In my capacity as Chief Features Writer for the Sunday Mail, I recently had the incomparable pleasure of crossing swords with Miltos Yerolemou, Game of Thrones’ Syrio Forel, when he attended Cyprus ComicCon 2015. Here are a few excerpts from the piece.
Scroll to end for link to full interview.
Known globally for his portrayal of Syrio Forel, the master swordsman in HBO’s hit series Game of Thrones, Miltos is probably amongst the most recognisable actors in the world.
Both delightful and enigmatic, the actor is a master of charm, his rambling repartee and self-deprecation designed, one feels, to deflect from the fact that his is an incisive intellect. His lines may appear throwaway, but this is a man whose emotional capabilities have been fine-tuned by a profession that thrives on the carefully-maintained persona. And yet Miltos is impossible not to like.
Despite his effervescent veneer, he appears rather zen at times (he’s a Buddhist, and talks about seeing “true seeing, with all the senses”), flickering from sparkling wit to contemplative introspection. And in a meditative moment he shyly admits that of all the characters he’s portrayed, perhaps Syrio’s is closest to his own. “He’s the archetypal unconventional teacher, like Mr Miyake or Obi Wan. The noble hermit – even more noble than Ned Stark – there I’ve said it! Let HBO sue me!” he guffaws – “who’s the trigger for the protagonist’s story. I mean, Arya” – one of the main characters, and Syrio’s pupil – “would basically be dead if it weren’t for Syrio.”
That’s not to say that Miltos ever expected to get the part. Originally, he was up for Lord Varys, the skilled spymaster who commands a network of informants across two continents. “And they liked it, but they didn’t think I was right. So they gave me Syrio to read instead.”
By the fifth reading, he says, “I was told ‘The Americans are coming; they want to meet you in person’. And that’s when I basically lost it! It was probably between me and someone else, and I was just hoping that if I lost out it was to someone like Ben Kingsley, who would have made a brilliant Syrio. Though,” he grins, “maybe he was just too expensive…”
Speaking of other actors, I remind Miltos that he once said he’d love to see Gary Oldman appear in the series. “Oh yes!” he exclaims, imagination lighting the room. “I can see him showing up as a Night’s Watchman who’s been trapped north of the Wall and hasn’t spoken to anyone for 25 years. Or maybe he’s Jon Snow when he’s resurrected: older, dirtier, gruffer, less ripped…”
Is this a clue, I wonder? Does Miltos have inside information when he talks of Jon coming back to life? “It’s only my conjecture,” he says quickly. “Though I don’t for a second believe we’ve seen the last of him…”
If Jon Snow isn’t gone for good, who then was Miltos most surprised to see written out in a series that’s noted for unexpected deaths of its major characters? “Stannis,” he responds immediately. “I felt there was still a lot more of his story to be played out, and I really did want to see him kill Ramsey Bolton!” Fans, however, will be most relieved to hear that the plotline Miltos least expects to see played out in Season 7 is “the death of Tyrion”. Phew!
From Game of Thrones to Star Wars. And though he’s not allowed to say much – “my confidentiality agreement is longer than my contract,” he jokes later, during the public Q and A session he will admit the experience is “amazing! JJ Abrams has created this brilliant, brilliant world which is real, literally real. You get dressed up in costume and you’re on the set and everything you pick up and everyone you look at is so real! I mean, this is Disney and they’ve got the money to get every scene exactly right,” he adds. “You’ve got the designer from Blade Runner, the writer from The Empire Strikes Back, you’ve got JJ Abrams himself… what could possibly go wrong? Ha yes!” he exclaims with one of his sudden bursts of energy. “Write that down! Famous last words!”
From eastern-sounding guru to a character from another universe: Miltos possesses the ability to switch nationality, accent and personality at will. And one wonders, when he goes home at the end of the day, who he really is underneath it all.
“It’s a weird thing,” he muses, quietly, “but I would actually consider myself an introvert. I mean, I come across so gregarious, and I do these workshops and conventions and acting jobs, and I can talk to anyone. And then, when I’m not working I’m really quiet; quite reflective. I don’t need to go out socialising with friends; I unwind by being solitary, reading, being in nature. It’s very cathartic. I put so much of me into what I do, that ultimately there’s a cost. And you have to go away and recharge your batteries and be private.”
And that, I think, as we thank each other profusely, is as close to the truth as I’m going to get. Because for all his charm and sociability, I have a strong feeling that I’ve just interviewed someone who has revealed exactly what he wanted – nothing more, and nothing less – while keeping me entertained for hours. And coming from a world where nearly everything is public knowledge, that takes a great deal of ingenuity. I applaud Miltos Yerolemou – not just for his outstanding acting skill, teaching capabilities and incredible energy – but most of all for his intelligence.
Who do you think should have lived? And who deserves to die? I’d love to hear what you think…
The full article appeared in the Sunday Mail on September 27, 2015.