Interview with Jerome Flynn
Jerome Flynn, actor and Patron of Viva!, chats to Juliet Gellatley about his spectacular return to acting – years after walking out on Simon Cowell to find his inner self
Seduced by acting
Funny, life’s twists and turns. When Jerome Flynn was invited to audition for Game of Thrones, his first thought was ‘American twaddle!’ but he was sent a script anyway for the part of Bronn.
At the time, Jerome was considering leaving acting to focus on transforming his once-dilapidated Georgian farmhouse into an eco-paradise with holiday lets. But… watching his brother Daniel perform at the National Theatre in the impassioned play The White Guard, acting seduced him once again.
“The play blew me away,” he told me, “and afterwards I was reunited with people from my past, including my drama teacher and old friends and it felt like I was being welcomed back to a world that is in my blood. I suddenly remembered why I acted in the first place."
Auditioning for Game of Thrones
“I hate auditions and wasn’t sure I’d do Game of Thrones but I read the script and found myself relating to Bronn, which is a testament to the quality of the writing. Bizarrely, I then opened the kitchen cabinet door and bruised my eye.” He looked in the mirror and saw Bronn staring back at him. “I was aware the audition had gone well and I had done it without trying, which is rare for me. I knew that I’d tapped into Bronn, the mercenary, and was excited to play this darker character with wounds. So, from thinking I was walking out on acting, I found myself in the biggest show on the planet!”
Brutal, misogynistic, constant power struggles
Game of Thrones is HBO’s most popular TV series of all time, being shown in 170 countries and illegally downloaded more times than any other programme. I had been reticent to start watching Game of Thrones but my sons and friends kept talking about it. Based on a seven volume, medieval-esque, epic fantasy novel, A Song of Ice and Fire by George R R Martin, I imagined it to be like Lord of the Rings but with more cruelty, nudity, sex and violence. And it is! But it is so much more! Game of Thrones is a triumph of bold storytelling that breaks every stereotype and I became completely engrossed by its colourful, complex characters. This isn’t hobbits and pixies, it is ruthless realpolitik in jerkins – and compulsive viewing.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about Jerome’s macho Bronn is that he is still alive in the sixth season! I’ve never seen a drama kill off so many of its main characters. Jerome smiles:
“Yes, you just don’t know what will happen next – that’s what medieval Europe was like – brutal, misogynistic, constant power struggles.”
Jerome plays a skilled and dangerous ‘sellsword’ who comes to prominence when he fights for one of the show’s major characters, Tyrion Lannister, played by the brilliant actor and vegetarian, Peter Dinklage. Bronn and Tyrion are a riveting duo – Bronn with his black humour, pragmatic, amoral approach to life and Tyrion with his hedonistic, sex fuelled, bright, candid wit and warmth. Together they develop a fascinating understanding and respect for each other.
So what was it like working together?
“Working with Peter Dinklage is a joy. He is a wonderful actor with a sophisticated and entertaining kind of nature. He’s a really funny man and it made me very sad when the two characters parted. I’m hoping that they come back together one last time.” Jerome and Peter also connected over their views: “Yes, we talked about how much being vegetarian or vegan matters. It’s very important.”
So, after his initial reticence, Jerome’s view of Game of Thrones changed dramatically. “I soon comprehended the scale of the production and what it meant to the producers then, when the cast turned up, I realised it was epic. It is wonderful to be a part of.”
Wonderful but also fortuitous, for it led to Jerome being cast as Detective Sgt. Bennet Drake in the BBC’s (now Amazon Prime’s) Victorian crime drama series, Ripper Street. He is brilliant in it.
Jerome’s character is complex; outwardly thuggish but with a soft underbelly, a man desperate to love and be loved and Jerome portrays these inner conflicts wonderfully. One of the most moving scenes is when Drake is rejected by the woman he loves, a prostitute. This hard man has given his heart and now it is breaking. It is painful, actually painful to witness.
“I’ve been in love before and heart break is an area I know about – it just came out of me…” Jerome says ruefully and then deflects the praise by adding, “and it is beautifully written”. Set in London’s foetid East End in the late 1800s, Jerome plays alongside Matthew Macfadyen and Adam Rothenberg as they investigate every kind of crime against a backdrop of poverty, industrialisation and social change.
Astonishingly, the BBC axed the show after series two and Amazon Prime stepped in to save it following an outcry from its loyal and large fan base.
Jerome has just finished filming series four in Dublin. I talked to him in his characterful Georgian manor house, the weather turning wild as the evening drew in, with howling wind and rain lashing at the windows. In daylight, the views are of magnificent open countryside reaching to the sea.
Tofu and vegetable soup
He made us a delicious tofu and vegetable soup in the large farmhouse-style kitchen, every inch filled with spice and herb jars, books and things that made me want to be nosey.
Rescuing an abandoned kitten
In the corner was a very relaxed cat, asleep on an armchair and it became apparent that we both love felines, me telling him of my tabby Tom, Loki. Jerome disappeared and returned with a tiny bundle of tortoiseshell cuteness in his arms – a five week old kitten that had been abandoned by the roadside and who he was minding until a permanent home was found for her. I had met Jerome a handful of times years earlier so this was a warm reunion of kindred spirits. I could say that he is the antithesis of his macho roles but that would be oversimplifying him.
Walking out on Simon Cowell
Jerome is certainly spiritual, thoughtful, caring and a gentleman but he is also powerfully masculine with a mischievous sense of humour and, like all of us, is fallible. I asked him if he relates to characters such as the murderous Bronn?
“Well, I don’t go round killing people with a sword but part of me is that rogue who loves to go into a tavern and get drunk! That’s one of the wonderful things about acting, you can play out those sides of yourself!”
Jerome is grounded and enjoys acting but not the gruelling schedules that take him away from home for months on end. It was partly to avoid this that he had walked out on Simon Cowell. (“But he’s done OK hasn’t he?” Jerome quips).
Robson & Jerome
In the early 1990s, he shot to fame as Paddy Garvey in Soldier, Soldier. In one episode, he and fellow actor, Robson Green, sang Unchained Melody, which sparked an overwhelming response from appreciative women and so Simon Cowell persuaded them to record it. It went straight to number one and became the best-selling song of 1995. Their next two singles also went in at number one while their two albums sold seven million copies.
Jerome then quit while at the peak. He explains: “One by-product of being famous was to show me that it wasn’t where true happiness lay. The way people treat you starts to become less real and subsequently leads to less happiness. My spiritual search was for truth and understanding and the more famous I became, the more it drove me on that search.
“We became a merchantable product with everyone wanting a piece of us. We weren’t even creating our own music. The frenzied fame of the music world is madness compared to the relatively sane world of acting and so everything came to a head.
“I don’t regret going on that Disney ride and we did have lots of fun but two years was enough and I needed to look for true happiness – the two big questions being who am I and how shall I live?”
Joining a cult
Jerome left the pop world behind and joined what he describes as a cult led by the controversial Andrew Cohen. “I put him on a pedestal”, says Jerome, “as part of me was looking for a Christ-like figure and I put that on Andrew. But a good guru or teacher will not allow you to do that.”
It was during this period, back in 2002, that I first met Jerome and it was clearly a time of stresses. “With fame, thank god, I never wanted anyone to open a door for me but it works on subtle levels as you get used to being recognised. I was the youngest and least clever in the family and was always striving to be noticed and when I started acting, I got affirmation from peers and my elders. Acting is like saying ‘I’m here’ and people respond, saying ‘we see you’ and that helps you to form a mask, to be a golden boy, without even knowing you’re doing it.
“An important part of finding truth is to recognise the masks you are holding between you and reality. I still have masks but I’ve now got more idea of how they work. In the cult I was able to seek aspiration – I was on fire with it - so leaving was huge. And they did what cults do when you leave, try to make you think you’re turning your back on your heart.
“But my dad (Eric Flynn) died and so I left and came to Wales, to this place that I’d bought for him to start a new life with his young family – a place I love, where I have been coming since I was a boy. And now we have a little community and are developing a small business. I just love it here.”
Growing up in Kent
Jerome Flynn’s background, from near Sevenoaks in Kent, was pretty idyllic it seems – a sister (Kerry), a brother (Daniel) and endless woodland and open countryside. His memories are of exploring together, swinging from trees, making camps, growing vegetables, splitting logs and, of course, animals - mum, Fern, taking in a variety of sick and injured wild creatures, nursing them to health before releasing them back into the wild.
In his teens, Jerome began acting in school plays and discovered that girls showed more interest in him than they had before! The Sevenoaks Youth Theatre came next followed by three years at London’s Central School of Speech and Drama - “one of the most exciting periods of my life.” It was here that a friend turned him vegetarian.
We show Jerome Viva!'s piglet investigation
I showed Jerome Viva!’s investigation of a farm near Hull where piglets were incarcerated in cages three tiers deep – a Red Tractor farm supplying Morrisons! At first he found it hard to speak but then said: “It is shocking, horrific. Yet again it has been left to Viva! to expose the brutal truth of how farmed animals are treated. The campaigns Viva! undertakes are responsible for many thousands – millions – of us becoming vegan or veggie and you have to remember that. It was your educational leaflets that woke me up to the horrors of factory farming and turned me veggie. And now your exposé of large-scale goat milk farming has rocked my world again.”
With that, he got up and left the room but returned holding a packet of Violife vegan cheese! “Actually, I like this one - not bad!”
And the little kitty? Well, what do you think? I’ve named her Sarla because she is brave, beautiful and bold – and right now, is tearing around my house, Loki in hot pursuit!