Sunday, April 14 marks the end of an era as HBO’s acclaimed fantasy series Game of Thrones enters its eighth and final season. Having spent the past few years living in Westeros fighting alongside dragons, speaking various dialects and enduring a record-setting 55-night battle sequence, actor Jacob Anderson has been living a triple life of sorts. We all know him as Grey Worm, the stoic warrior and the general of Daenerys Targaryen’s Unsullied army. But the newlywed [he recently married actress Aisling Loftus] also has a musical alter ego in Raleigh Ritchie. His first album, 2016's You’re A Man Now, Boy, surprised many fans of the series; the steely-eyed, strong-jawed general has a soulful self-described sad boy voice, thick with confessional introspective honesty and self-deprecating humor.
Post Thrones, Raleigh and Jacob found themselves back in the studio, writing and recording the as yet to be named follow-up to his debut. While on a press trip for GoT, he stopped by Complex to talk about his time on the series, explain his alter-ego Raleigh Ritchie and power rank some rappers into notable houses in the Thrones universe.
Check out the video above and read the interview below.
The below is edited for clarity.
Who is Raleigh Ritchie?
Raleigh Ritchie is me. I feel like Raleigh Ritchie is like that demon version of me that's just really honest about all of my deepest darkest feelings and secrets that go through my head. And it's like ‘Let’s write a song about it. Let’s tells tell people. Let's get this off your chest.’ Raleigh Ritchie is not a character, it's the most honest version of me. Raleigh Ritchie is like a shield so that I can say all the things I need to say. And be safe.
Do you see any differences between the way you approach creative treatments to your videos or scenes? Has anything in your personal life worked their way into scenes for either Game of Thrones or your visuals?
I have very different disciplines when it comes to writing music and acting. I just don't let myself get too worked up about it. My wife is an actor and she's very dedicated, very focused. She puts a lot of work into it, a lot of prep, whereas for me, I'll go through the script and I'll make sure I know what I'm doing. But then I just try and leave it until pretty much the night before and then I learn my lines the night before and then just try not to forget them. That sounds like a weird thing to say but I feel like I don't want to be so over-practiced that it feels unnatural. The best way I learn is to cram things in last minute. I do drafts or splurge as much out [writing lyrics] as possible just to get it all out and then I'll go through it again with a fine-toothed comb to make sure that I'm definitely saying exactly what I mean.
Game of Thrones is entering the final season and while it’s been on the air, it’s broken a few records, like the most Emmys for a fictional show, the number of people set on fire, and longest shoot schedule at 55 nights. What did you do in between filming this season? Were you in the studio did you have any downtime?
I didn’t have a lot of downtime. In terms of what I did between shooting Thrones, it was kind of all hands on deck this season. Everybody was in a lot—and I don't think this is a spoiler because it’s in the trailers—but that battle that you’ve seen in the trailer was a long time. Many, many nights I think it was like some sort of world record for night shoots. So there wasn't a lot of time really for me to work on the album really. I kind of put it down for a second and then came back and was back into it, but between takes and stuff, we’d just mess around. [Laughs]
I can't write songs without sitting down to write a song. On a day-to-day basis, my phone is literally full of Voice Memos and just notes. It's like most of my storage space. Just ideas and stuff, but I rarely end up using those ideas in actual songs. The way I write songs really—I rely so much on just how I'm feeling that day or something that's going on in my head. I wouldn't be able to just switch off like that and just go to that. Also, I want to keep my energy up at work so it's probably a different version of me at work than if I'm in the studio. [Laughs]
You’re very animated and energetic, how do you even keep such a stoic expression while playing Grey Worm?
I'm the worst person to have been cast for Grey Worm. I have no idea how I got that job. It's not even that I'm happy all the time, I'm just really bad at keeping a straight face. People make me laugh. We have a funny cast. Conleth Hill, who plays Varys, and Peter Dinklage are massive pranksters. They will properly ire you up when the camera’s on you. And then you try to do the same thing to them and they're just like, ‘Could you stop being unprofessional? You’re so unprofessional.’ I’m not very good at keeping a straight face and I don't know how I've managed to keep my job for this long.
For your last scene—without spoilers—can you describe what that was like once you took off the suit for the final time?
I cried when I took off my armor. I reacted in a way that I really didn't expect to react my last day. I joked around with the person I was filming the scene with like, ‘oh should we mess about a bit in the last takes just to keep it going.’ And then you look at somebody crying or like try not to look at someone trying not to cry and it gets you going, especially if it's somebody you know and are not used to seeing in that context...that just got me going. Jade—who’s my dresser [on the show]—she went to lift it off and I went like that [he grabs at his shoulders, pantomiming pulling the armor back down] and I stopped her and was like, I don’t want to take it off. I hate that costume. It feels bad on my body; I have actual scars on my shoulders from when it used to be over my skin. It’s a brutal, brutal piece of leather. I used to get really sweaty and it would create like a waterfall here [he gestures at his chest from the throat down with loathing] because there’s a little bit that goes in so that when you move your chest slightly, all this sweat would just gush down your body. It was gross. So I have a real love-hate relationship with that armor...but I just didn’t want to take it off. I didn’t want to let go. I really didn’t expect to get actually upset. I was fine up until that last...I’d say half an hour.
Would you want to keep the suit?
Nah, I don’t want to keep the suit. For one, I’m sure it cost them a lot of money and they’re going to exhibit all of the costumes and stuff. I don’t want the Unsullied armor, it sucks. I wouldn’t mind a helmet though, those are cool. [Laughs]
You're originally from Bristol, England, can you describe the music scene over the verses stateside? Is there a difference?
I can say what it was when I was a kid. Like, when I was growing up, I hear the music scene in Bristol was like, very influenced by what kind of came from Bristol, which is like that kind of trip-hop sound like it was like drum & bass and jungle. There was a lot of indie bands actually when I started making music in Bristol, there's a lot of indie bands. But there's always just something a little bit like idiosyncratic about Bristol, like there's just a mix of things. I think that's something as well that like you listen to like Tricky or Portishead and Massive Attack, who I've like claimed for years like, ‘I sound nothing like them just because we're from the same place.’ And actually, I think something they all have in common is that like they’re quite hard to put into a genre like you didn't just create a whole genre for them which is like trip-hop which I think covers it really. It's just amish-mashh of things. I think Bristol’s of the very like, musically eclectic city.
What was the first song that really made you pursue music or song that inspired you?
When I think back to when I first started to like write songs I started writing songs in kind of an unconventional way and like, I would just write in my school exercise books; I could just write how I felt that day or I'd write like how I was feeling that week. It's just like a venting thing was just like getting things out of my brain. So when I started to turn those like things into songs, I was listening to a lot of Neo soul. Musiq Soulchild is probably the artist that listened to the master at that age. ‘Just Friends’ and ‘Love’ were the two first songs that I learned to sing. Also weirdly I think it was it is was ‘Lately’ by Stevie Wonder, I used to sing that as well but it wasn't the Stevie Wonder version. I can't remember who but it was a cover. I feel like it was Jodeci. I could be wrong [Ed Note: He's right]. I remember people being like ‘Oh that's like a really interesting take on that song’ All of the runs with the ad libs I stole from Jodeci, it wasn't it in the original. So yeah, let's say ‘Love’ was a pretty good one because I could show off a bit. [Laughs]
Was there a movie or a play that did the same thing for you?
Men In Black. I remember the day I saw Men in Black, like it could have been this morning. I was seven, went with my mom and her friend's kid. Will Smith—who I was already a fan of, a huge fan of, I wanted to be Will Smith—was in this movie fighting aliens. And he was the lead. And he was fighting aliens. That was like, I don't think I ever really thought of it this way as a kid, but now when I think back to it I'm like, you didn't see a lot of that. You want to think about Wild Wild West like I know that film that people talk shit about that film all the time. But like I saw Will Smith as a cowboy. Which means I saw me as a cowboy. I wouldn't have put those words to it back then but now when I think back on it, I think Will Smith was a really important component to me feeling I like I was capable of doing what I do now. I felt represented.
Do feel as though you carry that same sense of responsibility as Grey Worm on Game of Thrones?
I feel like I do have a responsibility also as like one of only a few people of color in the show. I do feel a sense of responsibility for sure. I mean like [the] tough thing is that because I don't write the show, I don't always get to kind of say how that manifests. But yeah I do. I do feel a responsibility. I'm proud to have that responsibility. I think with music [because I feel like] if I can do anything that would make a kid like me when I was a kid feel like they can do something then that's a reason to do this. Like what other reason is that you know? Apart from lots and lots of money. I’ll get there one day.
Same. I'm with you on that. Talk about some of the visual aesthetics with the video, ‘Time in A Tree’. At the end of the video, you put on the astronaut helmet. Can you talk a little bit about your video treatments and how if that’s influencing the upcoming project that you’re still working on?
For the 'Time in A Tree' video, I guess that the whole concept of the song and the artwork and everything is when I was a kid, I was fascinated with space. I hated science; I hated the idea of science. I hated maths but I just really wanted to go out to space. I loved the idea of the unknown. I find it fascinating. I still am a bit like this but like I was a kid where if I got too deep into my own head I'd frighten myself quite a lot. I could kind of be afraid of internal stuff and stress and feeling down and not understanding why. Not really understanding circumstances in my family and home and stuff.
I think there's something about space that always felt really comforting, like there's this kind of endless opportunity. Where you could go anywhere see anything. We still don't know like the extent of what is outside of this small dome we live in and the small dome we live in in here [he points to his temples]. I mean, the head's not exactly a dome, it’s more just like spherical [Laughs].
I think there's something about space that took me that kind of could take me away from that; that's what that song is about. Even though it's like about a tree and being green, it's about being a kid. It's about nostalgia; It’s about, like, limitless energy [you] had to imagine stuff when you were a kid, so the video is partly about that.
That’s kind of the astronaut thing and having a kid who’s me as a child giving myself an astronaut helmet is like, that kid is there to remind me of who I used to be and to not forget that, not lose touch with myself, which is so easy when you're an adult.
One of the big things I do now, or I'm trying to do for myself, is to look after that kid. Find that six, seven year old me and be like, ‘I'm going to take you with me to do all these things that you would have loved to have done and that you maybe take for granted a little bit now. Or do I take for granted now.’ So that's kind of the concept behind that video. In terms of treatment,s it's just the next iteration. I always come up with a visual idea whenever I write a song and even if that carries on or I just take a nugget of what the song made me feel or see then expand it into something interesting or something I feel like I haven't seen before.
You put the album on pause to work on the series. Now that the series is wrapped where are you right now in the process?
The album's nearly done now. To me, it feels like it makes perfect sense to me, but I think somebody else would be like ‘what part of the process is that?’ I feel like I've said everything that I wanted to say. Now I've got something I can put together and I could see an album. It's made it easier to see what is missing now. So even just in terms of when you sequence an album, I listen to all the songs as I’m writing it as I'm doing it, just to see how it works together.
Are you a little less sad boy? A little more sad boy?
I've gone full sad boy. I've had a sad couple of years. Well, I haven’t at all actually; I've had an amazing couple of years. This album I think is about me being in a place where like I'm starting to address things about myself hopefully in a more mature way.
The first album was about the transition from being a kid to being an adult. I think this album this sort of theme with it is like ‘OK how do I now use everything I've learned up to this point to try and make myself the best version of myself that I can be until I accept myself As well’.
I think even more like my life's been I've had some really amazing highlights in the last couple of years, internally in my head there’s things that I haven't fully addressed yet. So it's just about it's just been about exercising demons. [Chuckles]
If you imagine the album was a TV show, it would just be me like with a massive sword that like screams when you take it out of the sheath [he swings his arms around for emphasis] and swinging it at demons and it’s going raarrr! That's like that's not how the album sounds, that's just how the album looks to me. It’s me armoring myself up to punch out some demons with a big ghost sword.
That could be a great movie.
Maybe I can adapt that into a movie.
Are you working with other people on this album? Do you have an idea on the features you’d like to have?
I've got some people that I'm thinking of for features. Unless I’m like sitting down with somebody and working with them from scratch I'd never think of the feature first. I think of the song and then I'm like ‘oh I can hear this person.’ I feel like they would come at this from a different light a different perspective to me. They come in a different way and that's what makes it essential for that person to be on that rather than just getting people for the sake of it. I don’t want to say it because they’ll see this and say, ‘No, like, you blew it.’
You’re on a sci-fi wave, obviously with Game of Thrones and some of the space elements in ‘Time in a Tree’ are you reading anything or watching anything in the sci-fi fantasy world?
I don’t know why that is that I seem to come back to that weird fantasy sci fi thing especially to me I feel like my music is really grounded. It's not like not really like head in the clouds kind of stuff but I'm looking forward to [Avengers:]Endgame. I'm very excited about that. I actually went to go see Infinity War in Belfast when we were shooting. I went to see it on opening night at like midnight first screening; I booked my tickets in advance. In fact, I booked them months in advance. I had to go to work the next day quite early.
Do you do that a lot?
I'm quite happy to go to the cinema by myself. I went to see Us and just sat there like a creep. My wife is not going to come to see Avengers with me at midnight. She's just not and that’s cool.
San Diego Comic-Con has hosted a few Game of Thrones panels and part of the fun of going to these things is cosplay. Have you ever gone in costume out on the show floor?
No. I quite liked to dress up. So I'm not gonna be the guy that's like like ‘oh everyone cares about Miles Morales now, they didn't it back then’ but I got a full Miles Morales costume planned out and ready for Comic-Con like two years ago.
I bought like a black morph suit I hand-designed the red detailing. I got some gloves, I had a mask, this amazing mask—I had like black and red like shoes, not going to say the brand. [Chuckles] I've fully planned it out and then I got really self-conscious about like about wearing this like skin tight Miles Morales thing. Miles Morales is a kid and I'm not a kid, it just felt a bit weird.
[He jumps out of his seat with excitement] Oh! I that’s what it was! The mask part hadn't arrived. So I ordered it from this place that makes like Spider-Man replica shells, like the shells that go underneath the mask. I got that and it hadn't arrived. So I was like OK well I'm just gonna like wear this morphsuit. [Shrugs]
I want to do it properly. I'm going to do it I'll wait till next year or whatever. So instead I just wore my Spider-Man t -hirt that I've had since I was about 16 which I also wore to the Thrones panel and this like really bad Spider-Man mask like the one that Miles wears in Into The Spider-Verse and a Westworld cowboy hat. [laughs]
It was really hot as well. So I was wearing shorts as the Spider-Man socks and just went as this weird made up hybrid like Wild Wild West soccer dad version of Spider-Man. So maybe so though that was a long way around saying that maybe I'll go to Avengers:Endgame in my Miles Morales outfit from two years ago that I never wore.