Rory McCann hobbles in, sits down, puts one of his tree-trunk legs up on a chair and plonks an ice pack on his knee.
“Just wear and tear,” he says to my raised eyebrow. “Plus I’ve been doing up my boat, so I’ve been working on my knees – with an already damaged knee.”
When we meet he’s no more than a month from the end of filming season seven of Game of Thrones. McCann plays Sandor “The Hound” Clegane, a sellsword and bodyguard with a messed-up face and a bone-dry wit. Just occasionally The Hound reveals a softer side; enough to have made him a fan favourite. It’s a role that requires much fighting, wrestling, running and carrying so I don’t believe it’s just wear and tear that has done for his knee.
McCann gives me a look, similar to the one he gives characters in Game of Thrones shortly before he kills them, and then confesses.
“OK, it was from the show. I can’t tell you exactly how but I had this guy on my shoulder for days and days – it didn’t work with a dummy so I had to carry a real guy and we had to run and run … No wonder I’m f—ed.”
McCann’s character was abandoned at the end of season four after a brutal fight; most fans thought he was dead until he reappeared 18 months later. This season, he has a major role.
McCann has been on the show from the first season in 2011, long enough to know that giving away upcoming storylines is more than his job’s worth, but he does say this: “At the end of last season he found himself with the Brotherhood without Banners and he had to make a choice. It was basically, ‘Do you wanna do the right thing? Do you wanna find peace within yourself? Join us and fight the fight against evil.’ And that was what he chose. So this time round he’s on a road trip with the brotherhood when we join him. And there’s a lot going on.”
The Hound, who began as Prince Joffrey’s bodyguard, is no stranger to road trips. For most of seasons three and four he was on the road with Arya Stark (Maisie Williams), who began as his hostage and wound up as a sort of verbal sparring partner and frenemy (though he was always on her “death list”). It’s meant that until this year, most of McCann’s work on Thrones has been opposite just one other actor – and that has suited him fine.
“Normally when we’re filming, I hide,” he says. “I don’t drink, I don’t smoke and I’m used to living on my own on a boat on the west coast of Scotland. With the other cast, it’s been like passing ships in the night.”
McCann, 48, is well known for living a solitary, transient lifestyle – when Thrones first filmed in Iceland, he liked the remoteness so much he moved there for a year. Unsurprisingly, he doesn’t have a TV. But this season, on tour with the brotherhood, McCann has been forced to come out of his shell.
“The first problem has been that I don’t watch the show. I’m a bit different that way, I don’t watch telly at all. So when I met the other actors [for season seven] I didn’t know who they were. I’d be asking people, ‘So who’s the big guy over there then?’ ‘Oh, he’s Lord whatever of House whatever.’ ‘Well, is he a good guy or a bad guy? And who are you?’ And some of them are going, ‘Are you f—ing joking? We’ve been here on the show for three years, man!’ ”
Once he accepted that he was to be part of an ensemble, McCann surprised himself.
“I’ve managed to socialise for the first time. I didn’t really get to know people until this year. The best thing was it turned out that half of us are reasonably good musicians so we got to have these great jams most nights.”
McCann, Richard Dormer (who plays Beric Dondarrion) and Paul Kaye (Thoros of Myr) styled themselves as the Brotherhood without Banjos”.
“Richard Dormer, great ukulele player. Paul Kaye’s a wonderful guitarist and he plays all sorts as well. Normally everyone else on the show is always playing Risk apart from me. But the jams we had I’ll never forget,” says McCann, who sings and plays piano, banjo and mandolin.
It was good the brotherhood bonded; filming this season of Thrones was, in McCann’s inimitable phrase, “pretty f—ing hardcore”.
“We filmed by this quarry in Belfast about 1000 feet up. We had hard weather there and then in between scenes we’d be going back to our trailers and everyone was covered in shit. Some days were actually brutal.”
It didn’t help that McCann, a big bear of a man, spends every day on set with most of his face covered in a prosthetic scar.
“With the latex you sweat whether you like it or not. You’re all wrapped up in some heated trailer or make-up truck and then you go out on set and it’s freezing,” he says. “Then the sweat underneath your latex freezes.”
It may have been cold, but one thing they didn’t have while shooting in Northern Ireland was snow. Given that “Winter is Here” in Westeros this season, snow had to be supplied.
“The mad thing was in Belfast there weren’t real blizzards going on, so they had these massive fans, like the ones on those airboats in swamps,” McCann says. “We’d have at least two of them going with guys throwing paper snow in front of it and you couldn’t hear what the next actor was saying. Everyone was just lip reading and eating paper.”
McCann may not have a TV, but he is aware of the buzz around his character on the internet.
“That Cleganebowl shite,” he calls it. On the show, The Hound’s loathed older brother is the even bigger, even nastier “Mountain”, played by Icelandic strongman Julius Hapfor Bjornsson. Cleganebowl refers to a long-running fan fantasy that some day the two men will meet in a momentous single combat.
McCann, naturally, is ruling nothing in or out.
“I have met him, yes. He’s not that much taller than me. But if it kicks off I’m still gonna be the Jack Russell and he’ll be the Rottweiler. Mind you, look at me now,” he says, pointing to his crocked knee.
“Guess I’d better start training.”
Back to Articles.