Littlefinger tells all: Aidan Gillen says his ‘GOT’ character got just what he deserved

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Littlefinger tells all: Aidan Gillen says his ‘GOT’ character got just what he deserved

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By Meredith Woerner

Los Angeles Times


HBO’s juggernaut fantasy series “Game of Thrones” has had its fair share of memorable moments: the fiery birth of a trio of dragons, an army of the undead marching ceaselessly, a Red Wedding. So when the phrase “chaos is a ladder” becomes canonized as one of the standout moments in a series bookended by battles and bloodshed, you know it’s got to be good. Or perhaps that little moment just needed the right actor to really make it resonate.

The Season 3 conversation between Lord Petyr Baelish, a.k.a. “Littlefinger” (Aidan Gillen), and Varys (Conleth Hill) in front of the Iron Throne revealed a darker side to the character whom fans love to hate. In one sweeping monologue, Littlefinger distinguished himself as the man who would allow the realm burn to see himself in the seat of power; it was scary and daring.

But did Gillen know when he was delivering the words that this moment would eventually become the defining phrase of his silvery, sideburned villain?

(Warning: “Game of Thrones” Season 7 finale spoilers ahead.)

“I read a version of that quite early on as an extra scene, and it wasn’t exactly as it appeared in the episode at the end of Season 3,” Gillen said. “But I was immediately quite taken with that and was disappointed that we didn’t get to shoot that scene. … Two years later, it emerged in a slightly different form. It was a conversation. When we came back to put some dubbing on it, it had music in it, I ramped it up quite a lot.”

The moment made Littlefinger infamous among realm watchers, and the music within it became known as “Littlefinger’s Theme” (not the official title). Online crowds began to actively pine for any sort of comeuppance for the dastardly deeds of this manipulator, while simultaneously cheering every time he appeared on camera. Fans were torn but always easily spurred into reaction by Gillen’s sly smirk.

The comeuppance

Eventually, Littlefinger would come crashing down off the ladder of his own making in the Season 7 finale, executed by those he had intended to manipulate.

On the phone shortly after the finale, Gillen seemed aware that Littlefinger was always destined to die a violent death. He even seemed at peace with the fandom’s demand for it.

“He deserves some comeuppance,” Gillen said.

“Even though I was trying to not do a classic villain spin on it, the character is a classic villain. And part of that game is that the audience gets to see me die and they enjoy it. So if that’s what they’re asking for, we’re probably doing it right. I understand it. I don’t take it personally.”

The man behind the smug smile is almost as difficult to pin down as his “Thrones” counterpart.

The Irish actor’s cult status has grown steadily since his run as Stuart Jones in the 1999 British original version of the series “Queer as Folk.” He found fame in the States in the mid-2000s as Mayor Thomas “Tommy” Carcetti on another acclaimed HBO drama, “The Wire.” He made his mark on the stage in 2009, earning a Tony nomination for actor in a featured role for “The Caretaker” before worldwide acclaim on “Thrones.”

While his characters are often larger than life, in person just before the Season 7 premiere at Disney Hall in July, Gillen is quiet, sincere and chooses his words carefully, seemingly aware that everything he says will echo throughout the “Thrones” fandom.

This makes him hesitant to dissect many questions, when following up on the phone the day after the finale, but he compensates for the vagueness with fascinating responses that can often delve into the poetic.

For example, the question “How are you doing?” was met with this description of his location in England: “It’s a kind of blistering hot day and I’m looking at the beach and the people wandering around on it. It’s a hazy, sea-sky arrangement with no horizon. It’s good.”

But he won’t reveal the final words of Littlefinger. “I can’t tell you that,” he said. “Actors have a responsibility to interpret a character and bring something of their own (to it). They have a duty to protect the dignity and the mystery of the character, including not over-discussing details like that, after the fact … . My job, as this character, will probably go on for a while avoiding questions like that. It’s a good one to ask, but Littlefinger will take secrets to his grave and so will I. Not too soon, though, hopefully.”

He’s the kind of person who posts a selfie with a kitten on his shoulder as his IMDB profile picture, not just out of whimsy — although the picture is chockablock with whim — but as a subtle nod to an artistic influence. It was an idea inspired by his days of paging through the actors’ casting book “Spotlight.”

Those characters

“I used to love the character actors section,” he said. “A lot of the character actors would put two pictures (in the book). They’d have them as a sheik and them as a crazy composer. That was really good. There were only a couple of people that had comical pictures in there. One of them was John Cleese. He was doing a goofy face with a big pair of nutball glasses on. I was always quite touched (and) taken by that.” Gillen is now a character actor himself, and his next big project will be a total deviation from what we’ve seen before — including an amazing comb-over wig — with a spot on the critically adored series “Peaky Blinders.”

As “Thrones” fans both rejoice in and mourn the loss of Littlefinger, is Gillen missing Westeros? “I am. It’s liberating, also. It feels strange and good. It’s been a good ride and a long time, certainly months. I recall quite clearly being up in Belfast just after I’d been cast. I was up there in this film festival looking out a hotel window at the city thinking, ‘This place is going to be home for I’m not sure how many years.’ But I did have a sense I was going on an adventure and I was going to be part of something quite remarkable. I was hoping that it was, and there was a strong sense that it was going to be that … and it was.”

Gillen’s final moments on set were witnessed by his teenage sons, and after he wrapped, there was a ceremony. “They presented me with a mockingbird pin,” he said. The pin represents the sigil of House Baelish. But, not unlike his character, Gillen had planned ahead. “I’d already stored myself one of the mockingbird pins, so now I’ve got two … .I want them all.”


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