Character casting can make or break a show, especially when it comes to such a highly anticipated series such as Game of Thrones.
With so many characters spread out over multiple storylines, the producers definitely had their work cut out for them. Over the course of the first season alone, they needed to fill the roles of 60+ lead and supporting characters. While casting director Nina Gold made most of the decisions for the characters, George R.R. Martin certainly had a say, as did showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. Of course, there were a few roles that did not require any auditions, such as Sean Bean (Ned) and Peter Dinklage (Tyrion), who were sought after for their roles from the start.
The casting of Game of Thrones was a unique challenge, as some of the world’s finest actors turned out for the chance to be a part of the series. While the producers weren’t afraid to cast A-list actors for some of the bigger roles, they also took their share of gambles on casting unknowns, especially for some of the younger characters.
But of course, the casting division certainly turned down their share of notable actors. Check out 15 actors who auditioned for Game of Thrones and were rejected!
15. Jared Harris – The High Sparrow
It’s hard to deny that Jonathan Pryce’s portrayal of the The High Sparrow was impeccable. Despite being the final choice for the role, the producers did not immediately choose the actor to play the part, and did quite a bit of deliberating beforehand.
The other big contender that challenged Pryce for the role was actor Jared Harris. The 56 year old UK native has appeared in plenty of huge hits and successful series over his career, taking on legendary roles such as King George VI, Ulysses S. Grant, and Professor James Moriarty. He even appeared alongside Kit Harrington in the movie Pompeii, in which he played Marcus Cassius Severus, though Harris is perhaps best known for playing Lane Pryce on Mad Men.
14. Eugene Simon (Lancel Lannister) – Joffrey Baratheon
It’s pretty commonplace in the entertainment industry these days for producers to turn down an actor for the particular role they audition for, only to decide they want to utilize their abilities for another part. This was the case when it comes to Eugene Simon, who played the less than beloved Lancel Lannister in Game of Thrones.
Surprisingly, even though he ended up being the perfect fit for the young Lannister, Simon’s initially went out for the role of King Joffrey Baratheon. After an audition for the boy king, producers then had him read for Lancel, which he said was quite exciting. He has also claimed that Lancel Lannister is one of his favorite characters. (How that’s the case, we’ll never know.)
13. Mahershala Ali – Xaro Xhoan Daxos
So much has happened since season 2 of Game of Thrones that it can be hard to remember some of the supporting characters that have come and gone. The merchant prince of Qarth, Xaro Xhoan Daxos, was one such character. He was portrayed by actor Nonso Anozie in the series, who had previously worked alongside Iain Glen in the movie The Last Legion.
A slightly more recognizable name that had originally auditioned for the role was none other than Mahershali Ali. He’s since noted in interviews that he lost the part of his own accord, saying that it was one of the worst auditions of his career.
Ali’s career certainly hasn’t suffered from the failure, however, as he enjoyed an acclaimed tenure on the hit Netflix series House of Cards before he broke out on the big screen in a major way this past year with an Oscar-winning role in Moonlight. He’s now regarded as one of the fastest rising stars in the industry.
12. Iwan Rheon (Ramsay Bolton) – Jon Snow
One of the most twisted villains Westeros ever saw was the bastard of the Dreadfort, Ramsay Bolton, who was portrayed by actor Iwan Rheon. Before he took on the role of this murderous psychopath, however, Rheon had actually auditioned to play Jon Snow. While it’s hard to imagine Iwan playing any type of hero after showing us how evil he can be on screen, he actually came pretty close to portraying our beloved hero.
The producers decided to go with Kit Harrington, but were so impressed with Rheon’s audition that when it was time to cast Ramsay, they immediately called him. Despite being turned down for the role of Jon Snow, Rheon said in an interview that, “I think they made the right choice, it would’ve been a very different Jon Snow if I’d played him.”
11. Tamzin Merchant – Daenerys Targaryen
Many fans aren’t aware that the producers of Game of Thrones actually had an entirely different pilot episode ready to air that needed to be completely reshot before the show was ordered to series.
It was so different in fact that they even had multiple actors playing roles that didn’t return after they went back to reshoot the episode. One of the biggest changes from the unaired pilot was the actress who played the role of Daenerys Targaryen, Tamzin Merchant. After deciding to scrap the pilot entirely, they also decided to replace Merchant with Emilia Clarke.
No official reason was ever given as to why exactly she was recast, only that the two parties separated on good terms. Merchant later went on to portray Anne Boleyn in The Tudors along Game of Thrones actress Natalie Dormer.
10. Izzy Meikle-Small – Sansa Stark
The competition for the role of Sansa Stark came down to two major contenders. Sophie Turner was the first choice and ultimate winner of the role, while the runner-up ended up being Izzy Meikle-Small. The 21 year old actress, who starred in films such as Snow White and The Huntsman and Never Let Me Go, reportedly didn’t quite have the look the showrunners were looking for.
Izzy said in an interview later on that while she was disappointed that she didn’t land the part because of how popular the series proved to be, she wasn’t too regretful. She worried about the amount of skin she would have to show throughout the series, and how her parents would have reacted to that.
9. Sam Hueghan – Loras Tyrell
Before he was cast as the lead in the hit Starz series Outlander, Sam Heughan auditioned to play the Knight of Flowers himself, Loras Tyrell.
Interestingly, Heughan also went out for the role of Renly Baratheon, though his focus was reportedly on playing the brother of Queen Margaery Tyrell. The 37 year old Scottish actor has said he read for these parts over and over, and seemingly came pretty close to landing one of them, as he auditioned at least seven times!
Sam Heughan would have undoubtedly made an excellent addition to the Game of Thrones world, but it seems to have worked out for the best for all involved. Finn Jones went on to play Iron Fist in the Netflix MCU, while the third season of Outlander is set to premiere later this month.
8. Jennifer Ehle – Catelyn Stark
Another actor that was re-casted after the unaired pilot was pulled and reshot, Jennifer Ehle was originally set to play Catelyn Stark. No official reason was given for this recasting, though rumors have circulated that producers wanted to improve the chemistry shared between Cat Stark and Sean Bean’s Ned. Meanwhile, Ehle’s only comment on the change was that she wanted to spend more time with her family.
To her credit, she is an extremely accomplished actress and would have undoubtedly made an excellent Catelyn Stark. However, HBO ended up going with Michelle Fairly as the Lady of Winterfell, which is a decision we can’t say we disagree with. It certainly would be interesting to see just what Jennifer Ehle did right (and wrong) as Catelyn Stark, though it’s highly unlikely that HBO will ever release their unaired pilot.
7. Danny Dyer – Pyp
Casting actors on Game of Thrones was a long process, even for some of the smaller roles. Remember Pyp? He was a brother of the Night’s Watch who was forced to go there after stealing food to feed his sister. If you recall the penultimate season 4 episode, “The Watchers on the Wall”, you’ll probably remember Pyp catching an arrow through the neck while defending the Wall from a wildling attack and dying in Samwell Tarly’s arms.
While the producers ended up casting Jozef Altlin, who has quite a wide range of smaller acting roles, the runner-up to play the role of Pyp was Danny Dyer. Dyer joined actress Diana Rigg (Lady Olenna Tyrell), on a recording of ITV’s Jonathan Ross Show, where he said that he actually had auditioned three times for several roles on the show.
6. Sam Claflin – Jon Snow
It’s easy to understand why Jon Snow might be the main focus of so many actor’s auditions. Over the course of 7 seasons, he’s become the male lead of the series, he gets the coolest sword fights, and now, he has the best claim to the Iron Throne.
Another famous actor that was reportedly close to playing the secret son of Rhaegar Targaryen was Sam Claflin. The 31 year old English actor is a seasoned veteran these days, having taken on roles in franchises like the Pirates of The Caribbean and The Hunger Games. He’s even starred alongside Game of Thrones actress Emilia Clarke in Me Before You. After failing to land the role of Jon Snow, he auditioned to play Viserys Targaryen – which he was also unsuccessful in.
5. Jamie Bamber – Jaime Lannister
Jaime Lannister was a highly sought after role when Game of Thrones was still in the casting stages. Understandably so, as his character definitely plays a huge part throughout Game of Thrones. Jamie Bamber was one of the top contenders to play the blonde haired knight, but eventually lost out to Nikolaj Coster-Waldau.
Not much was ever revealed about the decision-making process when it came to choosing Nikolaj over Jamie, but we don’t doubt that HBO made the right choice. Nikolaj has proven to be an inspired choice, making the Kingslayer a far more sympathetic character than he has any right to be. It’s easy to see why Bamber was considered for the role, however, as he fits the physical description for Jaime in almost every way.
4. Jamie Campbell Bower – Ser Waymar Royce
One of the very first characters we met in the book and TV series was Ser Waymar Royce of the Night’s Watch. It was definitely a minor role in the grand scheme of Game of Thrones, especially since he didn’t make it out of the opening sequence alive. The producers decided to cast Rob Ostlere, whose biggest career successes actually came from theater instead of TV or movies.
However, many fans may not realize that in the original unaired pilot episode, Royce’s character was actually portrayed by the slightly more well-known British actor Jamie Campbell Bower. When the pilot was sent back for reshoots, Bower was unavailable, and showrunners were forced to recast, ultimately landing on Ostlere to bring the doomed crow to life.
3. Perdita Weeks – Roslin Frey
Not everyone will remember who Roslin Frey is, but she was a major piece of the Red Wedding puzzle.
Roslin is the daughter of Walder Frey who marries Edmure Tully, and in the series, she’s portrayed by actress Alexandra Dowling. While Dowling was chosen to play the young bride, she wasn’t the only option, as Perdita Weeks also came close to nabbing the role. She originally was offered the part, but had to turn it down due to a role she was playing in The Heretics, but when that was postponed, she went back to see if the position was still open. By then, they had already chosen Dowling to play the role, and they had to turn her down.
While it surely would have been a thrill to join the cast, there ultimately wasn’t much to the role. Unlike her husband Edmure, who returned briefly back in season 6, Roslin Frey hasn’t been seen since the Red Wedding episode.
2. Tricia Helfer – Cersei Lannister
Just like Daenerys Targaryen, there were a lot of actresses that turned out for the opportunity to play Cersei Lannister.
One notable candidate for the role that ended up falling short to Lena Headley was actress Tricia Helfer. Helfer is actually a huge fan of the books, and was very eager to land a major role in the small screen adaptation. She told IGN in a 2014 interview that she was very wary to watch the show after it aired, because more often than not, TV series never quite live up to the source material. She continued on to say that she might eventually come around and watch it.
1. Elena Satine – Daenerys Targaryen
Immediately after the producers decided to recast the role of Daenerys Targaryen, they proceeded to audition a handful of applicants, one of whom was Elena Satine.
Most popular for her roles in Magic City and Revenge, the Georgian-American actress auditioned multiple times for the role but still ended up being a runner-up to Emilia Clarke. The decision was tough for the producers, and while they didn’t dislike Satine, they felt that Emilia was a better fit for the role and casted her instead. Not a whole lot else has been said about her audition for the part. Perhaps the reason why she lost the role was because she simply couldn’t match Emilia Clarke’s rendition of the “Funky Chicken and Robot”, a dance combo she credits for helping her win over producers.
Regardless, fans everywhere surely believe they made the right choice!
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