WORDS BY IRVIN RIVERA
Joe Demspie is no stranger to acting and it’s no surprise that after auditioning several times for Game of Thrones, he booked the role of Gendry.
Gendry’s election as a fan favorite among the numerous Game of Thrones characters was highlighted when his “Still Rowing” meme went viral.
We love him as Chris in Skins and since then, Dempsie has starred and acted in different TV shows and films.
In this exclusive interview, follow the stories behind Joe’s acting journey, auditioning multiple times for Game of Thrones, his love for The Hound, soccer, and a whole lot of Game of Thrones.
What was it like growing up in Bridgford, Nottingham?
It was great! Nottingham is a city that’s a perfect size to grow up in. It’s not huge but there’s plenty going on and there’s so much history associated with it and actually in the grand scheme of things, gave me my career.
There were plenty of things to do as youngster. Growing up I was always quite a sporty kid but then my mum would always keep an ear out for the various things that I might be into during the stages throughout my childhood. She’d heard that I was enjoying drama at school and had heard about a drama workshop for kids and young people in Nottingham that I then started going to from the age of 13 called The Junior Television Workshop.
It was always just a hobby when I was a teenager. It was a hobby that turned into a job and without it, if my parents hadn’t moved to Nottingham when I was a baby, I wouldn’t be an actor right now and I know that for sure.
What’s your most memorable audition experience?
Probably auditioning for Drama School in London and I never went to any because I never got into any.
They all have their different styles- each drama school, and I only applied to two. One of the big ones that I went to in London was everything about drama that I hated and everything about it seemed to go wrong as far as I was concerned.
We turned up and went to do our speeches, a Shakespeare piece and then you had to have a modern piece as well and the way they did it was everyone performed in front of all the other applicants too. With your Shakespeare piece you had a choice of like six speeches that they had given you but then for your modern speech, you could pick any speech from any play written after 1900’s and it just so happens that the guy who went up just before me had exactly the same modern speech as me and happened to do it about 10 times better than me as well. It was so hard to go follow this guy when you know yours wasn’t quite as good.
And then we moved on to the movement class, which was having to move from one side of the room to another in a shape, any shape, and having to make a noise to characterize that shape so you know a bunch of mostly grown adults going from one side of the room to another, that wasn’t fun. And I didn’t make it past that.
They cut the class at lunch and I was told that I didn’t need to come back, which was a good thing because that afternoon it was musical theatre and I hadn’t prepared a song. I think I was asking around about what other people were going to do and I think I had settled on that I was going to do the Grease Mega Mix...that wouldn’t have been fun.
Out of all of the roles that you’ve played, do you have a specific favorite and why?
In terms of favorite roles, I think I’ve been really fortunate and really lucky throughout my career that I’ve managed to play quite a wide spectrum of characters and that they’ve all been challenging in different ways. I guess Chris in Skins is the one who’s closest to my heart really because he was the first part I ever had, the first job I ever had where I was in a TV series from start to finish, the experience as a whole, and I had made friends for life in that show and it turned something that was a hobby into something that was a career. I just loved it! He was that guy that you kind of all wish you had the courage to be- life and center of the party.
What do you love most about being an actor?
There’s a lot to love. I think mostly the thing that suits me about being an actor more than anything else is the unpredictability of it. I don’t know whether I’m like this as a person and therefore acting was something that I sort of was attracted to or drawn towards or whether I enjoyed acting, became an actor and therefore adapted to the lifestyle.
But I think that you have to be at a certain disposition to really enjoy the type of industry that acting is. I personally love the fact that I don’t know where I’m going to be this time next month let alone this time next year and I think it’s that not knowing what’s around the corner that keeps things exciting and interesting.
What’s your dream role?
Dream role is always a tricky question. It’s all down to personal taste but I feel like I’ve developed a good instinct for what I believe is a good script and a kind of script that I would like to be involved in and the kind of thing that I want to be a part of- the kind of thing that I would watch on television or in the movie theater.
It’s hard to say. Like I know what I want and the kind of roles that I want when I see them in front of me but it’s hard to define. I like working with great writers. I like telling human stories and having the chance to really explore characters quite intensely over the course of the acting process. My ambition isn’t to be Batman.
How did you land the role of Gendry?
I mean that was quite a process. I originally, and I think along half of London, auditioned for the role of Jon Snow when they were casting for the pilot of Game Of Thrones. I think every actor of a certain age probably went in for that part. They cast Kit which I think was definitely the correct decision and then it was about 18 months after that, that they were commissioned for a full season.
They went off and they made the pilot, made a few changes, made a few tweaks here and there and then eventually were given the full season and then there was a whole load of more parts to cast, and I went in for quite a few of them. There was Pyp and Grenn at the wall and I was convinced that they must have thought that I was a terrible actor and then eventually Gendry came along.
Again you asked about my most memorable audition experience and this was actually one of them as well because again it was a terrible audition. The one where I met David and Dan for the first time, they kept telling me to tone my accent down a little bit because the American audience, they don’t understand what you’re saying. So I tried.
And again they said, “Yeah we still didn’t quite get that, a lot of what you said.” Eventually I just said, “Well anyways it was nice to meet you, thanks very much” and left the room going, “well yet another part in Game Of Thrones I can kiss goodbye to.” And somehow I got the part.
I think because of how terrible I was convinced the audition was, I was then subsequently convinced that I was going to get fired at some point early on in the filming process and that somebody was going to tap my shoulder and go, “We’ve all just realized what a terrible mistake we’ve made. Your flight is in an hour.”
How do you get into his character?
It’s not actually that easy I think to get into the role of Gendry and not because he’s in any way, an extreme character. He’s not in one end of the spectrum or the other. It’s just that the information you have about him at your disposal is quite minimal.
The appeal of Game of Thrones - and I think the reason why the books are so successful before the TV show is because information about the characters is revealed to you as the story unfolds.
So as actors you have to interpret a lot yourself without actually knowing for sure. I feel like Gendry’s journey through the season, through the entire show has been one of almost constant discovery about who he is and where he’s come from so that’s hard as an actor to play because all of our experiences make up who we are and I’ve had very little to go on in terms of Gendry’s life.
What do you love the most in playing Gendry?
I mean being involved in something like Game Of Thrones, just the scale of it, it’s on a level that I’ve never experienced before and hopefully will experience again but might not so just being on that set, seeing the number of people that it takes to create something like Game Of Thrones, you know the credits go on for about five minutes at the beginning of the show and there’s a reason for that. Every name you see, they have a job that is absolutely necessary.
In terms of the character himself, I think he seems like the straight man in a world of crazy people and I kind of like that. Gendry is in every man and he’s becoming increasingly reeled in to the political games of privileged people and seeing him navigate in that rhythm is always fun.
Aside from Gendry, who is your most favorite character?
I think it’s The Hound. He’s my favorite. I love Rory McCann anyway and I think he’s got, just the cynicism. I’m a quite cynical person and it really strikes a chord with me. I also have Scottish family so hearing such vile in a Scottish accent is a real joy.
In one word, what can we expect from Gendry and Arya?
Have you checked the, Still Rowing memes?
What can you recall is the best Still Rowing meme that you saw?
I feel like I have to take a bit of a responsibility for those still rowing memes because during the transmission of season 4, I think most weeks after the episode had aired, I would be bombarded with messages from people on Twitter asking where Gendry was so I would just write, “Still Rowing.”
Once you give something to Internet, it then belongs to the Internet and I then belonged to the Internet for a while.
I quite like the one where it’s just the poster of The Life Of Pi but with me put in the boat with the tiger. If nothing else, Gendry’s been good meme material over the years. If he wasn’t rowing, he was running in season 7.
Someone asked me once, “ In the Game of Thrones Olympic team, is Gendry a runner or a rower?” And I said, “Has anyone answered that question because he isn’t winning any medals for rowing is he?” It took him three seasons to row back into the story so I think he’s a runner.
Without spoiling anything, how big is your role in the final season?
I don’t know how to quite answer that question without spoiling anything. (Laughs) He’s there. He’s in it. That’s all you need to know.
If you’re a book what kind of book would you be and why?
This relates to a conversation I was having earlier on in the day, I’d be a book, and I have this actual book about Soccer Shirts because that’s my hobby. It’s what I know most about. I know that sounds tragic but it’s true. No shame.
See Joe one last time as Gendry in the final season of Game Of Thrones and be on the lookout for his other role as Harry Clarke in season two of Deep State available on Epix on April 28th.