Aidan Gillen is best known for playing a rather slippery fellow by the name of Petyr Baelish, aka Littlefinger, on HBO’s fantasy phenomenon, Game of Thrones. As Sir William, aka Goose Fat Bill, in King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, Gillen is playing a slippery fellow of an entirely different sort. He’s not so much a sleazy con-man as a guy who’s just about impossible to catch. Most importantly, he’s a no-bones-about-it good guy.
For Guy Ritchie‘s fantasy epic, Gillen is getting into the action as one of King Arthur’s trusted knights, except in the reimagined world of Legend of the Sword, they’re anti-authoritarian gang of ruffians led by Charlie Hunnam‘s Arthur, a brothel-raised king in commoner’s clothing. As Goosefat Bill, Gillen is handy with a bow and arrow and quick on his feets in the twisting side streets of Londinium, the post-Roman English settlement where the film is set, flexing the action skills he previously showed off alongside action stars like Jackie Chan and Jason Statham in Shanghai Knights and Blitz.
Last summer, I got to join a small group of journalists on the set of King Arthur at Warner Bros.’ Leavesden studios outside of London, England. While there, we toured the intricate sets and interviewed some of the cast, including Gillen, who to took break from filming one of the film’s key action scenes to chat with us. The actor talked about what to expect from his character, Ritchie’s fluid approach to script and character, the return of the fantasy epic genre, and his utter suprise that Littlefinger has become a sex symbol. Read the full interview below.
How did your character acquire the nickname Goose Fat Bill?
GILLEN: It just appeared in the script one day. It changed from Bill to Goose Fat Bill, but I understood immediately why Goose Fat Bill, or my interpretation of why Goose Fat Bill. it’s not to do with my physique but more to do with my slippable… slippy qualities. Like Teflon, you know? Hard to catch. This guy’s like an elusive, wanted man. In fact, all of our gang are wanted men, but that’s Goose Fat Bill. Also known as Sir Bill, also known as Sir William, also known as William. If you’ve talked to any of the other actors or Guy, I’m sure they’ll have given you the impression maybe that things can be quite organic and develop along the way, particularly in the relationships between all the other guys and who were are and what we are to each other. Stuff changes, usually for the good. Or there’s a chance to knock stuff around and if it works, it works, and if it doesn’t, it gets thrown by the side. So I think if you go through many of the other character and actors you’ll find they have a couple other character names which constantly change, which keeps you on your toes.
You say this guy is a slippery character.
GILLEN: Slippery as in….not slippery as in sleazy, but just greased and hard to catch.
Well, you’ve almost answered it anyway, but it’s a much more heroic role than other characters you’ve been playing recently?
GILLEN: Yeah, I have played a fair few villainous roles or bad guy roles, this is not one. We are on the wrong side of the law, as it stands, but on the side of good in that we’re going up against a nasty king, thwarting him. Jude Law’s character, he’s a kind of feared ruler.
Does your background with working with swordplay and the Game of Thrones battles, does that help you with this?
GILLEN: Yeah, I haven’t done much swordplay on Game of Thrones, but I have done a film with Jackie Chan years back called Shanghai Knights in which I got to have a good lot of fun with swords. It makes it easy for me and I’m sure it’s probably influential in some way in the casting in that there’s quite a lot of action in this film, and you probably have three weeks solid of shooting on this set; jumping from building to building, and falling off things, and climbing up other things. They always check your form and those kinds of other things to make sure that you’re going to be up to it, or up for it. So I’m pretty sure they had seen that and this other thing I’d done with Jason Statham called Blitz, which also had a lot of foot chases and physical stuff. Because it is quite physical and you could be called to do anything at any point. So yeah, it definitely came into play, having some previous swashbuckling experience.
Between this and Game of Thrones, there’s a bit of a renaissance for this kind of genre. What do you think attracts audiences and attracts you to it.
GILLEN: I don’t doubt that the popularity of Game of Thrones, for example, makes this kind of film more producible and bankable. It still has to be good though, to make it enjoyable and for people to come. I think everyone, including myself, even though we knew Game of Thrones was good, surprised at how exactly how huge it became, which is massive and around the world. Although, that shouldn’t be a surprise in that it’s quite universal and could be understood anywhere. I mean, these films have always been there, if you go on back though. It’s not really fantasy, it’s a classic legend. Every few years there will be a Lord of the Rings or Braveheart, or whatever. They’ve always been there. Possibly more acceptable and less of a gamble nowadays. Or maybe it’s always a gamble because you never know when people are going to get tired of it. It just has to be really well made and entertaining. But it is a classic tale and I thought what Guy Ritchie did with the Sherlock Homes films was really interesting. Because lots of people are familiar with the story, it’s not new, but the energy he brings to his filmmaking to a tale like that really worked there and I think it’s really going to work here. It’s just quite a poppy energy, but it’s not taking it out of context and setting it, you know, now.
But it is set in London, here we are in Londinium, which is a stunning set and it makes it really easy for the actors to have a brilliant set like this, which is designed by Gemma Jackson. You just feel like you’re there. If you’re doing a chase scene, there’s always another alley that you can just run up, and it does happen like that. The stunt guys run all the actors through a number of moves and little fight sequences, which may or may not get used. Most of them get thrown out, because on the day it doesn’t fit the geography of the place, but there will be something else that will just be cobbled up on the spot to do with — Why don’t we use that alleyway? Why doesn’t somebody jump off that roof? Why doesn’t somebody start firing arrows off that turret? It really is a proper, working city almost. So that’ makes it easier for us, because you really believe that you’re there.
You touched on this a little bit, but this is one of the most famous legends and it’s been told many, many times. How is this film putting a unique stamp on the mythology?
GILLEN: It’s in the energy of the filmmaking and the editing and the style, which isn’t going to be overbearing. I didn’t think it was in Sherlock Holmes, although it really was snappy and stylish, but in a way that drew you in more. My first experience of this story was the film Excalibur, which is much more somber, and heavy, and mystical. This this has mystery and magic in it, but that was just so heavy with all of those things I mentioned, and this is going to have all that stuff but just be lighter and poppy and funny. It has to have gags in it. It doesn’t have to, but it helps and we hope that it’s going to make you laugh and be just a proper adventure film. Entertaining, beautiful looking, exciting adventure film.
You said your character isn’t a bad guy or evil, but how would you say he compares to Littlefinger in terms of being trustworthy?
GILLEN: No, I’m not evil or bad at all. I mean, he’s just a guy who’s from the upper echelons of society and you do see that at one point in the film, but he’s become — living with this band as fugitives because we’re rebelling against the state or the king. It’s a good character. Pretty good shot with a bow and arrow. Good with casseroles. Bad with razors. It’s a good guy.
Are you surprised by the response people have had to Littlefinger worldwide? He’s become a sex symbol.
GILLEN: Has he?
And I don’t think that’s the kind of character that usually becomes that because he’s self-serving and manipulative. Have you been surprised by that?
GILLEN: Well, I’m kind of surprised by that now because I wasn’t really aware of it. I don’t know, it’s interesting given that some of the strands in the story are unsavory or could be seen that way and Littlefinger’s relationship with Sansa Stark is quite unorthodox, without me trying to put as much warmth into it as I can and just play it for real. I’m not aware of being a sex symbol though.