Tom Wlaschiha on Portraying Characters on Both Sides of The Law
The actor who played the faceless assassin Jaqen H’ghar in ‘Game of Thrones’ was last seen as mercenary Max Schenkel in ‘Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan’
What do faceless man Jaqen H’ghar (Game of Thrones), mercenary Max Schenkel (Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan), Gestapo officer Hagen Forster (Das Boot), ICC tech specialist Sebastian Berger (Crossing Lines) and police officer Lars Kante (Tatort) have in common? They’re all characters played by German actor Tom Wlaschicha. Perhaps best known for portraying Braavosi assassin H’ghar on HBO’s epic fantasy series Game of Thrones — which came to a close earlier this year — the actor takes to black, white and grey personas of the law quite easily on-screen. When asked about how he does it, Wlaschicha boils it down to relatability. “Whenever bringing a character to life, I think it’s important to portray him as a human being, however flawed, because that’s what a viewer can relate to,” he says.
Viewers who tuned into the second season of Jack Ryan were in for a pleasant surprise — at least those who missed the casting announcement — when they saw Wlaschiha flit and kill across their screens. As the former BND operative Schenkel, Wlaschiha was quite the arresting and intriguing modern-day mercenary (despite his untimely retirement from the series) and much like in the actor’s iconic role as H’ghar in GOT, Schenkel too made waves. Did he lean on his learnings from playing the Braavosi assassin to bring Schenkel to life? “Jaqen was a very quiet killer. You never saw him do his deeds on screen. He played with the minds of the audience as they would always assume he’d be capable of anything. Max on the other hand is a rather practical guy. He’s a trained killer and he won’t waste any time when the opportunity arises,” he says while comparing the two characters, revealing what they could borrow from each other. “One thing he has learned from Jaqen though, is the whole face changing business. He too comes in different disguises. A few additional lessons at the House of Black and White could probably have prevented his untimely end,” he says.
While his on-screen personas bear discernable similarities, Wlaschiha views their circumstances as vastly different and doesn’t think of previous roles when taking on a new one. He, however, does credit murder suspect Carl Andersen, the character he played on Maigret (2017), for helping him a tiny bit in portraying Schenkel (both the characters have visual impairments). “One thing I did remember was that having an eye patch will make you lose your three-dimensional vision. So I was a bit more careful than usual where I stepped in those long chase sequences across rooftops,” he says.
The actor draws on what’s in the script; there need not always be a character thoroughly sketched out for Wlaschiha to take to a role. “A good script will always provide multi-layered and conflicted characters struggling with the respective circumstances of the story,” he says. The actor finds it to be infinitely more fun to play the bad guy. Relieving himself of the pressures of perception, he says, “When I play a character, I always try to not judge his actions on a moral base. That should always be left to the audience.”
Wlaschiha has a compelling presence on screen. From his delivery of dialogue to his body-language and the role itself, the actor doesn’t have to be in the lead to hold the audience’s attention. “Sometimes less is more,” he says. Between H’gar, Schenkel and Forster, the actor has struck some serious critical acclaim. But when asked if there is a Wlaschiha method to the memorable on-screen persona, the actor doesn’t cite a particular formula. “When you’re given a limited amount of scenes or screen time, it’s essential to give your character some memorable features. That can be a distinctive speech pattern or a particular way he moves. But it’s more or less intuitive, there isn’t really a recipe,” he says.
Fortunately for viewers, Tom Wlaschiha isn’t afraid of being typecast as chasing criminals or playing one. “Luckily, I have the big privilege at the moment where I can choose the projects I want to do,” he tells us. The actor just finished filming the second season of war drama Das Boot and is currently working on an Italian comedy called The Incredible Story of Rose Island (L’Incredibile Storia Dell’Isola Delle Rose). Both projects are slated to air in 2020.