LOS ANGELES – It’s one thing to be an actor on “Game of Thrones.” It’s quite another to be the most despicable man in author George R. R. Martin’s creation.
“You can’t go anywhere in the world without people knowing it,” says Iwan Rheon, the actor who played the sadistic Ramsay Bolton. “It’s an incredible testament to the writers and the people who make the series.”
Bolton, he says, was all about ego. “He wanted power for selfish reasons. He was a sociopath.”
And today, more than a year after he left the series? “Everyone still hates him,” Rheon says with a smile. “They kept mentioning him (in the latest season), so thanks for that. The fact that everyone hates him means I did a good job.”
To follow that iconic role, the Welsh actor wanted something completely different. While he had two seasons of “Vicious” in his pocket (where he played a naïve, lovable neighbor to Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi), Rheon wanted to stretch in another direction. Enter: “Marvel’s Inhumans.”
In the new ABC drama, he plays Maximus, brother to Black Bolt, the king of the Inhumans. Determined to free the people and get rid of “an archaic caste system,” he journeys to Earth to face the problem head on.
In the new series – a product of the Marvel comic book empire -- Rheon finds himself working in front of a green screen, much as he did with “Game of Thrones.” Because effects are added after his part has been filmed, he has to imagine the action, not see it. No problem, the 32-year-old says. “It’s similar to how I approach acting anyway. It’s what drives us as actors – we do what children do when they play. The green screen is just an extension of that. It’s all in your imagination. When people say, ‘Cut,’ you go, ‘Cool,’ and that’s it.”
“Thrones,” he says, was always on his radar. He auditioned for several parts before landing Bolton. Then, it was just a matter of time before audiences loved to hate him.
When “Inhumans” executive producer approached Rheon about the new series, he insisted he didn’t want another obvious villain. “We want something completely different,” the producer told him. “He’s this young, frustrated politician who wants to change things.”
“Ramsay didn’t want that,” Rheon says. “He was just an evil scumbag. “Maximus has a whole plan. He’s thinking way down the line and he has been downtrodden all his life. He’s a human in a society that sort of looked down on humans.”
The new character, he says, has had to develop his mind as his superpower. “He manipulates people really well. He had to develop that because he had nothing else. It’s his only way of keeping his head above water. He’s the brother of a king. Otherwise, he would have gone straight down to the mines…and he knows that.”
In “Game of Thrones,” Ramsay Bolton “didn’t have the ability to empathize with anything. That’s the difference between the two.”
Landing a job in a superhero series is a particular thrill for the British actor.
“I’ve never been a huge superhero fan,” the Olivier Award winner says. “But I’ve always like the X-Men. When you’re offered something like this, it’s very difficult to turn down.”
Maximus, Rheon says, was a natural progression for him and his career.
“Maximus would have made an incredible king, had he gotten any power at all. He’s a great orator and he has great empathy about the people.”
If there’s a Shakespearean character who comes closest, it’s Coriolanus, he says. “The archetype of the character is the same. What’s great about Marvel is they create a discussion and debate with the people who watch the series.”
While “Inhumans” focuses on power, just as “Thrones” did, it does have a key advantage over that series.
“We shoot this in Hawaii,” Rheon says. “I figured I’d done my time in the cold. It’s not that I didn’t like Northern Ireland, but it’s cold on the side of a mountain in the middle of November. It’s nice to go somewhere warm.”
The downside to Hawaii? “The costumes aren’t designed with comfort in mind and they’re very hot. But when you watch, you’ll see a lot of sweat in this.”