Ciarán Hinds has the ease of a man who doesn’t have to do interviews all that often. He’s an actor who is never out of work, who over four decades has been in everything from Harry Potter to Game of Thrones to Rome to Jane Eyre adaptations to the recent DC Comics film Justice League, but he has managed to remain a comfortable distance from celebrity.
In fact, he says, he’s often already working elsewhere while his castmates chat to interviewers. But for now the 65-year-old is in London, because it’s the final week of the West End Bob Dylan musical Girl From the North Country (for which he was nominated for an Olivier Award). And he’s also starring as an aging Naval captain in AMC’s new ghostly drama series The Terror, which takes the real-life story of two polar explorer ships which disappeared without a trace in 1845, and gives it an unsettling supernatural spin.
Sat in a London hotel, casually dressed and as imposingly tall as he appears on screen, Hinds is easy, gently-spoken company. He’s here to talk about the series but, being a busy chap, he doesn’t hesitate to admit: “I haven’t seen any of it.”
Without giving away what really happens, your character, Captain John Franklin, has a rather violent encounter during this series.
That’s right, I was wheeled around in some kind of trolley and then flicked over here and there and dropped a little bit down a tube, all done in several sections. They were very gracious with me, the stuntmen, because they know I’m a man of a certain age and I wouldn’t be wanting to do my own stunts. But they needed to see my face because they couldn’t show too much of what was “out there”. So they had to come in close. So that’s when I had to be stuffed in a dustbin.
Was anyone injured during filming?
No. It was very sweet actually, they got a stunt woman called Nora and she started doing some yoga with me, which I hadn’t done before. So to stretch out. When it came to doing all the stuff that was a bit more physical, that I wouldn’t be used to, she just did some exercises with me. It actually turned out to be useful.
Will you keep that up?
I promised I would. I haven’t.
Who was Captain Franklin?
He was a classic naval man. He was the son of a merchant, but he was always mad keen on the Navy as a kid, so he joined at like 15 and was in the Battle of Trafalgar with Nelson’s outfit. He also became the lieutenant governor of Van Diemen’s Land, which is Tasmania as we know it now. You think, “Oh he’s lieutenant governor,” but it was very far away from society. He was married to a very strong woman, Lady Jane, who tried to make some improvements to people’s standards there. But when they got back to England, they thought that could be the end of his career.
[The British Navy] were then going on this huge expedition to chart the end of the Arctic northwest passage. And he put his name forward, because this would probably be his last exploit. They reckon he probably wasn’t first or second choice. It shows how much he wasn’t trusted but in their terms he had experience of other expeditions in the Arctic so they gave him the command, which in retrospect was probably not the right thing to do. Because he made one bad decision, but really bad, and they never heard from him again.
And that was being stuck in ice for months and months.
Rather than just take the advice from the second-in-command [played by The Crown‘s Jared Harris], who knew better. It was probably the arrogance of it, this Victorian belief that God will see us through. And this is for the Queen and country and we are the British Empire. In the 1840s, the colour pink was all over the globe, they were at their height of power. So what could go wrong? It was their God-given right to be British and conquer and explore.
Did you do a lot of research into the man himself?
I read around him. What we used to do in the old days, we’d get a book and read it but now we have the benefit of Wikipedia. I use it now for research, because that leads you into a place with so many references. So you just go off and it opens up and then the world creates around you. So we read a bit of the book The Terror [by Dan Simmons, that the series is based on], to get a bit of the flavour of the other fantasy horror side that Dan Simmons brought into the story.
Did see any ice while you were filming, or did it all take place on a sound stage?
Yes I did. I saw it because when I went for a walk across one of the beautiful bridges in Budapest, where we filmed, there were big ice flows going down the Danube because it was so cold outside. But no, we weren’t filming in the Arctic, we were in the studio. But it was bloody cold in the studio.
Have you developed your own theory of what may have happened to the ship itself?
Yeah. I think it got stuck in the ice, they all legged it, and the ice melted and then they dropped to the bottom of the sea, where they were found 170 years later, in apparently pristine condition [the ships were finally discovered on the ocean floor in 2016].
So you didn’t see any real snow while filming? But when you filmed Game of Thrones…
Too much snow! [Hinds played the Wildling leader Mance Rayder, a role that required heavy furs and a lot of trudging through bitterly cold weather.]
Which felt more gruelling?
Iceland in December did feel more gruelling, because it was really cold. If you watched what the technicians had to do, laying tracks and stuff like that. Everything took a long time and there was also not many hours of daylight. But, in that way, the days were short, therefore less gruelling than doing 14 hours a day in the studio.
At least they didn’t film it in summer then.
Yes indeed! You’d just shoot all day and all night. If they had attempted to shoot The Terror in the Arctic, under those conditions, I don’t know how you’d do it. On Game of Thrones, we were going to these locations because we wanted to use the big landscape.
Have you watched Game of Thrones?
No. I was given the first series to watch when they asked me to join. Because I work in the theatre a lot I was never able to catch up. So I saw by chance one episode with Conleith Hill [Lord Varys] being brilliant. And then people started telling me stories about it but I said, “No, don’t tell me”. Because I’m going to sit down and watch it all. It must be a hell of a mindbender, just all the stories that are in there.
Well, it’s not on TV this year, so you’ve got another year until the next series arrives.
Which they’re filming now?
They’re in the process of it. So you’ve got time.
So that’s the time to do it, this summer. When do they say they’re going to show it? Next year?
July 2019, yes.
So is there something being shown this year?
No, it’s been pushed back because the scale of the eighth series will be so big.
Oh, I see. And people are just chewing their nails and starting to watch them all from the beginning again to feed themselves.
[Hinds’s Terror co-star Tobias Menzies, who was recently cast as the new Prince Philip in Netflix’s The Crown, also appears in Game of Thrones as Edmure Tully, who was the unlucky groom at the Red Wedding. But Game of Thrones has a sprawling cast-list that is possibly larger than any other TV drama, meaning that Hinds only shared screen time with the Wildlings and the Night’s Watch.]
Presumably you and Tobias Menzies never crossed paths while on Game of Thrones?
No, not at all.
But you were in the TV drama Rome together.
Yes, he crossed my path with a dagger at one stage in Rome. That hurt! And I was quite fond of him!
On your Wikipedia page, they’ve listed all the plays that you’ve been in. Do you know how many there are? Could you take a stab?
No… Um. When I started out I know I did an awful lot at the Glasgow Citizens [Theatre Company]. I was there for about seven or eight seasons. [Hinds begins to mutter and count to himself.] I don’t know, maybe about 40?
I counted 94.
[He falls silent and stares in disbelief.] That’s not possible!
That’s what they’ve listed. It’s Wikipedia so you’d probably have to check it. But it’s a lot, isn’t it?
Ninety-four? And I still can’t get it right! That’s appalling! [Hinds falls back into his seat, his legs lift from the floor and he claps his hands.] That’s an awful lot! Ninety-four! And most of them were terrible and nobody came! God, that’s amazing.
Sixty-three films as well.
I must treat myself to a bit of a lie down. Give the world a break.
No wonder you haven’t seen Game of Thrones.
That’s what I said earlier, when doing something like this interview, usually I’m doing something else. This is all fairly new to me, unless you do an individual interview like we’re doing, but sitting in front of cameras and going into roundtables [an interview where the journalists are grouped together] and all that.
You have been working for so long but you’ve managed to avoid becoming a celebrity as well as an actor. For some actors it feels like they don’t really have a choice.
I guess that’s very unfair. Maybe this is what happens now on social media. To an extent it’s the choices you make. It’s never been something I enjoy, I guess, so I steer clear. I go to support things but the idea of living life as a celebrity, it must be a nightmare. I understood when sometimes I was working on stuff and I got a bit of recognition, to see those people who are genuinely big film stars, how difficult it must be for them. I mean, I still use public transport and get the bus and do things I want to do and I’m very happy to be able to do that.
Do you get approached?
Now and again, yeah.
What is it generally for?
Money? [He laughs.] No. It would probably now be Game of Thrones, I guess, because that’s in the zeitgeist right now. Before that it might have been for Rome. There have been long stretches of stuff but usually if you do a one-off and you’re a character actor, you’re not playing leads, maybe people go “I know that face but no idea who or from where”. But that’s kind of nice.
Often if you walk past a famous person in the street you have to think twice about whether actually you know them and should say hello. People say, “I’m sure I’ve met you before.” I just go, “No I don’t think we have,” and I carry on. Because what are you going to say? “Do you know who I am?”
This interview was originally published by The Telegraph. It has been reposted here for posterity.