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The king of the SMALL SCREEN

For every major film, Liam Cunningham has a quality TV show on his CV. Declan Cashin talks to the 'Game of Thrones' actor about his latest role

Crikey, that Liam Cunningham gets around, doesn't he? Most recently, you'll have seen him pop up opposite Denzel Washington in the Hollywood action flick 'Safe House', as well as appearing in the hit Irish comedy 'The Guard'.

He's also starring as Jim Larkin in the new TV mini-series, 'Titanic: Blood and Steel' (or 'Drownton Abbey', as one wag renamed it).

"People are surprised that Larkin was involved with the Titanic story, but he was organising the unions during the building of the ship," Liam explains.

"Audiences might also be surprised to hear me play him with a Liverpool accent, as everyone thinks he was a Dublin bloke because his statue is in O'Connell Street.

"Still, it's a big ask for an Irish person to be asked to do Jim Larkin," Liam adds.

As if that isn't enough exposure for one month, telly fans will be getting even more Liam for their buck from next week when he takes on one of the lead roles in the hotly anticipated second series of 'Game of Thrones'.

If he keeps this workload up, there'll be a statue of him in Dublin city centre soon enough.

When 'Weekend' meets the 50-year-old Dubliner and father of three in a London hotel, he's suitably wired, powered on caffeine and cigarettes.

In fact, we start the interview with him leaning out of the hotel window having a sneaky smoke. "I met the producers a year ago for another role in the first series," he explains. "It didn't work out because of timing.

"But they said at the end of it, 'Look, we have some characters coming in next year, we've something in mind for you, would you be interested in coming back?' Naturally, I replied: 'F*ck yeah!'"

Liam's part as Davos Seaworth, confidant of man-who-would-be-king Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane), could be considered one of the leads, if such a thing exists in a show with as sprawling an ensemble cast as 'GoT'.

"I compare him to Robert Duvall in 'The Godfather'," Liam says. "Davos has street smarts and has become a kind of consigliere."

Those who missed the first series of 'GoT' would be forgiven for thinking it wasn't their kind of show.

After all, it's set in a medieval, fantasy world -- the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, to be exact -- where various factions, dynasties and tribes are battling it out for control of the 'Iron Throne'.

But 'GoT' is 'only' a medieval fantasy in the same way that, say, the critically acclaimed re-boot of the TV series 'Battlestar Galactica' was 'only' sci-fi. "I think the one bad thing this has going for it is that people think it's a fantasy series," Liam agrees.

"They see the nerds and the geeks -- God bless them -- and think, 'That's just for them'.

"But the show isn't a subculture thing," Liam continues. "It's an incredible drama of jealousy, love, betrayal, sex and violence. It's about people in extreme situations that happens to be set against a backdrop of fantasy."

Extreme indeed. If 'GoT' proved anything with its first series, it's that no character is safe. Does Liam make it to the end of the season?

He smiles and replies: "It would be unfair to say. People who have read the books will know, but I don't want to spoil things for anyone else."

Those books in question are George RR Martin's series of bestselling novels, which were painstakingly translated to the screen by the show's creators David Benioff and Dan Weiss, who first met one another while studying for post-grad degrees in Irish Literature in Trinity College Dublin.

Fittingly, these two seasons of 'GoT' were filmed largely in Ireland employing many Irish actors and extras.

For instance, Aiden Gillen and Michelle Fairley have crucial roles, while 19-year-old Jack Gleeson, who plays the utterly hateful boyking Joffrey, is a student in Trinity.

In addition to Ireland, filming also took place in Croatia and Iceland, though the extent of Liam's travels during production was limited to the Dublin-Belfast train.

"I'd have loved to get to Iceland as I do a lot of photography, so it would have been great for that," he says. "However, two hours on a train from your house to get to a job like this isn't too bad."

Ever since leaving his first profession -- as an electrician -- and turning to the world of acting 20 years ago, Liam has worked steadily to become one of the most in-demand character actors around.

He's always mixed movies with high-budget, high-quality TV series: for every major film such as 'First Knight', 'Hunger' and 'Clash of the Titans', there was a telly stint on Irish productions such as 'Showbands' and 'A Love Divided', as well 'Prime Suspect', 'Camelot' and 'Strike Back: Project Dawn'.

"TV used to be the poor brother in Hollywood," Liam explains. "But what's happening in Hollywood lately is that there's so much money involved, and such a fear of failure, that nobody is taking any risks.

"So, in a sense, independent films have transformed into quality television. There are so many talented, creative people out there willing to work that TV networks like HBO and Showtime say, 'Don't leave these people sitting there twiddling their thumbs. Get them in here'. When the quality is there, actors will follow," he adds.

Liam's recent success is also part of a wider trend of Irish and British actors securing plum roles in major US movie and TV releases. "I think one of the things that makes us appealing is our training," he says.

"Look at Gabriel Byrne and 'In Treatment'. It's a very wordy show. There's a lot of American acting that is very much for camera, but in Europe, it's theatre.

"If you look at something like 'Game of Thrones', there are 60 pages of script, with maybe 18-20 scenes, and pages of intricate dialogue.

"It needs more than just the raising of the eyebrow," says Liam. "European actors are used to the words being king."

'Game of Thrones', Sky Atlantic, Monday, April 2, 9pm

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