Indira Varma on Favorite Moments, Ellaria’s Passion and Politics

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After shooting an incredible Ellaria/Cersei face-off, the actor discusses Ellaria Sand’s passions and humiliations – and how they all came to play in her final scene.

HBO: Explain Ellaria’s mindset at the start of Season 7 — is she at all out of her depths?

Indira Varma: That’s exactly it. The end of Season 6 is the first time we see her being reasonable. She’s always been so rash, killing her brother-in-law and behaving quite passionately. But at the beginning of Season 7, she’s sort of turned over a new leaf. We see her collaborating — and she’s not a natural-born collaborator. She knows she can’t do it alone, so she’s joined forces with everyone else.

HBO: Does she believe in Daenerys, or does she simply hate Cersei?

Indira Varma: It’s a means to an end. Ellaria’s never been a leader. She’s not had the practice Daenerys has had. Ellaria has snatched control, and doesn’t know what to do with it. But I think she has acquired a begrudging respect for Daenerys. And she’s a woman! (And she has dragons!) But, she’s not happy to just toe the line. Daenerys is cool — she’s not silly, crazy or driven by her passions. Ellaria is. She’s hot-headed, which is why in Episode 2 [”Stormborn”] she’s already chasing tail, rather than strategizing.

HBO: Fans loved the Yara/Ellaria flirtation — what was filming that scene like?

Indira Varma: It was quite fun. We laughed a lot. You have to go for it and enter into the spirit of it. There’s two straight girls getting it on.

HBO: In Episode 3, what is happening for Ellaria when she sees the Mountain is alive?

Indira Varma: I think there’s the humiliation of being caught [by Euron]… she’s absolutely gutted. Her dream was to meet Cersei head-to-head and battle it out as equals. When you’re chained up and gagged, that is not meeting someone in an equal way. So that in itself is horrendous. Then seeing the Mountain, oh my God — it’s utter shock, and it brings it all back. It’s sorrow at that point, and disbelief. She feels humiliated.

HBO: What was your first reaction to reading the dungeon scene?

Indira Varma: Initially, I got the phone call from [series creators] Dan [Weiss] and David [Benioff], who said, “We’re really sorry. We’re going to kill you off.” I said, “I knew it was coming. Don’t worry – but it better be a good death!” Then I read it and I was like, “What the f**k? I don’t even speak! I don’t even die on camera!” That was me, the actor, going, Where’s my moment? Then, re-reading it, I thought it was brilliant. It’s even better than I could have expected. As I was reading it, I didn’t know what was going to happen next. I didn’t know what [Cersei] was going to do to Ellaria, and I thought that was really exciting.

The revelation after the kiss was brilliant. I really enjoyed the challenge of having to express more than one color through my eyes. It’s difficult. You don’t want to play one note in a long scene like that. Because I didn’t have any dialogue, and I was gagged and chained to the wall, I had to find ways to tell her story in a different way.

HBO: What did she think of the irony of Tyene’s death?

Indira Varma: Poor Ellaria, I don’t think she was expecting that. She thinks of herself as the poison queen. The idea that Cersei had figured out what her poison was — it’s the ultimate humiliation. And then to watch her lovely daughter die... It’s hell, awful, beyond your nightmares.

HBO: Does any part of her regret killing Myrcella?

Indira Varma: No. It’s, if you’re going to kill me and my daughter, at least I’ve done that to you. She wants to tear Cersei down, one family member at a time. I don’t think she would try and apologize for that in order to win back her daughter. It’s too late. Too much blood has been shed.

HBO: What would you say are Ellaria’s best and worst qualities?

Indira Varma: They’re probably one in the same. Her spontaneity and her passion are her best qualities, but in terms of being a leader, they’re her worst. She’s not cut out to lead. But it’s quite fun playing someone who doesn’t think and completely follows their gut instinct. She’s an insatiable hedonist and sensualist and that has translated into her politics — she just wants revenge.

HBO: Do you think Ellaria could have ever changed?

Indira Varma: The biggest change for Ellaria was the death of Oberyn. Before that she was happy-go-lucky and slightly stoned most of the time, probably. After that moment, she just turned and became rotten. I would have been interested to see if there would have been some sort of redemption within it, whether she could have found forgiveness for Cersei or a way to live with that.

HBO: Through the seasons, what was your favorite on-set moment?

Indira Varma: Joffrey’s wedding in Season 4 was great fun. For one, we were in Dubrovnik, Croatia. Pedro [Pascal, who played Oberyn Martell] is a great actor and a lovely man to work with, and people were enjoying the different energy our characters brought to that world. There was a decadence and it was special. Watching Oberyn’s fight [in Episode 8] was really amazing.

HBO: Did you take a parting gift from the show?

Indira Varma: I was given Ellaria’s little leather bracelet, which I love. She doesn't wear it in Season 7, but she’s worn it throughout. They’re all hand-hammered, hand-stamped, beautiful leather bracelets.

HBO: How was working on Game of Thrones compared with your work with Rome?

Indira Varma: It’s funny because they’re not dissimilar. Rome was an amazing series. And they’re both controversial, thought-provoking and challenging. I feel like Rome was a precursor for Game of Thrones because it was on such a massive scale. It was political and it had that historical aspect as well, and the period drama. I feel really proud of Rome. I feel like without it there wouldn’t have been a Game of Thrones.

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