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Before being introduced to American audiences as Shae on HBO’s Game of Thrones, German actress Sibel Kekilli was already a major star in Germany, having won two Lolas — the country’s highest film award.
But joining Thrones proved a challenge, as it was the first time the actress had acted in a major role in English. She tells The Hollywood Reporter she initially had trouble on set, where Irish, Scottish and American accents abound. But her English improved, with co-star Peter Dinklage (who plays her love interest Tyrion Lannister) remarking during season two, “Your English is getting better, so now I can’t make any jokes in front of you.”
In a conversation with THR, Kekilli delves into her working relationship with Dinklage, whose acting she describes as “overwhelming,” and recalls meeting Thrones author George R.R. Martin for the first time.
The Hollywood Reporter: What is it like working with Peter Dinklage?
Sibel Kekilli: I really love him and his acting. His acting is overwhelming, and I love to watch him. When we act together, I really forget to act. I’m just watching him and I think “oh my gosh, it’s my turn.”
THR: As an actress, is it hard to have Shae hold her own with Tyrion, who is such strong character?
Kekilli: Acting for me is like a ping-pong game. That’s the secret of acting. When you have a really good actor, I always want to be as good as he is or she is. Peter gives me the ball and I just want to return it to him.
THR: Things are dangerous for Shae this season. Does she have second thoughts about risking her life by being with Tyrion?
Kekilli: Shae is in love with Tyrion. At the end of the episode in the second season, when he was hurt and powerless, she said “I want to stay with you. It doesn’t matter if you are powerless or powerful. I‘m in love with you.” I think she still thinks like that.
THR: How different is it t acting in English, rather than German?
Kekilli: I had to get used to it. Because it was my first time acting in English, everyone on set was difficult to understand. It was a mix of Scottish, Irish, British and American English. To understand a Scottish accent or an Irish accent was so hard. I didn’t understand anything. In the first season, they translated lines to German for me. In the second season, Peter said, “Oh, your English is getting better, so now I can’t make any jokes in front of you.”
THR: Have you met George R.R. Martin?
Kekilli: I just met him this year at the Game of Thrones premiere. Everyone was talking about him like, “Oh, my god, he’s the creator of the books and of the series,” so I was like a little kid. Like, “Oh, my God, I’m going to meet George R.R. Martin.” He was really funny, and he was so cute with his wife. He feels guilty meeting all of the actors because he knows he’s going to kill them in the series.
THR: Were there any surprises about shooting this season?
Kekilli: I was surprised that i t was easy to understand English and the people around me. And sometimes even I don’t know if Shae will live or die. Of course I’ve got the script — but it’s like “OK. If I’m not nice to you guys, are you going to kill me now?” You never know what’s going to happen to you.
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