In the first season of Game of Thrones, one of the most vile and gut-wrenching betrayals is that of Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish against Ned Stark, the most honourable and decent man in all the seven kingdoms.
“I did warn you not to trust me,” he says, placing a dagger at Stark’s throat and sealing his fate as a traitor.
As Lord Baelish, Aiden Gillen brings a kind of sincerity and earnestness to the scoundrel – the same qualities (minus the nasty scheming) he brings to his other characters, including the professor Dr J Allen Hynek, an alien conspiracy theorist in Project Blue Book.
I talked to Gillen about what it takes to jump in and out of so many characters – and performing with an indecipherable Tom Hardy in The Dark Knight Rises…
What made you interested in doing this [Project Blue Book]?
Subject, character, script, genre. Not playing a villain! To have a break, it's a bit of relief.
Are you into UFOs?
Yeah. I'm not like a nerd or anything like that. Not a pointy-head, tinfoil hat ... not anything like that. But you know... I find the subject interesting, entertaining, fun and maybe something a little more too. You know?
I don't believe that we're alone in the universe. So it's nice to speculate as to what that might mean. Have we been visited? I don't think we have. There are other interesting explanations for people seeing these things or thinking they see them, or whatever. You know, it's not just about proving or disproving. It's a a bigger picture. And certainly the era our show's set in 1950s America, you know, it was a lot of rather potent factors.
There was a combination of Cold War, serious post-War optimism, technological advances, television emerging as mass media, or arriving as mass media. Which you know all contributes to these unidentified flying objects being reported. Suddenly that's front and centre. Including lots of very credible reports, so I wonder why - why would you report that if you really didn't mean it? Because you're a professional pilot or air traffic controller and now you're potentially going to be ridiculed. So yeah, interesting world.
So was there an unanswered question that's real head-scratching? Something that has no explanation?
The setting of an early episode is one of the more widely reported and credibly reported mass UFO sightings, over Washington DC in 1952. Hundreds of people came forward, didn't even have to come forward, because they're standing, watching lights buzzing in the streets, lights buzzing around the capital, over a series of days. And the US Air Force sent planes up to investigate them, or trying to. So of course, that seems crazy, but that's one of the more credible sightings.
That's the main unexplained [thing]. And the abductions, people who come forward, say they've been abducted. While less believable, it's definitely very fascinating. These very elaborate stories, whether it happened or didn't happen seems kind of irrelevant. I'm wondering, how could you even ... just to think of [making it up], why or what's the point. What's it all about? Could it have happened? Of course you always have to entertain the idea that Hynek never doubted what people told him. Either they might may have believed it happened to them, and if so, is it something else. Is this something like a psychic phenomenon? Can people conjure the same thing in their minds? …Is it an inter-dimensional overlap?
Aren't there cosmic phenomena that could explain certain kinds of sightings, like certain formations and comets and what have you?
Yeah. There are, and most of these investigations did come to a conclusion. That's a logical, either earthly or astronomical, phenomenon, you know. It's a flock of birds, it's a part of Venus, it's the Northern Lights. There were a few they were unable to explain but [they] totally solved most of these cases. But there's 700 that they couldn't. And still, I'm thinking some of them are pretty insane cases that it could have been something we'll never be able to explain.
Have you ever been to Roswell, New Mexico?
I have not been to Roswell. I've been to New Mexico. But I never made it to Roswell.
Can I ask you, I just happen to be re-watching Game of Thrones. For the build up to the new season, you know.
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
You're hands down one of my favourite parts of it. You're so good in this show. So I'm wondering what haven't you been asked about doing that show? How are you looking at it, now you're off the show?
I still feel like I'm part of it, you know what I mean? … Whether I'm there or not you're still part of the story. So I never really kind of worried about that. Like the last episodes, the last season, I didn't think ‘Oh I'm out of this. This is like my connection to this show's over.’ I'll always be there and in terms of being within that story, that'll be there and still be an experience of it. So it's going to be in my mind because I was kind of a huge part of it…. So I just feel like I'm still there.
And now that we're in the 8th and final season, how do you think about the show and your time on it?
Just that it was an extraordinary experience… you kind of get the moments to be real and small ... I think that show has a lot of really intimate portrayals. People's performances are kind of very detailed.
It's an epic story, but you're kind of really in there looking at people. Really folks are ... you can see what they're thinking all the time, which is unusual you know? And it's a temptation, particularly in those genres, [you] can be pretty big and kind of not worry about that detail too much and not take the risk of making things tiny, but I think a lot of the performers did just that. So yes, very happy to have been there.
That smallness also makes it ... it makes the emotional turns and the betrayals and everything all that more effective.
Yeah, I think so. Because you feel like you know these people.
I don't think anyone's forgotten, but when you have your knife at Sean Bean's throat ...
I mean, that is nasty.
Yeah, that was probably the most kind of cloak and dagger-ish thing I was asked to do there. Which, you know it had to be done. It's so almost out of character, which I think this is why the image of it is so memorable.
Oh, it looked great.
It had to be done. Poor Sean Bean, eh?
Poor Sean Bean. I also wanted to quickly mention that you're only in it for a short period of time, but I really liked you as the CIA agent in 'The Dark Knight Rises'.
That was something that seemed like it'd be fun to do for a few days, which is what it was. A couple of days watching those guys work was great actually.
Could you understand what Tom Hardy was saying in person?
No, I don't think he was even written yet. He was just messing around. He was saying some stuff. You couldn't hear anything but the IMAX camera was going, the [camera stablising] gimbal was going. You know it was interesting. No one could hear anyone!
But the magic of movies…
Well people made a big deal about how indecipherable he was. I loved his voice. I thought it was great. And that sequence with you guys was great.
He likes wearing masks.
He's just kind of a creator where you can't see his face, you know. Between Venom and Bain and the guy in Dunkirk…
That's right. And he's fond of a voice as well. He loves a good voice.
That's good stuff.
Well Aiden, thank you so much for chatting with me. I really appreciate it.
Watch Project Blue Book Thursdays at 8:30pm on SBS. After they air, episodes will be available to stream at SBS On Demand
Watch episode 1: 'Dogfight'