When you think about what's so far befallen the three middle Stark children on HBO's Game of Thrones — exile, defenestration, beatings, paralysis, imprisonment, and bearing witness to their father's beheading — it might be foolish to ride in an elevator with them. Nevertheless, I did exactly that recently, and because Isaac Hempstead Wright (Bran), Sophie Turner (Sansa), and Maisie Williams (Arya) are not actually Starks, we all survived.
Turner is 17, Wright will turn 14 next month, and Williams is soon to be 16. Before open casting calls for Game of Thrones came along, they were normal school kids with an interest in acting. Now, with Game of Thrones beginning its third season on Sunday at 9 p.m., they are part of an international hit that both true nerds and lay-nerds obsess over.
The Season 3 premiere will find their fictional selves in jeopardy. Bran, a paraplegic, is heading toward what he hopes is the safety of the Wall and his half-brother, Jon Snow; Sansa is still a captive of the Lannisters in King's Landing; and Arya has escaped Harrenhal to go in search of her mother. It's not going to be easy for any of them.
In real life, the actors have become close friends. If the curse that besets the Stark family in the books and on the show is that they can never quite get to each other, the idea of Turner, Wright, and Williams as a clique is like the sweetest fan fiction Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin — who treats his characters with a fair amount of brutality — would never write.
Here's their first interview together.
None of you had ever been on camera before, and you were in regular schools. What was the audition process like?
Isaac Hempstead Wright: I went up with a couple of friends from the drama group. We didn't really know what we were doing. It was fun.
Sophie Turner: They came to my school. They originally weren't going to go that far north because they didn't want an accent. I mean, I don't have an accent. But they didn't want to go to Birmingham, or anything.
Maisie Williams: I did my second audition with Sophie and some other girls who were auditioning for Sansa. And got on really well with Sophie, and was kind of like, even if I didn't get the part — I just thought she was really fun and really nice.
Sophie: Oh, stop it. Stop it.
Maisie: It was really good fun! And it was nice to act with other people, and have someone reading the scene who was going up for the part instead of just someone behind the camera or your mum.
And then you get the parts. And then it takes forever for the show to actually be on TV.
Sophie: Yeah, from the pilot to Season 1 coming out on television was painstaking.
Maisie: We'd have little meet-ups at Christmas.
Isaac: I remember that!
Maisie: We'd give everyone gifts. And birthdays. It was like a whole new little set of friends. It was really cool.
How do you keep up your friendships with each other now, when you're not necessarily in the same place?
Maisie: I filmed in Belfast for a lot of it, and so did Isaac, but we didn't cross over as much as would have been nice.
Sophie: My stuff was in Croatia.
Isaac: We also meet up when we're not filming too.
The three of you?
Maisie: Yeah, and the parents as well. You are two really, really good friends. And we've kind of done all of this growing up together in this weird world. It's nice to sort of have people to relate to, and you can go back together and say, "Oh, god, today I had this embarrassing thing" or "I'm worried about this scene." We've known each other since we started. It's a close relationship.
Sophie: We've gone through this kind of crazy thing where we didn't know what we were doing together, and we have this kind of bond that I feel like I don't have with my friends from home.
How is it with your friends from home?
Isaac: It's exactly the same.
Maisie: There've been a few people that weren't nice. But your real friends — none of us have had any serious troubles. We've all stayed really close with our friends. I think that's important as well, to go back home and see all of them. I tell them all about you two and they want to meet you. They watch you on television and they think it's kind of strange how I know you guys.
Do your friends from home watch the show?
Isaac: Most of my friends aren't allowed. But some of them quite naughtily watch it.
Maisie: As I'm getting older, I meet more people my age watching it. When I first started, it was only adults. But a lot of my brother's uni friends and college friends watch it. It's a very wide audience that sees the show. It's cool.
Sophie: A lot of my friends do watch it. My friends are really hardcore fans, which is so weird. One of my friends was like, "Can you sign my book?" I was, like, "No, you're my friend!" To be honest, I'd prefer if my friends didn't watch it, because I hate the fact that they see me as anything different than their friend. So that's why it really bugged me when she said, "Can you sign my book?"
Maisie: It's nice to just be Sophie or Maisie or Isaac. When that's kind of disrupted, it feels a bit strange. You kind of want to keep home as home and filming as filming. It's strange.
Maisie and Isaac, you said earlier your parents read the books and tell you about them. Sophie, you do read them?
Sophie: Season by season — I'm reading book three. I don't want to get the story lines mixed up, because it's only an adaptation, so there could be things that are a little bit different from the book. And then if I read ahead, I don't want think I'm going off in one direction, and then it goes off in a completely different one. But some other people haven't been able to stop reading it, and other people don't want to spoil the story for themselves, and they want to live in the moment. Which I can totally understand.
Maisie: It's confusing enough just with the scripts. I think when all this finishes I will definitely read the books because they've got fantastic reviews and I think they would be a great read. For now, I want to do what's in scripts and only what's required of us.
What do you think of your characters?
Maisie: I love her ability to kind of say what she feels and tell people what she thinks of them, and get her point across. Sometimes people think she's being rude, but she's just being honest. I meet people like that who are just completely up-front with you, which some people feel is rudeness, but what's the point in dabbling around the subject when you could just get to the point and have a conversation with someone and say what you think?
Sophie: I think that's what's really refreshing about Arya. In this world, everyone dabbles, and no one really says what they think and what they feel.
Maisie: And there's not many people who tell the truth, either. That's the thing about the Starks, they're extremely loyal. Whether they want to or not, they always tell the truth. It's kind of a little trait we all have.
Isaac, what do you think of Bran?
Isaac: I think he's a really nice kid. He went from being a happy-go-lucky kid who wanted to be a knight and would go climbing — he loved life. And then everything he really loved and everything he enjoyed was taken away from him. He wakes up, he hasn't got either of his sisters, his mother is gone, his brother leaves him. Bran has definitely had to grow up really fast, like all the Stark children. It doesn't really go well for any of them.
And as far as one of the big themes of the story, the Starks' relationship with the direwolves, the magical part of it is very focused on Bran.
Isaac: I think Bran's connection to Summer is absolutely crucial. That is a medium through which he can experience his old life.
Arya and Bran are beloved characters; Sansa is more controversial.
Sophie: As much as I hated it at the beginning that I was playing a really controversial character people hated, I kind of like the way that Sansa comes into her own. She grows into this person that people like. I think she's a really strong example of seeing someone grow up on screen, because you see her utterly transform.
Obviously, people don't have the experiences that she goes through. But I can relate to her, definitely, because I was thrust into an acting world where I had no idea — I mean, it can be difficult at times, it's a challenge. In a good way. But Sansa has difficulties and challenges in a bad way. She has the right intentions. And she's so much in grief about her father's death. She wants to be so much like her father was, but she knows that she can't be, because that's not what's going to help her survive. That's the heartbreaking thing about it; she wants to keep all these Stark traits, but in order to survive, she has to let them go.
Why did you used to hate it?
Sophie: I found it difficult that people didn't really like Sansa. Because I couldn't really understand it. I felt this huge connection with her.
You took it personally.
Sophie: I took it very personally. I think Sansa is a naïve 13-year-old. I felt very protective of her, even though I'm kind of the same age as her.
Maisie: Sansa's not purposely being difficult!
Sophie: The thing is, when people started to hate her was when she was confronted by the queen and the king, and they had Joffrey there, and she had to make a decision between her family and her future. She took a middle part and didn't upset either of them. That resulted in Sansa having to sacrifice something that she loved. But people didn't understand that. That frustrated me.
Speaking of which, in real life you adopted the dog actress who played Lady the wolf. I have to ask how she's doing.
Sophie: She's good! She's quite badly behaved, actually. She forgot all her training. You'd think a movie dog would be awesome.
These aren't kids' books, and it's not a kids' show, at all. You're on an adult show surrounded by adults. What's that been like?
Maisie: It's kind of made us grow up a bit quicker, I think, like our characters. It's a bit awkward sometimes, like when it first came out, with my family watching, I was like, "Please, let the world swallow me up now." I think the gore and stuff is OK. Me and Sophie were there for the beheading, so we saw how that was all done. Isaac, I think you were there when the horse's head got cut off in Season 1?
Maisie: Of course they didn't really cut off a horse's head, you know? We know how things are done now. That isn't scary anymore. The White Walker stuff I find spooky. It gets my heart going.
Isaac: I was on set next to where they were filming a White Walker scene, and I got to meet this guy dressed up in a terrifying costume.
And what's it been like to act with all of the adult actors you've gotten to work with?
Maisie: Inspirational! It added to the whole excitement of it all. A new character comes in on your script, and you're wondering who's going to play it. You'd never get to meet these people except for the show.
Sophie: Every scene that Peter Dinklage is in with anyone turns into pure gold, because he's amazing. So it's awesome to be able to act alongside him. It's also a challenge, because you're trying to keep up with an Emmy Award-winning actor. It stretches you as an actor as well. Also, acting with Dame Diana Rigg was insane. I can't give too much away about that, but she's just, like, amazing. Especially, Charles Dance and Dame Diana in one room is electric.
Do you sit down with them and talk beforehand?
Maisie: When I worked with Charles, we had some rehearsal with David Nutter. That was nice, it was almost like an icebreaker as well. It's nice to meet them before. You know what's going on, so it's not embarrassing. They're very good at making you feel relaxed; I always feel quite tense. It's always a good atmosphere, there's never any judging. It's always very friendly. When you're coupled with these fantastic people, the nerves kind of get to you a lot.
Where do you see your acting lives going? Is it your passion in life?
Isaac: At the moment, I'm quite focused on school. I'd like to go to university and maybe do a Ph.D. in something. But I think definitely I'd like to continue with the acting. It's so much fun — you interact as an adult, and you get to have these experiences. I suppose it really accelerates your maturity. It's also really fun to hang out.
What are your academic interests?
Isaac: Some kind of science, particularly neuroscience. Or I'd like to go into classical piano.
Sophie: I just want to keep acting and do the thing I love without the whole kind of fame thing. Because it's bizarre and it's weird and it messes some people up. I just want to act. Whatever comes with it, comes with it, but I'm not in it just for the fame. And I think some people are. I'd like to go to university as well and study history.
Maisie, I know you have a dance background.
Maisie: Yeah, acting or dancing, I'd love to do. I don't know if I could get into university. Maybe if I went back and really worked hard, but I've never really thought about university. My oldest brother went, but none of my other brothers or sisters have. I have lots of my friends talking about it — you guys — but it's just not something I've thought of. Maybe that would be nice to do. But I've finally got my foot in the door with this. I'd love to continue with the performing side of things.
There's a lot of pressure on you three to come up with something new to do theme-song-wise for the Season 3 DVD.
Maisie: You're going to have to wait and see!
Sophie: Nothing's going to happen!
No, don't say that! And Isaac, you're the beatboxer?
Sophie: That was pretty impressive beatboxing.
Whose idea was that?
Isaac: Was it the parents'?
Maisie: Yeah, they were like, "Why don't you rap it this year?" We were like, fair enough.
Sophie: We were like, "No, that's so embarrassing! Actually — that's a great idea, why not?"
This interview has been edited and condensed.
CORRECTION:An earlier version of this story incorrectly put a hyphen in Isaac Hempstead Wright's name. (3/28/13)