Jack Gleeson shot to fame in the early ’10s when he was cast in the fantasy phenomenon Game of Thrones. Throughout his time in the show, his character King Joffrey was involved in all sorts of heinous crimes. But the Irishman has since revealed that his favorite ever scene involved something a little more subdued.
Born in 1992 in the Irish county of Cork, Gleeson started his acting career at the age of seven. He made his screen debut in Christian Bale’s 2002 dragon slayer adventure Reign of Fire. He then appeared in several short films including Moving Day, Fishtale and the intriguingly-titled Tom Waits Made Me Cry.
Gleeson briefly ventured into the superhero universe in 2005 with a passing appearance in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins. He then popped up in several Irish films including 2007’s horror Shrooms, 2009’s family drama A Shine of Rainbows and 2010’s coming-of-age All Good Children. Gleeson received rave reviews for his performance in the latter, with Variety hailing him as “the pic’s big discovery.”
Gleeson also began his philosophy and theology degree at Dublin’s Trinity College in 2010. He became a member of the drama society there and later co-founded the Collapsing Horse Theatre Company with several of its members. Of course, by this time Gleeson had become a world-famous actor.
Indeed, at the start of the ’10s, Gleeson auditioned for a role in a new series called Game of Thrones. The actor later admitted that he’d never heard of the books the show was based on when he went for the part of Joffrey Baratheon. But nonetheless he aced the audition, brushed up on the first installment – and the rest is history.
However, Gleeson decided against reading any further novels in the series due to his short attention span. He told entertainment site Vulture, “I was already studying philosophy in university and that was taking up enough space in my brain. I wasn’t really able to keep track of all these characters.”
For those who have been living under a rock, Game of Thrones is the fantasy epic adapted from a book series penned by George R. R. Martin. It’s based in the imaginary continents Essos and Westeros and has boasted a cast of hundreds over its seven seasons. It’s also renowned for copious amounts of nudity and bloodshed.
There are three main narrative threads in Game of Thrones. There’s the story of the enduring brotherhood known as the Night’s Watch. This group is tasked with protecting its realm from various mythical beasts and ancient tribes. Of course, the harsh forthcoming winter proves to be just as much of a threat.
Then there are the rivalries between the dynasties attempting to take control of – or battling to be independent from – the Seven Kingdoms’ Iron Throne. The third plot strand centers on the exiled final descendant of the once-dominant family who were overthrown from the realm. All three stories interweave to produce one almighty epic fantasy.
Game of Thrones debuted on HBO in 2011 and quickly attracted a devoted following across the globe. By its fourth season, it had surpassed The Sopranos as the network’s most-viewed show ever. It’s since picked up a record number of Primetime Emmy nods, with Peter Dinklage winning three for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series.
And Jack Gleeson’s performance as Joffrey Baratheon was crucial to the show’s early success. Renowned for his ruthless, cocky and downright wicked personality, the character was introduced as Cersei Lannister’s oldest child in season one. And he soon solidly justified his status as one of the hit series’ ultimate villains.
Indeed, Joffrey is made the King of the Seven Realms by the Lannister family following the character of Robert’s passing. And although he’s initially manipulated by his mother Cersei, he soon proves he has an evil mind of his own. For having previously promised to save Ned Stark from execution, the babyfaced ruler then decides to have him killed.
This decision inevitably has disastrous consequences for both Joffrey and his family in season two. His uncles Stannis and Renly attempt to overthrow him from the throne, while the Starks abduct his uncle Jaime. However, Joffrey then doubles down on his dastardly ways, instructing his Kingsguard to assault Sansa. He also orders the City Watch to murder each of his father’s illegitimate offspring.
Joffrey then shows his cowardice when he goes into hiding during an attack on King’s Landing. Indeed, it’s left to his grandfather Tywin and uncle Tyrion to save the day. Joffrey is then forced to call off his engagement to Sansa and instead wed Margaery Tyrell as a means of establishing a stronger bond between their two families.
In season three, Joffrey’s former fiancée Sansa ends up walking down the aisle with his uncle Tyrion. Unsurprisingly, the king isn’t exactly a model guest at the ceremony and subsequently ends up being threatened by the groom. Joffrey desperately wants to punish his uncle in retaliation but is talked out of it by his father.
Tywin further shows that he still has a hold on his son following the tragic events of the infamous Red Wedding. Indeed, Twyin becomes furious after discovering that Joffrey intends to serve Sansa the head of her late sibling Robb. As a result, he issues Joffrey with a threat of his own and banishes him to his room.
Joffrey eventually walks down the aisle with Margaery in season four – but his behavior doesn’t get any better. He embarrasses his uncle Tyrion once more at the reception with a play depicting him as a dwarf. He also further attempts to put him in his place by tasking him with the role of cupbearer.
However, Tyrion has the last laugh when Joffrey is fatally poisoned at the wedding feast shortly after. Inevitably, Tyrion is named as the main suspect and is imprisoned by Joffrey’s mother Cersei. However, it turns out that the guilty culprits are actually Lord Petyr Baelish and Margaery’s grandmother Lady Olenna Tyrell.
And the motive for killing the king at his own wedding? Well, Oleanna later explains to her granddaughter that she would have done anything to stop her from entering into marriage with the man she calls “that beast.” But Margaery doesn’t have to wait too long to get hitched again.
Shortly after attending the funeral of her first husband, Margaery ends up walking down the aisle with his younger brother. Tommen Baratheon doesn’t only benefit from Joffrey’s death in the romantic stakes, either. Indeed, as the first in line to the throne, he is also crowned as the king.
Gleeson was hailed for his performance as the nefarious Joffrey throughout his four seasons on the show. The character placed fourth in Rolling Stone’s 2016 poll of the 40 Greatest TV Villains of All Time. Gleeson once revealed that he’d been heavily inspired by Joaquin Phoenix’s turn as Commodus in the 2000 Oscar-winning epic Gladiator.
Two years after exiting Game of Thrones, Gleeson was interviewed by Vulture about his experiences of filming the show. He revealed that he very nearly missed out on the part of Joffrey due to his studying commitments. However, luckily the filming schedule was changed and Gleeson was able to take on the role.
When asked what scene he auditioned with, Gleeson replied, “I think it’s in the very first episode, where the whole Lannister gang goes to Winterfell and Joffrey’s squaring up against Robb Stark. They’re talking about archery or something like that and Joffrey’s trying to assert himself.” But Gleeson wasn’t sure at the time whether he’d done enough to convince creators Dave Benioff and Dan Weiss.
“I just remember Dan and Dave actually LOL-ing during my audition,” Gleeson told Vulture. “I was like, maybe they’re laughing at how bad the performance is. But I think they were laughing at how mean and cruel my portrayal was. Almost camp.” Thankfully, art didn’t imitate life when it came to the character.
“Thankfully, I’m not a good enough actor to believe the things that my character believes,” Gleeson said in relation to his ability to cope with playing such a menace. “If you’re a really good actor, you can completely believe what you’re doing in those three minutes, but one is oneself for 99.9 percent of the day of filming.”
Gleeson explained how he’s able to remove himself from his character so quickly. He said, “You go and put your makeup on, put your costume on, wait in your caravan-trailer thing for an hour and then you go the set and you film for three minutes and then they change around the lights and the camera angle and you wait for an hour and then you film for another three minutes. It’s a very boring, tedious process.”
So what was the scene that Gleeson enjoyed filming the most over the course of his four Game of Thrones seasons? When he ordered the execution of Ned Stark? When he forced Sansa to stare directly at her late father’s pike-mounted head? Perhaps when he killed Ros with a crossbow? Nope, Gleeson’s favorite G.O.T. experience was something a little more sedate.
“I don’t know if there’s a scene where I did my best work,” Gleeson pondered while talking to Vulture. “But the final scene I appear in is when Joffrey’s corpse is lying on a plinth in the set and I just got to sleep for the whole day. That was a fun experience.”
A refreshingly honest Gleeson went on to add, “I don’t know if I did my best work. Because I would literally just fall asleep in the middle of a take.” Indeed, it turns out that the Irishman wasn’t required to do much acting during the scenes featuring his deceased character.
Gleeson revealed, “They put these ceremonial stones on my eyes. You know when you’re dozing off and then you wake up and you realize that you were asleep – but you shouldn’t have been – and you kind of… [jolt]? I got like that. That was the one I enjoyed the most. It was also the one I gave my worst performance.”
In fact, Gleeson would like to have had the opportunity to enjoy a nap on camera more often. When asked whether he was happy about the way his character met his maker, the Irishman admitted that he found the scene difficult to film. Indeed, if the actor had it his way, Joffrey would have gone a lot more quietly than death by choking.
With his tongue firmly in cheek, Gleeson added, “Maybe like Joffrey dying in his sleep because that would be really easy for me. I wouldn’t have to worry about trying to make it convincing. I could just literally fall asleep and they could [have] just [filmed] me and maybe have a [subtitle], ‘He dies.’”
Gleeson might not have been entirely on board with the way he exited the show, but he was happy to bow out when he did. He told Vulture, “I didn’t care that much, because four seasons is enough. You have to end at some point. My dad always says to leave a party wanting more.”
And Gleeson admits that he hasn’t watched a single episode since his departure. He said, “No, there’s too much to catch up on. I’ve not a clue what’s going on. In my mind, all these characters are still alive and everyone’s in this place and those people are in that place… And now everything’s screwed around so much that it’s a completely different show.”
In fact, Gleeson hasn’t watched any of the Game of Thrones episodes he appeared in either. The actor, who dislikes seeing himself on the screen, told Vulture, “Even when I got the script, I only read my own scenes. I’m just selfish. Maybe I should get into it. I hear it’s good.”
Despite performing in one of the biggest TV shows of the decade, Gleeson has no interest in the fame game. He told Vulture, “People can be wealthy and not be mean, but this status thing – some people when they become famous, they feel better. They feel more worthy. That’s what makes me feel really uncomfortable. I try to eschew that as much as possible.”
Gleeson was also keen to state that he still has his feet firmly on the ground. “If you imagine me as this otherworldly creature then that’s how you’re going to view me,” he said. “But if you actually get to meet me and I get to meet you and we get to hang out a little bit, we get to know each other. That weird status thing is dissolved. We can just enjoy each other as people.”
Gleeson hasn’t taken a film or TV acting job since his departure from Game of Thrones. But that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s been sitting at home idly twiddling his thumbs. To the contrary, the Irishman has been focusing on his stage career and the Collapsing Horse Theater company he co-founded.
Gleeson told Vulture that he’s far more invested in the theater world than he ever was on the fantasy phenomenon. “I loved acting on Game of Thrones, but you kind of feel like you’re just this small cog in a big wheel,” he said. “You provide a service, but it’s a very nominal service where you kind of just go and say the lines and you’re valued. But you’re just as valued as the prop department or whatever.”
The Collapsing Horse Theater Company has staged several productions since its formation. Its first play, Bears in Space, graced the likes of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and London’s Soho Theatre during its two-year run. It’s since added to its repertoire with 2017’s The Water Orchard and 2018’s Science Fiction Radio Hour.