The Singapore Sand Snake - Jessica Henwick speaks

Nicholas Yong
Senior Correspondent
Jessica Henwick is in town to promote the Game of Thrones season 5 finale. 

Forget the naysayers - Jessica Henwick says the Sand Snakes will have a big part to play in the Game of Thrones season 5 finale, which airs next Monday morning. 

"What happens with the Sand Snakes is…extreme. Very extreme. So I’m really curious to see how people take it. I don’t know what else I can say!" says Henwick with a laugh. "Episode 10 sets the rest of the show on a very certain path. It’s a big move in Game of Thrones, and the Sand Snakes are a part of it." 

She plays the bullwhip-toting Nymeria Sand, one of of the Sand Snakes - a trio of characters who were heavily hyped pre-season, but who have so far played little part in proceedings. The online reaction from fans has generally been one of disappointment, but it looks like things may be about to change. 

Henwick, who has a British father and Singaporean mother, is in town to promote the immensely popular HBO series. She is the first Asian actress to land a prominent role on the series - though she tells Yahoo Singapore that the initial online reaction was less than tasteful.

Henwick recalls: "When the casting announcement was made, within five minutes, the first message I got on Twitter was: ‘Are we going to see your breasts?’ And they tagged my dad in the message, and they put the clapping hands emoji." Fortunately, she has also received "really nice stuff" online from Singaporeans and other Asians. 

Henwick remembers her first day on set as as a "trial by fire", being given three takes to whip a bucket off a man's head, while he was buried in sand and covered in a dozen scorpions. With no digital effects involved.

She says wryly: "They said: Right, here’s the whip, you got to be quick, Jess. Don’t hit him, don’t kill the scorpions, don’t break the cameras, and don’t hit any of the crew. And the crew came out with these riot shields, because they were so afraid of getting hit by the whip. If it goes in your eye, it will blind you."

Fortunately, six months of training with the bullwhip meant she pulled it off. "You are just as likely to hit yourself as you are to hit anyone else, which I learned the hard way. I hit myself everywhere. Everywhere," she says ruefully.  

But Henwick freely admits that her being cast in Game of Thrones was an "anomaly" for an Asian actress in the United Kingdom. "I’ve been extremely lucky, in that I’ve been able to play roles that are not defined by their ethnicity. But that’s not a common thing for people of ethnic minorities," she muses. 

"My agent and I are very clear on what kind of roles I’m interested in, and I don’t want to perpetuate any stereotypes. I don’t want to further the ignorance, when it comes to what it means to be an Asian in this day and age. So it upsets me when I see storylines that I think are backwards."

Henwick laments: "It’s tough, because I come to Singapore and people say I’m not Singaporean, and I go to England and people say I’m not English. It's really hard to find your place, not just in the entertainment industry, but in life." 

Jessica Henwick plays Nymeria Sand in Game of Thrones.

Meanwhile, the Surrey-born actress is coy about her rumoured role in Star Wars: The Force Awakens - "If I had a Singaporean dollar for every time I got asked that question, I would not be rich, but if I had a pound, I’d be pretty damn rich." It's also unclear if she will have a part to play in the next season of Game of Thrones: "I don’t know, to be honest." 

Incidentally, Henwick is a self-confessed geek, being a big fan of TV shows such as The Walking Dead, iZombie and the cult sci-fi series Firefly. She says with a laugh: "I have a T-shirt that says Game of Stones, which has the Flintstones dressed as Game of Thrones characters on it."

But Henwick is keen to be involved in a Singapore production - she even considered moving here several years ago, due to a lack of roles in the UK at the time. Though this is her first trip here since 2009, Henwick also used to come to Singapore every year in her youth. 

But is she concerned that her higher profile might mean she can no longer have chicken rice in peace at the hawker centre? Henwick demurrs. 

"The way I look on the show is a very heightened version of myself. If I was walking around Singapore carrying an 8-foot bullwhip, then maybe people might recognize me.  And you guys don’t really have paparazzi here anyway. I'm just another Asian person in the crowd," she says with a grin.