One of the great pleasures of “Game of Thrones” — and there are many (as well as many frustrations) — is that the show almost exclusively casts actors from across the pond (and beyond) who may be unfamiliar to many American viewers unless you watch British TV and films.
These aren’t the Judi Denches, the Daniel Craigs, the Idris Elbas and the Emily Blunts of the world, in terms of name recognition and celebrity status. But they are good. Darn good.
Peter Dinklage is one of the rare Americans in the cast. Otherwise “GoT” is filled out with British and Irish acting talent, with a few Scandinavians thrown in as well.
And hey, an Australian! Phryne Fisher in the flesh! Sorry, that would be actress Essie Davis, and if you have no idea who I’m talking about, then you have yet to experience the eye-candy that is the Aussie series “Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries” (available in the States courtesy of PBS as well as Netflix). Set in the 1920s, the case-of-the-week romp follows the adventures of a flapper/amateur detective played by Davis, who sports a killer wardrobe and a truly spectacular brown bob that is her own hair, not a wig. (If your tastes run a bit darker, you also might recognize Davis as the demon-fighting mother from last year’s cult horror film “The Babadook.”)
She appeared in “GoT’s” Episode 55 (“The Door”) as part of a troupe of actors performing a scathingly ribald play depicting a bit of Westeros’ recent history, with Davis in the role of Cersei Lannister. (And it made me think: I wouldn’t mind a Phryne Fisher-type swanning into “GoT” for an episode or two, full of Jazz Age fizz and a red lip.)
The quasi-medieval world of “GoT” is so indelible, visually and thematically, it can be jarring — and yet so much fun — to see these same actors in entirely different roles, be it on TV or in film. But there they are, and much of their work is available via streaming. So here is our guide to spotting them outside the realm of George R.R. Martin. This is a sprawling cast, and the following list is 1.) in no particular order and 2.) far from exhaustive.
Lena Headey (Cersei Lannister): As sly and conniving as she is on “GoT,” Headey gave parenthood an entirely different spin in “The Purge,” as a mother beset by marauding bandits — and a mother who, unlike Cersei, actually has a socially acceptable relationship with the father of her offspring.
Iain Glen (Ser Jorah): The Scottish actor had a lackluster stint on “Downton Abbey” as a one-time fiance of Lady Mary. (She seemed to have a lot of those, didn’t she?) Glen’s talents are put to much better use in the TV series “Jack Taylor,” as a grizzled cop-turned-private investigator — his character description might as well be “loner in a great-looking coat” — in the perpetually windswept environs of Galway (available via Acorn TV or Amazon).
Natalie Dormer (Margaery Tyrell): If you like lawyer shows, the British series “Silk” (Hulu and Amazon) is a sharp one, as is Dormer’s performance as a lawyer-in-training who sleeps with her mentor (bad!) but isn’t entirely without a sense of professional ethics or human decency (good!). And of course there was her arc on the CBS procedural “Elementary” as Sherlock’s lover (Irene) who also turned out to be his nemesis (Moriarty).
Aidan Gillen (Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish): Unlikeable on “GoT” and unlikeable on yet another HBO fan favorite, “The Wire,” on which the Irish actor played an opportunistic city councilman (is that redundant?) turned Baltimore mayor.
Rose Leslie (Ygritte): She walked away from “GoT” with her own catchphrase (“You know nothing, Jon Snow!”), which is a helluva lot better than what she got for her role as a housemaid on “Downton Abbey,” which featured her character for all of one season before Leslie was off to do better things, like yell at Jon Snow.
Michiel Huisman (Daario Naharis): As Daenerys Targaryen’s right-hand man on “GoT,” he doesn’t get much to do other than look good in a perpetually sunny if dusty climate. The Dutch actor might be familiar to HBO viewers for his time on “Treme” (available via Amazon), where he was nothing if not compelling as the junkie musician Sonny, a truly awful character until he (and more importantly, the show’s writers) turned things around. Huisman has also had arcs on “Orphan Black” and “Nashville.”
Conleth Hill (Lord Vayrs): Hill turned up for a six-episode arc on USA’s lawyer show “Suits,” and with a full head of hair! (The actor, who is from Northern Ireland, shaves his head bald for his “GoT” role.)
Iwan Rheon (Ramsay Bolton): Just the sight of Rheon’s face makes my skin crawl. Which makes it all the weirder to see him play such a sweetly dopey character on the British sitcom “Vicious,” a broad comedy about a bickering gay couple in their golden years (Derek Jacobi and Ian McKellen, who really should know better). The show is terrible, but it’s worth watching (on PBS and Amazon) just to see Rheon as something other than a complete sadist.
Rheon can also be seen in the British sci-fi series “Misfits” (on Amazon and Hulu), which centers on a group of juvenile offenders who obtain supernatural powers; Rheon plays a withdrawn young guy with the ability to become invisible.
Charles Dance (Tywin Lannister): With a career dating back to the mid-‘70s, there is so much to choose from. More recently, I haven’t caught up with the Cinemax action series “Strike Back” just yet (on which he plays the villain because of course), but he was witty if biting in his brief scenes in “The Imitation Game.” Coming up: “Ghostbusters.” Yes, “Ghostbusters.”
Richard E. Grant (Izembaro): Like Essie Davis, Grant appeared for the first time this week on “GoT,” playing the theater troupe manager. It was a brief if welcome turn from the wily actor, who also has “Downton Abbey” on his resume (as the gent sniffing a bit too ardently around Lady Cora, oh my), as well as a few episodes of HBO’s “Girls.”
Jacob Anderson (Grey Worm): A stoic and tightly wound soldier on “GoT,” he was delightful as himself, a.k.a. the musical guest, on a recent episode of “The Graham Norton Show.” (He also performs under the stage name Raleigh Ritchie.) So he has a music career, as well.
Jonathan Pryce (High Sparrow): Humble robes can’t mask just how creepy Pryce’s “GoT” religious despot might be. Quite a different turn than the more opulent piety of his Cardinal Wolsey in “Wolf Hall” (PBS and Amazon). But nothing — and I mean nothing — is as creepy as the final image of Pryce strapped to a chair in an empty silo in the film for which he is perhaps best known: “Brazil.”
And let us not forget a couple of veterans who have come out swinging as well: Diana Rigg (Olyenna Tyrell), who cut a memorable figure in that black jumpsuit as Emma Peel in “The Avengers” (the original TV series from the ‘60s), and the Swedish actor Max Von Sydow (Three-Eyed Raven), who gave audiences the willies almost half a century ago as a priest determined to oust a demon or two in “The Exorcist.”
And I’ll leave you with this tidbit: Jack Gleeson (King Joffrey, may you rest in well, something) will appear in a theater production in New York this summer called “Bears in Space,” which is described as a quirky adventure “about two bears on a spaceship being chased across the universe by villains.