​IAIN Glen has a problem. The premiere of The Bad Education Movie takes place this week and he does not know who to have by his side on the red carpet. His seven-year-old daughter, being a fan of Jack Whitehall, who wrote and stars in the big-screen adaptation of the hit BBC Three television comedy, has volunteered, forcefully, but Glen is not making any promises.

“I say you’re not the right age, it would be too weird. If I walk down the red carpet with you they’ll think I’m just a very, very bad parent,” he laughs.

One can assume from this that the movie, like the television series, is going to be a tad wild. Abbey Grove, the fictional English comprehensive in which Bad Education is set, does indeed make St Trinian’s look like Play School, and now Alfie Wickers (Whitehall), the worst teacher in Britain, is taking his old class on a school trip to Cornwall. Or as he puts it: “I’m going to take them on a holiday that is so bats*** mental, if it was a movie, EVERYONE would be played by Nicolas Cage.”

Glen plays one of the Cornish locals that Wickers and his class encounter. The clotted cream accent, and the comedy, puts the Edinburgh-born Glen a galaxy away from the world and the part with which he is most identified these days, that of Ser Jorah Mormont in the HBO fantasy drama, Game of Thrones. He has enjoyed the chance to do something completely different in The Bad Education Movie, and was impressed with Whitehall’s grace under pressure. “I don’t know a lot of comedians but I think they can be quite a complex bunch with their own demons that they are exorcising through their comedy. He’s an unbelievably lovely guy.”

Glen has a stint as a theatre director in his past, so he knows of what he speaks when he talks about multi-tasking. There is little that the 54-year-old has not turned his hand to in theatre, film, and television, yet it is Game of Thrones that has brought him global fame, and we will talk of that later.


First, since the peg for our interview is The Bad Education Movie, a look at his own school days would seem apposite. Glen’s time at the fee-paying Edinburgh Academy was not a happy one, however. In an interview published 14 years ago, Glen alleged he was molested at the school. He does not say anything about that when we meet. What he is keen to do is point out that the school today is very different to the one it was four decades ago. “Listen,” he begins, “it was generations ago and schooling at that time was a very different thing, and the Academy like most schools has gone through major changes.”

What was the problem? “It was the last vestiges of a Victorian-style education which had a lot of corporal punishment and not a great deal of interest in the arts. I was a fish out of water and so I spent my time being an irritant and successfully irritated a lot of them and they came down hard on me. But I had two older brothers to look after me a little bit. So yes, it was a stale, very exam-oriented education which was full of archaic subjects and the school was run in a very different way.”

These were the days of the tawse in Scottish schools, or in the case of the academy back then, the “clachan”. “It was a piece of wood with a rounded, flat top which they would mete out punishment with,” explains Glen. Again, he wants to stress that this was “a different era”.

Something positive came of his schooldays in that he made a pal in one Nicky Campbell. The duo were into music, pranks (calling local radio stations was a favourite) and acting, and both went to Aberdeen University. When the university’s theatre group travelled to the Fringe in 1981 with a production of Bent, by Martin Sherman, some “nice things” were said by the critics, and Glen knew he had come home in every sense.

It was a relief for his parents to know he could make it in what was to them the “totally alien" world of acting. Glen’s father worked for the Scottish Investment Trust, eventually becoming managing director. His mother was an occupational therapist but gave it up to raise the three Glen boys.

While Campbell would eventually move into broadcasting, Glen headed to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (Rada) in London. His parents stepped in to help him financially, and for that support he is “eternally grateful”. It is a concern, he agrees, if working-class youngsters don’t go to drama school because they fear building up debt, and on that score he admires Scotland for staying tuition fees free.

Glen thrived at Rada, winning the Bancroft Gold Medal in 1985 (previous recipients include Kenneth Branagh and Timothy Spall). More rave reviews followed for his performances in the film Silent Scream, in which he played an inmate of the Special Unit in Barlinnie, and the television drama The Fear, where he was a Cockney gangster. He found being Scottish a bonus, because it made it difficult to be pigeonholed in a “class-obsessed” society. Scot-free, he went on to make his name across film, theatre and television, racking up the credits, including Glasgow Kiss, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Resident Evil, The Iron Lady (playing Margaret Thatcher’s grocer father), Downton Abbey, Hamlet, Macbeth, Henry V, Martin Guerre, A Streetcar Named Desire, and The Blue Room with Nicole Kidman (complete with famously celebrated nude scenes).

Then along came a certain television show. He has been with Game of Thrones from its beginnings, back when it was far from certain it would become the multi-award winning phenomenon it is today. The pilot, which featured a Dothraki wedding shot in Morocco at night, did not look promising despite its budget of between $5m and $10m, with one executive famously saying the celebrations “could have been in a f****** parking lot for all I can see”. The world of George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novels was made brighter, more epic, changes were made and reshoots took place. After the first episode aired in 2011, Game of Thrones, the TV series made to movie standards, was on its way, much to the future delight of legions of British actors, many of them Scottish (Richard Madden and Rory McCann, to name but two).

Glen says the great thing about Martin’s novels are that the plot lines are so strong and the world he creates so believable. “But then you have to turn it into spoken dialogue and that’s what Dan and David [DB Weiss and David Benioff, executive producers and writers] are brilliant at, conjuring up a different period but doing it very authentically in, for want of a better word, a cool way, a current way where it doesn’t feel staid.”

Between its warring kings and scheming queens, Game of Thrones might be regarded as Shakespeare for the masses, or as one fan described it to me, “The Sopranos with dragons”. There is just so much to it, says Glen. “There are high flown ideas and images and it’s a world in which you never know quite what is going to happen next and that’s one of the attractions. There is always a supernatural element which never dominates but is always there and can make things go off at a tangent you don’t expect.”

Added to this is a plausibility that draws viewers in and holds them tight. “You can genuinely watch it as a viewer and think I sort of believe that this is the way things could have been back then. If anything it has a slightly medieval feel. It’s unspecific when it is set but it conjures up a very, very brutal world, a world of a lot of political machinations, lots of intrigue, fantastic strong characters, female and male, it’s highly unpredictable and it’s sexy.”

Such is the devotion of GoT fans I wonder what it is like for Glen, who seems a retiring sort, to be in the eye of such a media storm. Great fun, he says. As an actor, you hope people will respond to any job you do, and to be part of one of the "most successful TV series of all time" is a treat. If you can’t enjoy that, he adds, it’s time to go off and find something else to do with your life.

He is recognised wherever he goes, and for “95 per cent” of the time he is cool with that. People are polite, enthusiastic, they compliment you – “that’s always lovely” – and say how much they enjoy the show. “Then there’s the five per cent of the time when it can be bothersome because you are with your family, you are in a different headspace. Sometimes within that five per cent there are people who approach you in the wrong way and burst into whatever it is that you are doing. It’s not rude, because no-one says 'I hate you', but they invade you as if you are not currently having an ice-cream with your seven-year-old.”

The last most viewers saw of Ser Jorah he was not in a happy place. Are things going to improve for him in the new series? Glen refuses to say. Not even the wrath of a Dothraki warrior would make this bird sing. “It’s a paradox. You get asked all the time but deep down people don’t want to know. If I said a whole bunch of things that told you what was going to happen it would be like a drug, you’d get a hit of it then you think, 'Oh god, well now I know.'”

Just for that stonewalling I’m going to put him on the rack of Scottish independence. It is now the law, or at least it seems that way, for every interviewee with even the slightest connection to Scotland to be asked about independence. With Glen there is a stronger justification than in most cases, for nestling in his CV is the 2005 TV movie Kidnapped, in which he played Alan Breck, Jacobite rebel. Asked if he will return to Scotland, Breck looks to the horizon and muses: “One day Scotland will be free again. I’ll be the first man home.”

Despite declaring himself “not a big political animal” Glen submits to interrogation with good grace. “I personally wouldn’t be in favour of independence,” he says. He watched with interest the way the referendum unfolded, particularly in the latter stages. “They all fell over themselves, giving promises to Scotland. We’ll see where that leads them but on the whole I like the dynamic of Scotland being on its own path but within the context of the Union.”

It was right he didn’t have a vote, he says, because England is now his home, not Scotland. He lives in London with his partner, Charlotte Emmerson, an actor, and their two daughters, ages three and seven. He has a son, 21 this year, with first wife, the actor Susannah Harker.

“I haven’t worked in Scotland as much as I would like to, particularly in film. I’ve worked more in Ireland, I don’t know why.” Scotland’s always had a “staggering” film industry, but there just hasn’t been the right material for him, or enough of it. Then again, Glen likes to mix things up, so Scotland may yet see him on stage here again. A particularly fond memory for him is of playing Macbeth at the Tron in Glasgow in 1993. “Right up there with my most fulfilling roles.”

Another was starring opposite Nicole Kidman in London and Broadway in The Blue Room, a tale of lovers uniting and parting that became famous for Ms Kidman’s brief nude scenes. “Pure theatrical Viagra” one critic called the production. Glen did his share of the heavy lifting when it came to nudity, but to lesser effect. “I was front on, doing handstands, completely naked for about 10 minutes but that didn’t seem to cause much of a stir.”

Besides The Bad Education Movie there is the sixth series of Game of Thrones ahead. Much as the part of Ser Jorah has changed his life for the better, one wonders if it has also made Glen so famous he will no longer be able to go off to his beloved theatre again and lose himself in a part, much like one Benedict Cumberbatch with Hamlet. Not a problem, apparently.

Whatever he does next will not be determined by money or fame, he says. “It’s about the creative possibilities, the demands it is going to make on you, whether it is attractive or not to do it. What Game of Thrones does is it gives you a visibility so people start to build productions round you, they want you in their productions because they think you help sell tickets. It has nothing but a beneficial effect for that and if I wanted to disappear anywhere to do a piece of theatre or whatever there is absolutely nothing stopping me.”

Arise then, Ser Jorah, and we shall hopefully see you back at the Tron soon.

The Bad Education Movie (cert tbc) is in cinemas on August 21.