You might not know the name Josephine Gillan, but if you watch the HBO fantasy series Game of Thrones, you probably remember her. There's a scene in Season 4 where Oberyn Martell and his lover Ellaria Sand are picking out a prostitute to bring to bed with them. When Martell asks one of the fully nude women if she's timid, she grabs her own foot and pulls it up to her head from behind. She's obviously not timid at all.
Here she is at a convention appearance demonstrating that move from her best-known scene.
Gillan, the actress who has played prostitute Marei since Season 2, says there's a reason she's extra comfortable with the near-constant nudity and the many, many sex scenes on the show. It's because before she was an actress on TV, she was, as she puts it herself to The Daily Mail, "working as a whore." In an article headlined "'Game of Thrones' rescued me from prostitution (By giving me the role of, yes, a prostitute!)," Gillan explains how landing the role changed her life.
"I was working as a whore and at the same time making X-rated movies, using the name Sophie O’Brien, when I saw an advert on a website for actresses in the film industry. They were looking for young women with natural breasts and no tattoos, who didn’t mind being filmed naked. So I immediately sent in a picture. They wrote back that they wanted me and I was thrilled because it was an amazing opportunity to do some proper acting. But I had no idea how much it would change my life."
Gillan had a really tough life. She told the Mail that as a young girl she was placed into foster care, where a family friend gave her weed and alcohol at age 12, then got her hooked on cocaine at 14 before pimping her out to his friends.
"I was too frightened to tell anyone because he threatened to bury me in the garden if I did. He said he’d done it before and I believed him,’ she says."
She credits getting the role on Game of Thrones with stopping her life from spiraling out of control, and it's led to more acting work in a couple of independent films. She also explained that her past has given her an advantage when it comes to all of the simulated sex that her role on the series requires.
"The reality is that the male actors are so uncomfortable doing sex scenes that I can usually feel them shaking nervously under me. I think they suffer from performance anxiety, because they are almost naked and there are usually about 30 crew members on set. They didn’t need to show me how to do anything because that’s how I earned my living."
There will be more of Marei to come. Gillan has reportedly already signed a deal to return for the show's seventh season.