Hannah Waddingham has spoken about her role in Game of Thrones as the religious fanatic Septa Unella and now recalls a particularly terrifying experience of her days on the series: the filming of a torture sequence in which she claims she was “waterboarded” for 10 hours as they tried to get the scene just right.
The actress revealed this on Collider Ladies Night, saying that original scene was supposed to depict Unella being raped by the Mountain, but she says that negative audience feedback from a previous rape scene prompted a change at the last moment.
“I think they’d had so many complaints about the rape of Sansa that they chose not to go with it,” she said. “Unbelievably, they changed it quite at the last minute. I think they possibly changed it when I was mid-air flying to Belfast because suddenly I got sent these new sides that said I would need a wetsuit top. I thought they’d sent me the wrong bits.”
But her assumption was incorrect. It turned out that she would have to be waterboarded in the series.
“They were like, ‘Oh, it’s going to be waterboarding instead,’” she continued. “And I was like, ‘But we’re not actually doing waterboarding.’ And they were like, ‘No, no, no, we are.’”
She says she was “strapped” to a wooden table for 10 hours as Cersei (played by Lena Headey) poured wine on her. She said that it was the worst day of her life “other than [giving] childbirth.”
“Lena was uncomfortable pouring liquid in my face for that long, and I was beside myself,” Waddingham said. “But in those moments, you go, ‘Do you serve the piece and get on with it?’ Or do you chicken out and go, ‘This isn’t what I signed up for.’”
The experience traumatised her, but it was necessary to make the scene as authentic as possible.
“I didn’t want the strap tight around my neck, but as [the production team] pointed out if the camera can see you lifting your head up to save yourself, that’s not authentic,” she explained. “As [GOT co-creator] Dan Weiss pointed out, he came up and said, ‘Look, in the script it says Cersei empties the remainder of her glass of red wine to wake up Unella. People aren’t going to think that’s enough. That is not enough retribution for Cersei. It needs to be three-quarters full or so — if we can cheat it, even more — of a carafe of wine.’ The one thing I kept thinking to myself was the production company aren’t going to let you die, so get on with it, be uncomfortable.”
Watch her speak about it in more detail below: