Game of Thrones child star Isaac Hempstead Wright tells how it affected his life

Photo: HBO via AP
Photo: HBO via AP 

The first thing Isaac Hempstead Wright wants people to know is that when Game of Thrones is finished he's not going to "do a Jack Gleeson". Gleeson was the young Irish actor who played the vicious king Joffrey on HBO's swords and sorcery epic.

When his character was killed off, Gleeson, then 20, retired from acting. He had been a lead player on the biggest show in the world, and yet wanted nothing more to do with the fame game.

"I do want to keep acting," says Hempstead Wright over lunch at a favourite Italian restaurant near his London home. But first he wants to get through university. Now that Game of Thrones has finished filming, with just the (admittedly huge) publicity and promotion for the final season to get through, Hempstead Wright will finally get the chance.

Hempstead-Wright was only 10-years-old when Game of Thrones began.
Hempstead-Wright was only 10-years-old when Game of Thrones began. Photo: HBO

He's tried once already, going up to Birmingham last year to read music and maths. It didn't work out - after eight years as Bran Stark on Game of Thrones, he was simply too famous to be a student.

"I ended up being assigned a campus police officer. It was all quite surreal. My university address got published in the press, which meant that every time I walked out of my halls pretty much I would have to do a selfie with someone. That's the last thing you want at nine in the morning when you're trying to go to a maths lecture."

It says a lot about Hempstead Wright that, though he was effectively hounded out of higher education, he is not bitter. Indeed, once the final season of GoT is out of the way he is heading back to university to study neuroscience. ("I find the whole concept of consciousness and existence fascinating.

Neuroscience is one of the most interesting routes to getting some kind of answers about it.") This will be the first chance he's had to live the life of a normal 19-year-old since he was cast in GoT aged 10.

"I just want the chance to go and do something of my own accord. I've been on this big machine for so long and yet this is still the start of my life. I fell into it when I was so young, I didn't know what I was doing or where I was going."

Hempstead Wright deserves a little normality - he is smart, solicitous and very good company. Lunch covers topics from the books of neuroscientist David Eagleman to the band he's just formed to Glyndebourne. "I love it. It was Verdi that got me into opera and then Wagner - amazing. I remember downloading the whole of the Ring Cycle on Spotify and listening to it over a couple of days."

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As that story suggests, he is not like most young actors: he is tall, wears glasses and is still a little gawky. But then his path to fame has not been like that of most young actors. He grew up in Kent, where he started going to the local drama club "because football club was too cold".

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Isaac Hempstead Wright (@isaachwright) on

His teacher allowed him to do a few auditions and the last one he tried - after he'd failed to get a role in an ad for Top Gear - was for an HBO pilot called Game of Thrones. He was cast as Bran, one of the children of Northern ruler Ned (Sean Bean).

In the opening episode, Bran walks in on Jaime and Cersei Lannister, brother and sister, having sex at the top of a tower. In the first of the show's many shocking, violent moments, Jaime pushes Bran out of the window, paralysing him from the waist down. What did the Hempstead-Wright parents make of this show?

"It was a genuine dilemma. They had to think, 'Should we let Isaac do this?' Not least because this is a show about incest and murder. You have to be the right kid for it and you have to be the right parents for it."

That Hempstead Wright is so obviously level-headed suggests he was "the right kid" (and the fact that his mother chaperoned him on set until he was 16 suggests she was the right parent). He saw some things that a 10-year-old probably shouldn't, but he says the context was all-important.

"The violence, basically, was fine because it's debunked instantaneously. When you're watching Sean Bean literally playing football with this decapitated head [off camera], the magic is lost."

The sex, he says, just led to his mother giving him the birds-and-the-bees talk a little early. "They were like, 'So duck, this is not the way normal sexual relations happen'."

However, he has no regrets: "Can you imagine if it had been the other way around and we'd said no and I'd be sitting there watching Game of Thrones having become this huge thing?"

He has a point. Many GoT stars had barely worked before the show - now they are set for life. Hempstead Wright has bought himself the odd lavish gift - he is an accomplished pianist and now the proud owner of a Steinway grand - but he is not yet burning banknotes for fun.

"I'm in a good position compared with most people but I'm really not sorted for life. I've just bought a house, which was a big moment. But it's not like I can stop working."

Unlike Gleeson, he intends that that work should be acting. "I really enjoy it, and I'm really excited to be able to move on to some other things because as fabulous as Game of Thrones has been, I haven't been doing much else on the side in between going to school and filming for six months a year." (He had a tutor on set to ensure he didn't fall behind with his lessons).

He has been going to auditions, got down to the final two in one case for the lead on a TV series, and has started to learn what it's like "to be judged relentlessly on a daily basis. You can't let it get to you".

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Round 8. Ding ding ding. 🔔 🥊Brace yourselves. April 14th, HBO. #ForTheThrone

A post shared by Isaac Hempstead Wright (@isaachwright) on

GoT has helped him to grow that thick skin. In the age of social media, he is all too aware that some people just don't like the character of Bran.

"Bran's one of these unglamorous characters, and I know quite a few people are sick of him. But me? I have loved Bran. He is this character who lost everything. He's a disabled 10-year-old, both his parents were murdered."

And yet, not only has Bran stayed alive - no mean feat in GoT - but in plot twists too knotty to detail here, he has morphed into an all-seeing oracle, the so-called Three-Eyed Raven. As such, while Bran never wields a sword or commands an army, he has become central to the narrative.

"He's completely triumphed," says Hempstead Wright. "Right now he's the wisest man in the universe and I think that's cool."

It's one thing to criticise Bran, quite another to go for the actor playing him. After Hempstead Wright returned to the series for season six, after a break of a year for narrative reasons, he received a lot of personal abuse.

"People just started being really rude about my appearance, and saying, 'What happened to Bran? He's so ugly now'. That was my first experience of thinking, 'OK, people can be quite mean'. But then again, it's nowhere near as bad as the girls get it."

I try asking Hempstead Wright for information about the final series but it's pointless: part of his education on GoT has been learning how to talk about the show without revealing any particular plot details. There are rumours that Bran will claim the throne, I say, staring at his eyes for even a glimmer of recognition. Nothing. And if he did blurt something out? "I'd get sued. I'm sure we'll probably be under NDAs for the rest of our lives."

But he does say this: "You're never going to please everybody with something as huge and as wide-ranging as Game of Thrones but I do believe they've wrapped it up in the most convincing way. And, yes, I do think Bran's storyline is one of the best."

The Daily Telegraph