A Catch Up with Joe Dempsie

Interview: Lucy Manning
Illustrations: Alex Vine
Monday 30 April 2018
reading time: min, words

You’ll most likely recognise Joe Dempsie from his role as Gendry in HBO’s Game of Thrones, but the Television Workshop alumni has appeared in everything from Skins, to Doctors, to This is England ‘86 and ‘90, and then some. The West Bridgford lad’s come a long way since we first interviewed him for issue #49 back in 2010, so we grabbed a chat with him as we anticipate his potential scoop of the Iron Throne...


Ayup, Joe. Tell us how you got involved with The Television Workshop...
My mum discovered it; they were doing auditions in the Easter holidays when my mates were going bowling, which at the time was a big deal. But I had the best time. Suddenly you’re in a room full of big characters and it forces you to step up your game.

What is it about Workshop that churns out such great talent?
It demands a level of commitment that as a kid you’re not really used to; you’re constantly reminded what a privilege it is to be there, and you have to be 100% committed. But, for the most part, you’re spending a couple of hours trying to make your friends laugh. There’s a phrase that Ian Smith [ex-director] likes to use – “bullshit detector” – which is something Workshoppers who’ve gone on to act professionally have that marks them out; their ability to pick up on what sounds natural.

Your big break came with the role of Chris in Skins when you were nineteen. That must’ve been a mad couple of years...
I was on a gap year, working at Cineworld. I had an agent and was starting to audition in London, but I wasn’t really getting anything. Then Skins came along and I loved the script and the part, but more than anything I wanted to prove to my agent that I was worth the punt. Skins felt like our university experience: we’d moved to a new city, met new people, and it was the perfect place to learn. As soon as that first episode aired, everything was different for us. It’s taken quite a long time to register the impact of it; when you’re in the eye of the storm, you just get on with it.

It’s got a bit of a cult following now.
I have to admit, I’m fairly surprised; I never thought it would age well because it felt very specific to its time. But you can relate to the characters, and that’s been key to its success. It seemed to be the first show aimed at teenagers that didn’t try to lecture or patronise them. The scandal was a big part of it as well; it reeled people in before revealing these complex youngsters with their own problems.

Game of Thrones is obviously massive. Were you a fan of the books before you auditioned?
I’d honestly never heard of them; I’m not a big fantasy literature head. When I got the audition for the pilot, I mentioned it to my friend and he said how successful the books were, and that, combined with HBO’s involvement, makes you think “Okay, they’re expecting this to be big.” It was so well scripted, and more about politics and the human condition than it was about dragons.

You had any excitable fans sending you locks of hair and stuff?
No, but there’s a video of a girl from Denmark talking to her webcam saying “I’ve seen a couple of your interviews and you seem like a nice guy; would you like to go on a date with me?” A week later she discovered Twitter and sent it to everyone, including my ex-girlfriend’s mum. Then she sent it to the Evening Post, who ran a story about it. Before I knew it, video two came in...

Obviously got a lot of time on her hands.
She starts the video really intensely, saying, “Come on Joe, don’t be scared.” And obviously, then I was scared. She sings this song about me, and a whole chorus of backing singers rise up into shot. She sent stuff to the GoT cast who actively encouraged her to send more. We were having a boozy Sunday dinner round a cast member’s house, and they convinced me to pause the video on a still of her face, kiss the screen and send it to her. Then she started talking about coming to London to meet me and I had to draw the line. Aside from that, I tend to get off lightly.

C4’s Ellen was a heartbreaking but important watch, and you play a proper wrong ’un. Do you find roles like that difficult to play?
The answer’s no, really. As an actor, it’s an important story to tell; you’re lulled into a false sense of security with him, and it’s all the more chilling when someone who seems sincere turns out to be the most awful manipulator. No matter how heinous the character, you have to make an effort to understand them. There’s a moment in the film where a light goes out in his eyes, he becomes distant and submits to this act and this life. It was a tough watch. My mum was not happy.

When we first interviewed you, you were in LA for the first time...
It was the first time I’d been out there for pilot season and I was hanging out with Toby [Kebbell] talking about the auditions we’d been to. I made the decision not to chase the American thing, and then GoT came along. I’m still going from job to job, still auditioning for every part, but I’m incredibly lucky to make a living from acting.

When you come back to Notts, what’s the motive?
I try and see Forest play, but I don’t really know where’s cool to go to now. I remember when Boilermaker opened as a secret bar, my mum told me about it and I thought, “It’s not that secret if my mum knows.” When I left Nottingham, I had itchy feet, and felt like I’d exhausted all my avenues. In the years since, it’s felt like there’s so much happening here, and LeftLion is integral to that. It’s a focal point for culture in the city, and it’s a magazine that people can read to find like-minded people.


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