Game of Thrones has long had a tradition of casting heavyweight British actors, the latest is Jonathan Pryce as High Sparrow but as he revealed in an interview with Radio 4 he was offered a part before the series began (when it was still a HBO-BBC co production) but turned it down.
I don’t like swords and fantasy things. I am that person who has never seen Star Wars, I’ve never seen any of the Lord of the Rings things…In fact I’d said no to the very original series of Game of Thrones and all I did was flip through and look at the names, these strange names, strange dialogue and I thought ‘oh, it’s not for me’.”
As Winter Is Coming says one person Pryce doesn’t compare his character to is the other one he’s playing, running on PBS concurrent with this season of Game of Thrones, that of Cardinal Wolsey in Wolf Hall. The two characters are in many ways polar opposites, with the High Sparrow living in self-enforced poverty, only to find himself being raised up by powerful friends, while the Cardinal was once a powerful man from Rome, cast down into poverty by the whim of once-powerful friends. (Watching Game of Thrones back to back with Wolf Hall is kind of a bizarro world experience. Not to mention that half the Game of Thrones cast shows up in other roles in an alternate universe world sort of way.)
Pryce sees the character as more St Francis “[He is a] man of the people, he dressed in rags, he feeds the poor, takes care of the poor. Yet he is this incredibly powerful figure who has the wherewithal to dispense justice against somebody – I won’t tell you who it is.”