Rake-in-Progress: Joe Dempsie
Joe Dempsie talks to The Rake about his triumphant return to Game of Thrones and why social media for film stars is not the El Dorado some producers think it is.
Joe Dempsie is used to intense fanfare surrounding projects in which he’s appearing. He first encountered it when playing Chris in the acclaimed British teen comedy-drama Skins. The fans, he says, “were a demographic [that would] run over to you and say something or just scream in your face and run away”. The show gained a cult following among Britain’s youth, but, more interestingly, it provided a springboard for several actors: Nicholas Hoult, Dev Patel, Daniel Kaluuya and Hannah Murray all starred alongside Dempsie. That was more than a decade ago, though, and in that time Joe managed to find his way to Westeros and bag a spot on television’s biggest global stage, Game of Thrones, whose fan base is perhaps the most passionate there is. Joe played Gendry, a much-loved character of the books, and now the T.V. series, who happens to be one of King Robert Baratheon’s bastard sons. When Robert dies, Gendry is the only one who isn’t murdered, and as a result he undertakes a wild journey of survival, loss and discovery through the fictional landscape. Like Joe, Gendry is humble and has a level of realness that other, bigger personalities in the show lack. He’s an Everyman character, a relatable human being among fighters and beasts, even dragons. Until then, Dempsie has plenty going on. His next big project is Deep State, an eight-part espionage thriller starring Mark Strong. Joe plays a young MI6 operative who finds himself entwined in a conspiracy, so fully that he is targeted by his own organisation. It promises to be a politically charged, of-the-moment piece. Then comes Eighteen Weeks, a short film about a prisoner in solitary confinement, before a bit of light relief in the form of a musical called Been So Long that’ll mark Joe’s on-screen singing debut. Dempsie is a man with a tireless work ethic who places job integrity above all else, and, despite the attention he’s received, doesn’t care much for fame after all...
Can you give an example of how far the GoT producers go with secrecy and preventing leaks? We don’t get scripts any more. I’ve never been in possession of a hard copy of any script. It’s all electronic and double- and triple-step verified. In the past, at the beginning of the day, you used to at least get a little A5 copy of the scenes you were shooting that day, in case you needed to check your lines. It’s pretty strict, but it doesn’t feel particularly oppressive, and you just get used to it very quickly. The fact of the matter is we all want everything to be kept as under wraps as possible, and for the most part viewers and fans of the show would rather it not be spoilt for them as well. We’re all keen to make sure nothing gets out. You were away from the show for three years. Did you notice any changes coming back? It’s made for a really interesting perspective on the thing as a whole and the scale of it all. When I left at the end of season three, I was told that the plan was to bring the character back at some point, but there was never any timescale put on it. So I just got my head down and carried on with other work, and remained a fan of the show. Maybe it’s no coincidence but it seemed like after I left season three, it was season four and onwards when it really became this juggernaut that we know today. So your leaving was the key to the show’s success? Me going was the trigger, me fucking off. Everyone thought, ‘This is actually decent now’! It just seemed to get bigger and bigger with every passing year. So to then go back, it gave me a sense of perspective. And you also get to see how it’s fundamentally changed people’s lives. People you know, people you’ve known for a number of years who you’ve seen wandering around fairly normally getting on with their lives who now, years down the line, it’s pandemonium whenever they go anywhere. Is fame a positive or negative byproduct of being a successful actor? I think it makes you consider what it is you want out of your career in the grand scheme of things. I remember after Skins, that [fame] was a baptism of fire and one that I wasn’t always particularly comfortable with. You really notice a spike in that kind of thing when the show is running, but I’m very pleased that it’s at a level that’s manageable. Everyone is lovely and everyone has always been lovely, it’s never been a problem, but it’s always when I’m doing relatively mundane things that I sometimes take a second and think, I’m really glad I’m not Kit [Harrington]. Read the full interview in Issue 57 of The Rake – on newsstands now. Subscribe here.
Fashion Assistant: Veronica Perez Grooming: Luke Benson using Elemis and American Crew