Share

This article was previously posted on 16th June, 2015.

Game Of Thrones exploded onto our screens four years ago with everything fantasy fans could have dreamt of – dragons, swordplay, dodgy political movements, even dodgier relationship choices, beheadings, warships, a musical, an undead army… wait, did you just say a musical? Yes, to mark Red Nose Day in the US (a brilliant charity that uses comedy to raise money for helping children and young people in the US and across the world), a handful of Starks, Targaryens, Lannisters, Greyjoys, wildlings, serfs and lords dosed up on honey and lemon and belted out choons from eminent UK guitar-folk Coldplay.

Directed by Mat Whitecross (represented for commercials by Pulse Films), the 12-minute short showcases his knack for comedy alongside his innate documentary instincts, capturing the actors behind Westeros' finest as the attempt to stage an ill-fated Game Of Thrones musical. Peppered with fan-pleasing moments (Theon and Ramsey's face-off and "You know nothing, Chris Martin" being highlights), the film and its accompanying music videos not only spread the good word of RND, but also provoked cheers from viewers around the world.

We were delighted by the concept and execution (the word used, for once with GoT, in a non-literal way) so caught up with Mat to chat warbling warriors, comedic Coldplay-ers and a bunch of Red Noses.

Red Nose Day – Coldplay + Game of Thrones: The Musical

Credits
powered by Source

Unlock full credits and more with a Source membership.

Credits
powered by Source
Show full credits
Hide full credits
Credits powered by Source

How did you get involved in the project?

A good friend of mine, Lily Sobhani, who I've known since I first moved to London, is one of the producers behind Red Nose Day US. She dropped me a message back in March asking if I was around to meet up with Richard Curtis and Hen Conrad, who she was working with on the campaign. There's no way you could grow up in the '80s and not be obsessed with Red Nose Day – so meeting Richard and getting involved was a total dream.

The day itself is such an institution over here, I hadn't realised it was completely unknown in the States. Richard hoped with all his contacts they'd be able to attract celebrities for the main NBC show, but he also wanted to get people raising money on the ground, the way we do over here – with crazy stunts and danceathons and silly costumes and sponsored swear jars and so on.

So we had a collective brainstorm, which ended with them sending me to Washington a couple of weeks later to write and shoot some short films, introducing the concept of Red Nose Day to a US audience. Richard hooked me up with a friend of his, Jessica Stuart at Long Story Short, who used to produce the Oprah Winfrey Show. There was absolutely no prep – and I was away in Iran with family, so Jess had to organise the whole thing without me.

If someone said something funny, Richard embraced it and threw it into the mix.

Communication between the US and Iran is a nightmare at the best of times, and I was moving around a lot – so whenever we passed an internet café, we'd pull over and I'd check in with Jess for news. As it was, I arrived in Washington the night before the shoot totally jetlagged, with pretty much no idea what I was doing. Not for the first time obviously…

But it was a joy from beginning to end – we shot 11 films over 3 days and delivered them the day after. Totally impossible and nuts – but somehow Jess and her team pulled it all together. They're this hilarious crazy hardworking family, everyone mucking in, passionate about the things they make. We filmed with her kids and in her house, and all her crew ended up acting in the films. You can see some of the results here: https://www.rednoseday.org/get-ideas.

Then just as we were finishing the edit in Washington, I got an email from Lily asking if I might be up for another project: 'Game of Thrones, The Musical'! She sent me a rough first draft – which Richard had written the night before after a session in the studio with Chris.

Were you involved in a lot of the prep? How long has the project been bubbling along?

I'd talked to Will about 'Game of Thrones' a lot in the past. I knew he was a super fan, and I remember on one of the band video shoots he was getting so excited as they'd asked him to cameo in an episode. I had no idea it was the Red Wedding until I saw it on screen. I couldn't believe it!

So apparently the band used to play the theme tune from time to time during their soundchecks on tour – and Chris would freestyle silly lyrics over the top. Lily was keen to get them involved in Red Nose Day, and when she mentioned it to Phil Harvey – the band creative manager and unofficial 5th member – he suddenly remembered about the soundchecks. Then Chris came up with the idea of the spoof musical. So he began writing the tunes, while Richard went away and wrote the script.

Richard Curtis is the funniest and most driven man alive.

It was Chris and Richard's baby from start to finish. But what I loved about the whole process, and the way they both work, is that there was a real democracy of ideas. If someone said something funny, Richard embraced it and threw it into the mix. On the night before the last shoot day, Lily cracked a gag that the final shot should be 'Taken on Ice' – and within minutes, the poor designer was printing up posters. And then Chris said, 'Shouldn't Liam finish with 'I'd better get my skates on?', so that's what ended up in the script. I love that way of working – particularly with comedy.

Richard was there every step of the way, shepherding the whole project and acting as a comedy barometer. He's the funniest and most driven man alive. He'd be up all night writing, then on set all day, in the edit all night again, while fielding calls from celebrities and agents, before flying over to NY in the morning to shoot Julia Roberts and Jodie Foster. I've never met anyone with more energy and passion – who also happens to be officially the loveliest, most humble person on the planet. And everyone on the team took their cue from him – from the Red Nosers to Funny Or Die. I can't ever remember having as much fun on a shoot.

How long was the shoot? Did you have much time with the cast beforehand?

In the end we shot six days over a couple of weeks, but mostly they weren't full days. We only filmed one long day with Coldplay and the cast at RAK studios in St John's Wood. Then we did separate mini shoots with Nik Coster-Waldau, Peter Dinklage and Coldplay in the US, and Diana Rigg & Emilia Clarke in London.

The turnaround time was merciless. We were incredibly lucky to have legendary casting director Nina Gold and her team on board, who cast Game of Thrones – but there was no room for manoeuvre, as we were trying to hit the borderline impossible deadline of May 21st. So Nina would try and find out which cast were available – and then Richard would write lines for them, only to find their schedules had shifted, and we had to start over again. We came really close to filming Sean Bean in Belfast, but at the last minute he was called back to New York on a shoot and we ran out of time. Maybe for the sequel!

We wanted the sketch to feel spontaneous and documentary-like, so we let them get on with it.

As far as conversations with actors go, I exchanged emails with most of them a couple of times prior to the shoot but on the day there was barely enough time for a handshake before we got stuck in. It wasn't really a problem. They're nearly all English so they've grown up with Red Nose Day. Plus the script was hilarious, so everyone landed on their feet.

The funny thing was the cast were all terrified of singing in front of the band, but the band were all terrified of acting in front of the cast. The first scene we shot with everyone was Kit singing 'Wild Ling'. He'd mentioned in a couple of emails that it was a bit outside his comfort zone, and I told him not to worry - maybe everyone could just join in together. But as soon as he was on set, Chris said, 'Nope, you're on your own.' You could see the look of horror in Kit's eyes. But he absolutely nailed it, first go – swinging the mic about, strutting his stuff, rocking with the band. Genius. And that set the bar really high, so then everyone just leapt in head first.

Obviously the actors know their roles inside out (especially when they're playing themselves), so what did you have to do in term of 'acting directing'? What are the Coldplay boys like to direct?

Well, Chris has done this a few times now – in 'Shaun of the Dead' and 'Extras', as well as the band videos. And he's one of the funniest guys you'll ever meet. Which always surprises a lot of people. I guess they assume he's serious because he's a rock star. Obviously Will's been in 'Game of Thrones' already. And the band are used to being filmed, although usually it's while performing.

We didn't need much discussion about people playing versions of themselves – it was all on the page. Richard had decided Kit was going to be the sexiest man alive, Iwan the most eager participant, Mark the bitter curmudgeon, and so on. So they just went with it.

The band and cast were remarkably good at not corpsing. Unlike me and Richard.

On the day, it was smaller issues – such as whether cast should keep their own voice or use their character's accent. Rose pointed out it'd be funnier to hear her say 'You know nothing Chris Martin' as Ygritte, rather than as herself – that kind of thing.

To be honest, as a strategy, I just tried to stay out of the way as much as possible. We wanted the sketch to feel spontaneous and documentary-like, so we'd have a quick chat about the scene and then we'd let them get on with it. We had so little time on the day, the cast would only get a couple of takes and then we'd have to move on. The main thing was to make sure everyone kept a poker face, and didn't seem to be winking at the camera. The band and cast were remarkably good at not corpsing. Unlike me and Richard.

Click image to enlarge

Are you a fan of the show? Did you find it hard to separate character from actor when you first meet them (i.e. were you scared of the TV lunatics)?

I've got a young daughter, so it's getting harder and harder to find time to catch up with all the amazing TV at the moment. I kept on meaning to get round to 'Game of Thrones', but there was never a chance. So my wife and I were actually only half way through Season 1 when Lily rang me. Obviously I lied through my teeth and pretended I was up to date, while thumbing through the script and thinking, 'What's a Red Wedding?' And then I proceeded to cram the whole box set in the fortnight leading up to the shoot. It doesn't take long to get hooked. And now I'm a Game of Thrones junkie, counting the hours till the next episode. But I left my wife behind on Season 1. She still hasn't forgiven me.

As far as being fazed by lunatics, the cast are so down to earth and relaxed, it was just a pleasure to shoot. Iwan wasn't flaying sound technicians or anything. I think he tends to leave that kind of stuff behind on set.

The elephant in the room while we were planning it was, what if none of them can sing?

Whereabouts did you do it?

We shot at RAK Studios, the Coldplay Bakery and The Rookery hotel in London, Henson Studios and Woodshed Studios in LA, and Avatar Studios in NY. But I flew back and forth to The States 4 times in 2 weeks! I don't recommend it.

Were the little gags (Theon and Ramsey's face-off, Jojen Reed's 'premonition') there in the script or did they come about during the shoot? Was much improvised?

Every scene was scripted by Richard – but then the cast would play about within the scenes. So for example he'd had written something like 'We find the band singing a jaunty barbershop-type theme in the studio' – but then Chris and Will improv'd the 'How many poppadoms?' bit. The Theon and Ramsey face-off and the premonition moments were all as scripted.

You've got history with both documentaries and narrative fiction – what did this feel more like?

The fun bit for me is always where the two meet and blur – where you can use the tools of one in the other. I made a documentary a few years back called 'Moving to Mars', and we deliberately started with a CGI shot that tracked from the surface of Mars all the way through the galaxy, the stratosphere and down into a hut in a refugee camp. To wrong-foot the audience, and let them know this is going to be a little different to what you might have expected. And similarly on the dramas, I love the scenes where we just keep filming and the actors can be as spontaneous and real as possible. On this, everything was tightly scripted like a drama – but because we had so little time, often we'd only get one take as you would on a doc, so it feels more rough around the edges.

Be honest – who had the best voice? And the worst…?

Actually I was surprised how good they all were. That was the elephant in the room while we were planning it – what if none of them can sing? And actually the trickiest thing I think is pretending to be a bad singer when you're decent – like Mark Addy had to do. That's a skill in itself.

The film has been seeded as part of the US version of Red Nose Day. Are you pleased with the response so far?

The response has been incredible. Obviously it's for an amazing cause, so you hope people will leave cynicism to one side. But it's so good to see people's reactions on YouTube and in the papers – so far there've been over 10 million views. If only a fraction of those people donate, that's a lot of cash.

It's a great testament to Richard, the cast, the band, and the transatlantic team who put it together. The event went down so well, I really hope it goes on to become a yearly American tradition. It deserves to.

What's up next for you?

Good question! We're about to start on a documentary that I'd love to tell you all about, but I'm sworn to secrecy – at least for the next few weeks. And I've also been away in Zimbabwe shooting another doc about the '70s rock scene, which has been a dream project. The music is just so beautiful. And then drama-wise, I've got a few potential things lined up – a ghost story, a drug thriller and a kids film. I started up a company last year – Mint Pictures - with Fiona Neilson who produced the Game of Thrones sketch, so we could develop our own projects and retain more control. But I'm never able to predict what's round the corner. If you'd told me a month ago we'd be shooting a spoof Coldplay musical with the cast of Game of Thrones for Red Nose Day, I'd have been sceptical…

Share