It’s so easy to get sucked into the world of Game of Thrones that it’s difficult not to see the series’ stars as anything other than the characters they play. However, every actor needs a starting point, and these particular thespians have some pretty interesting backstories. From embarrassing and shameful to the downright bizarre, these early jobs shed new light on the residents of Westeros.
20. Jack Gleeson
Before he became Westeros’s most hated boy, Jack Gleeson – a.k.a. Joffrey – had a minor speaking role in 2005’s Batman Begins. He was cast as “Little Boy” at the age of 13, and Gleeson has subsequently credited this appearance as his first real taste of showbiz. But, alas, the celebrity lifestyle wasn’t for him, and he decided to quit acting altogether in 2014.
19. Charles Dance
Aside from playing the fearsome Tywin Lannister, Charles Dance has had many respectable stage and screen roles. However, the actor probably prefers to forget his turn opposite Sacha Baron Cohen in 2002’s Ali G Indahouse. After all, his appearance in a leopard print shirt and PVC miniskirt probably wouldn’t help his formidable GoT reputation!
18. Peter Dinklage
Peter Dinklage may be an inspiration, but he’s still taken on some pretty demeaning projects. In particular, he appeared in 2003’s Tiptoes, about a family of dwarves. Speaking to The New York Times in 2012, the Tyrion Lannister actor later criticized the film for playing up to “the cutesiness of little people” before labeling it a “mess.”
17. Jason Momoa
His character Khal Drogo has a pretty intimidating screen presence, and so it may be surprising to learn that actor Jason Momoa got his first big break in the modeling world. In fact, the star was named Hawaii’s Model of the Year in 1999 and subsequently broke into acting through a three-year stint in Baywatch Hawaii.
16. Aiden Gillen
Judging from his role as GoT’s slippery spymaster Petyr Baelish, Aiden Gillen seemingly has a knack for playing slimy characters. And, fittingly, the Irish actor has had considerable experience portraying inscrutable types. Of particular note, he played the villainous Nelson Rathbone alongside Jackie Chan in 2003’s Shanghai Knights.
15. Lena Headey
Game of Thrones’ Queen of Cruelty Lena Headey started her career with roles that were a lot more pleasant. Prior to her casting as Cersei Lannister, in fact, the English actress played the love interest in 1994’s The Jungle Book. And although Headey didn’t show off her villainous side, the film was critically acclaimed and a springboard to her later success.
14. Iwan Rheon
Ramsay Bolton surpassed Joffrey to become arguably the most hated character on the entire show, with a truly sadistic streak that won him few admirers. But in reality, actor Iwan Rheon couldn’t be more agreeable, and his big break on the Welsh-language soap Pobol y Cwm shows a much lighter side to his personality. And Rheon, who was cast in the drama aged just 17, has actually called this role his most important.
13. Michelle Fairley
Although she’s been in the business since the late ’80s, Michelle Fairley gained most audience attention when she appeared as Hermione Granger’s mom in 2010’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. And just one year later, the actress debuted as GoT matriarch Catelyn Stark – a role she was offered when original choice Jennifer Ehle opted out.
12. Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson
The slender man on the left may look unfamiliar, but he’s actually Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson – a.k.a. the monstrous Gregor Clegane. Prior to the show, the 17-year-old Björnsson began his career as a basketball player in his native Iceland. But after a series of ankle injuries he switched to bodybuilding, and – 170lbs later – became the man we know and fear today.
11. Sibel Kekilli
Sibel Kekilli – a.k.a. Shae – has possibly the most infamous pre-fame career on this list: she was once a pornographic actress. Following her 2004 breakout film Head-On, moreover, tabloids in Kekilli’s native Germany began reporting on her former life, and it caused her much personal trauma. “It’s my past,” she explained to New York magazine in 2014. “It’s nothing to do with my future, or with my present.”
10. Jerome Flynn
While sellsword Bronn is the last person we’d want to fight, actor Jerome Flynn has a surprising soft side. During the late ’90s, in fact, the star was part of twee pop duo Robson and Jerome, and their cover of “Unchained Melody” topped the U.K. charts for seven weeks. “It wasn’t a cool thing to be in Robson and Jerome,” he would lament in a 2014 interview with The Independent.
9. Kristian Nairn
Before traveling north of the Wall with Bran, Hodor actor Kristian Nairn was traveling the world as a drag artist. Yet despite finding success with his act – which he described to Yahoo News Australia as “Marilyn Manson meets Divine” – Nairn eventually became a DJ, and he can still be seen spinning decks to this day.
8. Rory McCann
Like his co-star Kristian Nairn, Rory McCann – a.k.a. Sandor Clegane – has a long list of interesting roles. Aside from an early part as Michael in 2007’s Hot Fuzz, the actor also served as a spokesperson for serial brand Scott’s Porage Oats, and he could be seen flaunting a white vest and kilt in U.K. TV commercials throughout the late ’90s.
7. Jonathan Pryce
As the pious High Sparrow, Jonathan Pryce embodied one of the show’s most rounded and measured antagonists. However, Pryce hasn’t always played such subtly villainous characters. Indeed, the 1997 Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies saw him embody the part of a baddie eerily similar to media baron Rupert Murdoch – a fact that critics and audiences alike couldn’t help noticing.
6. Alfie Allen
While many were first introduced to Alfie Allen through his sister Lily’s song 2007 “Alfie,” the Theon Greyjoy actor had actually made a few film appearances before then. In particular, Allen featured in 2004’s Agent Cody Banks 2, in which he enthusiastically sings a cover of Edwin Starr’s “War.”
5. Rose Leslie
Flame-haired Wildling Ygritte was one of the show’s least civilized characters, so it’s surprising to see actress Rose Leslie on a series as classy as Downton Abbey. And yet, Leslie – appearing as the maid Gwen Dawson in 2010 – got her first real break on the period drama, also returning for a single episode in 2015.
4. Julian Glover
Prior to his working relationship with Mr. Martin, Julian Glover was busy serving the needs of another famous George. Specifically, the English actor played baddies in two of George Lucas’ works – 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back and 1989’s Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. These characters, however, were a lot more intimidating than Glover’s spineless Grand Maester Pycelle.
3. Thomas Brodie-Sangster
Although his time on the show was short, Thomas Brodie-Sangster’s Jojen Reed served a pivotal role on GoT. Before his untimely end at the hands of White Walkers, though, Sangster found fame as a child actor. Some of his most famous roles include Love, Actually and Nanny McPhee, the latter of which he starred in at the age of 15.
2. Iain Glen
While many know him as GoT’s lovelorn Jorah Mormont, Iain Glen also struck a chord with gaming fanatics before joining the show. Indeed, the star has appeared in not one, but two film adaptations of successful video game franchises – namely 2001’s Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and the Resident Evil series.
1. Emilia Clarke
Most Game of Thrones stars have the odd embarrassing early role, but Emilia Clarke’s first brush with fame really takes the cake. In 2010 the future Daenerys Targaryen appeared in Triassic Attack for Syfy – the same channel behind schlocky “classics” like Sharknado. But hey, at least she quickly moved on to bigger and a lot better things.