Interviews

Game of Thrones star Liam Cunningham on The Childhood of a Leader

With the start of the latest season of Game of Thrones around the corner – the first episode airs in the US on Sunday! – we look back with GoT star Liam Cunningham on IFFR's closing film, in which he played a leading role. A visual and musical spectacle thanks to the Codarts Orchestra's live accompaniment of The Childhood of a Leader.

From mega hit series Game of Thrones to a completely idiosyncratic art film like The Childhood of a Leader – as an actor, you sure get around.

"I'm now based in Los Angeles, but I was lucky that HBO were nice enough to set Westeros an hour and a half from my front door in Ireland. For The Childhood of a Leader I had to travel a bit further: to Budapest. A city I know well, because I'm a Formula 1 freak and they always have a fantastic race there. This time I was there in the winter, though. Cold! Fortunately, most of the recording was done indoors."

You've never seen a film like this before. When I heard it was being screened in Rotterdam with a live orchestra, straight away I broke out in a huge grin

The film is about the youth of someone who goes on to become a controversial leader. What was your own youth like?

"I'm from a working class background, it wasn't very artistic at all. I worked as an electrician until I was 29. I was so fed up with it, I tried to find a hobby, something that would challenge me. And I found acting – much to my own amazement, because I'd never done anything like that before. No amateur dramatics – I was never even in a play at school. It gripped me straight away, I felt it in my bones. As an actor I want to take risks; I don’t want to fall into repetition. Audiences see that straight away. Drama, that's real life, but without the boring bits. So it has to be different. And yeah, The Childhood of a Leader is certainly different. It's a film for the connoisseur. It expects more of the audience. You really can’t tell that it’s Brady Corbet's directorial debut. He had so much confidence, he directed the film as if it were his fiftieth. Brady may be a 26-year-old New Yorker, but his taste is European. He has a huge passion for European cinema. As an actor, he's also worked with the great masters, like Michael Haneke and Lars von Trier."

The Childhood of a Leader is indeed far from conventional.

"It's a work of art that asks questions. Brady described the film as a cross between a drama about the Treaty of Versailles and a horror film. That may seem a bizarre combination, but they actually go very well together. It's an artistic project, in the right sense of the word. You've never seen a film like this before. And what a stroke of genius to screen it in Rotterdam with a live orchestra. When I heard that, straight away I broke out in a huge grin. A fantastic idea, because Scott Walker created an amazing score. The result is a film that really excites the senses. The soundtrack usually has a supporting role in a film, but in The Childhood of a Leader the music and images sometimes battle one another."