The body double who performed Game of Thrones’ Walk of Shame nude for three days is breaking her silence on enacting the stunning sequence.
Actress Rebecca Van Cleave (photo below) worked closely with star Lena Headey on the gripping penance walk in Sunday’s season 5 finale. While filming the Walk in Dubrovnik last October, Van Cleave performed nude while Headey wore a simple beige shift. The show’s visual effects team then merged the performances together—combining Headey’s progression of facial emotions during Cersei’s punishing hike to the Red Keep and Van Cleave’s physical movement echoing Headey’s body language in order to create the seamless illusion that Headey was completely bare for the sequence.
“It was one of the scariest, most wonderful, most gratifying experiences I could have imagined,” Van Cleave tells EW. “I never in a million years would have thought I would be in Dubrovnik surrounded by hundreds of extras and crew members throwing food at me, but it was amazing.”
More than 1,000 actresses applied for the role of Headey’s double for the season’s climactic sequence, where proud Cersei Lannister is shorn, stripped and forced to march for miles through a hostile King’s Landing crowd. Seven finalists were then flown to Belfast to meet with producers, including Van Cleave, an American who has landed theater and minor roles since she was 5, but had never previously performed a nude scene. “It was actually the most comfortable casting I’ve ever had, considering,” Van Cleave says.
Headey says she chose not to be nude for the six-minute climactic sequence “for several reasons,” among them that she wanted to focus on the emotions in her performance. She also opted out of the casting process for her double. “I was like, ‘Listen guys, she happens to have a beautiful body, but I don’t do casting,” the Emmy nominee says. “If somebody is brave enough to do this, I applaud it.”
Director David Nutter called Van Cleave’s casting one of the most important parts of making the finale. “We needed somebody who could do The Walk of Shame physically, somebody who could match Lena’s integrity, intensity and sensibility,” Nutter says. “We found a tremendous actress in Rebecca; she was a godsend. The courage of this girl, who’s never done anything like this in her life, who understood what was important about this … once I had her I felt like I could accomplish anything.”
EW was on the Thrones set when the sequence was filmed. Headey would walk Van Cleave through each shot, giving step-by-step insight into Cersei’s mindset. “Lena was so good about walking beside me and guiding me into what Cersei was thinking and the movements,” Van Cleave says. “We were playing tag team — ‘You’re it!’ — and trying to make light of the fact we’re all covered in everything and going through this together.”
As for what it was like to march naked through 500 screaming extras hurling food, liquid, and derogatory terms, Van Cleave says, “The first time I took off the robe there was all this anticipation building up to it. But it’s such an emotional experience for Cersei, you almost check out of the fact that you’re nude. You’re so in touch with the scene and what you’re going for.”
Yet there were some rough moments, too. “Particularly moments when I got all kinds of stuff thrown at me, with the chamber pots [being dumped out],” Van Cleave says. “Then on the last day, there was a well of emotion when she’s finally getting to the end and I was getting to the end too—not in a bad way, it’s almost like being one with the character.”
During our on-set interview with Headey, the actress praised Van Cleave’s work ethic. “It was a long process trying to find somebody who got what it means physically to be there with all that stuff going on, and Rebecca is a great actress,” Headey says. “It takes a lot to walk through the crowd naked for three days in a row with the crowd braying at you.”
Fast-forward eight months later to Sunday night’s finale. Van Cleave watched her performance combined with Headey’s for the first time. So what was that like? “It was very surreal and emotional, to be honest,” Van Cleave says. “I had a good little cry afterward. Lena and I put so much into that scene and to see it all come together was really special.”
The performance was so top secret that many of Van Cleave’s friends and family don’t yet know about her role on the hit show. And while body doubles are typically nearly invisible to those outside the industry, the U.K. press outed Van Cleave on Thursday, so she won’t be anonymous for long.
The actress also notes she disagrees with some of reactions she’s read to Headey utlizing a double in the scene. “I personally don’t agree with anybody who says having a body double detracts from the scene,” Van Cleave says. “Lena put her heart and soul into that scene. It should all be about the finished product, not about whose body was where and and whose head was where.”
Having said all that, Van Cleave hopes her work on Thrones helps her land her a role that’s a bit more traditional. “It’s definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but also the best experience of my life,” she says. “And I hope the next thing I do will have my head in it!”
For more, be sure to read EW’s companion interview with Headey giving her take on The Walk of Shame and whether Cersei deserved that punishment.
EW’s mega-coverage of the Thrones season finale: