As Sandor Clegane, aka “The Hound,” on HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” Rory McCann plays one of the brawniest – and at 6’ 7”, one of the tallest — men in all of the kingdom of Westeros, but on a wintry day in late February, the actor himself is feeling a little shorter and a little less sturdy.
“I was feeding birds outside and I was wearing inappropriate footwear, shall we say,” the Scotsman recounts to AccessHollywood.com, via phone from across the Atlantic. “It was pouring down with rain and I ended up slipping and falling down a hill. I should have gone with it instead of fighting, and now I’m limping.”
It’s by chance he shares this soggy story of injury with Access, but it’s a rather telling tale. His own dedication to braving the elements to look after hungry, wild birds during a cold European winter lightly reflects the journey of Rory’s character, who has his own little bird to look after in dark times – Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner).
As Season 1 closed out, after prince-turned-king Joffrey Baratheon ordered one of his henchman to strike his betrothed while they were perched atop a perilously placed bridge in King’s Landing, a wild idea flashed across Sansa’s crystalline blue eyes. She clocked the steep drop and Joffrey’s place on the bridge without any sides, but The Hound read her expressions. Despite being Joffrey’s protector, he quickly stepped in, saving the in-mourning redhead from doing something quite impulsive and dangerously regrettable.
Sandor says very little, but Rory, who calls the role “the greatest part I’ve ever been given,” knows for his character, actions speak louder than words.
Lucky for Access, Rory himself has plenty of stories to share, and as we continue our countdown to Season 2, he hints at how things will take shape for Sansa and The Hound as King Joffrey settles into power.
AccessHollywood.com: Joffrey is the king as we begin Season 2. How is that going to change things for The Hound this time around?
Rory McCann: Well, I don’t think The Hound likes Joffrey, but he’s doing his job looking after him. The power, as you can imagine, will be going to [Joffrey’s] head and the real bully will be coming out, and it will be raising all sorts of memories for The Hound — the way that he was bullied. And you’ll be seeing the relationship between Sansa and Joffrey deteriorate — seeing the bullying that’s going on and again, The Hound will be able to link that to his childhood as well.
Access: Did you try and read the books or did you rely on the lovely people on set who are researchers for learning more about your character’s back story?
Rory: I tried reading the book, and I read the book and then I read the next one, and I’ve read three now. I’m staying just ahead of the game… And as for the research thing, on set? [It’s] fantastic… A lot of the time, either [executive producers] David [Benioff] or Dan [Weiss] would be on set and [could offer] just a confirmation of what my character was thinking and why he’s doing this and that was fantastic. There’s no guessing. The information was always there. I even went into some forums with the fans. They know the characters so well and I picked up a few tips, a few pointers from them, as well.
Access: That’s amazing. All right, so The Hound has an interesting relationship with Sansa. How is that going to work, going forward, as he sees Joffrey grow in power?
Rory: He’s going to be in conflict, I think. I think he wants to look after Sansa and totally understands her position, but he’s also in a position [of] — if he steps in, he is risking his life… I think in the first season you can see with Sandor and Sansa, that there’s a frustration with Sandor trying to get through to Sansa that it’s not all fairytale and true knights and there’s so much badness in the world. But, by the end of the first season, obviously she’s seen… her father having his head cut off. So she’s maybe seen the light now, but I think there’s still a frustration of trying to [get her to] see the reality of the whole situation. It’s giving advice to Sansa for survival, basically.
Access: How long does it takes to put on the hair and makeup? Hours?
Rory: Always. Every single time I’m given the sheets of the pickup times for the next day, it’s a running joke, I always go back to the office and go, ‘There must be some mistake’ (laughs). I’m at least a couple hours before everyone else. When it first started, it was three-and-a-half-hours, but we’ve cut that in half now. It’s all one piece now instead of separate pieces.
Access: It’s so intricate.
Rory: And the heat is unreal because I’ve got prosthetic all around my eyebrow and all [up] the side of my face and after a couple of hours, even if I’m not active, the whole thing starts to build up a sweat… until it starts to leak — usually from my eyebrow. Usually [we] have to burst it and reset it. It’s quite uncomfortable.
Access: And itchy too?
Rory: Very itchy! But, you know, it makes me angry and I just use it. Any time I see any other actors complaining about anything, I usually shout at them and go ‘Use it!’
Access: You were involved in one of the most memorable fight scenes last season – Sandor vs. his brother Gregor after a joust. Will you get to wield the sword a little bit more in Season 2?
Rory: Yeah. Twice as much. I’m in another joust with a gold helmet on. It’s quite hard to see who you’re trying to kill wearing that dog’s helmet, I can assure you.
Access: Now you’re a practical joker — is that right?
Rory: Uh, (pauses) yes. It’s one of my pleasures in life. I must admit. Nice practical jokes though.
Access: I read you played a joke on Oliver Stone [your director in 2004’s ‘Alexander’]…
Rory: What’s reported that I did to Oliver Stone?
Access: Something to do with a snake.
Rory: Oh, a snake under the hat, yes… It was a fake snake. I’ve done quite a lot of swashbuckling kind of films where all the actors ‘round me have their swords out… and my favorite [thing to do] is to tie all their swords up with fishing line, so when they take out the swords, it’s all over the place. It’s funny the first time…
Access: Is there anyone you play practical jokes on, on the ‘GOT’ set? Are the kids and younger actors cool with that kind of stuff?
Rory: They’re all cool with it…. I get on great with all the kids. Was I doing any practical jokes? I wasn’t really, I don’t think… Because [of] the way I look — and I do know the way I look — I surprise people sometimes. So when I come ‘round a corner and they don’t notice… I give people a scare, just being my size and stuff. But I’ll go up to people behind and bark like a dog, and nip the back of their leg and watch them jump.
Access: What a hoot. Do you do that to Dan and David, because I imagine they could probably use it every once in a while?
Rory: Yeah, I know. They work so hard. It’s things like during the night shoots, you’ve gotta try and keep your spirits up. The night shoots this season — the weather was brutal and so anything to cheer up anyone. But it’s was usually just telling stories… I have a guitar on set, as well. I play little ditties and stuff. There’s usually someone else with a guitar as well. There’s usually a jam going on.
Access: Are there particular pop classics you guys like to break out?
Rory: I tell you what, the kids love that classic ‘Glee’ song. You know, the ‘Glee’ song. The one that goes (starts singing) ‘just do it, I’m just a na-na-na…’ You know that one?
Access: I’m not sure I do. They do so many.
Rory: Honestly, I’ve never watched it and that’s another thing, I don’t watch really watch telly. I haven’t managed to watch all of the first season [of ‘GOT’]… David and Dan invited me to sit in a screening room and watch all the episodes, which sounded good, but 10 hours by yourself watching ‘Game of Thrones’? I don’t think I could do that. … I live out in the wild, so I think I’ll just have to wait for the box set myself.
Access: Does the isolation of where you live mean you don’t get ‘GOT’ fan reactions others in major cities probably do?
Rory: I wouldn’t say I’m that social… I’m either sailing my boat by myself or living in some small place. I’m just about to move to a place that you can only get there by rowing a boat across a loch, which I’m thoroughly looking forward to it. It’s not got electricity or anything.
Access: Have you had a chance to sort of enjoy the glory of a fan reaction to this at all, because people really love the show, myself included.
Rory: I’m getting that this thing is massive and the fan base is massive and they’re loving – I think they’re loving the show. Occasionally, I’ve dipped into the show website and then the other fan things and then it gets all too much and I switch the computer off.
Access: So nobody’s been able to come up to you yet, that you don’t know and say, ‘Rory! I love you as The Hound!’?
Rory: Not that much to be honest. To be honest, I was in a bookshop yesterday…
Access: Did you get a ‘Book Group’ recognition?
Rory: I sometimes get that, but I was in a book shop the other day and I was looking particularly Hound-like and a guy turned around that was in front of me in the queue — I was waiting for a coffee — and he just looked at me with a face of fear and went, ‘My good lord’ (laughs). And I just got the impression that he was seeing The Hound, rather than any of the other characters that I’ve played.
Access: That’s kind of cool. Probably has to be a little bit of fun…
Rory: The thing that I just discovered, which fascinates me really – my name, McCann, the translation isn’t ‘Son of Ann.’ … It comes from ‘Canis’ – as in ‘canine’ – as in ‘dog’! My name — Rory McCann — means Rory Hound, Rory Wolfhound. Can you believe that?
Access: Are you being serious?
Rory: I’m totally serious… as in ‘canine.’ It comes from that word. It doesn’t come from ‘Son of Ann,’ so that’s intriguing.
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