When Rose Leslie got the call from her agent that she was landed the role of Ygritte on Game of Thrones, her reaction was explosive.
The actress had already enjoyed an arc on one international hit (Downton Abbey), but she really wanted the role of the fiery Wildling scout who spars and flirts with the virginal Jon Snow (Kit Harington). Then one day she was walking in the center of London. “I remember the day very well, I don’t think it will ever leave me,” she recalls. “I got a call from my agent and he told me the good news and I was jumping up and down like a manic. It was phenomenal. I’m incredibly privileged to play Ygritte. She’s such a fiercely independent character and I love playing her. I was ecstatic.”
After getting cast, Leslie dove into the books (she’s currently on Book 4). “I wanted to throw myself into the world of Westeros,” she says. As a member of the Wildling tribe, the actress shoots the bulk of her outdoor scenes in Iceland. She says the toughest thing about the extreme environment isn’t the cold, but walking in thick snow while trying to stay in character on camera. “You become very aware that this is Ygritte’s home, she’s incredibly comfortable in this particular surrounding,” Leslie says. “You can’t look like you’re working so hard to trudge up a hill. I’m like panting inside.”
This season, which debuts March 31, Ygritte will get closer to Jon Snow as he infiltrates the Wildling camp. We’ve previously seen some strong hints about how tough Ygritte is, this season she’ll have more opportunities to show that she’s every bit as much of a warrior as the Wildling men (and demonstrates she’s pretty handy with a bow and arrow).
The character does come, however, with one attribute that some actors might find burdensome. Ygritte has a bona fide catchphrase: “You know nothing, Jon Snow.” The line, which made a single appearance in season two, will almost certainly pop up again in season three. It’s used frequently in George R.R. Martin’s A Storm of Swords, the first half (more or less) of which inspired the new season of the HBO hit.
The actress didn’t quite realize how much the catchphrase would become a part of her everyday life. Asked how often fans plea with her to say the phrase, Leslie says “so often” — but, she hastily adds, not so often that she’s become bothered by the request.
The only annoying part of the whole business, she says, is that fans tend to be disappointed by her delivery. “I use a different voice — I put on an accent on the show — so when I say ‘You know nothing, Jon Snow’ in my own voice you get a furrowed brow from fans and they’re like, ‘That doesn’t sound like Ygritte.’ And then I got to go into [her character’s] accent and do it and it’s a really long boring process for the fan and I’m sure they walk away wishing they hadn’t asked me because it’s such a kerfuffle.”
There was one time, however, where the catchphrase was used in real life rather awesomely.
Leslie was in Northern Ireland, one of the five countries where the upcoming season of Thrones was shot. She was sitting in a restaurant with a friend, and having a tough time deciding what to order. “And I said to the waitress, ‘I don’t know what I’m going to go for,’ and the waitress jumped in with the line. It was very funny; it was perfect timing. I gave her a high five.”
Leslie considers. “Actually, I wanted to give her a high five, but it would have been incredibly lame if I did.”
17 DAYS OF THRONES
EW rolled out 17 Game of Thrones stories with exclusive and spoiler-free behind-the-scenes content, largely drawn from our Northern Ireland set visit last fall, leading up to the show’s season 3 premiere on March 31. After each episode air we’ll have our popular recaps (catch up on the recaps for the first two seasons here) and interviews. Follow me on Twitter @james_hibberd for Game of Thrones news and bookmark our Thrones hub here.