As Obara Sand, namesake of her fallen father Oberyn Martell, Keisha Castle-Hughes promises plenty of "bad-assery" this season. The actor explains the culture of Dorne, the sisterly bond of the Sand Snakes and how Pedro Pascal influenced her performance.
HBO: How did you come to Game of Thrones?
Keisha Castle-Hughes: I read the books back in high school and have been a fan of the show from the beginning.
HBO: What was your initial take on the Sand Snakes?
Keisha Castle-Hughes: I loved them. They are definitely some of the most badass women characters in the books. When Pedro Pascal turned up as Oberyn Martell last season, it was so exciting. Everything about that character – the aesthetic, colors, sound and makeup – was so different to anything we'd been exposed to.
I started thinking that I could be related to Pedro Pascal. I put it out there into the universe; I got in touch with my manager. They announced that they were auditioning the Sand Snakes, and from that point on, I became very persistent about making sure anyone who was involved in the show knew that I was gunning for it.
HBO: Did you do anything special to celebrate when you got the part?
Keisha Castle-Hughes: I had this very bizarre experience where I found out that I was going to be playing Obara Sand in the same week that HBO aired the episode of Oberyn's death. Over a month of auditioning, I had invested so much of my energy and time exploring who Obara was and what Oberyn meant to her, so I had a very emotional reaction to his death. At that point in my head, I was his daughter. I was crying. I screamed like Ellaria screamed. I was like, "It's so not fair!" I was staying with a friend in Los Angeles and she was like, "Are you OK? I know that you like Game of Thrones, but this is ridiculous." She thought I had lost my mind. But as soon as I signed on to the show, I was sworn to secrecy. I couldn't tell her anything.
HBO: How did Pedro's performance inform yours?
Keisha Castle-Hughes: I think I can speak for all of us three who are playing Sand Snakes: We are all so grateful to him for the work that he did. As an actor, he set up so much of our world. He was only on the show for eight episodes, and he made such an impact. It's incredible. So much of my performance, especially, was based on him. It was really important that the movement was similar, because Obara is the most like Oberyn. She's trained her entire life with him to use the spear like he does.
HBO: Did you ever meet Pedro?
Keisha Castle-Hughes: I talk about him like he's my best friend, but I still haven't. Over the course of shooting, through [series creators] David [Benioff] and Dan [Weiss] and Indria [Varma, who plays Ellaria Sand], we sent him lots of "Hi Daddy. We miss you!" selfies.
HBO: What do you imagine their relationship was like?
Keisha Castle-Hughes: I don't think Oberyn would have been the strictest father in the world. The Sand Snakes have had such a lovely life. They have the best of both worlds: They're part of the royal family and have access to a lot of privilege, but they don't have an actual right to the throne or any pending responsibility. Dorne is a pretty nice place to live. The weather's always nice and the people are much more chill than anywhere else.
HBO: There's no stigma to being a bastard…
Keisha Castle-Hughes: It's almost celebrated! There's no stigma to being a woman, gay or bisexual. None of that exists in Dorne. I think for anyone that's grown up there or is from there, the way that that the rest of Westeros works is a bit shocking.
HBO: What is the dynamic on set between the three of you?
Keisha Castle-Hughes: The nice thing about the Sand Snakes is that I don't think we've seen women like this on the show yet. Not because strong women don’t exist – I believe many of the strongest characters on the show are the women – but those women had to separate themselves from everyone else to come out on top.
These sisters collaboratively work together. They genuinely like each other. Of course, there's going to be elements of annoyance because that's just natural. That was really important for us as actors to play. Coming to a show like Game of Thrones, you can easily get caught in a trap of being very serious about the character that you're playing. They are in a very serious situation, but it was important that they were real people.
HBO: How does that manifest on screen?
Keisha Castle-Hughes: You will see elements of them being annoyed with each other because they spent too much time together. Obara is so goddamn serious all the time and then the other two are like, "Chill out. Stop killing people! Just relax." Then you've got Obara going, "I don't understand why the two of you aren't taking this seriously."
At the same time, they love each other and they are deeply, deeply bonded by the love of their father. They all secretly like to think of themselves as the favorite, although I think Obara was the favorite.
HBO: In your wildest dreams, which character would you want a scene with?
Keisha Castle-Hughes: Arya Stark
HBO: Ideal pet: Dragon, direwolf or Ser Pounce?
Keisha Castle-Hughes: Dragon
HBO: As a viewer, Who would you want to see on the Iron Throne?
Keisha Castle-Hughes: Daenerys Targaryen
HBO: As a viewer, what's your house allegiance?
Keisha Castle-Hughes: Stark
HBO: What's coming up in the next few weeks?
Keisha Castle-Hughes: General badassery and hopefully winning some more fans in the quest for the downfall of the Lannisters.