Horror movie Unwelcome stars Hannah John-Kamen (Ant-Man and The Wasp) and Douglas Booth (Jupiter Ascending) as a couple that escapes their urban nightmare to the tranquillity of rural Ireland, only to hear stories of mysterious beings who live in the gnarled, ancient wood at the foot of their new garden.
As warned by their new neighbours, in Irish lore the Redcaps will come when called to help souls in dire need of rescue, but it’s crucial to remember that there is always a dear price to pay for their aid, and that's where things get...messy.
Game of Thrones star Kristian Nairn plays the mysterious, hulking Eion in this Irish folk horror, and we caught up with the actor earlier this month to learn more about what fans can expect from him here. Breaking down some key moments in the movie, he reflects on working with John-Kamen, explains how he subverts expectations with his size, and shares his love of creature features.
We also learn what impact the pandemic had on production and get some insights into Nairn's experience working with up-and-coming Irish filmmaker Jon Wright. Oh, and did you know there are Banshees in his family?!
Finally, the actor and DJ reflects on his role as Hodor in Game of Thrones and shares his hopes to play Solomon Grundy in the DCU.
Check out our conversation with the actor in the player below.
You spend a good chunk of this movie as Eion not speaking, but when you do, it’s a big moment for your character - that must have been an interesting approach for you here.
It was, yeah. When I was initially reading the script, I was thinking, ‘Silence? Again?’ [Laughs] I was very glad to have a breakout moment and it was a lot of fun to film that scene and to bring a bit of angst. I felt a bit sorry for him actually and definitely had a soft spot in my heart for the character. I think he’s had a bit of a bad time and anyone in his position might be a bit angry!
Things quickly escalate between Eion and Maya, so how did you and Hannah [John-Kamen] collaborate on that scene in terms of where it goes verbally and physically?
It was [an intense day]. I’ve never really done a scene like that before. We did have stunt performers as well, but it was mostly done by the both of us. Obviously, I’m a strong guy. I’ve got hands like shovels and have to be very aware because Hannah is this small, beautiful person and I don’t want to cause any harm. I’m trying to get into character and you don’t want to hold back either, so we definitely had a chat to establish what was suitable without anyone getting hurt. We had to make it look real or it just wouldn’t work otherwise. So, there was definitely a lot of collaboration on that and, obviously, as a real-life functioning human being, it’s so far outside my wheelhouse of what I would do. That doesn’t mean it’s not fun as it’s weird stepping into that dark shadow and exploring that weird side of things. It took collaboration and I was nervous on the day because I was terrified of hurting her, but we go through it, we’re still here, and I didn’t get arrested by ending Hannah’s career!
Your scenes with Colm as Daddy make for harrowing viewing too; how did you guys prepare for that and establish this really dark father/son relationship they have in those dark places?
I don’t have much experience with father/son relationships in real life…I’ll get the violin. Not really! [Laughs] I really had to…I have a great relationship with my parents, so I did really have to find a new place to understand where to take that. Obviously, Colm [Meaney] is an amazing actor and so experienced. He was incredible to work with. It honestly felt real on set. They created this entire, weird creepy house inside an airfield hanger. The whole vibe was creepy and I did feel sorry for Eion. You think he’s a bit slow, but he doesn’t fit in with the younger members of his family and they’re constantly making fun of him and making him feel unwanted. It was sad. I’m glad that came across.
This is a creature feature, and you get a little taste of that, so what was day on set like?
I never actually met a Recap! I never saw them. I don’t know what happens in the movie yet either as I’m watching it tonight. I never got to see a Redcap in real life. I’m looking forward to seeing what they’ve done.
Unwelcome is a movie that really takes a deep dive into Irish folklore, but were Redcaps something you were familiar with beforehand?
I’m from Ireland, but I haven’t heard of Redcaps. I could not tell you how many stories and legends are in this place. It’s one of the things I love about Ireland. Literally, the wall that exists that behind the webcam, there’s a burial ground right behind my hedge. It’s full of weird shit. That’s why I’m here [Laughs]. If you want a stone circle, a leprechaun, a banshee…we have plenty of them to shake a shillelagh at! I really hadn’t heard of Redcaps. There are Banshees in my family as we’re Irish Scots and my grandmother always told me we had them…I’ve yet to hear them, thank God, but I’ll let you know. I’ll put it on Instagram.
I’m 6’5” so can relate to what it’s like to be taller than most, but how do you feel about the way your height factors into the characters you play, specifically with Eion, this seemingly very gentle giant?
I’m going to call back to Game of Thrones a little and we’ll get back to Eion in a second. Being 6’10” as I am, my physical presence is one of the main things about myself. I can’t run away from it. I did. We all had uneasy teenage years and it was an interesting ride. So, when I was offered the role in Game of Thrones, I was very conscious and wanted to treat him with respect. Obviously, he wasn’t the most intelligent character, but I didn’t want him to be a clown or be laughed at and made cartoonish. It was the same with Eion. Yeah, he appears to be a little slow, but I think we proved once he lost his mind and freaked out that he was maybe just keeping himself back as he’s a shy person. I can totally relate. I was a very shy teenager and with these roles, I’m able to bring out a little bit of realism by casting my mind back and thinking to a time when I wasn’t so happy with my height. Hopefully, I can bring some realism to it. It’s important to me people are represented in all shapes and sizes and you don’t have to be a certain way to be an actor or any career. Representation is very important to me in all ways.
On another note, when you look back at your time as Hodor in Game of Thrones, how do you feel now about the way that story ended for your character? I know, for me, it’s up there as one of the show’s most memorable, heartbreaking farewells.
I didn’t expect it to be such a big deal. He was a minor character. I know he was a fan-favourite, but I wasn’t expecting that level of national grief [Laughs] and all the memes…it still blows me away and I still hear about it every day. It’s maybe five years roughly but not a day goes by when someone doesn’t either approach me or contact me in some way to talk about it. That’s totally fine! It was a really great time in my life being part of Game of Thrones. It was a lot of hard work, but it was very rewarding and I’m very proud of it. It was an immensely difficult scene to film both emotionally and technically. You would not have realised on screen, but that was one of the best things…there were so many locations in the door, out of the door…there were about seven different doors. Stunt doors [Laughs]. It was fun but hard.
The cultural impact of that scene is a crazy thing to see - there’s even a Funko Pop of Hodor holding the door.
Yeah…I never thought I’d be associated with doors [Laughs]. Every time I do a new project and there’s a door in the scene, I try to avoid it. I’m like, ‘Please don’t associate me with doors forever.’
I know that final season was divisive, but it must have been fun for you to see your boy, Bran, end up on the Iron Throne?
I was present in spirit hovering around. It felt like maybe Hodor didn’t die for nothing. He saved the King. I know some people weren’t happy he was King. I was very happy, obviously. You’re right, he was my boy. We went the whole way together and I was proud of Isaac [Hempstead Wright] and his performance. We were very close on set. He was like a little brother and still is. I was happy with the last season. If I had to write a script note, it’s that I wish it was longer. In a way, is that not a compliment?
Hodor is one of those very iconic roles, so when something like Unwelcome comes along, is it important that it’s to play character completely unlike what you’ve done before?
Yeah, of course. Being an actor was never my first priority. I’m a musician. I believe, with that type of character, Hodor is the pinnacle. I don’t want to do anything lesser. I’m currently in Our Flag Means Death with Taika Waititi, and we’re getting back to doors here, but in the first season there was a metaphorical thing where I actually knocked a door down. That, to me, was saying goodbye to doors. The doors have been destroyed. Different characters…I’m the type of person who will bring myself to a role, so there may be certain similarities, but most actors do. I definitely want to play different types of roles, but having said that, I love fantasy and sci-fi. I’d be happy to go back to that epic landscape.
In terms of inspiration, were there any horror movies you had in the back of your mind even if it was just some old favourites?
Critters. I always loved Critters. Gremlins, obviously. Some of the creature features have been incredible, but I always loved Critters. It was hilarious. There was humour in there like we have in Unwelcome. That was the one at the back of my mind.
I think Jon Wright is a really exciting director and I’m sure there’s much more to come from him, but what did your collaboration look like, especially on a project where the budget is so different to Game of Thrones, for example?
You know, I did not even notice. Jon is a fantastic director and we had a lot of fun. He’s very collaborative. That’s the type of director I like to work with. Very quickly, you’ll get a flavour on set of whether the director is up for that or not and whether they have a clear vision. Jon does but I was never afraid to share my ideas and he was very good with that. He’s very talented and I’m looking forward to seeing what he does next.
As you mentioned, it was a very unique experience shooting in an air hanger, but did that help or hinder your performance and would you have preferred to be on location?
It was more that it was during COVID and that’s why we had to keep it inside. We had to stay in hotels and be very careful. We had the bubble thing and it was a unique way to film. I think we got to know each other better after staying in hotels and more than we probably would have normally because we kept travelling back and forth to a minimum. I remember thinking at the time, ‘This is a bit annoying.’ It’s also good for the process and I don’t imagine we’ll do that again. Let’s hope not.
Finally, I know you’ve done a lot since Game of Thrones, including continuing with your DJ career, but is a superhero movie or TV show something you’d be keen to take a crack at?
Yeah! I am a huge superhero fan. I have a tattoo of Thor on my arm. I’m an original fan from the comics and a big Marvel and DC fan. If we’re going to stick with the types I could play…obviously, they can do anything with CGI these days, but I can’t imagine myself playing the new Wonder Woman [Laughs]. I’d try it! I’d love to play Solomon Grundy. I’ve got the hair and dialogue down. I’d love to. We’ll see what happens. Who knows? I’m putting it out there. Hey, [James Gunn]!
Unwelcome is coming to AMC Theaters' Thrills and Chills Lineup on March 10 and hits Digital on March 14.