Keisha Castle-Hughes: From whale rider to warrior monk
The best philosophy for watching hit HBO series Game of Thrones is to never get emotionally attached to any character. If they don't die, they will likely become morally compromised in some way or else suffer some horrific disability. No-one is safe, least of all the viewer.
Despite shameless attempts at baiting, Keisha Castle-Hughes will not reveal who is most likely to fall under the sword/carriage wheel/guillotine blade on the upcoming season, set to premiere in the US, UK and New Zealand on April 13.
The New Zealand actor wrapped filming for the American television series last year, in which she plays the character of Obara Sand.
She will say her own character, a born warrior, sees plenty of action."I think people are going to be really blown away by the Sand Snakes, there's three of us and we're Oberyn's daughters," Castle-Hughes says. "There's eight of us in total but they're showcasing three characters, Obara, Nymeria, and Tyene.
"It will be very exciting to see women in Game of Thrones who work together because we haven't seen that yet, we've seen strong women but they're always either lone wolves like Arya Stark or Brienne of Tarth, or they're political leaders like Cersei Lannister or Daenerys Targaryen, so we meet these three women who are warriors, who work together and who have nothing to lose which is very dangerous."
For those not completely up to date (spoiler alert) Prince Oberyn of Dorne is the handsome warrior who met an untimely – and extremely grisly – end last season.
"I actually found out I had the part of his daughter on the night that episode aired, so I had a very intense emotional reaction to that scene," Castle-Hughes says. "I'm so excited, it's one of my favourite shows and so it feels very surreal to be a part of it."
Now in its fifth season, Game of Thrones is based on the series A Song of Ice and Fire written by George R R Martin. Since it's debut in 2011, the fantasy television series has gained a huge worldwide following.
In New Zealand, viewer demand for the series is so high that Sky is launching a Game of Thrones pop-up channel that will run nothing but reruns of seasons 1 through 4 and behind-the-scenes specials from February through March.
Castle-Hughes spent the second half of last year filming the show on location in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Spain and other parts of Europe.
A large chunk of the upcoming season will be based in Dorne , a desert region surrounded by water . "We get to see in this new season a whole new world of Westeros, which is Dorne. It almost feels a little bit Arabic, it's in the desert but it's also seaside, everyone's a little bit more tanned, they get a little more Vitamin D down in Dorne so everyone's a little bit happier than their counterparts up in Kings Landing," Castle-Hughes says.
Her character has been more physically challenging to play than her previous roles, including Whale Rider at age 13 and recently, as a killer zombie in The Walking Dead.
"Obara Sand likes to think of herself as a warrior monk, some of her favourite pastimes are murdering people with her spear and meditating and picking on her younger sister, oh, and riding her horses ," she says.
"It's been very intensive, my character wields a 7-foot spear, the same as her father, so I've had lots of martial art training in the martial art of Wushu which has been really interesting and different for me, I'm more of a dramatic actress and I've never really done a lot physical or stunt-based roles before . It's been a massive challenge but it's been so much fun."
Castle-Hughes had been chasing the role on the series for months. "I am a massive fan of the books and I'd read them and I knew about Dorne, so I knew at some point there would be a call for 'ethnically ambiguous actors' they like to call us. So I just kept pestering and pestering my manager in LA."
After sending in an audition tape, Castle-Hughes took the call to meet the show's producers when she was at Los Angeles airport about to fly back to New Zealand.
"There's this running joke that the best way to get a job is to book a non-refundable flight. It was exactly that, I was at the airport and I was mentally prepared to see my family and I was like, 'This is really exciting and this is kind of all my dreams coming true but I want to get on the plane back to New Zealand, what!' I was a little bit conflicted but I stayed and it was for the best and the rest is history."
There are nine new characters this season, including Jonathan Pryce ( Pirates of the Caribbean, Tomorrow Never Dies ) as the High Sparrow and Alexander Siddig ( Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Clash of the Titans ) as Doran Martell.
Game of Thrones returns Monday, April 13, at 8.30pm on SoHo.
- Sunday Star Times