A gifted actor who’s lately been turning heads on both sides of the Atlantic, Harry Lloyd landed the role of Viserys Targaryen, the exiled prince yearning to restore his family to the rule of the Seven Kingdoms. As Daenerys’s brother, he has been an antagonist who’s dominated her entire life… until she marries Khal Drogo, and among the Dothraki finds independence and courage she didn’t know she had before.
In the following interview, we discuss how Lloyd prepared for his role, the question he’d most like to ask author George R.R. Martin regarding the series, and more!
One of the things fans always seem to wonder about is if actors are fans of the genre they’re working in. Would you say you’re a fan of fantasy literature? If not, are there any particular genres of literature you’re fond of?
I wouldn’t say I was a fan of fantasy before but nor was I sceptic! I had read Tolkein and various fantasy children’s books when I was little. But I have always been drawn to other worlds I suppose, be it a futuristic comic or a historical novel. I like it when a world unfamiliar to me is built from the ground up with the detail of my own.
When you auditioned for Viserys, what sort of research did you choose to do into the character? Did you take a look at the book right off, or just Googled a bit, or none of the above?
There wasn’t time to do too much for my first audition. I only had sides from a few scenes from ep 1. I think I wikipedia’d him a bit and found out roughly what was going on but was intimidated by the scale of the story so I just stuck to the script and kept it simple. I didn’t read the book until I had the part.
What were the aspects of the character that interested you most in him?
Just the more I found out about him the more I liked him. His relationship with his dead family, how he feels about his sister, how he sells himself, how he sees himself, his crazy cool hair, his his two amazing swords (which he’s never used), his dragon ring. I just love the storyline – find it fascinating.
When you filmed for the pilot, Pentos was being filmed in Morocco. For the reshoots, it was Malta. How’d you find both locations? Did you find opportunities to play tourist?
Morocco was great but Malta was better. I had filmed in Ouarzazate in Morocco before and though beautiful is a bit of a ghost town in the desert with a film studio and a huge Ridley Scott set and not much else. So I came prepared with swimming trunks and books. Malta (despite the shitty weather we had when I was there) was more scenic and I did wander round a bit. Every Empire in Europe has been through it at some point and everyone’s left their mark. Kind of interesting when you’re playing a prince dreaming of invasion…
You’ve played Will Scarlett in the British _Robin Hood_ series, which looks like a first brush with this sort of medieval costume drama. How’d that experience compare with filming Game of Thrones?
My God it feels like a different world! I suppose there are visual similarities in terms of sets and extras dressed as peasants and horses etc.. But the way they were shot and the stories being told and the part I was playing couldn’t be further apart!
How much did having a sense of the wider story, and the background of Viserys, his family, and their history, help you in your performance? You’ve mentioned in an interview with the Evening Standard that at one point you felt you had to really put the book aside to make the character your own.
Reading around the Book 1 storyline ended up comprising the bulk of my preparation I suppose. Being the last Targaryen left (almost) I thought it was really important that I knew where I came from and what I was trying to save. And by the time I had as full a picture as I could get, I found it very easy to be frustrated by the fact that NO-ONE CARES ABOUT ANY OF THIS!
There’s a scene in the sixth episode which Linda and I thought very beautifully written and acted. It reminds us a bit of George’s quote about each character being the hero of his own story. When someone’s cast as something of a villain, how do you approach them, to humanize them? Do you try to justify their misdeeds?
I’m so glad you like that scene I think that was my favourite Viserys scene as well in the end. Every character, villain or not, is the hero of his own story. What’s great about GoT is that the writing allows each actor to really explore that in their parts. Everyone’s come from somewhere and going somewhere else and has obstacles to surmount. They’re not on the whole tools for a mechanical plot. The plot is twisty and surprising because it is led by the actions of its really human characters.
For Viserys, once I knew his story, I never felt I had to justify his misdeeds. It all became very clear. Means to an end. What he’s fighting for is bigger than everything else. It really doesn’t matter if someone’s feelings get hurt. Tough but fair I say!
When doing the pilot I did write a kind of personal history for V from life at court to exile to the present day. Just to piece together all the snippets of information I had. And once you see things from his point of view and the sheer trauma of it, you couldn’t expect the guy to be a nice well-adjusted individual! That became my bible in the end and any time I got lost or couldn’t remember why he was being such an asshole, I read that and it was all clear again. Think that’s why I put the novel away after the pilot because I needed to read HIS book, not his sister’s.
Were you relieved or envious that you didn’t have lines in Dothraki?
Relieved! Though I did enjoy hearing Jason speak it.
You’ve a fun scene with Roxanne McKee part way through the series, in which you end up discussing dragons. But you’re both sitting in a bath at the time. Did that require many takes? Actors tend to complain about getting stuck in cold water for hours on end…
You know what? The studio was bloody freezing but the water was really warm, they kept topping it up between setups. It was water and powdered milk to make it look like Dothraki mare’s milk I think so the problem was more the way I smelt afterwards than the temperature during!
We’ve heard the shooting schedule was pretty strenuous on Malta. What do you do between takes when there was a long set up? Is it a time to relax, maybe read or listen to music, or is it all about going over lines?
It really depends on the scene. There was lots of hanging around during the 3 days on the wedding scene. And because of weather screwing us around I had to miss giving a reading at a friend’s wedding in London. So on those days I went round the amazing looking extras and got loads of them plus the cast to record a line of my speech each into my laptop and stuck it all together and sent it off home. That was really fun – you gotta stay awake on those long crowd days because before you know it the camera will suddenly be on you! But most downtime not nearly so much fun…
What’s the most memorable or intriguing aspect of the setting or the story for you?
I am really interested in the calsh of cultures between the Westerosi (esp the Targaryens) and the Dothraki. There’s something very true and intriguing about that part of the story to me. And of course those mysterious eggs…
As you read it, there’s various mysteries in the books, some of which have been answered, some which haven’t. Have you spoiled yourself by Googling a bit, or did you ever come up with your own theories?
I have heard bits and bobs from beyond where I’ve read but I haven’t purposefully sought it out. I do always love hearing about it though. Had a long chat with Gethin Anthony about Book 2 last week which he’s just read where I sat down for an hour or two just saying ‘Nooo!’ and ‘Shiiit!’ And I did get a couple of juicy facts from GRRM himself…
If you could ask GRRM one question about the series that he _had_ to answer, what would it be?
Will Daenerys ever set foot in King’s Landing? (Though I’m not sure I want to know…)
Some actors say they hate watching themselves perform on screen, and avoid doing so. Do you feel the same? If not, are you planning to watch the show to see how it all plays out on screen?
The first watch is always cringey for sure. I went to screening of eps 1 and 2 and everyone in the cast there said the same: ‘Everyone looks great, but what the hell am I doing?!’ I do find it helpful, and is good to learn from. Plus, with GoT I just want to see the 90% of it that I wasn’t in!
When you enter a role knowing your character’s going to die a gruesome death, is there excitement at the prospect of playing that out, or trepidation?
Both. Mainly excitement.
What was that makeup like for that final moment? Did it take long to get it all on? It certainly looked horrific.
The head-gold was a special piece they’d had made, made to fit a mould of my head and the little bits and bobs were done in a bit of a hurry on the day actually by the amazing Paul Engelen.
Viserys’s relationship to Daenerys changes over the show, and this final episode really seems to encapsulate it as she more-or-less allows her brother to die. How did her growing independence from him affect Viserys?
He hates it. After she hits him, he knows he has no power over her anymore and if he has no power over her, he’s got no power over anyone. So it’s time to act.. After that smack in the face, he is never seen speaking to D again until he threatens her with his sword interestingly…
Overall, what will you remember most about your time with the production?
Wow so much. I remember it all really clearly. The cast I suppose. And the story. And this amazing sunset we had in Malta (which they shot the wedding night scene against – camera doesn’t do it justice it was stupendous).
What’s next on your plate?
Just wrapped on film called Iron Lady about Margaret Thatcher and now doing press and auditions, fishing for my next job.