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HitFix Interview: Amrita Acharia talks 'Game of Thrones'
Daenerys' handmaiden Irri talks Dothraki, off-screen romance and more
Amrita Acharia's Twitter profile describes her as a "Ukrainian-Nepalese actress with a dash of Norwegian-ness sprinkled on top," while her IMDB profile boasts of her aptitude with a slew of languages.
Of course, TV audiences know Acharia primarily for a fictional nationality and for her proficiency in a language that never existed.
On HBO's "Game of Thrones," Acharia plays Irri, Dothraki handmaiden to Emilia Clarke's Daenerys Targaryen. Irri has generally been paired with Roxanne McKee's Doreah. While Doreah has been largely entrusted with coaching Dany on carnal arts, Irri has taught Dany about Dothraki culture and the Dothraki language.
In scenes that we weren't privy to, Irri also was apparently carrying on a love affair with a Dothraki bloodrider named Rakharo, which left her mighty unhappy a couple weeks back when Rakharo's horse returned from a scouting mission with his head, but without the rest of his body.
As Acharia's Twitter followers know, she was in Los Angeles last week and I sat down with the young actress to discuss her language skills, her appreciation of the Dothraki mentality and her early dreams of being a vampire.
Click through for the full interview [No real spoilers, unless you're way behind and even then, nothing really.]...
HitFix: Do you get recognized at all out in the world?
Amrita Acharia: I did get recognized in the gym. Some bloke came up to me and was like, "Aren't you on that show, that 'Game of Thrones' show?" [Looks around uncomfortably.] I was like, "Yeah... I'm busy." Yeah, I don't get recognized. I'm lighter in real life, because I get darkened up for that and usually we're in a hot country, so I tan really fast and then I get back to England and go white.
HitFix: So how is your Dothraki?
Amrita Acharia: My Dothraki rocks. I'm joking. My Dothraki's alright. I get by.
HitFix: When you have to communicate with actual Dothrakis, get by?
Amrita Acharia: I'd be able to ask people for directions probably. Get food. I was gonna say something rude, but I'm not gonna say it. I think I could get by if I got stuck in a Dothraki horde.
HitFix: What is the learning curve like with an entirely fictional language?
Amrita Acharia: It was really interesting to learn. I've had to learn languages. I learned Norwegian from scratch when I moved to Norway, so I know how to learn a language, but then learning a language that's kinda totally made up and sounds like nothing you've ever heard before... People are like, "It's like Arabic" and I'm like, "It doesn't sound anything like Arabic, shut up." They were like, "Can you do an Arabic accent?" I was like, "I'm gonna do my General Foreign and I think that's gonna work." That's my thing for everything that's a bit foreign: Do your General Foreign Accent.
HitFix: And what's the basis for the General Foreign Accent?
Amrita Acharia: It's now Dothraki. So now it's like, "Can you do Arabic?" "No, I'll do Dothraki if that's alright with you." So yeah, learning it was interesting, because obviously you don't know the language, you're just learning your lines, but then obviously once you see that some words repeat themselves, you pick out what they mean. I translate it, so I know exactly what I'm saying. I make up my own translations for myself. Hopefully they're right. It was great, because we got audiotapes so we'd know what it sounded like, but then sometimes I'd be like, "I want it to sound a little bit different," so I'd do my own thing, which I think kinda worked. But it was fun. I liked that and thought that was a really good part of being a Dothraki character is that we got to speak this awesome language that nobody knew.
HitFix: Is there a master of Dothraki on set monitoring? Does somebody watch out on set to make sure the Dothraki works?
Amrita Acharia: I suppose it's Bryan [Cogman]? He used to send stuff over. I think somebody was watching out. There must have been. We were lucky in terms that it was not a language that had been spoken before, so it wasn't like people could call in and go, "Hey. That word was wrong. It was so wrong." We had a bit more freedom to make it sound how we did. I think because we were so small, our little group of Dothraki speakers, we could hear each other, so all we had to do was make sure that it added up. I listened to Iain [Glen] and Jason [Momoa] because I thought they sounded so amazing. It's because they have that deep voice. That whole manly thing really works for the Dothrakis.
HitFix: Did it come particularly easy for anybody? Or did it come particularly hard for anybody? Does anybody keep mangling their Dothraki dialogue?
Amrita Acharia: I'm sure I had a few blips. I'm pretty sure I did. No, I thought everybody did really well. It's a hard thing to learn. I thought that for Emilia [Clarke] with everything else she had to do and then all this speaking Dothraki on top of it? It's like, "Really? You want me to do this too?" No, I thought everyone was great. I was surprised how natural it sounded for most of the people who did it and everybody had their own way of doing that.
HitFix: But you have language skills? You have a general aptitude with that?
Amrita Acharia: Yeah. Or at least I pretend I do. I don't really have a choice. My parents, I'm basically a mongrel, so I have to be good at that to get by.
HitFix: How did the shift from Malta to Croatia for production in the second season change things?
Amrita Acharia: Well, it meant my tan was a lot darker in the second season, which was great. I didn't have to have so much makeup on. No, I really, really enjoyed the second season. It was great, because I think we were a lot more settled in. We had more grasp about what was going on. And Croatia was just wonderful. The people were fantastic. It wasn't a place that I'd been to before, so I was just like, "Wow. This is amazing. The seafood is amazing. The ice cream is amazing. Everybody is amazing. This is great. I want to live here." So it was great and we got all of these new locations as well. I think in the second series you get all these deserts and all these castles and water and Qarth as well, which is amazing to see come alive on-screen.
HitFix: How much of Qarth was actually there and how much was added later?
Amrita Acharia: Well, just the gates were there. Just the gates.
HitFix: How good are you at this point with acting with green screen?
Amrita Acharia: I haven't had that much experience with it, to be honest, but I think if you don't have an imagination, you can't really be an actor. So I'd be in trouble if I couldn't imagine something.
HitFix: What do you have on-set for the dragon scenes?
Amrita Acharia: It's a little toy sometimes? A little dragon toy? Irri doesn't get to play with the dragons so much, which she's very upset about. Doreah's the one who's good with animals and that stuff. Irri's the practical one, the one who sorts s*** out.
HitFix: The practical one, you say?
Amrita Acharia: The one who gets the rabbits killed and gets the food done, gets things mended, sews everything up. So yeah, we're got the little dragon toys, because they're quite small right now. Then you get balls or that's-where-the-dragon-is points. I don't have to deal with it much. I'm glad.
HitFix: How much do you understand what Irri's backstory is, who she is beyond just what we've seen?
Amrita Acharia: Irri's quite young, really. I think people forget that all these girls are actually supposed to be quite young in terms of the book. Irri's a Dothraki to the core. She's proud of being a Dothraki and she has, in my mind, all the traits that Dothraki women should have, apart from not being too submissive to the men. She's a little bit of a firecracker. She can get annoyed quite quickly. Her backstory? I don't think she has any family, so I think that's why, to her, it's quite important to have Daenerys and she takes that very seriously and is very loyal to her queen. In terms of my grasp on her, I relate to her as a young woman.
HitFix: Well how much do you relate? How foreign does she seem?
Amrita Acharia: She doesn't seem so foreign. I don't think the Dothraki are as foreign as everybody thinks they are. I think they're just very basic. They're people without filters. In my head, that's what they are. They'll say what they think and they'll do what they think and if something's wrong, they'll kill them. They're like, "This is right. This is wrong. What're you gonna do about it?"
HitFix: So other than the killing part, that's pretty familiar.
Amrita Acharia: Yeah. I think everybody's got a little bit of Dothraki in them. Yeah.
HitFix: And your character apparently had this very passionate love story that we didn't get to see. Suddenly she was very sad a couple episodes back.
Amrita Acharia: Yeah. That was a surprise for us. I thought it was nice. I think it's great that even when you do have a minor character, they still have a backstory and David [Benioff] and Dan [Weiss] are so good at making that come alive as well. That was really fun to play around with and I think it really gave Irri a different dimension as well. It's kinda like a schoolgirl mentality, that you have to be horrible to the boy that you really, really like, because that's how you play the game. I think people enjoyed it. I enjoyed it.
HitFix: Is there a challenge to playing that level of emotional investment in a relationship that hadn't be previously developed?
Amrita Acharia: Not really! It's my job, right? I think the words get you worked up anyway and then you try and remember it in Dothraki, which just gets me worked up all by itself. So that wasn't hard.
HitFix: Are you a reader of the books?
Amrita Acharia: I am a reader of the books.
HitFix: What has your pace been?
Amrita Acharia: I go along with the seasons.
HitFix: Why was that your approach?
Amrita Acharia: I don't know. In the past, and this wouldn't have happened here because they're brilliant, but I've read books and been really disappointed with the film or whatever. It's a bit different with this, because it's kinda different from the books. I don't know. I think it's a nice way to follow it and there's so much going on. It's interesting, because in your head, you imagine things a certain way and it's amazing how much of the time it's been so right in the screen version on HBO. A lot of time, I'll read a book and I'll be like, "That's not what she's supposed to look like" and I get really annoyed about it, whereas everybody here looks and acts the way they should.
HitFix: Obviously for some of the actors, reading the book provides a wealth of additional knowledge about their characters, but it's not like Irri has huge arcs in the books that we're missing. How much have you been able to glean from the books?
Amrita Acharia: A lot. In terms of Dothraki, Dothraki characters, Dothraki lifestyle, I'm biased but that's like my favorite parts of the books. That and Joffrey. He's great. It's amazing writing. I love descriptions and [Martin] describes everything. Everything, everything, everything. Everything is so textured and I think you get the full body of the worlds, so in terms of that, for all of the actors, especially the bigger ones, it's a great wealth of material to delve into and really do the books justice and the characters justice.
HitFix: How big does the "Game of Thrones" production feel when you're in the middle of it?
Amrita Acharia: Massive. Massive, massive. I never realized how big it was going to be. When I got the role, I was like, "Oh yeah. I'm doing this thing called 'Game of Thrones.'" And people were like, "What?!?" I was like, "Yeah, yeah. It's gonna be great." I'd just come out of drama school and I was like, "Yeah. This is fun. It's wonderful. I get to go to Malta again. Yay." I think I was completely unaware. I can be so in the clouds sometimes.
HitFix: And what's it like landing this kind of role fresh out of drama school?
Amrita Acharia: I didn't expect it to be so big. It's strange. I'd done a few pieces for TV, but my very very first job out of drama school was "The Devil's Double." That was a small role, but it was a big movie. It's a bit surreal. It's a really strange industry to be in, I think. I think you really need to want it.
HitFix: Why strange?
Amrita Acharia: Anything can happen. You don't know what's gonna happen. You're just walking around and one day you get a role in "Game of Thrones." That's crazy. I'm sitting on reception and I get this call. It's a bit weird.
HitFix: Does part of you want to backtrack and do some smaller stuff after this? Theater or something?
Amrita Acharia: I'd do anything. I love theater. I always thought I was going to be a theater actress. I always thought that, but it's kinda gone the other way, really, which is fine, because to me they're different mediums and I enjoy both for different reasons. But in terms of would I go back? I'd do whatever. I'm an actor. If I'm working, I'm happy, right? As long as it's an interesting role and good project and you believe in it...
HitFix: Why did you anticipate theater was going to be the place for you?
Amrita Acharia: I think that's what I was interested in. I wasn't even going to do acting. I don't know how it even happened, to be honest. I was going to go into psychology or something like that. Or business. And then some moment of madness took over and I decided, "Oh, I'm gonna go to London and try to be an actor."
HitFix: Well that's not a totally overnight decision, is it?
Amrita Acharia: I think I was was just like, "I want to be this and this and this and this. And I want to be this and this." When I was nine, I wanted to be a vampire and then I got a bit more realistic after that, like normal jobs. And then I think it was like, "OK. Well, I can be all of these normal people, but then I can be like superheroes and vampires and supervillains and things like that as well." So being an actor seemed like a really good job, because you wouldn't get bored, which I do get, easily.
HitFix: It sounds like you're just waiting for "True Blood" to call?
Amrita Acharia: Exactly. Get those fangs out. Yeah, I was a bit obsessed with vampires when I was younger. But yeah, in terms of theater, I think it's because that's where my training started. I went to college and that's when I first started to do theater stuff. I'd never really done it before. I liked pretending. When I was kid, I had all sorts of crazy clubs with my sister. We had crazy clubs. I don't think we had a Vampire Club, but we did have an Ancient Egyptian one, which was fun. We had one where we had to stop people from smoking, as well, which I feel really bad about, because we used to just steal cigarettes and just throw them away, because it was bad for people. I never realized how expensive cigarettes were.
HitFix: Just from random strangers?
Amrita Acharia: Not so much random strangers. More like friends of friends or my parents or people that would come over and have dinner with us. I should really not be saying this.
HitFix: Did they know it was you two?
Amrita Acharia: They will now! But no, I love doing that and then we got to direct and do stuff like that. It was a toss-up between going towards directing or going towards acting once I decided that that was the root I wanted to go down, but I think I just like being different people.
"Game of Thrones" airs on Sunday nights on HBO.