If you haven't watched Sunday night's episode of Game of Thrones, you probably don't want to read this spoiler-filled update
Note: Spoilers ahead.
Many fans who saw Sunday night’s episode of Game of Thrones, where the series’ resident psychopath King Joffrey was poisoned and killed at his own wedding, are still reeling. But the actor who plays Joffrey is already moving on.
For the past three years, Irish actor Jack Gleeson has masterfully embodied evil as the spoiled brat who becomes the ruler of the Seven Kingdoms. Yet after his character’s ghastly death, the 21-year-old actor says he plans to retire completely from acting.
Speaking to Entertainment Weekly in the wake of the pivotal episode, Gleeson explained, “I’ve been acting since age eight. I just stopped enjoying it as much as I used to. And now there’s the prospect of doing it for a living, whereas up until now it was always something I did for recreation with my friends, or in the summer for some fun. I enjoyed it. When you make a living from something, it changes your relationship with it. It’s not like I hate it, it’s just not what I want to do.”
Gleeson, who comes across as gracious and humble in interviews, started his on-screen acting career with roles in Batman Begins and A Shine of Rainbows. But it was his turn as Joffrey in Thrones that really put him on the map. In a show filled with amoral or despicable characters, Gleeson’s character stood apart as the worst of the pack, a sadistic and cowardly fiend with unmitigated power to boot.
In fact, George R. R. Martin, the author of the GoT books from which the HBO series is based on, even admitted to EW that he feared Gleeson’s experience playing such a hated character could have put him off of acting. “He created someone that everyone hates, and everyone loves to hate, and that’s a considerable feat of acting,” said Martin. “I feel a little guilty that he’s quitting acting now. I hope that playing Joffrey didn’t make him want to retire from the profession because he does have quite a gift for it.”
Yet Gleeson has been quite open in the past about his feelings on celebrity culture in general and his own unpleasant experience with fame, which go deeper than any one toxic role. In a long and wide-ranging talk given at the Oxford Union last year, Gleeson said that fame not only “embarrasses” him, but he also feels that being a celebrity is an exercise in “dehumanization.” Despite admitting that he once dreamed of being a famous actor, Gleeson said the reality was far different: “I detested the superficial elevation and commodification of it all, juxtaposed with the grotesque self-involvement it would sometimes draw out of me. Being a faceless member of a mob, I soon realized, is far more comforting than teetering on a brittle pedestal one inch off the ground.”
Now, with the sudden and brutal death of Joffrey, it looks like Gleeson can work on returning to that faceless mob. He’s currently a student at Trinity College in Dublin, though he’s said he no longer is drawn to academia. He said he’s not yet sure what type of career he’d like to embark on.
But is there any hope for Thrones fans, who might have hated Joffrey, but have come to appreciate Gleeson’s obvious talent? Maybe. Gleeson did discuss a potential return to the screen with EW, jokingly saying, “When I’m destitute in 10 years time, I’ll accept any script!”