“When you look at this face, it’s quite patrician the way it’s put together, and I have a demeanor that’s rather austere,” Charles Dance says in his crisp British accent whilst balancing a cup of coffee. “So, interesting villain characters have come along and any actor will tell you that a villainous character is much more fun to play than a good guy.”
It’s an early November morning and I’m seated across from the veteran actor at a restaurant in Lower Manhattan. Though he’s best known for playing bureaucratic villains—namely, the icy, scheming patriarch Tywin Lannister on HBO’s Game of Thrones—Dance is in town to promote a good-guy role.
But first, Thrones.
The Season 4 finale, of course, saw Tywin sleep with his imp son’s lover, Shae, and then be shot to death by Tyrion with a crossbow—while sitting on the toilet, no less. “It was a pretty ignominious death,” he says.
According to Dance, his character will return for Season 5 of the show—albeit briefly. In George R.R. Martin’s tome A Feast for Crows, Tywin’s remains are displayed for a week in the Great Sept before a procession of knights guides the body west. And that’s how it’ll play out on the show.
“Well, only my body!” Dance says of his fifth-season cameo. “I don’t wake up in the shower having had a dream about it all.”
He also let slip some very interesting news for Thrones fans: that the show’s producers have been actively discussing a future Game of Thrones movie.
“There’s talk of eventually trying to do a feature film, but I don’t know which of the storylines,” says Dance. “There’s so much to cram into a film.”
As far as feature films go, Dance’s latest turn is in Morten Tyldum’s The Imitation Game, in theaters Nov. 28. He plays Commander Alastair Denniston, head of the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS) at Bletchley Park during World War II. Denniston assembles a team of cryptanalaysts, including Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch), who are tasked with cracking the Nazis’ seemingly impermeable Enigma Code. Following Turing’s lead, the team eventually cracks it, thereby allowing the allied forces to win numerous sea battles by intercepting the Germans’ coded messages. Churchill would later say Turing made the single biggest contribution to allied victory.
Despite his war-hero status, as well as conceptualizing the first computer, Turing pleaded guilty to homosexual acts in 1952 (then illegal in the U.K.), and accepted chemical castration treatment instead of serving time in prison. In 1954, he took his own life via cyanide poisoning. Despite his sadistic treatment at the hands of the government, Turing wasn’t pardoned for his “crime” until Dec. 24, 2013.
“There is an irony in that. Pardoned for what? Cracking the Enigma Code?” says Dance. “The government should be asking the relatives of Alan Turing to pardon them for treating him so appallingly!”
He adds of Turing’s treatment, “It’s medieval, and disgusting. There are a few mad people around today who think you can ‘cure’ people of their sexuality, too.”
Dance feels The Imitation Game is relevant not only for the way it tackles archaic attitudes toward sexuality and women in the workplace (in the form of Keira Knightley’s character), but also as a precursor of sorts to modern-day hacking. He brandishes his iPhone and shakes it in the air.
“GCHQ can access all of our information whenever they want to do it,” he says. “Anybody can read my emails, listen to my phone calls, anything.”
During the Leveson Inquiry, Dance claims to have received a call from the local police. They told him that one of the tabloid reporters involved in the hacking scandal had been arrested, and turned over all his information. His number was on the list. “I had a call from the police who said, ‘Did you know that your number came up?’ and it made sense, because certain things would appear in papers and I’d think, ‘How the fuck did they know that?’”
The 68-year-old Brit has had an acting career spanning 40 years, and made his film debut as an evil henchman, Claus, in the 1981 Bond film For Your Eyes Only. But one of his early roles that introduced him to American audiences was as Clemens, the prison doctor in David Fincher’s first feature, Alien 3. The film was critically panned upon its release, but has since gained a cult following. “I think Alien 3 was a better film than Aliens, to be frank,” says Dance.
According to the actor, Vincent Ward’s initial script for the film was “really spooky” and centered on a religious cult in a penal colony, but since the character of Ripley was relatively minor, “changes were made to the script.”
And the problems didn’t stop there. “Fincher had the studio on his back the whole time phoning him at all hours of the day and night—not taking into account the time change,” says Dance. “But I remember walking on this huge set at Pinewood Studios and Fincher comes up and fires off his shot list for the day. Here’s this guy young enough to be my son who knew all the crew’s jobs, all the shots he wanted, and where he was going to make the cuts in the film, and I thought, ‘My God, this guy is going to go far.’”
Our talk eventually circles back to Game of Thrones. I mention the upcoming video game based on the series, images of which recently leaked online, and he’s caught completely by surprise—which says that either Tywin won’t be featured in the game, or the actors aren’t providing their own voices for the characters.
“Oh, really?” Dance says. “I know nothing about it. Who’s doing the voice? They haven’t asked me to do it… I want to know something about that!”
Dance describes how Thrones creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss visited the set of Your Highness at Titanic Studios in Northern Ireland while they were planning the pilot. He chatted with them, and they eventually sent him the first few scripts. He was immediately sold on the quality of the screenplays and the fascinating story. “I never read any of the books, because that’s not what we’re shooting,” says Dance. “We’re shooting scripts written by David and Dan.”
The craziest thing he ever did on Thrones, he says, came during the first season when the creators approached him and asked, “Are you a vegetarian, Charles?” He replied, “No, why do you ask?” and the duo proceeded to show him a scene of Tywin skinning a deer.
“So, this butcher arrived with a dead animal and they gave me a little room to work in, gave me a sharp knife, and showed me how to skin it and spill the guts into a bucket,” recalls Dance. “The next day, they gave me another dead animal, and we shot it. It was a bloody good time, but it took me two days to get the smell off my hands.”
One of his fondest memories from the show was his time sharing the screen with Peter Dinklage, who plays his embattled imp son, Tyrion.
“One of the biggest joys was working with Peter Dinklage,” says Dance. “He’s the sweetest man, and a phenomenal actor. He must be the envy of every dwarf actor in the world because those parts don’t come along too often. He’s also extremely handsome. If you look at his head, it’s like Michelangelo’s David.”
He pauses. “And he’s such a great guy, too. I spent a lot of time apologizing to Peter because we play scenes where I treat him like shit, calling him a ‘lecherous little stump’ and saying I wanted to ‘carry you out to sea and let the waves take you away.’”
Although Tywin is a calculating, ruthless scoundrel—who beds his son’s love, Shae; sentences him to death in a sham-trial for the murder of Joffrey (even though he knows him to be innocent); forces his incestuous daughter, Cersei, to marry a man she doesn’t love; and orders Tyrion’s low-born first love to be gang-raped by the entire garrison of Casterly Rock, while his poor son watched—Dance doesn’t view the elder Lannister as entirely evil.
“There is a little remnant of humanity in Tywin Lannister,” he says. “Even though it’s a fictional world, it’s based on medieval feudal society where people did whatever was necessary to maintain their place in that society. Life was pretty cheap. And we never knew much about my wife, Joanna,” says Dance, assuming the role of his character.
“I have two children,” he continues, still in character. “One doesn’t count because she’s a girl, and the other, the handsome apple of my eye, Jaime, is fucking his sister for God’s sakes! Then, I have this other little thing that came along who, unfortunately, is brighter than the other two put together. I would have certainly liked to drown him in a bucket or suffocate the little bugger, because he’s just a walking imperfection. But as time goes by, you realize he’s a smart little fucker, so something I can never reveal is my admiration for him. And whenever I get to close to revealing that, I want to slap myself and get it out of the way.”