Out of the cave, ready to rumble
The 17-year-old star on growing up in the Game Of Thrones world and returning for the upcoming season
With his square-rimmed black glasses, perfectly-gelled hair and tall, lanky build, Isaac Hempstead Wright looks like the geeky but cute wallflower BFF that's just dropped out of a Hollywood teen flick. Of course, it was actually dropping out of a tower -- after witnessing Operation Incest -- that he is known for, in his role as Bran Stark from the wildly-popular series Game Of Thrones.
Along with his millennial co-stars, this young member of HBO royalty is undoubtedly part of the hottest clan of blossoming child actors the world currently has their eyes on. Move over Harry Potter gang, there's a new magic teen on the screens and he can look back (or forward) into time with his "greensight".
"When we meet Bran in Season 6, he's still not quite a pro with his talent yet, but now it's come to a point where he will be learning exactly what his power is used for and how he can use it for good," Wright explains from a Grand Hyatt meeting room, during the Season 6 promotional tour in Singapore earlier this month.
"Throughout the whole series, every character has been trying to find out exactly what part they are going to play in the 'game of thrones'. Some know from the start, like Cersei, but others have to find out, like Arya and Bran. It is unique to be one of the characters that has a very powerful power -- to be able to turn the tables in Westeros, but in a different way to warring, political scheming or dragons."
Not that he feels any safer, despite his character's special edge. Breaking into laughter, he reveals: "No one is safe on Game Of Thrones!" In fact, getting champagne and a bouquet of flowers from the show's producers are actually red flags, according to the 17-year-old. "You're thinking, 'Oh, they're awfully nice!', and then you get the phone call which tells you tsk, tsk," says Wright, while doing the slit-throat gesture.
It's been a year in hiatus for Britain's bright young thing, but after a long haul of hardship for Bran, Wright has enjoyed watching the series as opposed to knowing how things turn out for a change.
"That was nice about Season 5, because I hadn't been in or read the scripts, so I was following the story along and it's really quite exciting." Unlike his broody character, Wright is a dream to interview (unguarded and easy to laugh) and just as dreamy as how his days on set sound.
Isaac Hempstead Wright as Bran Stark and Max von Sydow as the Three-Eyed Raven in Season 6.
"You often hear stories of very diva-ish and starry characters within the industry who make it particularly difficult for everyone to do their job," he recounts. "But everyone on set from crew to actors are a shining example of somebody nice to work with and above all, friendly. It's welcoming and there's no uppityness. In between sets there'll be a chance to chat with the props or sound department -- it's a really nice crew, we all kind of gel together. Equally, when you get back to the hotel, there's just people around from the show that you can catch up with." Off the screen, he is close to Dean Charles Chapman -- who stars as Tommen Baratheon -- having met a year ago.
"It's nice to have a friend in the industry who kind of understands how it all works and a lot of the politics of the acting world," Wright says of their friendship. "More than anything, he's just a really nice guy. We have a really, really funny time together and get up to a lot of stuff."
Delightfully normal like any teen on his first ever visit and work trip to Asia, the humble actor's happy to be outside of the Thrones' dark cave, feasting on laksa, char kway teow, "lots of lovely local cuisine" and eager to check out "that joint boat thing on top of the skyscrapers", which he can't quite recall as Marina Bay Sands. Confirming that it's all jolly good fun being carried around or sitting under nice, fur blankets on the sled on set, he giggles: "Poor Kristian, who plays Hodor -- and with his bad back, having to drag me around!"
Wright's grown up not only on but also off screen, and the fact that he no longer has to work child actor hours has been a game-changing shift. It's been five years now since his local drama teacher sent him to a Game Of Thrones audition seeking unknown actors -- and what began as "fun and games on weekends" has led to his biggest breakthrough yet.
"When I started off, the series was just a new, fun thing to do as a 10-year-old. I would turn up and that wasn't necessarily the most important thing for me. But as a grown up, what was really nice about this season was this sense of responsibility, instead of being just this kid on set who has to do his thing and then be shepherded away. It really has made me look at it quite differently."
A younger Wright with Kristian Nairn (Hodor) from Season 2.
For someone that's grown up on a show brimming with violence and nudity, you could say Wright is largely unscathed. He's not precocious, nor affected as you would expect of actors that enter the limelight at the tender age of 10.
"My parents were quite protective of what I could and couldn't watch of the series," the actor recalls. "In some of the read-throughs I would step away from the table while they read some of the dodgier scenes. I think I didn't really have a real concept at that age -- I didn't know this was incest and dodgy, so it didn't really scar me.
"It kind of debunks the whole violence in movies [having a negative impact] because there I was on set hanging out with all these dead bodies, zombies and blood everywhere. That meant what I did see [regarding] violence, I could see was all make believe and that took away the scary element of it."
There's not much Wright may be able to relate to with Bran, with both of his legs still intact, no family members murdered, nor having to brave life-threatening territory to get to some magical tree cave to meet a three-eyed raven. However, Wright says: "He's not one of the glamorous characters. He doesn't save the day, but I think one of the most important messages you can take from Bran is the struggle through the horrendous hardship, on a much smaller scale obviously for me.
"I think the fact that despite all the opportunities he had to not follow his destiny that was calling to him, which he didn't know what it was -- like when he went to Craster's Keep, Jon was there and he could have gone home with Jon and not bother with all this magic stuff -- but he hasn't and he's followed it through the whole way despite all the odds stacked against him. I think that's something perhaps I could relate to with Bran."
Whatever is in store for Bran in the future, Wright admits that the actors are still in the dark all the same, as the book and show have always been two completely separate entities. With no sixth book for Season 6 to model off, the television series is chugging onto very much uncharted territory.
"I guess it must be tricky for George [the author] seeing it," he comments thoughtfully. "But there's nothing stopping him from writing something totally different, which I think is nice."
But what's next for Wright, after "Everyone dies!", as he cheekily puts it -- to dodge pesky questions from journalists? With a smile, he's just seeing how it goes and trying to have a nice time -- among this, was witnessing hundreds and hundreds of screaming girls showing up at Ion Orchard to see him. The towering brunette's obviously new to the fame game, but it's hard to decide whether he sounds more cute or comic when he genuinely admits: "I was expecting a crowd of maybe 50-60!" It does sound fitting that he'd like to do comedy next. Wright laughs: "I like funny things, and it'd be a stark change from the world of Game Of Thrones!"
Game Of Thrones returns for its 10-episode sixth season in Asia the same time as the US -- exclusively on HBO (True Visions channels 133 and 223) this April 25 at 8am Thai time, with a same day encore at 8pm, with new episodes every Monday at the same time.