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Game Of Thrones Vet Liam Cunningham Takes Us Inside The Vault - Exclusive Interview

Even before Liam Cunningham starred on Game of Thrones, he was one of the most recognizable and respected Irish actors in the business. HBO's epic fantasy series, however, took Cunningham's fame to a whole new level. As the smuggler-turned-knight Davos Seaworth, Cunningham was there during many of Game of Thrones' biggest events, and managed to do something that seemed almost impossible: play a kind, noble, and well-meaning character in a world where misery and deceit thrive.

Cunningham's first big post-Thrones project, the heist thriller The Vault, treads on similar ground. His character, the enigmatic treasure hunter Walter Moreland, may be a criminal, but he's motivated by justice, not greed. After all, he's been searching for Sir Walter Drake's long-lost treasure for three decades. When he loses his one and only lead to the subtleties of maritime law, why wouldn't he recruit a team of experts and break into Spain's most secure facility to steal it back? Hey, it's only fair.

Every minute he's onscreen as The Vault's criminal mastermind, Cunningham seems to be having a great time, and our exclusive interview with him proves that's no accident. During his talk with Looper, Cunningham gushed about his experience on The Vault, listed his favorite heist movies, and talked about the similarities between Walter and Ser Davos. Just like The Vault itself, it's a lot of fun.

What Ser Davos and The Vault's Walter Moreland have in common

So, what's life like after Game of Thrones?

Well, this pandemic has affected everybody in an enormous way. I'd finished a TV show the end of December, 2019. And I said, "I've been working back-to-back." I did Game of Thrones, I did The Vault, and for Sky Television over here I'd done a show. Luckily enough, I'd actually made a promise with myself that I was going to take a little time off, like two or three months, maybe. I didn't think it was going to turn into a year and a half, but I was kind of prepared for it.

And, personally, my kids are at the age where they're about to fly the nest, so I've had them trapped for the last year in the house. It's been brilliant. I got an extra year of time with my kids that I probably shouldn't have. Huge commiserations to the people who got sick or have lost loved ones and all that sort of thing, but personally, I can't really complain. I've had a forced year off, more or less. And I think it's been really good. I've really loved it.

I probably shouldn't say that.

There are kind of some similarities between Walter in The Vault and Davos in Game of Thrones. They both have a history with boats. They're both criminals with a noble heart. Is there something about this kind of character that you're particularly drawn to?

Look, there are a million different kinds of interesting characters, but certainly the character that doesn't fit in and doesn't play the game by the rules I always find interesting. I suppose that you're right, there are similarities. He's not a guy that's craving attention, either of those characters, Davos or Walter Moreland. They know their minds, are essentially decent people, but they operate on the fringes of society and even the world.

Walter is a wealthy man, and it's not about the money. And I think one of the reasons he gets involved in this robbery is because he's been slighted. He's tried to do things through the courts. He's tried to do the right thing, and he's done over by politicians and by the law, so he feels he's doing the right thing. He feels people made wrong decisions and he has to right them, so the team gets put together to do that. And as we know with Freddie's character, he's an absolute necessity on this because of his engineering genius. And we go on this rip-snorting adventure, I think it's a wonderful thing.

It's a fun movie. It's very clever.

It's really clever. I mean, all the engineering things are kind of real. They're not superheroes. We have one guy who's ex-special forces, but when Thom, Freddie [Highmore]'s character, has to get into the thick of it, he's not a physical guy. He's an intellectual, he's an engineering creative, and he's thrown in by his own volition.

And I kind of liked that they stumbled brilliantly through it. They're not fools, [but] they're certainly not experts. They may be experts in their own fields, but zip-lining and all that sort of stuff. Apart from Sam [Riley]'s character, the rest of them are living on a wing and a prayer, and it kind of ups the ante for the tension.

What I loved about it is every time they think they get near somewhere — the baddies are not idiots in this. They're incredibly dangerous. What I love about it, how many shows do you see of this type, this genre, that [the bad guys] know they're coming, they know when they're coming, and they still find a way through it? Where success is very, very slim, the possibility of success is really, really slim? I love that, and I love the way it's told.

And the other thing about it is it's an independent European movie, and it has a feel of a very large-budget Hollywood rollercoaster, a big studio film. And I liked that. It looks like a lot of money on the screen, and I really, really liked that.

The Vault star Liam Cunningham's favorite heist movies

In 2012, you actually won a BAFTA for the short Pitch Black Heist with Michael Fassbender. Is there something in particular that appeals to you about heist stories?

There are movies like this, obviously the original Ocean's films with Danny Ocean — I don't think I've seen any of the George Clooney ones; I've seen bits and pieces, but I don't think I've ever seen a full one — and I do kind of like them. But the one that sticks in my mind is one that we had years and years ago with Robert Redford and George Segal, God rest him, who's just passed away. I think it'd had two different titles. I think we called it, over in Europe, How to Steal A Diamond in Four Easy Lessons, but I think it was also called The Hot Rock. It was about stealing a diamond.

And in those kinds of things, you have, generally speaking, quite normal people in extraordinary situations, where disaster looms around every corner. But they're in the middle of it because they've made the decision to do it, to put themselves in danger, for whatever reason. I kind of like those ballsy characters. You know they're going to be fun to go out and have a drink with. They like fun and they're adrenaline junkies. They're kind of interesting people.

Walter is pretty mysterious. We know he's rich, we know he's a hunter, and we know he spent three decades looking for Drake's treasure, but we don't know that much more about him. How did you develop him? How did you get in his head given the limited amount of information?

Well, you know that thing where it's said that the king is only the king as long as the people think he's the king?

I was tempted to go along and do a lot of research on the guy who found the Titanic, and then I kinda went, "The script so nicely put together, and he is a kind of a mysterious character, and even sets the tone of the movie."

"It's not about the money, I have money," and he just throws it away. For successful people, money is not about money, it's about keeping count, and he's a little like that. He doesn't have a great deal of respect for money. He uses it in the court case after the customs people trap him at the beginning of the film, but he's not showy in any shape or form. I thought it was more interesting that he come across as a kind of ordinary, decent guy, but one who had all the trappings of a man who lives in a dormant volcano. Do you know what I mean?

Yeah, totally.

I thought that was more interesting rather than playing him as obviously mysterious. The mysterious bit was quite small in this. It was getting the team together and getting the job done and how we left the movie. Maybe, depending on the success, or lack thereof, who knows, maybe it can go somewhere else.

I'd be more than happy to get on board, especially with the same team. They were wonderful to work with. Really, really cool. There wasn't a cross word on any day of filming. Everybody was at the top of their game. I've worked with an incredibly talented bunch of people and it shows on the screen. It's a proper ensemble piece. Everybody's got their story. It's just much more interesting, I find. The ensemble thing really works — that's why I like Game of Thrones as well, proper ensemble. Very difficult to write for, very difficult to get right. But when you do, it's incredibly rewarding.

The Vault is now in theaters, and can also be viewed via video on demand.