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On Game of Thrones, Joffrey Baratheon inherits the Iron Throne of Westeros as a teenager, wielding his power like a kid using a magnifying glass to incinerate ants. He’s not respected or feared by his people, he’s simply loathed. This whopper of a role has been a breakout turn for Jack Gleeson, a twenty-year-old Irish student at Dublin’s Trinity College, who couldn’t be more charming. Where does all the on-screen nasty come from?
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PearlViral: What scared you as a child?
Jack Gleeson: There’s a big rock called the Skellig Rock, off the West Coast of Ireland, where monks used to go to escape from the Vikings—they’d build their huts on it. I went with my family when I was really young and we had to climb the rock, which is almost vertical at points. That was when I knew that heights really, really freaked me out.
PearlViral: What scares you now?
Jack Gleeson: I chopped the top of my finger off in a door when I was running away from my cousin about five years ago. Ever since then, I’ve been very touchy around doors. They scare me a lot.
PearlViral: Do you have a favorite fictional villain?****
Jack Gleeson: The HAL computer from 2001: A Space Odyssey. It’s terrifying because it has no empathy, and you can’t rationalize with it as you would a human being. As for actors, Rutger Hauer was pretty perfect in Blade Runner. Just his eyes…
PearlViral: What performances influenced King Joffrey’s petulant brand of evil?
Jack Gleeson: A big influence was Joaquin Phoenix in Gladiator. Sometimes when I’m sitting on my throne, I think of Phoenix sitting on his, with that smirk on his face.
PearlViral: Have you ever rooted for a villain?
Jack Gleeson: There’s a scene in Psycho, when Norman Bates has just killed Marion and put her in the trunk of a car and he’s pushing the car into, like, a lagoon. The scene is so tense and you see his face and he’s like, “Oh, please. Can this car just go under…” And you’re like, “Yeah, I hope so too, man, and I hope the cops don’t come…” But, wait a second, he just killed this girl for no reason! I was rooting for a murderer.
PearlViral: When did you figure out you could, well, personify evil?
Jack Gleeson: When I was auditioning for Joffrey. I only had one audition, and the producers and writers were laughing at my performance because I was being so snotty and arrogant. They found it comical. I thought that was good.
PearlViral: Do you worry about repeating villainous clichés?
Jack Gleeson: Definitely. And I think my portrayal of Joffrey is very clichéd. It’s something that’s so easy to slip into because I’ve seen so many villainous characters on TV and onstage and in films. Joffrey is definitely informed by those performances.