Are you ready to delve right back into the “Game of Thrones” universe? In the prequel “House of the Dragon”, viewers will get to witness the downfall of House Targaryen, civil war, and of course, lots of fire-breathing action from the dragons. In addition, fans will also be introduced to many new characters – one of which is Alicent Hightower.
Before we get too see Alicent come into her own as a young woman, we’ll see a younger version of her played by Emily Carey. Both Emily and Olivia Cooke (who plays the older version) have stressed that their portrayals of Alicent Hightower are completely different – yet connected. In this interview, Emily talks about the earlier days of Alicent, working on “House of the Dragon”, and more.
Q: Who are you playing in “House of the Dragon”?
I play the young Alicent Hightower, the daughter of Ser Otto Hightower [Rhys Ifans]. When we first meet her she comes across as a very naive, young little girl but between me and Olivia [Cooke, who plays the older Alicent], I think Alicent has the biggest character progression. It’s impossible to sum her up: for the fans who have read the books, there’ll be a preconceived notion of Alicent but the fact that we’re seeing her when she is younger might change the narrative slightly, give people a new perspective.
Q: What are those preconceptions?
People already see her as the villain, so they’re expecting a fiery woman — which, I’m not going to lie, you do get a taste of. Otherwise, there’d be no drama. But I think with my version of Alicent you see the circumstances, the events, the people and the upbringing that led to her becoming this very fiery, angry woman.
Q: What was her upbringing?
Alicent was raised in the Red Keep, raised in court. We describe her as a product of the patriarchy, very much a tiny pawn in this big game. She’s aware of her place in the world from a very young age and I think that comes from her father, Otto. We know that her mother died, but we had a lot of freedom creatively with that, to be able to expand on it and make up this whole backstory for Alicent that we didn’t get in the book, which was so much fun to do. By ‘we’ I mean Miguel [Sapochnik], Ryan [Condal] and Rhys [Ifans] as well — we had many, many discussions about where they came from and how they became the people that they are. Because of course, we’re seeing half of a family dynamic — without the mother there, it changes things.
Q: How did you imagine the world in which Alicent was brought up?
It’s the whole idea of how women operate in this world that we’re viewing. We explored it a lot through the different perspectives of Rhaenyra [Milly Alcock; then Emma D’Arcy] and Alicent. As young girls, they both approached that very, very differently. Then they interact with each other and try to push their ideas onto one another. So for example, Alicent plays by the rules; she knows her duty as a woman. At first, she doesn’t really have an issue with it.
As I said, she’s very aware of her place in the world. She’s very aware of who she is, why she’s there, what she should be doing. Rhaenyra is also aware, but doesn’t enjoy it as much. When we meet the girls, they are close in age, in character, in upbringing, but there are moments when you see that sort of power-dynamic shift. It goes on to change dramatically throughout the entirety of the show and so it’s interesting seeing it at the very beginning when Rhaenyra has that edge on Alicent. A lot of that is shown through who obliges more to the rules of being a young girl in this society.
Q: When you’re playing a younger version of a character how did you interact with the actor who you knew will be playing the ‘older you’?
Olivia and I get along really well. Both Olivia [Cooke] and Emma [D’Arcy] took Milly [Alcock] and I under their wings throughout the entirety of the shoot — they’re both very, very lovely people. The biggest change is it’s almost like we’re playing two different people — it was fascinating to watch Olivia’s version of Alicent. Miguel brought Milly and I on to set a few times before we started shooting to watch Olivia and Emma at work and watch them do their thing. We were just sat there completely in awe of them, obviously, because they are phenomenal actors. But it was fascinating watching and feeling because of course we are playing the same person. And there was so much similarity. I think Olivia and I also have a very similar acting style. I’ve adored her for years and I think I take a lot from her. We were actually advised not to talk too much about character. There are a few small physicality nuances and things that run between the both of us to keep the same character bubbling underneath the surface. I hope people spot them.
Q: How have the last two years been for you as a young actor?
It’s been a rollercoaster. It feels like yesterday that I was sat there with my mum in my PJs, and my agents FaceTimed me to ask, ‘How did today’s recall go?’ I was like, ‘Really well.’ And they went, ‘Yeah? We’ve heard… because you booked it!’ I was suddenly thrown into this ginormous job. And then here we are, two years later, and I finally get to talk about it! I thought I’d have maybe one day on set and next thing I know I’m in rehearsals for weeks and weeks and doing set visits and shooting and shooting and shooting — it never stopped. When I say it’s been a whirlwind, it was the best kind of whirlwind. I’m so excited that people are actually going to start to see things — even the pictures that have been released, the teasers, the trailers… it’s all suddenly becoming very real and I’m slightly scared but mostly excited.
— Max (@StreamOnMax) August 6, 2022
Q: What did you know of Westeros before you booked this part?
I will be completely honest and I hope no one slates me for this, but I had never seen “Game of Thrones”. I prefer a light-hearted little rom com maybe, which of course, isn’t very “Game of Thrones”. And so my first natural step was to watch it while I was reading the scripts: I needed to understand the world. It took me about three reads to actually understand what was going on and then another three to get into what my character was doing, who I was and what everything meant. But I got there. And then once we got to set, George [R.R. Martin] actually gifted us the book “Fire & Blood” with his signature at the front, which was lovely. There’s just so much detail in there — it’s like a real history book and every little thing you could possibly think of is answered. Plus, I will say that Ryan Condal is like an encyclopedia. Ask him any little tiny detail question… he’s got you.
Q: What were the sets like?
It’s the intricacy that gets me every time I step on the set, whatever set it might be —the attention to detail absolutely blows my mind. Like in the bed chamber they have trays with teeth cleaning stuff on it. And you have a little pot of this weird dust and I’d ask, ‘What is that?’ assuming it was just Nesquik chocolate powder or something. But no: it’s actually formulated like it would have been in medieval times. That’s insane. Luckily, I didn’t have to clean my teeth in the show, because it looked absolutely vile. But knowing that it’s all real just adds to the immersiveness — once you step on set, you’re in that world. It’s brilliant.
Catch “House of the Dragon” when it premieres on 22nd August on HBO GO.
Images by HBO GO.