The actor behind Melisandre discusses her character's vulnerabilities and her part in one of the biggest storylines of Season 6. (Spoilers follow.)
HBO: Where do we find Melisandre at the beginning of the season?
Carice van Houten: We see her quite devastated. Her whole faith has tumbled down, and she’s very, very confused. We see a little bit of that in the last episode of Season 5 when she comes back to Castle Black. Davos asks her where Shireen is, and she can’t even talk. It’s a big blow for her because that’s what she saw, that a sacrifice had to be made, and then it didn’t work. She’s thinking, “What’s my religion worth, really? Who is this god I’m dedicating my life to?” It’s the first time that we see her in doubt.
HBO: Was it difficult to play her in such an emotional state?
Carice van Houten: I think my forte’s more the sadder parts of a character, the doubtful parts, the anxious parts, and with Melisandre, I’ve not been able to express that very much. She’s always been in control. So as an actor it was great to show a different side to her. But at the same time, since I’ve been playing this character for so long it’s like, “Wait a minute, I completely lose all my decorum.” It felt almost like I was playing a different character. It was a huge thing for her, losing her faith. And as an actor I was so delighted to show a bit more of a human side to her, a different color.
HBO: How has her relationship with Davos changed?
Carice van Houten: He can see her vulnerability for the first time. She’s more approachable. They’re in the same boat because they both lost. First they lost Stannis, and then Jon Snow, who they had high hopes for. That bonds us a little bit.
HBO: When did you first learn about your character’s age?
Carice van Houten: It was very early in shooting the whole series. I knew at some point we were going to go back to the subject, but it didn’t come for a long time so I thought, “Well, we’ll see when it comes.” Then when I read the script last year I was like, “Oh yes, I love this. It’s going to be so shocking.” The reaction it got still makes me laugh; I just love it. I’ve been so lucky to have such epic scenes in this show, with the birth of the shadow baby, the leeches, and all the awful stuff.
HBO: People have been waiting to know Jon’s fate for a long time. What was it like being a part of that storyline?
Carice van Houten: The waiting for the audience is the same we know waiting for the script: “Ahh – give it to us already!” I’ve gotten so many questions, and I’ve been lying to all these poor people, but I had to, for the greater good. I’m sure nobody would have wanted me to spoil it. It was also fun to have that secret with us for a long time, although I think my aging was a bigger secret at some point than the resurrection.
HBO: What’s going through Melisandre's mind when she sees Jon Snow is alive?
Carice van Houten: She’s completely confused. She doesn’t really understand what her power is, exactly. When she basically says to Davos in the second episode ["Home"], “I don’t know how to do it, don’t count on me, I’m nobody really,” she’s in a true identity crisis. So once it works out, she is completely confused how she did it. But she regains a little bit of her faith, just a sparkle of hope that there might still be something, that she’s not completely crazy.
HBO: What is she hoping for when she asks Jon what he saw?
Carice van Houten: Well, I think she wanted to hear a little bit more than “nothing,” like anyone would. In that sense she’s the eyes of the audience. Anyone would ask a person who comes back from the dead, “Please tell me there’s something good there” – or that there’s something. And he says nothing. That’s as frustrating to her as to anyone, I think.
HBO: Now that the spell was successful, how will we see her behavior change as the season progresses?
Carice van Houten: We start with messy Melisandre – she looks bad, she doesn’t sleep – to her slowly regaining her faith and her confidence… slowly feeling like she has a place in this game.
HBO: If you could take a face from the Hall of Faces, whose would it be?
Carice van Houten: Ned Stark, just because he was the first, a classic.
HBO: If you were king, who would you want as your Hand?
Carice van Houten: I always like to say that I want to live in a world where Samwell Tarly is king. We probably wouldn’t survive, but hey, it would be a good time.
HBO: Choose your weapon – magic, whip, sword, or spear?
Carice van Houten: Magic, always magic.