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.
Despite being one of the main characters in “House of the Dragon”, Olivia Cooke won’t be appearing in episode 1 – that’s cause the Alicent Hightower will be played by Emily Carey. In this interview, Olivia Cooke compares the 2 versions of Alicent, her preparation when joined this beloved franchise, and also advice to a rookie when coming face to face with a real live dragon.
Q: Who are you playing in “House of the Dragon”?
I play Alicent Hightower. She’s the daughter of the Hand of the King, Otto Hightower [Rhys Ifans]. She’s been best friends with Rhaenyra Targaryen since they were babies — they have grown up together because Rhaenyra is the daughter of the king and his heir to the throne.
Q: What sort of person is she?
It depends which version of the character you’re talking about. Because there are really two versions: there’s the version that Emily [Carey] plays and then there’s the version that I play. In the version I play, I think she really has found her own autonomy within the straitjacket of her parameters and her role in the kingdom. She’s realizing that she’s got a lot more power than she thought she had. She thinks it’s her role to politely guide and shape and nurture these men around her; whereas Rhaenyra has completely opposing views.
Q: What did you like about the scripts?
In “Game of Thrones” you’ve got Cersei, you’ve got Arya… they are really incredibly nuanced, meaty roles. This feels like it followed on in the same vein of those characters. The scripts are really, really, really good. I think that’s what always draws me to a project. I hadn’t seen “Game of Thrones” before I auditioned for the show, so it was just speaking to Miguel [Sapochnik] and Ryan [Condal] as well, finding out what they wanted to do, what was going to be different and what was going to be the same. It just seemed exciting: I know this is a prequel, but it did seem really fresh as well.
Q: How did you prepare for the role?
I got sent as many scripts as they had and then I binge-watched “Game of Thrones” and read the book [“Fire & Blood” by George RR Martin]. The scripts and the book are kind of like a lovely marriage: you can read the book and then watch the series, and then it informs you about all these characters and vice versa. What they extrapolated from the book was really exciting. The gift of this book is it’s an oral history, based on various character’s accounts, so a lot of it is quite unreliable. So the writers and then the actors can work within that, as long as the bones are there.
Q: What was the scale of the production?
It was bizarre, because they actually built the Red Keep. So I’m in my frock and all my hair and I’m walking in to the castle and you walk through the courtyard, you walk into the small council chambers, you walk out, you go up the stairs, you go round the balcony to the Queen’s apartments, and you can come out again and go round into the King’s apartment. Everything was there — so practical! And then they had all this Targaryen tapestry on the walls, all unbelievably detailed. It was incredible and beyond what I could have imagined. It sounds really clichéd but when you step on set you really do feel like you’re in this fantasy world. It’s really eerie in a way as well.
Q: What would you recommend to a newcomer when encountering a dragon?
There’s a lot of wind so maybe like, close your eyes. Don’t do what I do when my character gets in front of a dragon — just run. Oh, and I’d recommend you hide behind something that seems fireproof.
Q: What is Alicent’s look and what was it like to be in those costumes and make-up?
Incredibly restrictive! It was my hair but then we had this really heavy weft to make it longer and honest to God, I feel like I really got a trapped nerve from wearing it! And then you’ve got this gorgeous dress on but it’s so heavy and it’s balanced on just the tip of your shoulders. So it really causes a lot of pain, actually!
Q: “House of the Dragon” is a prequel to “Game of Thrones”. How does it relate to its predecessor?
It definitely is of the world, but I think it feels a lot more nuclear than “Game of Thrones”. It’s more insulated and claustrophobic: it surrounds just one family this season. It’s all about succession to the throne and the lengths these people will go to get what they want. But I think it’s just as sprawling, and just as cinematic as Game of Thrones – we have Miguel Sapochnik, as our director and showrunner. He directed the Battle of the Bastards and The Long Night. So you can imagine his aesthetic over the whole entire 10 episodes…
Catch “House of the Dragon” when it premieres on 22nd August on HBO GO.
Images by HBO GO.