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To celebrate Lancaster’s 50th birthday, SCAN dug deep through Lancaster’s alumni and set forth to score an interview with one of the most notable people to grace the spine, Roger Ashton-Griffiths. After graduating in 1978, he pursued a career in acting, screenwriting and directing. Primarily recognised for his previous performances in Gangs of New York, A Knight’s Tale and The Brothers Grimm, he now stars as Mace Tyrell in the popular TV series Game of Thrones. He shares with SCAN his experiences at Lancaster, the world of acting and drinking pints with Kyung-Wha Chung.
How does it feel to be involved in such a huge production like Game of Thrones?
An interesting question because at its core lies the issue of perception. Game of Thrones is indeed a huge production, yet functionally it’s not more huge than others, so for those of us making it, it’s very like working on any big-budget production (Gangs of New York springs to mind). It seems, however, to represent something different for those watching it. I think the real issue is that, until very recently, input on this scale generally meant output on a large screen in a theatre, not a laptop in a bedroom.
Did you always know you wanted to be an actor?
Yes, although I kept it as a grey secret, an unlikely dream.
What did you study at Lancaster? Did you enjoy it?
I studied Music. It was more than enjoyable, it was wholly immersive, a training for all of us to go out into the world and engage actively in the cultural life of the community in a great and diverse range of ways. The closure of music department at Lancaster and elsewhere represents a tremendous betrayal by pen-pushers of all of society, and it is to be utterly deplored.
What did you do whilst at Lancaster University to get started on this career path?
I became a singer, and started work after I graduated as a company singer with English National Opera. My sidewise step into acting was accidental (but see answer 2 above!).
Did you get involved with any of the local theatres, such as The Duke’s?
The Duke’s was a professional theatre which served the greater community. The place where we undergraduates learnt our trade was the Nuffield Studio on campus, wherein I spent all that time I should have been writing essays. It was a unique place, designed, built and led by Ken Parrott, who is alive and well in his late 80s and upon whom great honours should be bestowed. No other theatre in the country was as diverse, both physically and conceptually, the sort of space in which one week I would be singing Plutone in a staged production in the round of Un Ballo in Maschera (Monteverdi), and the next sitting in the audience listening to Joe Pass giving a solo recital. I owe much personally to the Nuffield and to Ken.
What advice would you give to people who want to follow a similar path?
Don’t do it. Get a proper job. It’s too hard other than as an irresistible vocation.
What college were you in? What societies were you involved with?
I was a member of Furness, lived in for two years (my second year in Galgate, incidentally), and was awarded Furnessian of the Year during my time. I was made a Fellow of the college recently, which delights me.
However, we few musicians hung out generally amongst ourselves, not least because we didn’t keep the same hours as others, and we tended not to be involved in unrelated societies (I was a member of the Gilbert & Sullivan Society, for instance, for obvious reasons). We drank usually in the Ash Bar (Assistant Staff House bar – I think it’s gone now, isn’t it?) because it was the nearest to the Great Hall and Hilton Rooms, the centre of our campus.
How would you describe your overall experience at Lancaster?
Everything I was and did as an undergraduate lay the foundations for everything I was to become, and even now informs everything I do.
What are your best memories of Lancaster University?
Too many to list – as a trope, let’s settle on drinking pints of beer with Kyung-Wha Chung in the Ash Bar shortly after she’d played a concerto in the Great Hall. Diminutive of stature doesn’t have to equal bird-like in personality!
And your worst?
Regrets, I’ve had a few, but then again…
If you could give your younger self a piece of advice, what would it be?
Spend a bit longer on life’s essays, and start them sooner.