Spoilers for the first five episodes of House of the Dragon below.
Out of all the great parts of HBO’s Game of Thrones prequel, House of the Dragon, Milly Alcock is the most compelling. The 22-year-old Australian actress playing a young version of Rhaenyra Targaryen has set screens ablaze with her magnetic performance. A relative unknown—her most notable performance prior to Dragon came in Upright, an Australian dramedy airing in the United States on AMC+—she’s certainly made a name for herself throughout the past five weeks. Alcock commands the scenes she’s in, infusing Rhaenyra with a naturalistic, lived-in quality that makes it feel like she has played the role for years.
But to quote Thrones, her watch has ended; starting in next week’s episode, Dragon will age up both Rhaenyra and Alicent Hightower—replacing Alcock and Emily Carey with Emma D’Arcy and Olivia Cooke, respectively—in a significant time jump. HBO’s marketing for the series is pretty transparent around this, but given how incredible Alcock is, it’s disappointing to see her depart. The role is a game-changer for Alcock, who views the experience as “completely life-changing in every aspect.” While the show will remain compelling moving forward, we can’t help but feel bummed that such a talent is exiting so soon.
A few weeks ago, Complex jumped on the phone with Alcock for a wide-ranging conversation about her time on House of the Dragon, including those intimate scenes with Daemon Targaryen actor Matt Smith in the fourth episode, participating in a famed Game of Thrones universe wedding, transitioning to a project as big as this, taking music recommendations from actors Paddy Considine & Rhys Ifans, and much more. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
I can’t even begin to imagine how crazy things are for you, having gone right from filming House of the Dragon into Upright’s second season and then doing a press tour. Have you had a chance to sit down and really take stock of everything? What have the last few weeks been like for you?
Milly Alcock: It’s like constantly moving around, being in different places, hotels, cities, and countries. It’s really exhausting but ultimately extremely exciting and overwhelming. It’s every emotion under the sun all at once, all the time. [Laughs.]
Everything, everywhere, all at once.
What was it like to move into a production of this size and scale?
It was incredibly overwhelming. I was on the other side of the world in a global pandemic living on my own, doing potentially the biggest show ever. So it was extremely overwhelming. But ultimately, you quickly realize that it kind of works the same. It took me a good three months to get used to it. It was quite disorienting ‘cause I didn’t know—’cause I like, “Oh, shit. I need to go to the doctor’s. How do you get in at NHS?” It was all these little things that were just a lot of new challenges, basically.
Were the more tenured cast members helpful in helping you get adjusted?
Most of the older cast, especially, saw I was young and in a different country, and they really felt for me. So they all looked out for me. I made some great friends along the way—me and Fabien [Frankel, who plays Ser Criston Cole] are quite close—which made my experience a lot more inviting and lovely. It felt like we became a little family over shooting the show. They have my back ultimately, which is really reassuring.
Did you get all of your scripts upfront?
I think I got sent the first two and then got sent the rest of them, but they were being amended all the time, as that’s what happens when you’re on a show.
But you at least had the broad strokes of Rhaenyra’s arc right away?
Yeah, but that was only after I’d been cast and everything.
What was it that jumped out to you right away about Rhaenyra’s arc? Was there a specific thing that you were like, “OK, I could hold onto this”?
I think that on a really simplistic scale, House of the Dragon is about a relationship between an especially dysfunctional family. I think that 95 percent of people live in dysfunctional families, you know? So I could really hold onto what that was like.
I think she has the strength within her that I recognized within myself. So centering Rhaenyra’s beliefs became something I held onto and tried to project in every scene.
Weddings in the world of Game of Thrones now have a big legacy within pop culture. What was your reaction to learning you’d get to have one in House of the Dragon?
It was incredibly exciting. When you’re given anything that’s a bit of a challenge, you have to get excited about it, otherwise, the fear overtakes you, and you realize you spoiled something that actually wasn’t that scary to begin with. We worked with Clarie Kilner, who is a phenomenal director, and she brought so much duty and joy to the episodes that she directs. As actors, she was so willing to listen and to play. It was just a lot of fun.
Can you give me an example of an opportunity that she gave you to kind of play around with those things?
Clare would just listen. Because of the world that we were in, a lot of times we would be faced with people saying, “No, they wouldn’t move that way. They wouldn’t do that.” They would set blocking prior to the scene—would set the cameras first and then the actors—which is quite restricting. It makes your job a lot harder. Clare was willing to allow us to guide them; she invited the cameras into our world as opposed to the other way around.
I actually want to go back to episode four for a second. I watched some videos of you and Matt, and the two of you seem to get along really well. What was the experience of shooting those particular sequences with him? Did you take some time to walk through or rehearse those more emotional beats beforehand? The journey that they go on in that episode is pretty expansive.
It was a very long, extensive rehearsal process. We worked with intimacy coordinators that would ultimately help us choreograph those more delicate scenes. Both of us were aware that he’s an older guy and I’m a younger woman. It was very comfortable in an interesting way. Clare—who also directed episode five—did four. I’m so grateful that she did those episodes. We all felt so safe around her and her vision. We knew that she’d be delicate with it and calm and kind and allow us to take our time and listen.
For a certain sequence in four where me and Matt go into a certain house, she didn’t show us [inside] until we started rolling for the first time. All of that stuff is the first time on camera that we did it. We didn’t rehearse anything prior to that. That was really, really nice because it allowed this kind of playfulness to translate on screen.