It's easy to forget that we're in North London when I meet Harry Lloyd, Emilia Clarke and Richard Madden, the handsome leads of the new multimillion dollar HBO series Game of Thrones, also starring Sean Bean. For the past two years they've inhabited a medieval fantasy world while shooting in Belfast and Malta, and our conversation begins with the imaginary kingdom of Westeros, populated by warring families, nomadic warriors, dragon eggs, and deadly zombies. Confused? Picture a ten-part series with the violence and intrigue of The Sopranos, set in Middle Earth.
Based on the bestselling books A Song of Ice and Fire by American author George RR Martin (Game of Thrones is based on the first of four published books from the series; there are set to be an epic seven in total), the fantasy world has already spawned a cult following. 'You have no idea and then you go online and... bang! You realise that you better not f*** this up because there are huge forums devoted to this whole thing. Everyone's got a very specific idea of what it should be like,' says Harry Lloyd, who plays Viserys Targaryen, the exiled heir to the Iron Throne who is clawing his way back to the seat of power. On screen he's a creepy, silver-haired beggar king but in person Harry, who is used to saddling up and shooting a bow and arrow for his role as Will Scarlett in the BBC's Robin Hood, is clean-cut and charming - and just happens to be a direct descendant of Charles Dickens.
He's having 'quite a posh day', he says, arriving straight from a Mayfair screening of his first feature film, Jane Eyre, starring Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender, out in September. Harry plays Mr Rochester's brother-in-law, Richard Mason. An Old Etonian who read English at Oxford, Harry spent a long time working on his Game of Thrones character: 'I went through a period where I got very geeky about it all. When we were filming the pilot, I'd have the book under the throne and be consulting it between takes. I had to stop reading in the end and make Viserys my own and not just a nasty piece of work.' He tries to convince me that his character is simply misunderstood: 'All the characters are really fleshed out. They don't allow you to settle down and think these are the guys in black and these are the guys in white and Frodo's got to take the Ring and we all know whose side we're on.'
Away from the medieval grittiness of Game of Thrones, Harry, 27, is in London filming his second feature film, The Iron Lady, starring Meryl Streep, a Margaret Thatcher biopic in which he plays the young Denis Thatcher to Jim Broadbent's older version. 'Meryl Streep complimented me on one of my scenes the other day. It made me want to take a mental snapshot so I could remember it for ever.'
A commotion outside snaps Harry out of his Meryl reverie as Richard Madden, a rugged Scot who looks as though he may not have been to bed the night before, arrives. Harry perks up, 'He's wearing his shades. He looks ridiculous.' There's great camaraderie between the actors, who, though their characters never meet on screen, spent their evenings after filming in a Belfast bar, exchanging stories. 'We were like a tag-team, swapping on-set gossip,' says Harry.
Richard, 24, moved to London from Elderslie, a small village near Glasgow, five years ago, and is equally geeky about the series. 'I've always liked a bit of fantasy and sci-fi.' His character, Robb Stark, is the eldest son of Lord Winterfell, ruler of the North, played by a heroic Bean. 'There are a lot of parallels between myself and Robb. We're both at that transitional stage of young men becoming grown men. His character really seeped into me,' says Richard.
Voted one of 2010's hottest stars by Esquire and currently topping The Scotsman newspaper's list of Scotland's most eligible men, Game of Thrones gave Richard the chance to flex his muscles, fighting to defend his father's kingdom. 'I wanted my fighting style to be gritty, raw and practical. I was using a real sword in most of my scenes, for the weight and swing of it.' He broke seven swords during filming: 'When you're looking someone in the eye thinking, "one of us is going to die", it puts you in a very primal, animal place.'
It's hard to imagine that Richard, whose father was in the fire service and mother was a classroom assistant, first got into acting, aged 11, after joining a theatre group to help conquer his shyness. He was immediately scouted for a part in Complicity, based on an Iain Banks novel, which starred Jonny Lee Miller and Keeley Hawes. 'My first job was being raped by a man in the woods, so I really did get thrown into the deep end,' he recalls. He's now working on a Channel Four comedy drama set in Leeds, Naked Apes, playing a Jack-the-lad paramedic. 'I don't really consider myself a comic,' he says, 'but it's a challenge and that excites me.'
The trio is completed by the beautiful, giggly Emilia Clarke, who attracts compliments from the two boys as she wafts in. It's rumoured that she's dating Richard, since they have been spotted on London's showbiz party circuit holding hands, but both deny it (bashfully). 'I'm in a very serious relationship with my work,' says Emilia, 23, who looks delicate in real life compared to her on-screen warrior queen Daenerys Targaryen, the sister of Harry's character. Just a year out of London's Drama Centre (alma mater of Colin Firth and Tom Hardy), Emilia describes Game of Thrones as her 'baptism of fire'. Her character, betrothed to the king of the Dothraki warriors as a young girl, quickly loses her innocence but Emilia is very cool about her graphic sex scenes (on the night of her marriage she loses her virginity on a rock by the sea). 'Of course they're daunting because I'm a young girl. It's not something you dream of doing but for me it was integral to the character.'
She also had to learn the Dothraki language, created especially for the show. 'I'd get the lines and map my English lines on top to get the intonations right. By the end it was second nature but if I got it even slightly wrong the whole thing would be cut and we'd have to start again,' which goes to show the Tolkein-esque level of detail the series' creators (who also adapted The Kite Runner and Troy for the big screen) went to. Even extras, on screen for just a few seconds, wear intricately designed costumes which take months to make.
Emilia started acting aged three after her mother took her to see a production of Show Boat, a musical which her father, a theatre sound engineer, was working on. 'I clapped over my head because I was so mesmerised,' she remembers. She now has a US agent and a string of top secret roles coming up. 'It's very exciting. I should sound much cooler about it but I'm just not.' She is also writing a film script for a comedy based on her home village in Buckinghamshire. 'It's always been my aim to write. Probably in 30 years' time I'll only just have finished it.
It's a long interview but worth it for the super cute pics :) Cannot wait for GoT !!!