King Joffrey brings evil to Waterfront

Actor Gleeson helps support Pittsburgh Irish and Classical Theatre

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Evil incarnate sat on a plain oak chair behind a plain wooden desk, saying "please" and "charmed" as a line of admirers slowly paid tribute to one of the most loathsome creatures to grace a television screen. In Halloween season, that's saying a lot.

"This is for my son-in-law; could you please say something horrible?" one woman asked.

Of course he could. Irish actor Jack Gleeson might play the enfant terrible King Joffrey Baratheon on HBO's hit series, "Game of Thrones," but anyone detecting a spiritual connection between the earnest young man and his role doesn't know Jack.

'Game of Thrones' actor greets fans at the Waterfront

"Game of Thrones" actor Jack Gleeson greets fans at the Barnes & Noble in the Waterfront. (Video by Nate Guidry; 10/27/2013)

"People are pretty sensible, and understand the part I play is simply fictional," said Mr. Gleeson, 21, who is studying philosophy at Dublin's Trinity College. For a few weeks a year, however, he shoots "Game of Thrones" in places like Dubrovnik, Croatia. He was at the Waterfront Barnes & Noble book store Sunday as part of a fundraiser for Pittsburgh's Irish and Classical Theatre, a favor to his old friend and mentor, producing artistic director Alan Stanford.

About 50 fans brought merchandise purchased at the store to be signed by Mr. Gleeson, who appeared to be anything but the divo. Many of his fans wanted to take cell phone photos, and long after the official event had ended, he made time to talk to a young man from Taiwan who brought him a copy of George R.R. Martin's "A Clash of Kings" to sign.

Today, he will put in a television appearance and later attend PICT's annual fundraising costume gala at the J. Verno Studios on the South Side.

"Our theme for next year is 'Something Wicked This Way Comes,' " Mr. Stanford said. "We are trying to get more young people to be aware of us, to realize there is a theater here and it is for them. So I'm sitting here thinking 'Something Wicked This Way Comes.' We want young people. We are going to have a dance party. ...

"Oh my god, Jack Gleeson plays King Joffrey. Click. And I'm on the phone: 'Jack I want you to do me a favor.' "

"Cause there ain't nothing more wicked than King Joffrey."

For the uninitiated, Joffrey is a sadistic, spoiled brat of a teen prince who becomes king after the death of his (not biological) father. His transgressions are lurid and many, but chief among them was his order to behead Ned Stark, the protagonist of Mr. Martin's first book and the biggest star of Season 1.

If there is a high road, Joffrey never found the map.

"I think he plays him wonderfully," said Mr. Stanford. "He plays him like a child who, if his toys don't work, he doesn't just put them away, he breaks them. ... and that's the genius of Joffrey as a character. You give ultimate power to somebody who has no sense of responsibility ... like Congress," he added, chuckling.

"I was really happy to help out someone like Alan and PICT. It was a pretty easy decision, yeah," Mr. Gleeson said.

He and his older sister, Rachel, have been involved with Mr. Stanford in productions at Dublin's Gate Theatre.

"Alan is a 'genius;' he told me to say that before this interview," Mr. Gleeson said, smiling.

"He mean loads [to me]. To have someone, as an actor and director, to guide me in those formative years, and just to have him as a friend. I think he's a wise man in terms of the theatrical scene and the acting scene. He gives good counsel."

Sunday's meet-and-greet was held in the cookbook section of the store, but not very far from a more appropriately geeky "Doctor Who" display. Other tables held books from the series upon which "Game of Thrones" is based: Mr. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire." In the nearby coffee cafe, PICT received a proceeds from a lineup of "themed" drinks. Dan Rindt, 24, of Baldwin, said he had tried a "Mother of Dragons" drink -- a cinnamon dolce latte -- as he waited with girlfriend Sarah Carew, 21, of Oakland.

"[Mr. Gleeson} actually came over and was standing right here a minute ago, but I don't think anyone noticed," she said.

PICT is embarking on a three-year plan to embrace the "classic, classical" plays of the Irish ethos. "We are shaping seasons around themes, which is what audiences like, and presenting plays that are intriguing, and presenting them in ways that are challenging," the director said.

Mr. Stanford made a few opening remarks, including "We are a city of arts, and the arts in the city are quite remarkable and we're here to celebrate that." He gestured to Mr. Gleeson and added, "And now we are going on to more evil things."

Although he plays one of the most memorable characters on an internationally acclaimed program, Mr. Gleeson said he doesn't see himself as an actor when it's over. He and friends created Collapsing Horse Theatre a few years ago, focusing on children's fare and puppetry.

"I don't think acting is something I want to pursue in a professional sense. Maybe helping out with my theater company? I don't really know where I see myself, maybe getting some kind of post-graduate degree in university. That's too far ahead to decide."

The success of "Game of Thrones" has given him something many young actors crave: options. It's good to be king.

Maria Sciullo: or 412-263-1478 or @MariaSciulloPG.

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