Riding dragons was the most fun: 'House of the Dragon' actor Matt Smith
Actor Matt Smith of 'Doctor Who' fame tells Adam Stone about the challenges of playing Daemon Targaryen and the pressures of living up to the expectations of 'Game of Thrones' fans
How daunting was it to step into something as huge as House of the Dragon, the prequel to Game of Thrones?
It’s definitely daunting, but at the same time, the pressure is removed because it’s unrealistic to think this show can ever succeed on the same scale as Game of Thrones did. Thrones are a cultural phenomenon. I’m not sure anything will ever match that. House of the Dragon is very much its own thing. Hopefully, people will receive it positively and enjoy it as something really different from the brilliant original series.
You play Daemon Targaryen in House of the Dragon. What attracted you to the role?
Daemon Targaryen, as many fans will know, is the son of Baelon Targaryen and the brother of Viserys. I just loved how dark and disturbed he was. He’s a fascinating character. Besides, who wouldn’t want a chance to fly dragons and have sword fights? But, it was the blond wig that sealed the deal (laughs).
How was it shooting fight scenes with a wig on? Was it uncomfortable?
It was a pain to put it on. I have to admit, I didn’t know the wig was going to be such a big thing. Emilia Clarke (who played Daenerys Targaryen in Game of Thrones) told me years ago about what a chore it was to put on the wig every day. Now I know what she meant. It took me about an hour and a half each day. I have dark hair, so I had to have a bald cap glued on and then they put the wig on over that. It’s a lot, but I think it looks really cool, and I like being blond.
How would you describe Daemon’s relationship with his brother?
It’s a complicated relationship. I had such a fabulous time with Paddy Considine, who plays Viserys. Daemon’s relationship with his brother and the depth and richness Paddy and I found in our scenes together are very much the core of our part in this story.
How do the scenes when you are riding dragons work?
The scenes when we get to ride them are the most fun. It’s basically done as if you’re riding a bucking bronco. You sit on this mechanical thing and it moves around while they blow loads of wind in your face. The rest is done in post-production, so it takes a little imagination, but it’s also a lot of fun.
What can you tell us about your dragon?
I have a big red dragon called Caraxes, who I grew rather fond of despite the fact he’s rather grumpy and, of course, a great big pretend dragon. On set, he was basically this 10-foot mechanical contraction, but to me he was about as close as I could get to having my own dragon. I love Caraxes even though he’s big, red, scary and angry.
Did you suffer any sword-fighting injuries?
A cut on the forehead during rehearsals for one fight. Nothing too serious.
You have played quite a few baddie roles since leaving Doctor Who. Daemon Targaryen too is a grey character. Were the choices made consciously?
No, not really. I just think it’s good to have breadth as an actor and challenge yourself with something different if you can. Certainly, since the Doctor, I have actively been looking to do things that feel completely different.
How do you look back on your time on Doctor Who?
With great affection. I was very lucky that I got the opportunity to work with brilliant friends like Karen (Gillan), Arthur (Darvill) and Jenna (Coleman). We had such great chemistry and we had such a great time making that show. It was a real adventure. I’m so proud, to this day, to be part of that world. There is a huge amount of pressure that comes with it, just as there is with House of the Dragon, but it’s very rewarding.
Have you spoken to Ncuti Gatwa to pass on any advice about being the new Doctor Who?
I did speak to him to wish him well, but he doesn’t need my advice. Ncuti is a brilliant actor and he’s going to be an incredible Doctor. I’m excited to see it and to see where Russell (T Davis) and Ncuti take the show.
Finally, if Matt Smith were to rule in House of the Dragon, what would your first decree be?
I would allow them to dye their hair, so I don’t have to get the wig on.