Gemma Whelan Q&A: on Game of Thrones, The Crown, The Moorside and new audiobook ‘Just One Damned Thing After Another’

Whelan plays Yara Greyjoy in ...Thrones

Today, Audible issues a new audiobook based on Jodi Taylor’s The Chronicles of St Mary’s series. Just One Damned Thing After Another is a Terry Pratchett- and Neil Gaiman-inspired adventure that follows Madeleine Maxwell (Max) and her colleagues as they travel through time to investigate major historical events at their source.

NME met up with Game of Thrones and The Moorside star Gemma Whelan to talk about her role in Just One Damned Thing…, as well as her other projects: Game of Thrones, series two of Netflix’s enormous-budgeted historical drama The Crown, and controversial TV special The Moorside, in which she played Karen Matthews, who faked the kidnap of her daughter, Shannon, in 2008.

NME: So: in Just One Damned Thing After Another, what’s your character Kalinda Black like?

Gemma: “Kal is feisty and Mancunian and very front-footed, no messing, a leader. She doesn’t take any bullshit and she’s very witty.”

 

What’s it like recording an audiobook? How does it work? 

“Normally I just read a book by myself in a room, but this one varies from two of us to 15 of us together, depending on how much background is needed, or if there’s lots of huffing and puffing, or an angry-people mob or whatever in the background. It’s a good job there’s air conditioning.”

 

Have you done radio stuff before? Is it similar?

“I’ve done radio plays before. It is similar but the radio play I’ve done before, we recorded it in an old Georgian house and we were just all over the house for different acoustics and stuff. This one is in a studio so it’s slightly different.”

 

If you could travel anywhere in time, when would you travel to and why?

“The Second World War. Even though in the book we go to the First, I think the Second is a war which some of my relatives served in and to really understand what that was like would be very, very interesting. We can only imagine, but to be rationed and in fear of your life for a lot of your everyday life, and that become a normal thing is quite an extraordinary phenomenon that we’re so lucky we don’t really live in now.

“I know there’s the threat of terrorism and all sorts, but there’s not a hugely tangible threat in London, I don’t think, and yet back in the Second World War there would have been daily scares and people seemingly got on with things. I think it would be interesting to go and see what that was actually like. I would also go and meet a dinosaur if it was an option. From a distance.”

Moving onto other roles – your transformation into Karen Matthews for The Moorside was amazing. How did you go about preparing for it?

“I read a lot, I was given a lot of research material, I was very well supported in terms of production and direction, hair and make up. The whole thing was very sensitive and respectfully handled in my opinion. I think many people share that opinion because it was extremely important to get it right. So yes, I read a lot of books, I watched all of the footage that was available of her documentaries and news footage, and worked very hard to try and understand what I could about that case.”

What about your comedy character Chastity Butterworth? Is she still around?

“She is still alive and well! I’ve just done a radio pilot on Radio 4, a chat show on which Charles Dance among many other greats came on as my guest and we had a hoot. That was broadcast a couple of months ago and we’re hoping to get a series but we’ll see what happens.”

What’s been your favourite scene to shoot on Game of Thrones?

“Probably the ones with very beautiful, majestic coastlines, because it’s just so extraordinary to behold. The Antrim coast is phenomenally beautiful. To think you’re at work and then be on this beautiful coastline is quite pinch-worthy sometimes – it’s a real privilege. I think we all realise how lucky we are when we’re doing it. Every day is enjoyable on Game of Thrones for me, but when you get a nice view as well it’s a bonus!

How about challenging scenes?

“Fighting scenes are challenging. Doing scenes where you’ve got to be in the water for a long time is challenging because it’s just cold and often they’re long night-shoots and stuff. This is not me playing a tiny violin, I realise how lucky I am. If it’s challenging I’d rather be in a nice warm brothel than I would in the sea – but you know, wouldn’t we all!”

What’s your favourite thing about Yara?

“She’s just a glorious character to play. She’s strong, and front-footed, and knows her mind, is apologetic but sensitive, family-oriented but not saccharine. She’s just brilliant! I think she speaks for herself really. She’s very, very likeable for all sorts of good feminist reasons.”

What are you working on right now?

“I am doing The Crown at the moment.

Can you talk about that at all?

“No.”

But it’s set ten years after the first series?

“Yes.”

What can you say?

“I can say that I’m doing a lovely guest part in one episode.”

Just One Damned Thing After Another is available now on Audible.