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.
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.”
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.