Game Of Thrones star Isaac Hempstead Wright grows up on set with decapitated heads

Isaac Hempstead Wright, who plays Bran Stark in Game Of Thrones, says he did not know how big the show was until season five.
Isaac Hempstead Wright, who plays Bran Stark in Game Of Thrones, says he did not know how big the show was until season five.PHOTO: HBO ASIA

Game Of Thrones actor Isaac Hempstead Wright was only 10 when he joined the series seven years ago

The fantasy drama Game Of Thrones is one of the most popular shows in the world, but it took some time for that fact to sink in for one of its stars.

After all, Isaac Hempstead Wright was just 10 when he landed the part of Bran Stark, a character with mystical powers who could prove crucial in determining who ultimately triumphs in the battle for the Iron Throne of Westeros.

The English actor tells The Straits Times at an interview on Tuesday: "It was my sense of normality to just go off to Belfast and dress up in a funny costume and hang out in a woodland and play this strange character. It became this strange summer camp."

Hempstead Wright is here to promote season six of Game Of Thrones. It premieres on HBO (StarHub TV Channel 601) on April 25 at 9am, the same time as the United States, with a same-day encore at 9pm.

It was only when his character sat out on season five that he started to get a better grip on how big the show is. "It was quite nice to be able to sit back for a year and watch it as a fan and see the beast from afar. That year particularly, you saw how massive the show had become."

The fact that life has not changed much for him probably helped to keep him level-headed as well. The 16-year-old lives in a "tiny village in the middle of a rural part of England" and still goes to school. Dressed in a grey shirt and black trousers and wearing a pair of black-rimmed spectacles, he certainly looks like a regular, clean-cut teenager.

Coming to Singapore and having a crowd of eager fans singing Happy Birthday to him last Saturday at HBO Asia's The Game Of Thrones Experience: World Of Westeros event at Ion Orchard was definitely eye-opening. "Seeing these layers of screaming girls is something I haven't experienced before."

For his actual 17th birthday on Saturday, he will be in Los Angeles for the show's premiere. "I'll go out for lunch with a couple of friends. Dean-Charles Chapman, who plays Tommen Baratheon in the series, is also my best friend, so we'll go out and have some fun."

For all the sex and violence on the show, the set of Thrones turned out to be a pretty healthy place to grow up in. As he puts it: "When you're on set and you see it's this weird prosthetic head and you juggle it about and play with it, you realise it's all make-believe. From a child's perspective, it was good to demystify the whole violent part of TV altogether."

When he was first up for the role, his teacher mother, Mrs Helen Wright, 50, says they did not know anything about the story. While the family eventually found out about the blood, gore and sex, she tells The Straits Times: "We were aware it was very adult. But we knew he wouldn't be exposed to anything inappropriate."

She is not his manager, but accompanies him on major trips such as this one.

One way in which the show had an impact on their lives was that the family conversation about the facts of life came earlier. She laughs: "I wanted to be the one who told him rather than have him learn from an HBO show."

It was also a place where firm friendships have been forged for Hempstead Wright. He chuckles as he says: "There's Kristian Nairn, who's Hodor. We've been put in such close proximity that we're forced to become friends. I love Kristian. I think it's more on his part as I sing in his ear when I'm on his back."

The show has a strict production schedule given its immense scale, but there is still time for the cast and crew to have fun. Hempstead Wright reveals that the show's creators and writers, David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, are the biggest practical jokers.

They would come up with scripts specially rewritten for different actors. For example, Alfie Allen, who plays heir to the lord of the Iron Islands Theon Greyjoy, read a scene in which he gets stabbed in the back by Bran. And Kit Harington, who plays Bran Stark's half-brother Jon Snow, was sent one in which "they burn his beautiful face and he has to wear a horrible mask for the rest of the season".

While Hempstead Wright also counts music, from classical to indie rock, as his passion, the Thrones experience has him hooked on acting. "Having enjoyed acting consistently, I think that's what I'll probably end up doing. It's too much fun to not do."

•Game Of Thrones begins its 10-episode-long season six on HBO (StarHub TV Channel 601) on April 25 at 9am, with a same-day encore at 9pm.

Isaac Hempstead Wright talks about growing up on set

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 06, 2016, with the headline 'Growing up in a world of fantasy'. Print Edition | Subscribe