. “Wow!” she says. “How are they going to do it? Paint it out? Or cut it from a waist from the past?”

Despite high-level acting – including Yara Greyjoy in Game of Thrones and Kate in BBC Two’s Upstart Crow – the 40-year-old says she is never recognized on the street: “People sometimes say, ‘I know you from the bus team up?’ or: ‘Were we in school?’ That’s right. “

Whelan enjoys her ability to transform her characters into her, whether it’s with Yara’s armor, war paint and mouth-watering horror – “it would be almost insulting to be recognized from Game of Thrones” – or, in BBC One’s The Moorside, as Karen Matthews, a Yorkshire woman jailed for forging the abduction of her daughter, so physically transformed that it fooled Whelan’s mother. “She said, ‘Strange, they used so many original footage of her!’ And I said, ‘That’s all me, Mom. There are no original footage.’

A ride to remember… as Yara Greyjoy, with Alfie Allen as Theon, in Game of Thrones.
A ride to remember… with Alfie Allen in Game of Thrones. Photo: Helen Sloan / Home Box Office

Whelan takes minimal maternity leave, partly because she is self-employed, but also because she, like most actors, endured a year under lockdown without doing quite that much. A West End version of Upstart Crow was shut down three weeks into the race, after which she spent “a year making audiobooks and voiceovers.” She then filmed next year’s second series of BBC One’s Gentleman Jack – in which she played Marian, Anne Lister’s sister – before The Tower.

The main shot lasted through the second trimester. With actors who are visibly pregnant when their characters are not, the convention has been to shoot them mostly from the neck up. “Yes. It’s a great way to get lots of close-ups!” laughs Whelan, who in the final season of Game of Thrones wore Frances, now four. “But there were also a lot of wide shots in The Tower. I think you would only notice if you knew I was pregnant, and if you notice that women have babies, who cares about that? It was refreshing. not being able to worry about it. “

Whelan’s domestic juggling stands in stark contrast to DS Sarah Collins in The Tower, who has no visible privacy. “She is very moral, very black and white. There is very little nuance in her judgment.” Viewers may be reminded of Adrian Dunbar’s Supt Ted Hastings in Line of Duty, and Whelan admits the resemblance: “Absolutely. They swore an oath to keep the law, and they do. think a lot of women are written as – and actually are a lot of women – but I like that she’s very front-footed and does not mind pissing people off. “

Edited by 24 screenwriter Patrick Harbinson, from a series of novels by former Met detective Kate London, The Tower goes out at a time when the force’s reputation is as low as it is, following the murder of a serving police officer on Sarah Everard. ever been. But like Line of Duty, The Tower shows both good and bad police. “Yes. Exactly,” says Whelan. “Most of the officers try to do their best, but some do not; there are wrong ‘ounces’.

As with all current TV productions, The Tower had a Covid-safe set, with mandatory tests and encouraging plugs – a difficult decision for Whelan at a time when medical evidence of safety during pregnancy was unmanageable. She emphasizes that she does not tell others what to do, but shares her own thought processes in a dilemma that many face, saying: “I am double-grown and had both while I was pregnant. I talked for a long time with the midwife and the doctors and read all the stories about the huge number of American pregnant women who had been stabbed without incident. And I knew that if I got Covid in the third trimester, it could be very serious. It is not an easy decision, but I felt comfortable taking it and we are both fine. ”

Moral and uncompromising… as DS Sarah Collins in The Tower.
Moral and uncompromising… as DS Sarah Collins in The Tower. Photo: Stuart Wood / ITV

Another issue of movie set-up security has arisen since the revelations about Harvey Weinstein and other showbiz predators. Whelan says she has never experienced any threats or assaults, but the mood in the shots has changed markedly. “There’s a very different language choice now. If someone comes up with an insinuation, everyone shuts down. I think five or ten years ago, if there was a double standard, everyone would jump on the bandwagon and see how many laughs. they could travel. I remember when an actor got a microphone fitted, and sometimes you have to mess around with life. And before that there would be all this, ‘and while you’re down there, hur, hur!’ But now you do not have to play with that kind of thing. ”

In the past, it was common for actors who said hello or goodbye to colleagues to exchange embraces at a level some couples never reach. But first #MeToo and then Covid-19 have completed it. “All that squishy-squishy, ​​hug-hugged stuff has stopped. But I do not miss it. You must be a little more genuine now if you say hello. You can not hide behind a big hug. And there is nothing question about it: Should we double kiss? Do we hug? Tighten hands? No, we just say hello to each other. “

Although DS Collins’ workaholism prevents her from having sex in The Tower, an intimacy director is credited to couples who do. Presumably, when Whelan played the energetic bisexual Yara in Game of Thrones, should the actors just get on with it?

“Almost literally. They used to just say, ‘When we shout action, go for it!’, And it could be a kind of mad mess. But between the actors, there was always an instinct to check in with each other. There was a scene at a brothel with a woman, and she was so exposed that we talked together about where the camera would be and what she was happy in. An instructor might say, ‘A little bit of breast bites, then slam her buttocks and go! ‘, but I always wanted to talk it through with the other actor.

Whelan… 'My mother says I've always been amazingly stubborn.  But it seems to come out more in the play '.
Whelan… ‘My mother says I’ve always been amazingly stubborn. But it seems to come out more in the play ‘. Photo: Sarah Lee / The Guardian

In the second season 2012 (her first) of Game of Thrones, Yara and Theon (Alfie Allen) had one of TV’s most talked about sex scenes (retroactively revealed to be incestuous), where they shared a ride, including a reach. it would result in immediate disqualification in dressage. “Alfie was very, ‘Is that okay? How are we going to make it work?’ With intimate instructors, it’s choreography – you move there, I move there, and permission and consent are given before you start. It’s a step in the right direction. “

With Yara, Shakespeare’s Kate and now DS Collins, Whelan has repeatedly played spectacularly strong women. “That seems to be what casting instructors see in me.” Maybe because there is something sharp and sardonic about her? “Maybe. I think I can give off a ‘don’t fuck with me’ mood. There’s definitely a defiance.” And has it always been there? “My mother says I have always been amazingly conscious and stubborn. But it seems to come out more in the play. In real life, I’m pretty apologetic, ‘I’m so sorry to waste your time, thank you so much for giving me a tea’ and so on. But in my work, I feel that this is where I belong and have the right to be there. ”

She may have inherited performing genes from parents who met in an amateur dramatic production of Eugene O’Neill’s Desire Under the Elms in Birmingham. Living there and in Leeds and London has given her access to a range of useful regional accents, but she would like to test her American: “I would love to do something in America. I went up to a movie there with Frances McDormand, but did not get it. That is my next ambition. “

She is filming a small role in another ITV police drama, DI Ray, starring Parminder Nagra, and hopes the Upstart Crow play returns to the West End next year. Combining this workload with family life is possible because her husband, Gerry Howell, a stand-up comedian retrainer for therapist, shares child care, but also because productions are more baby-friendly.

“I have not seen a nursery on the set. But even with my first child, breastfeeding was never a problem. People would say, ‘Just go when you have to go.’ “But I think you have to meet them halfway. I do not think that after they have put up an extensive shot, you can say, ‘Right, I’m on my way!'”

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