As the fun-loving Chris Miles in Skins, Joe Dempsie first made a name for himself. But having ducked out the limelight since graduating from the iconic series, he has paid careful consideration to his next move. Shunning the predictable route in favour of waiting it out to achieve the meatier roles he craved; Joe has since gained a huge following as Gendry in the cult series Game of Thrones. A show that is quickly gaining momentum, Joe is now securing the roles he hoped for. With an upcoming turn in BBC drama Murder, he also has an episode of The Accused under his belt.
Catching him in the wake of the finale of Game of Thrones, 1883 speaks to Joe about the LA scene, life on set with the show and his thoughts on the final ever excursion for the show that put him on the map, Skins.
What are working on right now Joe?
I’ve recently just finished working on a one-off called Murder for the BBC. Obviously, it’s about a murder. But the interesting thing about it is, apart from the incident itself, that’s the only section that’s dramatized and you don’t actually see that until later on in the story. For the rest of the piece, none of the characters interact with each other. They all speak direct to camera. But it’s not like they’re being interviewed by anyone off camera or anything. They are talking directly to the audience.
So it’s rather different to the typical crime drama?
Yeah, it’s quite unique and doesn’t make much sense in the physical world, so it really is a different take on the usual. It’s great for an actor, what with it being all monologues. So it’s all about just you and the camera.
Tell us about your character in Murder?
The character is called Stefan and he is one of two of the suspects in this murder. Trouble seems to just follow him around quite a bit. He’s got caught up in a row with two quite volatile sisters where one of them ends up dead.
The funny thing about it is I only heard about this production because it is set in Nottingham, which is where I’m from. The lead female in it- a great part for a young actress- is supposed to be from Nottingham too. So for two weeks, I suddenly became incredibly popular with actresses in London who had all auditioned for Murder and didn’t have a clue what a Nottingham accent sounds like!
Ah nice! … We hear you’ve been in LA recently?
Yeah, I went to Coachella. My friends went last year and thought it was like heaven on earth, so we went back. The great thing about it is it’s so close to LA so you can kind of justify the trip. So you can say you’re doing a few work bits and bobs while you’re there. We had ten days in LA.
I like it there as the weathers nice, but from a work view you have to be quite wary as for every great TV show or movie they make, there’s at least 20 odd more terrible ones to stay well clear of…
No plans to move out there then?
No not really. I’ve been out a couple of times, met casting directors and done auditions. The first time I went out there was when it was pilot season and I vowed never to do it again. I realized that so much of it is so mediocre and I think you get a lot of British actors who decide for some reason that America is the holy grail and that they’re going to do whatever it takes to make it there. I’m like- why would you leave any sense of integrity working here to work in America? It doesn’t make any sense to me...
So obviously, you’re more recently known for Game of Thrones. Were you a fan of the books before you nabbed the role?
No, I had no idea about them until I got the audition. But even that process was quite long because they made the pilot quite a long time ago and I’d only auditioned for a part in the pilot. After that audition, I mentioned it to one of my friends who reads a lot of fantasy literature and he was like beside himself because they were like his favourite books. I’ve never had more street cred with him!
Then when it became commissioned as a series, I auditioned for another two parts before I was cast as Gendry and he was like my go-to man for the whole process to find out more depth to these characters I was auditioning for. But when I got the part, he’s such a big fan of the series that he didn’t approve of my casting! The physical breakdown of my character is that he is tall and muscular with thick black hair and at the time, I was none of them! I’ve since been at the gym and they dyed my hair…. Still short- but you know, can’t have it all!
So you looking forward to season 3?
Yes back filming in July. They keep the storylines very closely guarded, so I’ve no idea what’s in store. But the encouraging thing for me is that the producer said to me towards the end of season 2 that although my character isn’t in third book too much, they’re quite open to writing some new storylines for my character, so hopefully I’ll be doing some interesting stuff.
How long do you think the series will continue?
Well there are six books but they’re still writing them. So I’d imagine the series shall continue until the books are finished. The thing is with a lot of series, you feel like they go on a bit too long and they meander a bit in the middle where the writers are losing their way. But I think with Game of Thrones, the source material is already there and has been so successful, so I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t carry on. The stories are strong enough.
With such a huge cast, what’s filming really like?
Well we spend the best part of six months going back and forth from Belfast, Ireland. It’s great. Belfast is like a revolving door for the cast, which is just so vast. There’s always people coming and going and always people to hang out with.
The stories are a lot more isolated now, so you’ve a specific group you’re always working with. So it’s nice to catch up with the others. There is a bit of a crew us now. A few of us went to Berlin for a trip after filming, me Alfie Allen, Finn Jones, Kit Harington... Oona Chaplin too, she came to Coachella with me. That’s been the great thing for me with Game of Thrones; it’s expanded my social circle here in London as well, as I’d only lived in London for a few months when I started that show. So it was great to meet people and hang out with them outside of work.
What’s been a standout moment from being on set?
I really enjoyed episode 3 of season 2 as I got to do a fight sequence, which is something I’d never done before. I’d stressed about it for a good number of months, did loads of practice to make sure I got it right and I think in the end it only lasted 5 seconds on screen! For me, given that kind of opportunity was amazing and you never normally get to do that sort of stuff in any other walk of life.
Next on my list is horse riding… that’s what I love about this job, getting the opportunity to learn new skills. That was really fun for me. Though I am a bit of a worrier and over analyze about getting it right, but when it came to actually shooting it, we’d a week of night shoots and it was on the third night and they left it right to the end so it was like 4am in the morning and everyone was a bit delirious. But it was the most fun I’d had on a shoot in a long time!
So with Skins, they’re reuniting for a final ever series. Will you be reoccurring in any flashback sequences or even from beyond the grave?
No. I mean I think it’s a really great idea to round off the series. I think it was such a great show and its lasting legacy is that it was such a fantastic breeding ground for young talent. So hopefully they’ll give it a proper send off, I know they’ve got some interesting stuff planned. But I’m quite pleased not to have that dilemma to make as to whether I wanted to be involved or not. I always think going back is a tricky decision.
Sure Skins was brilliant. It was an amazing experience as for a lot of us it became our Uni substitute and set us off on our careers. But I think when you are in something like that, as many doors as it may open, it may also close the odd one or two…
Do you feel it has been more of a blessing or a burden coming from Skins?
There is no way I would have not wanted to do it. It was the most enjoyable few years of my life and I’ve made friend for life out of it. I don’t think I’d necessarily be where I am now if it weren’t for Skins but I still had to be quite stubborn and do not a lot in order to get the kind of work that I wanted post Skins.
In the years immediately after all that, usually what would get sent to me was comedy pilots or sitcoms and that wasn’t the kind of route I wanted to go down, I kind of had to sit it out and wait. You can capitalize on your profile and make a lot of money in the short term or sometimes you have to just step back and see the bigger picture and go away for a bit. Make people forgot a little, then come back. I could have been easily typecast, if I allowed myself to be.
So ultimately, where would you like your career to go?
You never really know what part you’d ultimately like to play until you read it. My philosophy has always been, I’ve never been that bothered what medium it is, whether it’s theatre or TV or film. That doesn’t concern me. What concerns me is the quality of the work. One of my friends said recently, he only wants to do parts that either excite him or scare him and I think that’s a great way of looking at it. I think you can make a great career out of being a good actor. But I want to be an exciting actor. People like Tom Hardy; he’s one of the few actors around that I wouldn’t need to know anything about the film apart from that he was in it. You never know what he’s going to do. I am no way comparing myself to Tom Hardy, but he is an actor I admire and I’d love to work with some day.
Catch Joe in Murder and The Accused, out later this year.
Words by Aideen Shannon
Photography by Tommy Clarke
Fashion by Lindsay Robertson