For his role in the low-budget, independent film “Beneath the Harvest Sky,” Aidan Gillen traveled as far as he could from the world of Westeros and Essos — the imaginary setting of the hit HBO series “Game of Thrones,” in which he portrays the Machiavellian Lord Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish.
“Harvest Sky,” by Maine filmmakers Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly, brought Gillen to the northern border town of Van Buren, where he plays Clayton, a smalltime “Breaking Bad”-like drug smuggler whose estranged son (Emory Cohen) shows interest in his father’s trade. Removed from the brutal violence, depraved sex, and lush settings of the epic TV series based on the fantasy novels of George R.R. Martin, Gillen found himself in a tiny depressed community of broken dreams, potato fields, a booming illicit prescription drug trade and no HBO — the latter a relief, since no one in town recognized him.
“I had about 10 days off from ‘Game of Thrones,’ ” says Gillen by phone from New York, where he is promoting the movie (it opened at the Coolidge Corner Theatre on Friday). “And my part comes down to about five or six scenes. But you don’t want just the scenes to be good; the project has to be good overall.”
For him, the project’s appeal lay in the nonstereotypical approach the filmmakers took to its marginalized characters, a rarity in films these days. Also in the ambiguity of the family relationships.
“I was interested in the dynamic of a father and son who haven’t spent time together,” he said. “They [the directors] weren’t looking for clichéd performances. One thing they said was that this relationship is quite warm. It’s not heavy with him [Clayton] shooting people all the time. Of course, he’s not working in a kindergarten, either.”
Like his character in “Game of Thrones,” Clayton is as ruthless as he needs to be to survive. “He’s probably from a long line of smugglers,” Gillen explains. “This is one of those border towns in which people have been involved in illicit trade of one kind or another over the years. It would be whatever makes the most money and I guess at the moment prescription drugs are the biggest moneymaker.”
Perhaps he was acting like a Robin Hood type, bringing in cheap Canadian pharmaceuticals so Americans didn’t have to pay inflated prices? Gillen scoffs at the idea.
“His motivation was to make money,” he says. “There are more people addicted to prescription drugs than to heroin and cocaine and a lot more deaths from prescription drug abuse than all the other types of drugs combined.”
In that regard, Clayton is not much different from Littlefinger in “Game of Thrones,” who made his fortune operating a brothel. The show has been criticized for its graphic scenes of violence and sex — in particular, violent sex. Did Gillen, who also played Tommy Carcetti on “The Wire,” think it might be crossing the line?
“I think certainly the world being portrayed is a harsh one, a violent one,” he says. “So you’re going to see violence on the screen. As for the sex and nudity, is it any more than you would see on a movie screen?”
Given the sudden deaths of seemingly established characters in the series, was he worried about the life expectancy of Littlefinger?
“No,” he says. “I’ve read what’s been written up to date. So I have a fair idea what the character is up to. But there are two new books in the series coming up. Part of the excitement for the audience and the actors and the producers is that we don’t know how it ends. It’s an adventure for all of us.”