Stepping away from a career-defining role can be a daunting prospect for any actor, but Liam Cunningham is taking it all in his stride.
After becoming a mainstay of the Game of Thrones cast playing the role of Davos Seaworth, the 59-year-old Dubliner will forever be associated with a television series that became iconic long before its final episode aired in May 2019.
Now Cunningham is set to appear in the epic new Roman drama Domina on Sky Atlantic and he is relishing the role.
On what attracted Liam to the project
My agent was sending me a script to have a look at it, but what grabbed my attention was when she said “This is Ancient Rome, but it’s told from the perspective of the women”, which is incredibly interesting.
There were some very powerful women and for them to have secured power when they weren’t really supposed to have power meant they were really clever and interesting characters... So I really liked the idea, before I saw the script, and then when I read the script… I mean, Ancient Rome is so interesting!
What effect Domina had on Liam
Domina rekindled my interest in Ancient Rome. There’s this wonderful book by Mary Beard called SPQR which I really got into.
Reading the script made me want to look into the history even more, so the script and the story of these people from 2,000 years ago who built this extraordinary Empire and the beautiful art, architecture and culture which create the backdrop to this very human story - this is what really interested me.
Rome is a constant gift that keeps on giving, but I think what’s interesting is that people today need to pay more attention to history, because it was an Empire that collapsed – which they usually do, and Rome was so complicated, so organised - and modern people and modern politicians could learn much more. If we studied history maybe we wouldn’t make the same mistakes again.
Domina is an incredible tapestry of stories. There’s so much political intrigue, sexual politics, incredible larger than life characters and a brilliant plot.
On his character Livius
My responsibility as Livius, the father of Livia, was showing the relationship that they had. He treated her with enormous respect, he loved her femininity but at the same time he recognised her intelligence and nurtured that. He taught her to fight but he was not looking for the son he never had. It’s not like that, he recognised her value. There is a very special bond between this father and daughter.
Livius is a Republican and wants to protect the Republic. He has seen the destruction that dictators can wreak and also what power can do the minds of humans - even good people. The system has worked for a long time, it’s never perfect – even now - but it’s better than somebody having all the power, so he wants to make sure that the Empire is restored to a Republic.
If you look at the corruptive nature of power and what it does to Livia. It's the old cliché, absolute power corrupts absolutely, and there are many occasions in history where we see that happen and it will happen again. People don’t seem to learn.
What’s the other old saying? “Times change, people don’t”. Livia struggles with this and with the things that she has to deal with. She has great struggles with the morality of what she’s doing.
On working at Cinecittà and filming in Italy
Italy! I love this place, I love coming back here. When I was told I would put on a toga and be filming in Rome, in Cinecittà, and playing an ancient Roman it didn’t take much to make me come, I love it here. I mean this is the home of Fellini, Sergio Leone, Ennio Morricone; it’s legendary! I pray it’s not the last time I’m going to work here.
I have to be really careful when I get scripts and I’m told it’s Italy. I have to put out of my mind that it’s Italy because I love the place and I have to try and be hard and cold and look at the quality of the storytelling, because it’s very easy to say yes to come and film in Italy, it’s very easy!
On why should people watch Domina
The best things are very difficult to describe in a few words. This is a journey that's so worth taking. You’ll see ups and downs, you’ll see a woman who’s torn apart emotionally.
It’s the relationships that are most important and Livia, this good woman, finds herself surrounded by very dangerous people, making the story incredibly interesting and gripping.
Domina is available to watch on Sky Atlantic and NOW.
Words by Kevin Palmer for Female First, who you can follow on Twitter @RealKevinPalmer.