He ain’t nuthin’ but the Hound. Will Salmon meets Rory McCann to talk Thrones, werewolves and being “Yarp”…
Rory McCann sounds a bit gruff today. You might not be surprised to hear that about Sandor Clegane aka the Hound — one of the toughest men in Westeros — but there is a practical reason.
“There was a fight scene that I was involved in — a sword fight. We were training with the stuntmen for over three weeks to do this thing. I was training really hard. There’s a lot of screaming and shouting.” That explains the two days of ADR (additional dialogue recording) he’s just completed. “It’s been the longest session I’ve ever done. Normally you’re done in half a day with my character, but this time… I think it’s a reflection of the fact that I’ve got a bigger part this year, I dunno.”
So, more to do for the Hound, a big impressive sword fight… It sounds like circumstances have drastically changed for the man who we last saw leaving King’s Landing under a cloud. “It’s expanding, and I’m coming into my own, character-wise,” he says. “I’ve moved away from this big staffed castle, with hundreds of people, and it’s turning into almost a road trip — with a few skirmishes along the way!” I’m now imagining Dude, Where’s My Car? with decapitations.
“It’s great fun. I reveal my character a little bit more now. I mean there’s even a chance of humour for the Hound this year. You wouldn’t believe it, but it’s true! I only saw that in playbacks last week. There were some people laughing, but it was okay to laugh. It’s all good.”
Rory McCann had an unconventional introduction to acting. The 6ft 6in Scotsman left school and joined the Forestry Commission. After working as a tree surgeon, he moved into rope access jobs, one of which was painting the Forth Rail Bridge, west of Edinburgh. A documentary was made on the men who abseil off the bridge every day, and Rory was there, singing away. Someone spotted him, and offered him an ad for Scott’s Porage Oats. That, in turn, led to a number of small roles (you can spot him in the second episode of the rebooted Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased) playing a bouncer, and he was an extra in Willow), before his breakthrough performance as wheelchair-bound Kenny McLeod in The Book Group — a role that earned him a Scottish Bafta. Hollywood beckoned, and he has since carved out a bit of a niche for himself as a sword-wielding warrior, appearing in Alexander, Solomon Kane, Clash of the Titans, and, er, Season Of The Witch.
But perhaps his most memorable movie role, at least for SFX readers, was 2007’s Hot Fuzz, where he played Michael “Yarp” Armstrong. “That was a pleasure,” he smiles. “I remember them going, ‘He really is Yarp!’ because I was the custodian of a castle.” Wait… what?
“For a while, I was living in a mock castle in front of a real castle. There was a giant wheel in the lounge. All I had was a chair, a grand piano, a giant German Shepherd and a fully dressed Highland dummy called Rab. He was my only friend. My job was to see who was calling before I opened those two giant oak doors. I was the guy that would open a smaller door within the big door and say, ‘YOU RANG?'”
Er… okay. “So I got the call. I didn’t really understand how big the part was. I thought, ‘Well, you never know, John Mills won an Oscar playing a village idiot.’ I went along and I heard who was in the cast and it was fantastic. And I knew that I wouldn’t be up worrying about my lines, because it would just be ‘yarp’. Simon and Nick were really good fun, and all the old characters… Edward Woodward! And lovely Jim Broadbent. That was an easy job. It was great.” So he’d work with Edgar Wright again? “The last time I saw him was in Iceland and he was dancing with Björk — I’d jump through any hoop for him.”
BLOOD AND WATER
But back to the Hound. Sandor was last seen departing the battle of the Blackwater, having made everyone cheer with his declaration, “Fuck the Kingsguard, fuck the city, fuck the king!” So how is he going to cope away from King’s Landing? “He might hit the bottle hard after leaving,” Rory says. “That [the episode ‘Blackwater’] was incredible. It was a night shoot for a start, and it went on for at least a couple of weeks. Night shoots are hard enough for a few days, but when it lasts for weeks… The weather was atrocious, but the DOPs loved that. Armour and rain really work, apparently. They like the glow and the sparkle and the water, but it led to problems. There were rivers that weren’t there before, and extras lying in pools of mud and blood and water… People were half hypothermic. It was wild.”
That episode was directed by Neil Marshall, best known for his horror movies The Descent and Dog Soldiers. “I’m terrified of werewolves,” Rory says with a chuckle. “I understand some people find it very funny, but I can’t watch it! Neil’s known for very good blood and gore and I think that’s why he was brought in. He was great to work with.”
It’s becoming ever clearer as the series progresses that there’s a streak of nobility in the Hound. “Well, it’s a thought that he’s more of a true knight than any of the others. Even though he’d never want to be a knight — he can’t bear them — he believes in their values. But listen, he’s not all good. He’s done some terrible things. Mostly under orders, though…”
Ah yes, orders from Westeros’s demented boy king. “He doesn’t like Joffrey, but he does what he’s told. But maybe that’s changed now… the Hound at the moment is an outlaw.” But while Sandor may hate Joffrey, Rory is full of praise for the man who plays him, Jack Gleeson. “He’s a very clever, witty, fun guy. He’s a good magician, y’know? He likes slight [sic] of hand and stuff like that. Quite old-fashioned in some ways. The first time I met him he was smoking a pipe! He’s such a great actor, a nice guy and he plays, so convincingly, a little shit!” So convincing, I’ve heard rumours that he occasionally gets grief from angry viewers. “If I knew someone was giving him hassle, I’d rip their bloody head off,” Rory growls. Yikes.
But what about Sansa, the young Stark who Joffrey has specialised in tormenting. It’s fair to say that the Hound has a soft spot for her. But why? Is it paternal? “He’s seeing the similarity to his own upbringing,” Rory says, referring to Sandor’s troubled backstory. “There are memories being brought back of being bullied by his brother, and he hates that. And she’s everything that he isn’t — there’s a purity there.”
Some fans have speculated that he might have a romantic interest in her. “A fondness and stuff… I don’t think there’s any of that, really. He’s protective and frustrated at seeing her living in airy-fairy land.”
GETTING INTO CHARACTER
In reality, Rory is a genial, funny and charming man, very different to his taciturn character. Today he’s wearing a natty red scarf and navy beret that you can’t imagine the Hound ever going near. Getting into character is a long process of physical exercise, hours in the make-up chair and concentration. “It still takes about an hour and three quarters to put on all my stuff, so I’m usually the first in actor-wise.” Not that he’s complaining. “We haven’t got the longest shifts. People like make-up and wardrobe, anyone like that… they’re the first in and the last out. They’re the hard workers really. We’re still pampered.”
In terms of exercise, Rory foregoes a personal trainer, preferring to run five or six miles a day and hit the gym in the evenings. “And I don’t smoke, and don’t drink for at least three months before a job. I’ll phone up my friends and tell them not to speak to me until I’ve finished, because they drink too much! I’m quite reclusive at the best of times but when I’m working, you never see me. I feel like a soldier training, or something — it’s all about the job. I had to bulk up this year because I knew it would be particularly physical. That fight was the hardest thing I’ve done so far. We did it in intense heat and I’m carrying so much armour with this costume. But it paid off.”
Ah yes, back to the fight. It must be tough wearing that much clobber. “Yeah, yeah… I can’t pick it up. The wardrobe department needs a wheelbarrow to carry my costume around! There’s so many layers and ropes and stuff, and a big cloak. It’s all good fun!”
And being on the road brings its own set of problems for the Hound. “The main thing is that I’ve got very rusty armour, so everybody can hear me coming! I think there was some page oiling and cleaning his armour every night, before. There ain’t no page in the countryside. You can hear him before you see him now: squeak, squeak, squeak! I think that’s why I’ve been in the sound studio for so long.”
Can he tell us who he meets along the way? “That’s a total spoiler. I’d have my bollocks cut off if I told you,” he grins, and says no more.
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