Joe Dempsie is known around the world as Gendry Baratheon from “Game of Thrones,” but he would have been Jon Snow had his first audition for HBO’s fantasy series been successful. In a new interview with Esquire, Dempsie revealed he got rejected by “Thrones” three times for three different roles before reluctantly doing a fourth audition for Gendry and landing the part.
“I auditioned for the pilot. I had no idea what ‘Game of Thrones’ was. Didn’t get it. Kind of forgot about it,” Dempsie said. “Nobody knew it was going to become the biggest TV show on the planet at that point. It was just another audition.”
Dempsie was back in the “Thrones” audition room a year-and-a-half after missing out on Jon Snow, this time throwing his hat into the ring to play a minor character who was Jon Snow’s friend from war. There were two friend characters up for grabs and Dempsie auditioned for each of them. The actor was turned down for both.
“I was convinced that they must just think I’m a terrible actor,” Dempsie says. “Then Gendry came along and again I went along to the audition and I think it was three auditions I had. I had one in London, then one in Belfast where I met [showrunners] David [Benioff] and Dan [Weiss] for the first time. And then a final one where David and Dan were there again. And there was like four other producers in the room, too. And I was fairly convinced it was the worst audition I’ve ever given.”
When his manager called a week later to tell him he got the part, Dempsie said he thought a trick was being played on him. The actor debuted as Gendry in the fourth episode of the show’s first season (“Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things”) and evolved into a fan favorite after befriending Arya Stark (Maisie Williams). The final season polarized some fans last month when Arya lost her virginity to Gendry, which was a plot turn Dempsie said he long hoped to avoid.
“The most common thing ‘Thrones’ fans have wanted to talk to me about over the years was this suggested relationship with Arya,” Dempsie said. “I was always found that conversation quite uncomfortable at the time, particularly in the early years. I was a 25-year-old man being asked whether I would like my character to get together with an at-the-time 14-year-old actress. It was always something I thought wasn’t fair to ask me personally.”
Dempsie’s discomfort was shared by many “Thrones” viewers when Arya and Gendry had sex in the final season’s second episode. Arya is one of the show’s most formidable female characters and had never been portrayed in a sexual manner before on the series. Dempsie admitted it was strange filming the scene since he had known Williams since she was 11 or 12 years old.
“But I found the subsequent conversation actually really quite interesting,” Dempsie says of the moment. “What that scene ended up doing was forcing people to confront their own hypocrisy in a way. I think the root cause of that unease and discomfort in a lot of viewers is because they feel like they’ve seen her grow up on screen. That’s something that happens to us all — we all start off young and then the majority of us start having sex and we’re all perfectly capable of finding that journey out for ourselves. But we still find it difficult to watch someone else take that journey, say, on a TV screen.”