From valleys boy to the Iron Throne. Chris Binding speaks to actor of stage and screen, Ross O'Hennessy

“I GREW up in Pontllanfraith in the 1980s when it was a very much a ‘sporting time’ for Wales and I remember feeling the pressure of not being a rugby player.

I was quite scared to tell my friends that acting was what I wanted to do. I didn’t want to be the one to stand out.

Even though I had a want to become an actor when I was in Pontllanfraith Comprehensive School, I never really had an outlet for it.

However, I was fortunate that at the time I was a member of the Air Training Corps 277 Squadron in Blackwood and every year they did a charity show at Blackwood Little Theatre (BLT).

That’s where my first connection with the theatre happened.

While I was there, I realised that I was much happier being on stage than I ever was in school.

I started going to the BLT, joined into the acting groups and did few plays and pantos there and my parents, who were very supportive of me, helped me to audition for the National Youth Theatre.

At the age of 16 I went to London and spent six weeks there doing some professional actor training with them and ended up doing a show.

I knew that acting was what I wanted to do. It was my passion and I was very fortunate as I started auditioning for drama school and got accepted into a couple.

But I could never find the money to attend these drama schools because they were so high in costs.

I’m very lucky that I auditioned for Sir John Mills and he chose me for a scholarship and paid for me to attend Mountview Theatre School in London which is one of the top drama schools in the world.

I was the typical 16-year-old boy who packed up his shorts and sleeping bag in a bin bag to move to London.

The bright lights hit me and I did the usual thing of going out, having fun and enjoying my life. Being in a big and busy capital was exciting, thrilling.

I had to do a part-time job like everyone else and worked in the theatre bars, but it was also hard as I was holding down full-time education and a job at the same time.

In my early London years, I remember feeling the need to fit in. It’s a big city and people move in cliques and as an actor you need to start moving and working in acting circles.

I felt a little bit like the ‘Welsh boy in London’ as I was a typical valleys lad with a strong valleys accent and was always built like a rugby player. I didn’t look like a typical actor.

It’s a bit of a sad tale because I was so desperate to fit in but fitting in wasn’t the way to find the work in the first place.

Actor Matthew Marsden was a key pin in my career. I originally met him at the National Youth Theatre and he’s now living in LA and has done a lot of films such as Black Hawk Down.

If it wasn’t for him and his support finding me a place to live in London, I think it would have been much harder and I was very lucky to have him as a friend at that time.

After leaving drama school at 21, I picked up an agent straight away and started working with the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) before progressing into film and television.

When I left the RSC I got the most fun gig I have ever had in my life – The Rocky Horror Show.

I did that for four years with Jason Donovan and we ended up being in the West End.

It was an amazing time and I made some amazing friends, but I describe it as the ‘four lost years’.

I built up a really good CV doing classical theatre then turned to playing Rocky in the West End and when I came out I struggled to find work.

Simply because I spent four years walking around in a pair of gold shorts and glitter.

People remember you for your last performance and I found it difficult to break that image of being a West End performer.

After that, I did a few more plays and decided to make a break for TV and film and I went through a period of what they call ‘jobbing acting’.

I did TV shows for a while before getting a nice little break in a film that won many Emmys starring Kenneth Branagh and Stanley Tucci called Conspiracy about the Jewish holocaust.

I played the SS officer who was in control of the building where the Nazis discussed how they were going to eliminate the Jewish race.

The more stuff you get on your CV with bigger names, the easier the work comes.

After this, I was a jobbing actor and got married and wanted to raise my children in Wales, so I moved back here.

I had a job on a Canadian sci-fi programme Lexx and they flew us out to the British Virgin Islands to film that.

It’s the type of job where you appreciate you can visit nice places for free.

I was also lucky enough to be in Torchwood in 2006 and a Pot Noodle advert – the last bit of acting that I did during my jobbing period between 2002 - 2008.

I loved doing the advert and because it was Crumlin – where Pot Noodle was made – it was a lot of fun and it had massive publicity because they showed it before the X-Factor.

Sadly after 2008 the world economic crash happened and we all fell into austerity.

I struggled after that and didn’t have another job until 2011.

Three years lost in the desert.

In that meantime, I did historical guided tours wearing costume at the recreated Cosmeston Medieval Village outside Cardiff.

That ‘yo yo world’ going between having no money to having money, that’s probably the biggest thing you have to get your head around when you’re an actor.

It can be a hardship. You see your family struggling for your passion and while my family would never back out of their support for me, you see that. It’s emotionally hard.

But off the back of my work in a TV series called Da Vinci’s Demons I was asked to audition for the role of the ‘Lord of Bones’ in Game of Thrones.

The audition was quite intense. I knew it was such a big TV show and had been watching it and I didn’t want to mess up that casting.

You put a lot of weight on your own shoulders and you’re desperately trying to impress the people you have to impress.

A week later, I got a call back to tell me I had got the part and I remember being over the moon.

My character lived in the snowy land of the North, so they had to wait until the weather changes and I was back and forth to Belfast to shoot it at the location in a quarry for about a month.

It was a very big-scale production. You’re constantly not wanting to be the actor to mess up. Constantly running your lines in your head and making sure you’re getting everything right.

Every time they stop the camera, it costs hundreds of thousands of pounds to restart it again because of the size of the production.

The requirement for supporting artists and crew were huge.

I think there are many characters who come into Game of Thrones who do small parts, leave and are then forgotten.

I’m really lucky to play ‘Rattleshirt’, The Lord of Bones.

In the book he is a very significant character as he is the general of the North. There’s even an action figure being brought out of my character.

Having the Game of Thrones tag is a very big one on your CV and having had a couple of years and struggling like every other actor during the financial crash, it was a massive boost for me.

The year after Kurt Sutter (creator of US TV show) Sons of Anarchy, was coming to South Wales to shoot a TV show called Bastard Executioner and I was able to audition for a role.

It was a big show and Ed Sheeran sang the theme song.

When I first started my career, I didn’t have much contact with the BLT for some time and it was the wonderful world of Facebook that brought us back together.

I saw that the theatre needed a new roof and thought this is time to help them in the same way that they helped me. I was over the moon that little community theatres like that are surviving.

If I hadn’t had a chance to go on to that stage at 15 or 16 I would never have discovered my love for acting and be in the world I’m in right now.

I also want to give back and have done a lot of comics cons this year. I’m very keen on them.

The fans of these shows keep these shows alive and give them the power.

I think it’s important that they have a connection to the shows and to the people in them.

In a type of career that is filled with ‘no’ and constant rejections you have to beat that with your own positivity.

As actors we’re constantly trying to better ourselves and so every time you get that break you never sit back and enjoy it.

As soon as you get it, you’re looking for the next level.

I came from a humble background and was given a chance with a scholarship and I now teach acting in Cardiff to anybody who wants to learn.

When you leave drama school and you have had years of professional training you’re so desperate to be an actor that you will almost want to morph yourself into anything.

When you attend auditions you aren’t a person, you’re almost like a nothing that’s desperately asking to work.

The biggest thing you can be as an actor is to be true to yourself.

That is your most saleable commodity.”