English actor and standup comedian Ben Crompton portrays “Dolorous” Eddison Tollett in Game of Thrones, the hit HBO fantasy series currently enjoying its eighth and final outing on Sky TV. Robert Oliver interviews Ben for Louder Than War!
LTW: I imagine you’ve answered this question a dozen or so times over the last few months, but you’ve been part of Game of Thrones’ production for nearly a decade now. How do you feel about leaving it behind?
Ben: It’s time. The temptation in television when something’s going well is to keep it going, to drag it out as long as possible. But that’s only if the momentum and a gripping narrative can be sustained. It’s better that you end on a high, leaving behind a solid piece of television history. And I think [showrunners Dan Weiss and David Benioff] are keen to explore new projects. It’s been a huge chunk of their lives.
I think it’s great that you’ve had the same people overseeing and driving the whole show, along with George, but I’ll miss it. It’s usually a year or two later when you really feel that. Because you’re used to going a certain time between seasons and then getting your fix, only the fix won’t be coming this time.
LTW: Do you watch the show when it airs, or do you prefer to stay away once it’s out there?
Ben: My wife, Liv, and I will sit down and watch each episode on the Monday night it airs in the U.K. Or, if work allows, we’ll watch it on the Monday morning after the school drop-off. We saw [‘Winterfell’] on the Friday before it aired at the Belfast Premiere, which was a real treat to see something so cinematic on the big screen.
LTW: Moving into your other work, I had the idea for this interview when I saw you alongside the brilliant Sharon Horgan in the video for Metronomy’s ‘Old Skool’. How did that come about?
Ben: I was asked to meet for an audition but I couldn’t make it down to London. Then they came back and made it an offer. It was directed by Dawn Shadforth, who was responsible for Oasis’ ‘The Importance of Being Idle’ and Kylie Minogue’s ‘Can’t Get You Out of My Head’, so I was excited to work with her.
Her influences for the video included Abigail’s Party and John Cassavetes’ A Woman Under the Influence. Dawn created a very relaxed atmosphere on set – her husband was the art director, and it’s their kid that turns up at the end of the video.
We shot it in this incredible house on the outskirts of London. As I understand it, the owner had designed and built it himself – he’d died a few years back and now a relative was caretaking the place whilst they decided what to do with it. And, of course, it’s so distinctive, it made a great space for TV and film companies. It’s the same house that features in the Inside No.9 episode ‘Diddle Diddle Dumpling’ (the shoe episode).
And I love Sharon Horgan’s work, so it was great to meet and get to work with her. As well as being an excellent actor, she’s a brilliant writer, as anyone who’s seen Catastrophe will know. It was an enjoyable day’s filming – I got to dress up as 1970s John Lennon. We established these back stories: my character used to be in a band but has had to quit, as Sharon’s character becomes more detached from reality. All the guests, who were a mix of dancers and actors, had names and back stories too, and it is testament to Metronomy that despite hearing the track constantly throughout the day, we didn’t tire of it.
LTW: Who was the biggest influence on your listening habits when you were younger? For example, my parents insisted I knew the best of The Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel and various Motown hits before I knew how to walk. Were your parents the same, or were your influences more from your friends?
Ben: Unsurprisingly, my parents also influenced my listening habits. My dad was a teenager in the 1950s, so he was a big rock n roll fan. Bill Hayley, Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly. My mum was eight years younger and she was more into Motown and soul. Diana Ross, Otis Redding.
She remembers a friend of hers, in the early 1960s, telling her about a band who were playing at Eel Pie Island who were really good, but the singer was really ugly. She went along and it turned out it was The Rolling Stones.
My parents never really liked The Beatles – too clean cut and poppy for them when they were starting out, so I came to them later. I got into their albums at university, mainly because of my friend Jeff Hordley, who used to DJ at South on King St in Manchester but is probably better known for playing Cain Dingle in Emmerdale now. Whenever Jeff and I meet we always swap recommendations. – he got me into Matthew E. White and Scott Fagan.
We have The Beatles on a lot in our house and in the car, and both our kids have grown up with them from an early age. We had a little break in Penrith, UK early last year and made sure we got back from dinner in time to watch Eight Days A Week, the Ron Howard film about The Beatles’ tour of America. My son’s favourite album is Sgt. Pepper’s.
It’s tricky now because you see parents sporting their musical tastes on their children – kids’ wearing Guns & Roses t-shirts and baby grows with The Ramones on them. Having said that, I was really chuffed when my son was eight – we went into a record shop and he asked me if he could spend his birthday money on a Stone Roses album. It was between that and the latest NOW compilation, so I told him he could get the Roses.
My dad was also a big country music fan, particularly Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson. Some people see country music as mawkish and saccharine but the reason these two are so enduring are because they were hard living “old skool” rock and rollers, who knew how to articulate their stories of faith, betrayal, drinking, love, and melancholy into these beautifully crafted songs.
Although mum and dad’s tastes differed in a lot of ways, along the way we found some artists that we all loved, and they became the staple of long car journeys and Sundays in the kitchen. There was lots of early Dr.Hook – ‘Queen of The Silver Dollar’ and ‘Cover of the Rolling Stone’ are still absolute belters. Simon & Garfunkel, Springsteen’s Tunnel Of Love, E.L.O., Fleetwood Mac’s Tango In The Night.
LTW: We initially arranged this Q&A after meeting each other in Stockport, a town we both have roots in. How did growing up in Greater Manchester at such a crucial time for the region’s musical legacy impact your tastes and listening habits?
Ben: When I was about thirteen I had a friend called Paul Daniels – not the magician. I remember us both sneaking into his older brother’s room and him putting The Stone Roses on the record player. That was my first distinct memory of that emerging Manchester scene. He also played Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight”, and whatever you think of him, to a thirteen-year-old, that bit where the drums kick in was incredible.
I used to listen to Piccadilly Radio and Key 103 a lot, so would hear a lot of local bands on there. My mum and I used to love Little Big Band, who was a one-man-band that anybody who shopped at Stockport or Manchester will remember. Later discovered he was called Rob Gray. I had two of his cassettes on my Walkman.
I loved Inspiral Carpets, The Mock Turtles and a lot of those local indie bands. But the biggest impact anyone had on me was probably John Bramwell (I Am Kloot). When I was fifteen or sixteen, he and Henry Normal came to our school. Henry read from Is Love Science Fiction? and John sang songs from You, Me and the Alarm Clock, which he’d released under the name Johnny Dangerously. I had this moment when I thought “That’s mine – whatever they’re doing, I get it and I love it”. Many years later, Henry went on to form Baby Cow Productions with Steve Coogan and they produced Ideal, a series I was part of for seven brilliant seasons.
John formed I Am Kloot, who became my favourite band. Years later, after a lot of overthinking, I sent him a message through a mutual friend saying what a massive fan I was, and asked if he’d consider playing at my 40th birthday. I was sat on the ‘Hardhome’ set, rewriting this message, debating whether to send it or not. “What if he was a dick and just told us to f*** off? That would spoil your favourite music for you and all the memories you attach to it!”
It is why people say never meet your heroes. It’s why I always try and make time for people and be polite if they recognise me from telly. I’m not saying I’m anyone’s hero, but I’m part of a show that means a lot to people, and you don’t want to spoil that. John was a bit reluctant as birthday parties aren’t his usual thing – please don’t ask him! – but he said that me being a fan for twenty-five years swung it for him.
We had to make sure it was proper set up – a stage, a proper PA system, etc – so we did. And he was great. Now we’re mates. In fact, the other week, we recorded a music video for one his upcoming songs, with me and the dancers of my wife’s company, balletLORENT. I think it’s due for release later in the year. I still think John’s one of the world’s most underrated singer-songwriters.
Sometimes, meeting your heroes can work out.
LTW: Moving back to Game of Thrones for a second. You’ve spent quite a lot of your time on the show alongside Kit Harington (Jon Snow) and John Bradley-West (Samwell Tarly), among others. John in particular has been vocal about his love for The Stone Roses, and he’s donned Kendrick Lamar merchandise in the past. Did you ever pick up on their musical preferences while you spent time with them, or any other cast member for that matter?
Ben: My wife and I went with John Bradley to see The Stone Roses when they first reformed for the Heaton Park gigs in 2012 – I can’t believe that’s nearly seven years ago now. It was amazing – a lot of fifty-year-old blokes in bucket hats off their head on pills, mind, shoving each other and making out like it was 1988 again.
John is also a massive Liam Gallagher fan; he loves the man. He decks himself out in Pretty Green gear. He’s a huge Morrissey fan too. It was interesting, on social media, watching a lot of fans’ admiration of Morrissey disintegrate after his comments about Sadiq Kahn, and about Hitler being left-wing. We were filming at the time and John would be reading out these quotes as they were reported.
John and I often have lots of chats about all things Manchester. He was born in the wrong decade – I often forget he’s nearly fifteen years younger than me because his cultural references are 1980s/1990s Manchester. Granada Reports, old Coronation Street episodes, Frank Sidebottom.
I’d compile playlists on my laptop so we could play Beat the Intro during the breaks whilst filming at Castle Black – and there were a lot of breaks, because things often took so long to set up, such is the nature and scale of the show. I’d say John and I were the best at it, and Owen Teale (Ser Alliser Thorne) was pretty good, too.
John and I got a flight from Manchester once and played another game: we went through the Game of Thrones cast and asked, “If they were a band, which band would they be?” John wanted to be The Smiths but I’m not sure I was having that. He said I’d be The Lightning Seeds.
Kit has quite a varied playlist. I do remember him being excited over a Steve Moore album once and him getting me to listen to some of it on the drive back from set once.
LTW: And just as a final question, who have you been listening to recently that you believe our readers should be getting into?
Ben: I used to be up to speed on all the upcoming bands. I was always at the listening posts in record shops – every store seemed to have them at one point. Now I’m mainly focused on soundtracks and picking up albums I used to have years ago but have since lost or given to charity.
I’ve had various phases of musical interest growing up. I had a heavy metal stage, particularly Iron Maiden; a synth stage, mainly Jean Michel Jarre; a blues and soul stage, Muddy Waters, Sam Cooke. But throughout, soundtracks have been a constant for me. When I was a kid, I had The Empire Strikes Back on vinyl, as well as Neil Norman’s Greatest Science Fiction Hits 3.
I’ve bought them on various formats over the years, mainly tape and CD, until Record Store Day in 2013. That day, I reconnected with my early love of vinyl, which is small proof that this annual event did help reignite a national interest in vinyl and independent record stores. This year’s RSD pick ups were soundtracks to The Crow, Lost in Translation, Twin Peaks, The Stone Tape, and Knight Rider amongst others. I also recently bought the soundtrack to The Last of Us.
I’ve just recorded a Soundtrack Special radio show for BBC Newcastle, which aired over the Easter weekend, where I went through my personal collection of TV and film soundtracks. I tried to make it an eclectic mix, so there are popular songs utilised in film like ‘All Along the Watchtower’ or ‘Perfect Day’.
There are classic scores everybody knows, like Rocky, Star Wars, and Midnight Cowboy, and some lesser known scores, such as Howard Shore’s Big, Ennio Morricone’s Orca, Carter Burwell’s Miller’s Crossing, and Jack Nitzsche’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. There’s a selection of TV themes too, including The Rockford Files and, unsurprisingly, Game of Thrones).
In terms of what should your readers be getting into, I’d recommend James’ 2018 album Living In Extraordinary Times, whatever John Bramwell releases next, and, of course, my Soundtrack Special. It’s two hours of some of my favourites from the small screen to Hollywood.
Ben’s show is available here [https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p075v9jx]
This is the first piece by Robert Oliver for Louder Than War.