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House of the Dragon stars embrace pressure, expectations of GOT prequel

Nathalie Tomada - The Philippine Star
House of the Dragon stars embrace pressure, expectations of GOT prequel
Matt Smith is the peerless warrior and heir to the throne, Prince Daemon Targaryen, in the Game of Thrones prequel premiering on Aug. 22 via HBO GO.
STAR / File

The fight for the Iron Throne is on, yet again, in the HBO Original show House of the Dragon.

Based on George R.R. Martin’s Fire & Blood, the 10-episode series set two centuries before the events in Game of Thrones (GOT), takes audiences anew to the world of Westeros and tells the turbulent story of the House Targaryen.

The Targaryens are all-powerful dragon riders who serve as the seemingly untouchable and unchallenged ruling dynasty of the Seven Kingdoms before Game of Thrones happened.

Fabien Frankel as Ser Criston Cole who has no claim to titles or land, except honor and exceptional sword-fighting skills.
HBO

Duplicity, bitter rivalries, lust for power — these are just some of the things to come in the highly-anticipated GOT prequel, according to the men in the House of the Dragon — Matt Smith as Prince Daemon Targaryen and Fabien Frankel as Ser Criston Cole — whom we recently spoke to in a virtual chat.

“What’s really intriguing about the whole thing is it’s a bit like Game of Thrones. There is a lot of the sort of duplicity and backstabbing and scheming and, you know, war in tiny little pockets that will eventually, I would think, build out to a bigger and bigger scale. So, you can expect a lot of that to come,” Matt said.

In House of the Dragon, Matt as Prince Daemon is the younger brother to King Viserys, an outstanding warrior and heir to the throne. Fabien, on the other hand, is Criston Cole of Dornish Descent, the common-born son of the steward to the Lord of Blackhaven. He has no claim to titles or land, but he has honor and exceptional sword-fighting skills.

Matt with co-star Emma D’Arcy who plays Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen, the king’s first-born child.

Their lives get intertwined with Alicent Hightower (played by Olivia Cooke), the daughter of the Hand of the King who has the reputation of being the “most comely woman in the Seven Kingdoms,” and Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen (played by Emma D’Arcy), the king’s first-born child who was “born with everything” except that she was “not born a man.”

One of UK’s most dynamic actors, Matt is known for his critically-acclaimed portrayal of the Doctor in the seminal series Doctor Who. He was also seen as the villain in Morbius and starred as Prince Philip in two seasons of the Netflix series about Britain’s royal family, The Crown.

Fabien was recognized as one of the “Top Ten Brits to Watch by Variety” in 2021. He was most recently seen as Dominique Renelleau in Tom Shankland’s The Serpent (2021) for BBC and Netflix. On the big screen, he joined Emilia Clarke and Henry Golding in the rom-com Last Christmas (2019). He was also cast in the comedy Venice at Dawn (2022).

Below are more excerpts from the interview, where the actors opened up about the pressure and expectations of the show.

How do you feel about being part of a show that is connected with HBO megahit Game of Thrones?

Fabian: “For the both of us, I think we feel very lucky. We both have watched the original show and thought it was brilliant. So, it’s a very rare thing to be a part of a show that already has a built-in audience and we hope that the fans will like our show in the same way they did theirs.”

Matt: “Yeah, there’s a huge legacy that comes with it and it left a sort of cultural footprint didn’t it, the Game of Thrones? And that it is its own thing. But whilst we’re trying to honor, respect and we’re very proud to carry that forward, we’re trying to create something original and of its own kind.

“Of course, you know, there’s a degree of pressure which comes when you’re associated with a job like this. But I think it’s a good pressure as it has a huge fan base. They’re really passionate. They’re really into this world. And I think that’s only a good thing at the end of the day. So, we embrace it. And as I said, we’re trying to do something original whilst delivering the hits.”

For Matt, how would you describe the Targaryen family and their dynamics, what makes them fascinating and even relatable to the audience?

Matt: “Well, I think it sort of operates on two different levels, really. On one level, they’re very normal and they’re like any other family. And it’s really interesting when it’s domestic. And then on the other level, there’s a lot of other stuff that wouldn’t ever go on in any other family and it’s quite extreme… They’re a very, very complex family and the relationships are very, very complex and sometimes, they overstep boundaries and what is normal in the realm of the family. But ultimately, what we’re trying to do is focus on one family a bit like you were on any royal family. And it’s really interesting when it feels normal and domestic.”

For Fabian, what can we expect from your character’s relationship with the Targaryens (after the pilot episode, which we’ve seen)?

Fabian: “I can only speak on sort of what happens in the first episode because I’m sworn to secrecy and there are security guards outside ready to take my head off (laughs). If I tell you anything else, you know, Criston is sort of going to become quite an integral part of the Targaryen reign. And in what capacity? You’ll have to find out but he’s clearly sort of developing a relationship with Daemon and Rhaenyra and Alicent.”

How did you prepare and approach your roles? Have you ever played a character like this before?

Matt: “No, I’ve never played a character like this before. Daemon is a very violent, at times, very cruel man. But I suppose, I’ve tried to subvert it slightly. I’d like to think that there’s a huge fragility and sensitivity to him as well, as the series goes on. You might see that his endeavors are all just futile. He does think he’s doing the right thing, he does have a set of values, whether they are wrong or right. And gosh, how do you go about it, where you go about it, right? You do all the other work, really just try and investigate it as thoroughly and diligently as you can, and turn up and get the lines in the right order.”

Fabian: “Criston Cole is a fighting man so I got to learn to horse ride, and use a sword and fight with a morning star, which is like a ball with spikes on it. And they’re quite dangerous things. So, my hips had to learn to move out of the way when it would rebound off, you know, my opponent’s shield and stuff.

“And in terms of preparation, I just looked at the script as much as I could and read the book. And looked at sort of the Dornish heritage and how the Dornish were looked upon in King’s Landing by the wealthier families. And that sort of informed at least quite a big part of how I chose to portray him, I suppose.”

Have you met GOT creator George R.R. Martin (who is credited as House of the Dragon co-creator with Ryan Condal, one of the showrunners)?

Fabian: “Two days ago, yeah. He was sitting down, having a cocktail. Or maybe, I don’t know if he was having a cocktail, had a glass with ice and some kind of liquid in it. It might have been water. But I went over and I said, ‘Oh, Mr. Martin. Nice to meet you. I’m Fabian. (I play) Criston Cole.’ He said hello and we had a nice chat. We actually talked a lot about our show. We spoke about Lord of the Rings, which I’m excited for as well. And he seemed to be so.”

Matt: “I met him about 10 years ago on a boat when I first went to ComiCon to do Doctor Who. He was there doing Game of Thrones for the first year. And then I met him again for the first time properly the other day. He was sitting down for his breakfast and we had a nice chat and touch base on what’s to come. So, yeah, it was nice to meet the mind behind it all.”

The series delves into the patriarchal culture. What do you think of a woman leader?

Matt: “I back the idea of a woman leader. I’m pro-Rhaenyra.”

Fabian: “We’re pro-Rhaenyra.”

Matt: “We’re pro-women on the throne.”

(House of the Dragon debuts at the same time as the US on Monday, Aug. 22 on HBO GO.)

HBO

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