Before “Valar Morghulis” aired, I had the chance to interview Alfie Allen about his role as Theon Greyjoy, his character’s arc, the pranks that a certain pair of executive producers love to pull, and more.
Alfie’s story this season has been one of the highlihghts of season 2, something which I told him and which, as you’ll see, he was quite pleased to hear!
How do you get into the heads-pace for Theon? How do you get into character?
You have people around you, like Bryan Cogman, who helps fill you in on the histories and the families and what have gone on there. I try not to make it as if I use the books just as the only source material, you have to make it your own things. Obviously getting into costume and so on helps get into character. But once you’re there on set, it’s cliche, but it just happens—you just do it. I don’t have any particular rituals.
I was reading an essay by Film Critic Hulk in which he discusses acting and he gave a great sort of explanation of the acting craft that, in a nutshell, can be boiled down to acting being the art of being able to do very unnatural, uncomfortable things as if they’re totally natural. Do you agree with that?
Oh, completely. One thing as an actor that you have to do—for me anyways—is to use the experiences you’ve had in your life and associate them with what you’re doing on the screen. It can be quite unnatural… like, I’ve done film where I’m being tortured, and of course I’ve never been tortured in my life. But I was watching the torture scene in Reservoir Dogs and the actor in that did such a fantastic job with the desperation in his eyes, falling apart and still trying to hold it together. So I used that, I thought about it and used that quite a bit to help my performance. So I do draw on other performances, too. Because there’s things that are utterly unnatural and you’d never have happen to you in life unless you’ve had a very strange life.
Does it help you to find something about Theon that you can justify or sympathize with?
Yeah. I always set out to do that, really, to make people feel sorry for him and understand why he did what he does. In the book it starts out and it seems like he’s almost set out to betray Robb from the start, which doesn’t paint him in a nice light. In the series we approached it differently, showing all the decisions that lead him down that way and that they’re due to the humiliation and rejection he receives from his family. He’s absolutely desperate for the approval of his father. And I think once he realizes that that’s a lost cause, he tries to prove it to himself that he can hold Winterfell, can hold that power and authority, but what he’s really doing is ruling through fear. It’s not the first time that someone’s gone about it that way before. It’s a strong character trait of his that to be respected, he has to disrespect other people.
It’s interesting you referred to his desperation, as I had that word underlined in my notes. Is it desperation to feel like he belongs?
He has love, he has it in his heart, but that means he wants to be loved and he’s never really gotten it. Ned Stark’s probably put his arm around his shoulder at some point, but he’s never really taught him the right and wrong way of life, and apart from Ned he never really had a role model. That’s where the conflict comes in his mind, this mental torture happens because no one is telling him right from wrong. He’s crying out for someone to tell him what to do, and he never really gets it and that’s why he makes so many brash decisions. If you’re going to tell a lie, tell a big one—you know what I mean? When you do something, you commit to it fully, and he applies that to what he’s doing.
Do you have a favorite scene from this season?
One of the scenes you haven’t seen yet in episode 10 yet, and my scene with Osha. I liked the beheading scene, too, but that’s a lot of visual stuff and you get to see the crazed look in his eyes, which I really liked. The scene with Osha definitely made me giggle. The one where she tells him she wants her freedom and how she’s going to get it by sleeping with him. You get to see the perverted, depraved side of Theon.
I loved when [director] David Nutter said I could eat an apple in the scene, because you make those connections between having a bite of the apple and… you know what I mean, right?
So, yeah. It’s brilliantly done. It made me laugh out loud.
Our favorite scene was in “What is Dead May Never Die”, with the burning of the letter. Amazingly shot scene by Alik Sakharov, and so much of it and the following scene is based on your eyes and face.
People were so happy with that when we shot it. Alik was ecstatic. I can’t really explain it— Theon had his father and sister there, and they’re watching him, and that helped. I think he doesn’t really know what it is to really be ironborn, he’s just looking for acceptance, so when he’s looking to them…
It’s actually humiliating, in a way, because this is stuff he shouldn’t have to do to be accepted by his own family, you know what I mean? But if that’s what it takes, that’s what it takes. He changes his whole belief to the Drowned God because in my view he’s sort of followed the old gods because the Starks did and he didn’t have anything else. I think that can be a conflict in your head, if you’re not being true to yourself… but if you need that adoration from your father, you do it. So that look to me, it’s like Theon’s wondering, “Is this enough? Do you accept me now? I’m doing all this for you.”
To go back a step—the scene with Osha. Quite a few people wanted to know what it was like working with Natalia Tena. She has quite the following.
She helped me so much. She helped me do scenes she wasn’t even in, we just bounced off each other. She’s so energetic, and she’s extremely talented—she has a band, you know, named Molotov Jukebox. She’s an amazing character and I love her to bits.
There’s a story that someone borrowed your phone to send some texts to Kit Harington.
Yeah, yeah! I think it was Dan or David, I still don’t know to this day. Someone sent some funny texts to Kit like, “I love you,” and “I want you now!” I talked to Kit about it after and he knew straight away because I think someone had done that to Kit at some point. They’re just pranksters, David and Dan. They’re geniuses, but at heart they’re pranksters. They love having a laugh, and we’re their play things!
Another story in a similar vein was that there was a script sent to you in which Theon was killed rather early and in a rather surprising way?
Oh, yeah. Basically this script was given to me that indicates that Bran kills me in Winterfell, and I just die. People expected me to just say, “Wait a minute, I died?” I didn’t see it that way at all, actually, I thought it was great—it was really well-written [laughs]. It was, though!
I was on holiday in Ibiza, actually, and David and Dan called me after and asked how I felt about it. And I was, “Yeah, yeah, that’s cool.” And I think they were hoping I’d give them more of a reaction, so then they say [adopts American accent], “We’ve had this other idea. We want you to be a zombie for the next series. Is that cool? We’d like you to be a zombie with no dialog whatsoever.” And I said, “Okay… uh, all right, if that’s what you want guys, lets do it, lets go for it.” Because I feel so happy and lucky to be on this amazing show, I’m not going to throw a fit or put my foot down, you know? Obviously if I think something isn’t right for the character, I’d speak up. But they’re just so on the ball and amazing writers, that everything they write [even the prank script] was so perfect.
It’s funny because I’m on Ibiza later and apparently Richard and Kit were contacting David and Dan asking if they’d heard from me about it, and they said no, so they imagined I was torturing myself about it and feeling upset. So I think that’s why they called me up and let me know it was a joke. But you know, at the end of the day, I just thought it was a really good death.
How far have you read into the series?
I’ve read the first two, and then I got half way through the third one and decided that I should stop there, that it’d be better not to know any more right now. So I keep getting people asking me if I know what happens to me in the last book and I say, “No,” and they tell me, “Oh god, mate, you’re really in for it.” But it’s cool and it’s so brilliant to play that for an actor.
Interesting! So you don’t really know where the story goes beyond that? Some actors, like Nikolaj, haven’t read all the books but apparently Bryan or the producers have filled them in as to where their story goes through the five books. You haven’t asked?
I don’t really want to know that far ahead anymore. End of the day, the books and the TV show are two different things in my mind, two different mediums. We’ve already done some tweaks and I think we’ve passed the point of using the books as source material.. or at least, I am, I can’t speak for the producers or anyone else.
Last question: do you feel at the end of this season that Theon is beyond redemption for what—
Yes. Definitely, definitely. I think he knows that. He’d like a chance to redeem himself, but as I said, if you tell a lie, tell a big one and follow through with it. He’s come this far and if he tries not to be this person anymore, no one will respect him, let alone himself. In a weird way it’s the point where he becomes strongest, when he’s at his lowest point. It’s really interesting to play. He wants status and he wants to be the Prince of Winterfell.
Thanks very much, Alfie! Just wanted to say that, for us, the Winterfell scenes have really been the highlight of the season for us. You’ve done a tremendous job.
That’s sweet of you to say, mate! Thank you.
When we asked people to submit questions, quite a few contacted us to say they didn’t have any questions, they just wanted us to let you know that they think you deserve an Emmy for your work this year.
Aww! That’s amazing. Peter Dinklage is, you know, I think he’s totally Emmy material again, he’s so great. But it’s such a compliment that people are even talking about me in those sort of ways. Thanks very much for sharing that, mate, that’s so lovely to hear.