Casting director Nina Gold goes deep into Game of Thrones auditions, re-castings, flashback castings, diversity, and secrecy

Ned

Nina Gold is one of the many unsung heroes of Game of Thrones — the actors get most of the credit, followed perhaps by the writers and directors. Then there are the artistic and special effects departments working to make it all real. However, behind them all, before scene is shot, you will find three-time Emmy award-winning casting director Nina Gold, a veteran of the craft who has worked on everything from HBO drama Rome and British comedy Hot Fuzz to the Star Wars sequels and, of course, Game of Thrones.

At Vanity Fair, Joanna Robinson (who also co-hosts A Storm of Spoilers and —because one Game of Thrones podcast is not enough— A Cast of Kings) published this wonderful and thorough interview with Nina Gold. The casting director delves into her process for this show: auditions, re-castings, castings for flashbacks based on previously existing characters, issues of diversity, and the ever-increasing secrecy surrounding her role.

Gold said casting the Stark kids eight years ago wasn’t easy — it took “a long time”, and she had to look “all over the place.” Thankfully, the process has improved, thanks in particular to a “great young actor’s workshop in Nottingham,” The Television Workshop. There she found Bella Ramsey, who plays Lyanna of House Badass — I mean, Mormont.

Another favorite source of talent for Gold is a certain acting treasure trove: “Scandinavian dramas.” Robinson recounts Gold’s obvious love for internationally acclaimed Danish TV series Borgen, where Game of Thrones found their wildling leader for Hardhome, Karsi (played so wonderfully by Birgitte Hjort Sørensen that we all truly wish she hadn’t died), and the recently introduced Euron Greyjoy. Theon and Yara’s mad uncle, played by Pilou Asbæk, will play a much larger role in season seven.

Karsi

As for the big stars, such as Sean Bean and Peter Dinklage, they never had to audition, and the same goes for Jonathan Pryce, Ian McShane, Max von Sydow, and, this coming season, Jim Broadbent. Nevertheless, Gold insisted they are not following stardom:

“We’re not casting them because they’re names or they’re not names, we’ve just been casting them because they seem like they’d be really great in the part,” Gold clarified. “And when you say, ‘What about Max von Sydow?’ and [showrunners] David and Dan really respond to it, once you start thinking about it, it’s just kind of irresistible.”

On the other end, there is the particularly tricky casting of characters we have already met, except this time we see them in a different era of their lives, via Bran’s visions:

“You do find yourself staring at ancient pictures of Sean Bean, from when he was 17,” she admitted, regarding the casting of Robert Aramayo to play young Ned Stark. “Then closing your eyes and wondering if you’re imagining the resemblance.” That said, likeness is not all: “It’s definitely more of a quality and a kind of spirit that makes it work, more than an exact look-alike. Look-alikes can do as well, if you can find it. But it’s a quality, isn’t it, that you’re looking for.” That said, in the case of Sam Coleman, who played young Hodor last year, they got much more than “a quality.” According to Gold, finding Coleman was “an incredible stroke of luck. He somehow walked through the door. And you thought, my God, this is the most lucky day of all time.”

Hodor Nan

Speaking of Hodor and his shocking end in season six, secrecy has become an ever more crucial issue for the production, and that includes the casting department:

“It was quite secretive at the beginning,” the casting director told Robinson, “but everybody’s so desperate to find out what’s going on these days.” This has led to a whole new casting process with invented dialogue and fake character names: “Everything comes with a password and special, secret names,” she revealed. “You have to really have your wits about you to figure it out, even if you’ve been doing it for eight years.”

For the rest of the interview, head to Vanity Fair — I greatly recommend the read. There is much more to it, from great, now famous actors who missed on a part to the issue of diversity and the unfortunate cases in which they were forced to recast a part.

81 Comments

  1. I didn’t like Aramayo as young Ned. He was just too different phisycally. His acting was good, but I’d never thought that it was Ned unless we got a thousand and one reminders from Bran and Raven.

  2. One of the things mentioned in the article, and which I have heard before, is that some actors read for multiple parts – it would be fascinating to hear who read for which characters, to try and conceive how different these characters could have been.

    I wonder how many of the young male actors on the show first came to Nina Gold’s attention when they came in to read for the part of Jon Snow?

    The comments about the current process are interesting – the fake scripts etc. (I remember vaguely from season six filming that there were fake names for the characters included in the ToJ sequence).

    Ultimately, I think Nina Gold cast the right people for the right job. And I’m really excited to see who has made the final cut for season seven!!

  3. Still agitated about Karsi’s death by wight-child. Thx for the pic, sadists! Just run and get on the damn boat, woman! The dead don’t like the water.

    Nina is pure Gold though.

  4. Amazing how much acting talent this series has unearthed – if Game of Thrones never existed, many incredible actors would have remained unknown to the world. Thank you so much Nina Gold!

    Just five days left. . . 🙂

  5. Oh, wow. I love, love, love Gillian Anderson! And Sam Heughan (Jamie Fraser) would have been awesome, too.

  6. Pavwo,

    The actor they cast wasn’t bad, but he looked so much like Neil Patrick Harris that it was honestly distracting. Funny thing is that Sean Bean from 25-30 years ago would have been much more of a Jaime Lannister-type than a Ned Stark-type, so what do I know?

  7. Wow, what a great article! Been a fan of Nina Gold since she picked those talented youngsters for Season 1 (that pic of Maisie and Isaac making faces is just priceless!) Amazing how she not only picked them to start. but seemed to have second sight since for the most part they stayed through the years ( tho this is probably more due to D&Ds ability to work with kids, and by the older cast giving them lots of in house training and support. ) Just amazing! (the audition of Maisie and Sophie was so on target, how could you not choose them!)

  8. Oh Karsi. Now there was a strong, intelligent female character that I would have loved to see over multiple episodes…wonderful actress. So rare to have such an immediate affection for a character! Can’t go wrong with Scandinavian dramas (or actors for that matter – proud to be Norwegian, Kristofer!)

    Hot Fuzz is one of my favourite movies. Yarp.

    Agree about the NPH lookalike distraction, LOL. Fine actor, but didn’t tell ‘Ned’ to me. That’s alright, it’s a tough role to take on and he did well, not sure anyone could have done better.

  9. I’ve always wanted to see whatever recordings they made of the first time Maisie and Sophie read together during the final round of auditions for their parts.

  10. Ginevra,

    I’ve liked her work, but damn, that was a snotty comment.

    Given the fact that several of the women in the cast, most notably Lena Headey, have now had long-running parts that are among the best in TV history, I wonder if she’s ever regretted that attitude.

  11. Wolfish,

    Yeah, that was a bit hoity-toity of her, right? At least Anderson didn’t say GoT was “just tits and dragons.” She put Downton in the same category, so I very much doubt she regrets that decision. I think she’s saying it’s much less about the money and much more about the quality of the art. I’d have to disagree on Downton and GoT lacking quality, of course! Yes, they both have elements purely there for mass appeal but they also offer elements appealing to the intellect.

  12. Pigeon:
    Oh Karsi. Now there was a strong, intelligent female character that I would have loved to see over multiple episodes…wonderful actress. So rare to have such an immediate affection for a character! Can’t go wrong with Scandinavian dramas (or actors for that matter – proud to be Norwegian, Kristofer!)

    Karsi was wonderful – she’s certainly in the running for one of the show’s best single-episode characters ever. I would have loved to see her survive Hardhome, and continue on for another few episodes/seasons – it would have been extremely cool to see her fight in the Battle of the Bastards alongside Jon and Tormund!

    The only consolation on that front is that I believe the only way the show was able to get Birgitte Hjort Sørensen for the part is specifically because Karsi was a one-episode role – the part may have even been written for her, IIRC (the initial casting calls seemed to imply that Varamyr Sixskins would show up at Hardhome, but he never made it to the show. It seems like Karsi replaced him – a great trade-off, IMO). Sørensen had a regular role on another show lined up (a show that has since been cancelled), and she had to squeeze her role on Thrones into a very tight gap on her schedule.

    Now, I have no doubt that another talented actress could have made Karsi just as memorable, if in a slightly different way. The character was extremely well written and constructed. But Sørensen helped make her an indelible part of one of the show’s best episodes ever. Sometimes, you catch lightning in a bottle, but you can’t always keep it there …

  13. Jimmy asked Nikolaj just one question lol? Asked him if Jaime makes it to Season 8 and then said “that’s all I’m allowed to ask

    What happened to the late night appearances of old where they would be 30 second clips and asks numerous questions?

  14. Also, the HBO schedule has a slightly more revealing synopsis for E1:

    “Season Seven Premiere. Jon Snow organizes the defense of the North. Cersei tries to even the odds. Samwell discovers crucial information. Daenerys comes home.”

  15. KG,

    I really liked and appreciated his performance.

    It mustn’t be easy to come after Sean Bean who has such a strong presence and couldn’t have been a better Ned Stark. (I love Sean Bean, lol)

  16. Dutch Maester:
    Also, the HBO schedule has a slightly more revealing synopsis for E1:

    Samwell discovers crucial information.

    Well that was quick. Sam doesn’t waste any time, does he. Finding crucial info in that gigantic library so soon…he probably used the accio spell.. 🙂

    Flayed Potatoes,

    Samwell anti-Potter..

  17. Dutch Maester:
    Always fun: The Washington Post has updated their Illustrated Guide to all deaths on GoT, and now includes Season 6!

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/entertainment/game-of-thrones/?utm_term=.f42c477fd731

    A couple of misses and mistakes there, like the pidgeons killed in the Purple Wedding (that’s relevant since they listed pidgeons killed during other seasons), but, specially, giving a blade for killing method to Roose Bolton when everybody knows that he was poisoned by his enemies!

  18. I hope WOTW makes a post on some of the other interviews and Extra stuff going around

    SO HARD TO KEEP TRACK

  19. Dee Stark,

    Maisie is.Gwendoline probably is cause she was doing interviews in LA.Can’t imagine Sophie missing it.I don’t think Emilia is though which is such a shame.Damn Han Solo lol.

    Oh and Dee don’t watch some Kit interviews cause there might some spoilers.

  20. Did anyone catch Nikolaj on Jimmy Kimmel last night? He dropped a fairly massive spoiler about Jon. (Grant it, nothing that many haven’t already guessed but still…)

  21. “Wow, how could I have ever turned down Mahershala Ali?”

    Holy crap! 😀 Didn’t know about him. It’s ok though, look where he is now. Bet all rejections along the way turned out to bring him closer to his award winning role because everybody knows a kick in the butt is actually a step forward!

    Sam Heughan auditioned 7 times lol, I guess he really wanted to be in GoT.

    Wow Amarayo had no idea he’s auditioning for a younger Ned Stark. Is that not unusual, I wonder? Though obviously, considering the secrecy of everything GoT, understandable.

    Very interesting interview from someone who doesn’t usually get many and has extremely interesting GoT bits to say.

  22. Jenny:
    Dee Stark,

    Kit is pulling a Sophie right now and I don’t know where to look first lol.

    I had to think for a minute wondering in what way was Kit pulling a Sophie, till I realized you were talking about the number of interviews he was giving. He is everywhere lol and I can’t keep up!!

  23. Dutch Maester,

    What “crucial information” will Sam discover?
    – Something about dragonglass?
    – That Azor Ahai has a face like a half-burned ham?
    – That Rhaegar’s marriage to Elia was annulled?
    – That the legend of “the Long Night”/WW invasion was propaganda?

  24. Flayed Potatoes,

    I know right? I am not complaining lol. He has been relatively silent so far this year as well. I guess now that he is in the US for the premiere, he is just giving all interviews at one go.

  25. Wolfish,

    Gillian Anderson did Hannibal… I am not sure I really see a difference in terms of content quality? Probably the time commitment for Thrones was a bit longer.

  26. Ginevra,

    I recently rewatched the Khal-bonfire scene at the end of S6e4. I wish Elle magazine’s cover catchphrase for Emilia could’ve included one of the lines or phrases from Dany’s rebuttal to the pompous rapist Khals, e.g.:

    “…You are small men. None of you are fit to lead the Dothraki. But I am. So I will. ”
    ***
    “You’re not going to serve. You’re going to die.”
    💥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥♨️

    PS I just love the way Emilia delivers her lines in Dothraki or Old Valyrian.

  27. Wolfish,

    Really. Gillian Anderson did sound snotty:

    Re: Gillian Anderson, from Nina Gold Vanity Fair article:

    ****

    “….But what about someone like Gillian Anderson? “She is about one of my favorite actresses,” Gold says. But for Anderson, the feeling wasn’t entirely mutual. “My 18-year-old cannot believe that I would turn down Game Of Thrones or Downton—things she loves to watch,” Anderson told The Daily Mail in 2013. “But if I am going to be spending that amount of time working on something, I would rather be working with a director like Martin Scorsese.”
    ———
    All I can say is….

    • Was she waiting for a part in Scorcese’s “Vinyl”? Wonder how that would’ve worked out.

    • Lots of actors and actresses spending time working would “rather be working with a director like Martin Scorcese.”

    I couldn’t help but flash back to Uncle Junior’s line in the Sopranos when the feds tell him they’d like him to cooperate:

    “Well, I’d like to f*ck Angie Dickinson. Let’s see who gets lucky first.”

  28. Dee Stark,

    I checked out the Instagram link about the premier tonight.

    • Do we know if it’s going to be televised?

    • The Night King float parading down the street in LA was adorable. I want one!

    • Someone had a clever comment under the Instagram post:

    “And now my rewatch is ended.”

  29. ghost of winterfell,

    IT sitter answers:
    Iain: Daenerys
    Jacob: Scary snow man (lol)
    Nathalie: Daenerys
    Kit: Tyrion
    Gwen: Bran
    Nik: Noone, it will be destroyed

    Then they cut away… damn it, I wanted to hear who Bronn thought would sit the IT!

    Iain the way you say “Daenerys…” wow, just narrate my life please.

  30. Ten Bears:
    Dee Stark,

    I checked out the Instagram link about the premier tonight.

    • Do we know if it’s going to be televised?

    • The Night King float parading down the street in LA was adorable. I want one!

    • Someone had a clever comment under the Instagram post:

    “And now my rewatch is ended.”

    The Night King float was a picture from NYC lol. They even captioned it as NYC. People in the comments were mad

  31. QueenofThrones,

    Someone on Reddit said that Bronn said Bronn lmao. But I couldn’t make it out either.

    Iain can read out of a newspaper and make it sound sexy!

  32. ash,

    Wow, what a great article! Been a fan of Nina Gold since she picked those talented youngsters for Season 1 (that pic of Maisie and Isaac making faces is just priceless!) Amazing how she not only picked them to start. but seemed to have second sight since for the most part they stayed through the years ( tho this is probably more due to D&Ds ability to work with kids, and by the older cast giving them lots of in house training and support. ) Just amazing! (the audition of Maisie and Sophie was so on target, how could you not choose them!)

    I could not agree more, Ash. Nina’s choices have almost without exception been, ahem, gold. But casting tykes to grow into mature roles over 7-8 years…that required genius. At SXSW Dan & Dave talked about being in South America when they saw Maisie via the Internet after 300 auditions, and the rest is history. Part of that history, as they mentioned in a long interview with Montana PBS, is Sophie being one of three finalists and Maisie saying she was most comfortable with her. Ironically, after S1E7(?) their own chemistry was no longer on display as they had no scenes together (hopefully, that’s about to change.) But we did get Mophie out of it, and that has been very entertaining.

    They’re doing the premiere awfully late, and one wonders if they’ll bother with NY and London. Perhaps HBO is desperately trying to keep some of the season secret after all those leaks. A delightful surprise that Maisie’s is going as she’s been filming in Boston. Well, there should be a plethora of comments tomorrow and hopefully, no more leaks.

  33. Don’t forget tonight on Sky Atlantic Thronecast:The War Room on 9pm. Black Raven if you see this turn the sound down when JR comes on lol

  34. Stark Raven’ Rad:
    ash,

    Wow, what a great article! Been a fan of Nina Gold since she picked those talented youngsters for Season 1 (that pic of Maisie and Isaac making faces is just priceless!) Amazing how she not only picked them to start. but seemed to have second sight since for the most part they stayed through the years ( tho this is probably more due to D&Ds ability to work with kids, and by the older cast giving them lots of in house training and support. ) Just amazing! (the audition of Maisie and Sophie was so on target, how could you not choose them!)

    I could not agree more, Ash. Nina’s choices have almost without exception been, ahem, gold.But casting tykes to grow into mature roles over 7-8 years…that required genius.At SXSW Dan & Dave talked about being in South America when they saw Maisie via the Internet after 300 auditions, and the rest is history. Part of that history, as they mentioned in a long interview with Montana PBS, is Sophie being one of three finalists and Maisie saying she was most comfortable with her. Ironically, after S1E7(?) their own chemistry was no longer on display as they had no scenes together (hopefully, that’s about to change.) But we did get Mophie out of it, and that has been very entertaining.

    They’re doing the premiere awfully late, and one wonders if they’ll bother with NY and London. Perhaps HBO is desperately trying to keep some of the season secret after all those leaks.A delightful surprise that Maisie’s is going as she’s been filming in Boston. Well, there should be a plethora of comments tomorrow and hopefully, no more leaks.

    There is no London or NY premiere this year, just LA. There was only the LA one last year too. Last time they did a London premiere was for Season 5.

  35. Ten Bears:
    Ginevra,

    I recently rewatched the Khal-bonfire scene at the end of S6e4.I wish Elle magazine’s cover catchphrase for Emilia could’ve included one of the lines or phrases from Dany’s rebuttal to the pompous rapist Khals, e.g.:

    “…You are small men. None of you are fit to lead the Dothraki. But I am. So I will. ” ***
    “You’re not going to serve. You’re going to die.”
    💥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥♨️

    PS I just love the way Emilia delivers her lines in Dothraki or Old Valyrian.

    Emilia is a powerhouse in that scene, yes! Rather than “Enter the Dragon” perhaps “Fear the Dragon” would have been more appropriate, with Emilia looking like mischievously badass rather than wanton.

  36. Jack Bauer 24,

    i think they have shown so much already from the first two epis without giving anything away
    why do ppl want to see everything before it airs hahaha

  37. Jack Bauer 24,

    thank you! Didn’t think Emilia would be there

    I would assume most people would like to make the effort to go since there is only two seasons left.

  38. Clob,

    I thought you would 😛

    Dee Stark,

    There are some interviews linked in the Kit on Kimmel thread. Have you seen those? I think they should be making a thread for all these interviews.

  39. QueenofThrones,

    I thought it was interesting who wasn’t mentioned, who is already a King. But hey that’s my mind working overtime and my tin pot theories 🤔

  40. Ginevra,

    Right??? I’m guessing many Elle readers won’t get the Bruce Lee reference, and many more will be wondering, ahem, who gets to enter the dragon in S7…

  41. Ten Bears,

    I haven’t watched The Sopranos yet (I know that when I begin a week of my life will be lost, so I keep putting if off), but… that Angie Dickinson reference is to die for!

  42. QueenofThrones,

    I haven’t seen Hannibal. The only ones I’ve watched are the original Manhunter (1986, highly recommended) and The Silence of the Lambs (1991). I can understand not wanting to commit to something as lengthy as GoT without knowing upfront what the quality is going to be, but… no need to be snotty.

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