‘Game of Thrones’ Exclusive Interview: Miltos Yerolemou Talks Arya’s Journey and Being Syrio Forel
Game of Thrones Exclusive Interview: Miltos Yerolemou Talks Arya’s Journey and Being Syrio Forel
I had the opportunity to sit down with Miltos Yerolemou, who played Syrio Forel in the first season of Game of Thrones. Syrio was Arya Stark’s “dancing” teacher and protected her following Ned Stark’s arrest. Despite not wanting to leave her teacher’s side, Arya ran while Syrio took on several members of the King’s Guard. His fate has ultimately remain unknown.
Alyssa Tieman: You play Syrio Forel. Three episodes. Did you ever expect Syrio to become as popular as he did?
Miltos Yerolemou: No. Not at all. I mean, you know, there’s lots of incidental characters….You know, I always say the same thing, to me it’s seems very appropriate. When you have protagonist like Arya Stark and her journey, like I always do the analogy of Star Wars. You know, Luke’s journey has to be triggered by Obi-Wan Kenobi…. They plant a seed and that protagonist carries that seed on. It feels like Syrio Forel kinda was that catalyst for Arya Stark, for her to have this seed planted. And in the books, it’s very clear that she hears Syrio’s words ringing in her head, over and over and over again.
I think what’s so interesting about creating a character that…you don’t see them, don’t know what really happened to them in the same way when Obi-Wan Kenobi gets cut down. He doesn’t really die, he just disappears. There’s an echo that’s created. If she’d seen Syrio Forel brutally butchered, I think it would’ve changed something in her head. And yet, the audience and her not knowing really kinda leaves this echo which allows him to kinda live in her head. And I think it’s a great storytelling technique. I think George R.R. Martin did something very clever by doing that. Which of course has led to loads of fan theories because they go, “Well, we never saw him die.” I think it’s very deliberate to leave it kinda slightly ambiguous so that he stays alive in Arya’s head. And that’s kind of the most important thing.
AT: That’s a good point. I have my own fan theory. So many people have died and we’re like, “Do not see a body, I don’t believe that it happened.”
MY: Yeah, well, there’s always still that. (laughs) Always.
AT: So I believe Syrio’s been hiding around King’s Landing and saving people before they die. So then, in the end, maybe there’s a crowd shot and there’s Syrio and he just waves. He’s like, “Hey, what’s up? Been here the whole time. Just hanging out.”
MY: Nah, it’ll be…Arya Stark turns up in King’s Landing. She going to kill Cersei, right? She’s the only person who can do it because everyone’s left or gone to the North to fight the White–whatever. And she’s about to kill Cersei, but then Cersei turns around and takes off her face and it’s me going, “You are late.”
AT: That’d be so awesome! Better happen now. Expectations are so high.
MY: That’s what I would write. (laughs) That’s why I’m not a writer.
AT: You were talking earlier about how Arya’s gone a bit off the rails. She’s this force to be reckoned with. She’s killed a bunch of people now. So do you think it might come in to the end that she goes to kill…Cersei maybe, or whoever, and then will have this voice of Syrio kind of pulling her back a little bit?
MY: Well, that doesn’t seem to stop her. I think it’s too easy to say that he’s some sort of moral….He didn’t kind of teach her those kind of morals. He taught her how to be….awake. You know, how to awaken your senses. How to stay alive. How to stay our of danger. How to respond to things. How to deal with situations. I don’t think he gave her moral lessons. What’s interesting is that I don’t think she has that moral compass. She’s driven by revenge. Meeting her family again might change that. I think it probably has changed it. [Last season] started very frosty and ultimately, in the end, it was clear that the girls were working together and that was really powerful. And I think that’s where they’re going to be at the beginning of Season 8. Standing together against the White Walkers heading toward Winterfell.
What that means to Arya Stark’s revenge, I don’t think that matters. I think Game of Thrones is far too interested in the complications to worry about whether Arya Stark needs to be stopped. What we need to be aware of, and what they do very well, is that they don’t let you enjoy her crusade of revenge. They don’t let us enjoy it because they always make it difficult to enjoy. The brutality of murder is there for everyone to see. And whether it’s right, or just, or whatever, it’s still murder. And it’s still brutal. And it’s still messy. Would you do that? You know, that’s the thing.
And I think this idea of whether she needs to be stopped…that’s not a worry for me, but it is really interesting to have a character where you’re not allowed to enjoy the revenge. Because normally, when you watch action movies, the whole point is that you’re supposed to get off on the fact that these people end up meeting their just desserts. That’s kind of how it’s programed; the formula is that. I don’t think that’s realistic. That’s just glorifying murder. But I think the way to treat all of murder when it comes to stories is…you kinda have to give it some context of reality…. Terrible things have happened to her family. So on the one hand, you want her to exact her revenge, but I don’t know if that’s the right thing to do….I think it will maybe lead to her death. It’ll be very interesting where her arc will go because she’s gotta go somewhere. She’s become such an amazing weapon. And I really don’t have a clue. I don’t know. I can’t even second-guess that, what she’s going to end up doing.
AT: In your panel, you talked about how you originally auditioned for Varys.
MY: Yes. Nina Gold knows me. She’s know me for many years. She’s followed my career since I kinda first started. She went, “Let’s get Miltos in. Oh, he could read for Varys.” I think the casting director makes that decision early-on, so they send me Lord Varys. I didn’t choose that. That’s what I had to read. The scene that they send me was the one where he visits Ned Stark in prison and says “You’ve got to take the Black so you can get away with your life. Just apologize.” And it’s a fantastic scene. I got to read it with Robert Stern, who is Nina Gold’s assistant, who is an excellent actor. He’s a casting assistant, but he’s an excellent actor. And so we read it and, you know, it suited me. Just the kind of feel of it. But obviously they thought, “Oh, maybe he’s not quite right.” Whatever the reasons.
Joe [Dempsie] touched on this in a panel yesterday. I think he auditioned for like five different characters. I think they had a pool of actors that they kinda wanted to work with. And what they ended up doing is kinda shifting the cards around and going, “So if he plays this, and she plays this, then they play that. What’s that fit?” I think that’s how they do it. They kinda mix and match as they go, “Oh, why don’t you give Miltos Syrio Forel? Ask him to read Syrio Forel.” I think they do it like that. You imagine a big table with kind of cards with actor’s faces on it and shifting them around….I like to think that’s what they did.
But Syrio, I mean, it suited me down to the ground. That character is me. It’s not very much acting involved. Just putting on a bit of an accent, doing an impersonation of my dad and reading the lines. You know, I’m a dancer, I love sword fighting. All of those things were part of my life before I played Syrio Forel. So it felt like I was…[laughs] I mean, it’s such a ridiculous thing to say, but….There’s lots of parts I’ve played in my life and which I really feel are a stretch for me. This wasn’t a huge stretch. The biggest stretch for me was to encapsulate something that felt real. You know, you do science fiction, you fight big monsters on a green screen, but the key to all those different experiences is that you’ve got to find what is authentic about it. And I felt like I knew who this character was. Felt like I understood his philosophy. It is very similar to mine. I’ve studied martial arts and stuff like that. There’s a lot of zen philosophy in what he says. So that was really nice. The rest is training and trying to look like you were born with a sword in my hand, which was the stretch. ‘Cause I don’t know anything about that. I found it very exciting. To the point where, I even managed to do something where I’d never ever practiced it.
There’s a moment in the first lesson where I tell her that…the sword is balanced perfectly, it has the perfect weight. And I flip the sword over and I catch on the back of my hand. I didn’t practice that. I never thought of doing it. We never did it in rehearsals, nothing like that. I literally did it while we were shooting it. And I was even surprised that I actually caught it. I think I thought about it a moment just before I did it. I thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool if I could do that?” That’s all that happened. Then just randomly, I just decided to do it. I caught it and I could see out of the corner of my eye the stunt coordinators and all the stunt men that I’d been working with just all go….(opens mouth in shock) It’s basically just a lot of people silently going “What the f—?” Weird things like that happen when you’re really concentrating. It’s really strange. I can’t really explain that, but it really was a thing that happened.
Game of Thrones returns for its final season in 2019.