Aidan Gillen: Mister John

The Game of Thrones star on why playing "the bad guy" ain't always so bad, after all

Arts+Culture Q+A
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Although actor Aidan Gillen confesses to being most comfortable portraying smooth-talking villains that he can "hide" behind, his lead performance in John Lawlor and Christine Malloy's Mister John shows off a personally unprecedented level of feral intensity and carefully-crafted emotional restraint.

After discovering his wife's infidelities, Gerry leaves London to look after his deceased brother's business and family in Singapore; proving the perfect pretext to embark upon his own "Heart of Darkness" tour, while indulging in middle-age angst and erotic underworld fantasies. In fact, it proves almost a little too easy for him to drop his old life in the UK behind, and slip into the role of his brother's alter-ego ,"Mister John"— as well as the seductive arms of his brother's widow, Kim.

Whether the unfolding complications in this lush, disturbing drama are based on his own booze-fuelled hallucinations or reality become increasingly irrelevant, when confronted with the greater question: just what does Gerry want?

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You often play morally ambiguous characters: Councilman Carcetti from The Wire, and Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish from Game of Thrones. Which do you enjoy playing more—the "good guy" who is really a bad guy, or vice-versa? 

I suppose I’d say the bad guy who’s really a good guy, because then I can have all the fun of playing around with people, but still come out morally upright at the end—even better than the actual “good guy.” Ambiguity and ambivalence: they’re almost the same thing, aren’t they?

What was the most challenging aspect of preparing for and playing this role? Did the film’s relative slow pace and lack of dialogue factor in?

I’d have to say yes, as a fellow who likes to move around a lot and talk for fear of being exposed, it was a bit of a challenge. I like to hide behind things as an actor and in real life. But my approach to it was: this guy is lost and vulnerable. At the time, I was feeling a bit like that myself, so I didn’t try to hide it.

Is your character Gerry a hero in your mind? 

I wouldn’t say he’s a hero. He doesn’t know what he wants. He’s so lost, psychologically and physically, that he could easily just wander off and never come back.     

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Do you think the Mister John condones prostitution and the objectification of women? 

It doesn’t condone it, no. But it doesn’t really question it either. That world does form a kind of backdrop to what’s going on, especially as John’s widow Kim runs a kind of hostess bar; its just another aspect of Singapore that adds to Gerry’s confusion. Of course there are women coming up to him, assuming that he’s looking for sex—why else would he be there? More than anything, he’s amused that anyone would want to have sex with him at all, even for money…

Without spoiling the ending, was it your decision to deliberately deny yourself a total breakdown in the last scene?

Well, I’d say it was more like I was holding back tears all throughout the film, and giving in somewhat at the end. There is no easy resolution. Gerry’s probably going to go home, but everything’s not going to be okay. 

What are you working on now?

I’m working on Game of Thrones’s Season 4 at the moment, and have recently completed a number of other films including the U.S. indie Beneath the Harvest Sky, which debuts at Toronto Film Festival.

Mister John, starring Aidan Gillen, releases in the UK on September 27th 2013.

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