Aidan Gillen Dishes on Littlefinger's Ripple Effect

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The actor behind Lord Baelish talks about the motives and modus operandi at play for Littlefinger since the very first episode.

HBO: Last season we learned it was Littlefinger who masterminded Jon Arryn's murder. Did it surprise you to learn that he put the whole game in motion?

Aidan Gillen: Not really. Maybe I'm embellishing my own backstory, but I always had that in mind. There's a lot revealed in the last season. It did become apparent how much of a hand he had in what could be seen as devious acts... although the death of Joffrey leaves the world a safer place.  

HBO: Cersei referred to his movements as “slithering.” Would you agree?

Aidan Gillen: I don't see him as a snake or a creep, but I could see why a character like Cersei or another character would refer to him as slithery or slippery. I'm just standing up for Littlefinger as a human!

HBO: Five seasons in, are you still surprised by Littlefinger’s decisions? His deal with the Boltons, for instance?

Aidan Gillen: I was surprised by it because it was new. But it excited me. It’s always nice to enter in a new world and interact with new people and characters you may not have interacted with. Especially if you are a character like Littlefinger who has caused ripples which radiate outwards and affect everybody. It's always interesting to just show up in their world and play dumb.

HBO: Littlefinger has probably interacted with more characters than anyone else. He’s escorted Sansa to Winterfell; he saw Arya at Harrenhal…

Aidan Gillen: We're not sure if he saw her, or didn't see her. It would be hard to believe that he missed her there, but I won't say any more about that. It's more interesting to me as an actor to assume that he's seen her and let that pass. We don't always have to give the game away.  

HBO: Littlefinger just said goodbye to Sansa at Winterfell. What confidence do you think he has in her success?

Aidan Gillen: He’s confident enough in her. If you look back to 408 [“The Mountain and the Viper”], Sansa really brought it and showed her newly minted, newly revealed skills. The thing is, Littlefinger is not entirely sure what kind of situation he’s leaving her in and how dangerous that could be. He has a sense that it's not going to be easy, but what's unfolding at the moment with Sansa and the Boltons at Winterfell is probably one of his audacious and risky plays yet.

What’s unfolding at the moment with Sansa and the Boltons at Winterfell is probably one of his audacious and risky plays yet.

I quite like his piece to Sansa the other night: “You loved your family. Avenge them.” It was a pep talk. She knows it's a dangerous game she's getting into. And I think he meant it when he said they could turn around and go back.

HBO: Do you have a sense of what Littlefinger feels for Sansa? Is it purely mentor/protégé? Or something more?

Aidan Gillen: He does genuinely care about her and for her. There's always been a lot of talk about the nature of that relationship, how creepy or not creepy that might be. I don't think there's too much more to it than the fact that she is the daughter of Catelyn Stark, which explains why he's quite obsessed with her. But it's with her well-being as much anything else. Littlefinger is not grooming Sansa, though he is mentoring her. And it's been quite satisfying to see her really bloom in that way and emerge as a player. She's probably playing him as much as he's playing her.

HBO: Does he have any paternal feelings for Robin Arryn?

Aidan Gillen: Yes. But also, Robin Arryn could be a means to an end – you saw what happened to Lysa Arryn. To be shameless enough to talk to Robin about taking charge of his life when days before, Littlefinger pushed Robin's mother out the Moon Door – it’s not just shameless, it's almost psychopathic that he can be as warm and loving to someone having just killed his mother.

HBO: Littlefinger tells Sansa about the tourney at Harrenhal, and now, he is lord of Harrenhal. Is he living the life he thinks he deserves?

Aidan Gillen: I do think he's at the point where he wants to be now, but it really is a long game. Not just month to month, it's years ahead. He's smart enough to realize that the journey is the part where you feel alive. That's encapsulated in his “Chaos is a ladder” speech. “The climb is all there is.” I understand that. And he's coming from nothing. If he ever ended up where he started, he’d have a long, long way to fall -- but that's not going to happen anyway.

HBO: So what do you think motivates Littlefinger? Is it about being in power, or manipulating those who are?    

Aidan Gillen: I don't see his ultimate goal as ultimate power, as in sitting on the throne and ruling. I think that's maybe too boring and too dangerous. There's an obvious overriding drive because of his rejection as a youngster by Catelyn and his humiliation at the hands of Brandon Stark. He never wants to be put in that position again. It's a pretty human trait and not difficult to identify, but Littlefinger pushes it to such an extreme.

The playing of the game is a big part of what makes him tick. He does enjoy it, the manipulation, seeing his plans come to fruition. He very seldom if ever fails, and Littlefinger would have a B plan and C plan, and they would have interlinking alternatives, circles within circles. But I believe there's also some humanity to him. It hasn't always been nastiness. For instance, those first scenes with Ned Stark, he says, “Distrusting me was the wisest thing you've done…" It's funny but it’s true. He's not lying.

HBO: Do you think Littlefinger ever has a down day? How would he spend it?

Aidan Gillen: Like just chilling out, "I don’t have any plans"? Not many. Probably reading. Falconry. Calligraphy. There are still the books to be done – the brothel business is still running away in the background. I don't know if Olyvar is doing the accounts.

Think Fast

HBO: Which would be your ideal pet: Dragon, direwolf or Ser Pounce?

Aidan Gillen: Ser Pounce. Littlefinger is a bit catlike. He'd have more of a feline nature than a canine, or what’s the word for dragon? Dragon-ine?

HBO: Which region would you most want to live?

Aidan Gillen: Somewhere warmer... Dorne. Good wine, balmy climate. Mediterranean-style diet.

HBO: You're invited to a GOT wedding. Do you go?

Aidan Gillen: Yes, I'd take precautions and try to keep it together until a good later on in the night and then let my guard down completely. I do that at most weddings.