Rose Leslie

"You know nothing, Jon Snow," the wilding Ygritte tells the bastard son of Ned Stark on Game of Thrones.

She's right. The young man has led a relatively sheltered life up to now, but on Sunday's episode (9/8c, HBO), he'll get some hard lessons knocked into his naturally curly head by Ygritte's wilding friends. "Now the tables are turned, you see. She's no longer his prisoner," Rose Leslie, who plays Ygritte, tells TVGuide.com. "I'm very, very happy that the power has shifted back to me.

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"You start to see a change within the relationship," she continues. "I think she looks upon him in this episode in a different light, no more like the stupid-but-brave boy, but she's beginning to see where he's coming from and kind of sympathizes with him. He takes quite a beating, so she's beginning to like him also. She softens towards him."

Leslie is a familiar face to fans of the British period drama Downton Abbey, in which she played plucky housemaid Gwen, whose ambitions to become a secretary were realized by the end of Season 1. "I think Downton was incredible in helping me get this part," Leslie acknowledges. "It opened a lot of doors, especially across the world and in America. That was fantastic to be part of such a phenomenal show."

And although the young Scottish actress has high praise for both of her high-profile series, she found Downton to be more challenging when it came to costuming. "I just could not tell you, those corsets were hugely uncomfortable," Leslie says. "They'd be fine in the morning, and then you'd have to slacken it a little bit, get the laces undone a little so that you could have a nice lunch without feeling far too delicate after like three mouthfuls. But it was a constant pressure on your ribcage and your back. But I was hugely comfortable in my Ygritte costume. I was so nice and warm, and it was furry with many layers on the inside. There was no way I was going to freeze in that costume."

Leslie also discusses Ygritte's strongest traits, her sexual banter with Jon and trying Icelandic cuisine:

So many cast members dye their hair or wear wigs on this series. But were they looking specifically for true redheads for the role of Ygritte?
Rose Leslie:
I think they did want a true redhead, yes. Ygritte, the character, is "kissed by fire" and within the wilding community, that is a lucky sign. I'm very glad they decided to go for the authentic look. There were a few of us, a whole range of redheads in the room. I've never really experienced that before. Usually there's only one or two at a time.

What originally drew you to playing Ygritte?
Leslie:
I love that she was so extremely strong-willed and tough. That really struck a chord with me. I'd pictured her in my mind as ruthless, but she also has a lovely playfulness to her as well when she's teasing Jon Snow and mocking him to his face. When I was reading the sides, I totally fell in love. I thought, "This girl is brilliant! She's incredibly intelligent, she can play this guy."  She's cocky. She doesn't necessarily rule the roost, but she doesn't take orders from anybody unless it's Mance Rayder [the wilding "King Beyond the Wall"]. She gets on very well with her wilding crew.

I'm a fan of the novels and I had no idea that Ygritte was pronounced like that, like the bird "egret." Did you have similar problems?
Leslie:
It's like the bird, exactly. I had a similar problem. They had a breakdown in the script and they spelled out how to pronounce Ygritte. But I was so excited to rush through the sides to see what my scenes were going to be like, so I pronounced it wrong at first.  It is a tricky one, isn't it?

We've just seen the episode in which there's some great banter with Jon Snow (Kit Harington). Is that sexual teasing just strategy or does she secretly like him?
Leslie:
I think it's strategy. In that episode, there's a scene where she seduces Jon and takes his mind off the fact that his hand is on the hilt of his sword. She distracts him and he slackens his hold on the rope, so she's able to run away. I think it's very practical. That's another thing I love about her, that she's constantly double-playing him. At the moment, all she wants to do is get away and not be his prisoner anymore. She's aware that her wildling friends are close by, and that's why she gets away and then he's captured and snared in a little trap.

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What does she make of Jon? She seems to want to actually talk things out with him.
Leslie:
She's never come across anybody like Jon Snow before. He's incredibly honorable, he hasn't tried to come onto her. There they were, snuggling up on the rock and nothing really happened. He just let her be. I don't think she's ever come across that before in her life. I'm patently sure that's she's lost her virginity and has gotten pretty far with a man and for him not to try to seduce her, I don't think she can figure it out. And then later it's like, "I'm bored of this. You're phenomenally dull, so I'm going to escape. I'm going to leave you. Bye!"

Ygritte touches on the topic of Mance Rayder with Jon. What can you tell us about this man and how she views him?
Leslie:
I think she's hugely excited about Mance Rayder and genuinely in her heart believes that the King Beyond the Wall ... will be able to lead the free folk to what should rightly belong to them. She doesn't think that the land should permanently be owned by the Southerners. She thinks it should be a free for all, for everybody.

What were the best and worst things about shooting in Iceland?
Leslie:
I think the best thing has to be the scenery. It's epic and simply breathtaking. So many times when we were shooting or when there would be a little break, you'd lift your head and look around and think, "I can't believe that I am here!" It was sensational. I've fallen in love with the country. I think the downside, understandably, is that it was very, very, very cold. We were stuck in minus-30 conditions. There wasn't a lot you could do. You could stand still or huddle like penguins. We got through it. We were all given several layers of thermals in the costume. The wardrobe department was incredible and had these amazing hand warmers that kept you alive out there.

Did you try any new foods in Iceland?
Leslie:
For the first time in my life I tried whale. It was very chewy and quite fatty. My friend had had whale before, so I knew it would be quite blubbery. It was delicious. I loved it. It was smoked, so it had a lovely kind of tangy taste to it. We had it a couple of nights. I was won over. It was very yummy.

Fans would love to have Gwen return to Downton. How would you imagine that would work?
Leslie:
I don't know. I haven't heard of anything, so I don't think that's happening. But of course Gwen left at the end of the first season, and now they're in the Roaring '20s.

So the Crawleys probably don't urgently need someone with typing skills?
Leslie:
Which is unfortunate, I know. I'm kind of hoping they would [laughs]. But I don't think so. I think they're past that.

If you had your own personal sigil, what would it be?
Leslie:
It's funny because my family is from Scotland, and [Clan Leslie] actually [does] have a sigil. We have a griffin on a shield. So it's not particularly imaginative, but I'd have to pick a griffin to stay true to my roots. Our motto is "Grip fast."

And if you sat on the Iron Throne, what would your first edict be?
Leslie:
Free chocolate cake for all! It would make me popular. That's why I'd go for it.

Watch a sneak preview of Sunday's episode, "The Prince of Winterfell." Game of Thrones airs Sundays at 9/8c on HBO.

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