Aidan Gillen is a name you may not immediately recognise, but if you’ve seen Game of Thrones, The Wire or Peaky Blinders, you’ll know his face.
He’s most widely known for playing the role of the devious Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish in the extraordinarily successful HBO series Game of Thrones.
Gillen has a knack for scoring parts in some of television’s iconic programs and his characters share something in common.
He’s made a name for himself playing charming sociopaths.
“Maybe I’m a charming sociopath,” Gillen says.
“Having played those roles, you do start to take a little bit of that into your own personality.”
Gillen says he played more vulnerable characters early in his career, but admits that after playing a succession of “colder and evil” characters, he started to enjoy it.
The long-awaited final season of Game of Thrones will premiere on April 15, with speculation rife as to the fate of the characters.
Littlefinger died at the end of Season 7.
How did it feel for Gillen to have the whole world cheering as his character had his throat cut?
“I think characters like that are expected to get a comeuppance, so that sounds appropriate,” he says.
Creating sympathy for unlikeable characters
If you were both happy and sad about the death of Littlefinger, you felt exactly how Gillen wanted you to.
“I always tried to make people feel for that guy, regardless of what he was doing,” he says.
Gillen says it’s a challenge making such a Machiavellian character appealing.
“They have charm and they have seductive powers, that’s why they’re able to get to where they get to and have influence over people.
“I was actively trying to get [the audience] to root for me and to think I was a good person.”
Gillen says he tried to find a key piece of humanity within the character and tried to magnify it.
“If it’s the conversations with the kids, I wanted people to think I really care about these people,” he says.
While Gillen has been in a number of award-winning ensembles, he says being part of the Game of Thrones universe was unique.
“To be invited in to be part of that universe, which is a really magically created thing … to be trusted and allowed to bring something of yourself to it and make it your own, and then it becomes this big pop culture phenomenon, it’s like magic,” he says.
‘I don’t want to know’
“In Game of Thrones, it’s almost like part of one of those very intricate pop-up books or the world’s best snow globe,” he says.
Gillen attributes a lot of that magic to the sets and locations, including those filmed in his homeland of Ireland.
“It’s the closest you’ll get to walking around in a dreamland,” Gillen says.
Playing the same character for so many years provided some unexpected challenges.
“It was a great pleasure trying to fit into that [costume] after a few months off,” he says.
“Going back from season to season, I would have to start thinking about being able to fit into it.
“That usually involved getting the bicycle out and going up and down mountains for about two months just to be sure you were not going to pop the buttons.”
Sometimes actors play characters so well it’s hard for them to escape that mould.
But Gillen’s not worried that he will forever be Littlefinger.
“I don’t care, if that’s the way it goes, that’s fine,” he says.
Despite the death of his character in Game of Thrones, he says it will be emotional to watch the series end.
And there’s one question on the lips of every Game of Thrones fan: does he know what happens?
“I haven’t asked anyone. I don’t know and I don’t want to know,” he says.
Gillen is in Australia for the first time for his latest series Project Blue Book, about J Allen Hynek’s UFO research.
“Do I believe that there’s life in the universe outside of this planet? I would say yes, quite likely,” he says.
“I know the chances are stacked against life happening, but the universe is vast.
“I don’t doubt that there’s life out there.”
Catch up on our season seven recaps: