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The king is dead, long live Jack Gleeson! Below, the 21-year-old actor whose Game of Thrones villain horrifically died Sunday night talks exclusively with EW about leaving the show, shooting his death scene, and why is is retiring (!) from acting. Plus, we have an exclusive goodbye video from Gleeson from the set of Thrones.
It’s all part of EW’s Purple Wedding coverage, which also includes an exclusive interview with Thrones author George R.R. Martin on why he killed Joffrey, an in-depth Q&A with showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss discussing the king’s death, our story of what it was like behind-the-scenes during Joffrey’s wedding and, of course, our recap of the best wedding ever.
Now here’s Gleeson, who overcame his aversion to media interviews to chat about his character’s last gasp and what comes next:
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So you just shot your death scene. How was that?
Jack Gleeson: It’s relieving, in a way. You want to do the scene and character justice. It’s a complicated scene; I’ve never had a death on screen before. You want it to look believable — the choking and the coughing. It’s calming to know I’m in the great hands of [director] Alex Graves.
How did it feel to go through those motions?
Gleeson: It was tough. I suppose it’s one of those things that you have no prior experience in. I’ve never seen anyone die. It’s hard to imagine what it would be like. But Alex very kindly walked me through it. It was fun in the end, but kind of stressful to be so focused, but acting like you’re completely unfocused. Difficult, but exciting.
When you’re doing the pie-cutting scene, showing off for the crowd, what was going through your mind?
Gleeson: When I’m cutting the cake, I’m just trying to make sure I cut it through the center. When I’m gloating to the crowd, I’m just trying to enjoy it — the fake praise.
I’ve been surprised how long it’s taken certain actors to hear about their character’s fate in the books. When did you know yours?
Gleeson: I knew from Day 1. When I got the part, I read the first book. And before that, I Googled the character summaries.
Did you expect Joffrey to last this long, or stick around longer, in the TV version?
Gleeson: I didn’t really think about it. I knew it was coming. I would have been surprised if it didn’t come in season 4. I was just like, whatever.
You’ve played a character fans love to hate for so long. How do you think fans will react?
Gleeson: I think it will be 50-50. There will be a delight that the person tormenting their favorite characters is gone, but I would like to think there’s a certain sadness at the loss of the delight people take in hating a character like Joffrey.
What was your favorite scene to shoot on the show?
Gleeson: Certainly the death scene is pretty cool. And [in next week’s episode] we did the funeral scene where I was on a cliff with stones in my eyes and I just got to sleep all day, and [spoiler happened]. So that was fun.
Was there anything Joffrey ever did that made you uncomfortable to perform?
Gleeson: No, I don’t think so. Oh, certainly the obvious answer — the two prostitutes and forcing one of them to beat and kill the other one. But I don’t remember it being awkward or uncomfortable to film.
Now you’re giving us another twist in this story by retiring at the age of 21. Why?
Gleeson: The answer isn’t interesting or long-winded. I’ve been acting since age 8. I just stopped enjoying it as much as I used to. And now there’s the prospect of doing it for a living, whereas up until now it was always something I did for recreation with my friends, or in the summer for some fun. I enjoyed it. When you make a living from something, it changes your relationship with it. It’s not like I hate it, it’s just not what I want to do.
As important as education is to you, what made acting appealing in the first place?
Gleeson: It was just fun. To be able to not be yourself for five minutes, half-an-hour, all day. I wouldn’t say it’s therapeutic, but it’s fun to think somebody else’s thoughts, especially a character like Joffrey. It’s a nice relief to day-to-day life.
What do you want to do instead?
Gleeson: I don’t know. Yeah. No idea. I have one year left in college. After that, I might do a post-graduate of some kind, but I don’t know in what.
I read that you wanted to be a scholar?
Gleeson: I hold a scholarship at my university at the moment. Yeah, I wanted to be an academic when I was 19 or 20. But, I’ve gone off that idea. The lifestyle is kind of lonely and isolated. I don’t think that would suit me.
So after this airs, Hollywood shouldn’t send you any scripts to try to lure you back?
Gleeson: Not for now. When I’m destitute in 10 years time, I’ll accept any script! No. As long as I’m in the not-ungrateful-but-perhaps-happy place where I can say “No” to whatever, I’m going to do that.
Many who follow entertainment in Hollywood will have a tough time wrapping their head around you–
Gleeson: Deal with it.
EW’s full coverage of Game of Thrones royal wedding:
George R.R. Martin: Why Joffrey died THAT way — EXCLUSIVE
Here’s Gleeson’s exclusive goodbye message to fans, shot on the set of Game of Thrones in Croatia last September: