Take me into Alicent’s mindset. Princess Rhaenyra is her closest friend and confidant, and now she is stepping into the role of her stepmother. And while she may not have a ton of dialogue, it’s clear in her mannerisms and the way she carries herself that there’s a lot of nervous energy going on.
It’s interesting that you say you can see so much in her face and how she keeps herself and plucked. It’s because of so much she wants to say but can’t, or feels she can’t, and it seeps out in small ways. It seeps out in a twinkle in the eye or a facial expression or pluck. She simply can’t physically contain it all – it has to burst at the seams in some way, shape or form. I work as a very immersive actor, so when I’m playing a character, my thought process disappears and I take on the mindset of the character if that makes sense. This is how I work; I blackout and it feels very much like a switch between the two rather than a mix as some actors work. And so when I was in Alicent’s mindset, I found it very difficult to organize her thoughts because there was so much going on all the time. I decided to write a diary. It’s something I do on most jobs to help understand the depth of the character’s brain, and I think it takes it from being a character on a page to a three-dimensional human being. Because no one constantly says what they think. There is always a stream of consciousness and I enjoy having that on paper to look at. It was especially useful in this case, because with such a long shoot, we would do something in rehearsals, or we would shoot a scene in June and return to the scene after that or before that in December, and it would have been very difficult to jump around. So I just wanted to read the journal [entry] the day we rehearsed it or the day we shot the previous scene and it would take me right back to firsthand where my brain was supposed to be in that mindset. It was something that Ryan, especially more than anyone else, was incredibly fascinated by, and he found it fascinating. He wanted to sit and read it.
I remember in our story meetings in the beginning I had one-on-one character meetings with Miguel [Sapochnik] and Ryan and had never had that kind of creative freedom and had never been able to dive in so deep before. I came in with my folders and had each script printed out and highlighted and annotated with little tabs sticking out. They were like, “Wow! This is good. What’s going on?” And I thought, “This is how I work. This is what I do.” They said, “Cool, let’s work on it.” Miguel is amazing. He makes you feel like you are the only person he works with and the only person in the room. He is very practical and I loved that. The support we had and the rehearsal period felt like we were doing play rehearsals which I started in the theatre, so for me it was a very comfortable environment.
Can you tell me about working with Milly Alcock and building that dynamic on screen?
I think we were pretty lucky that we didn’t hate each other. We just get along really well off screen and then that chemistry came very organically. Milly booked her part a while before I was cast, a while before I even auditioned I think. And she had been asking for ages, “Who plays Alicent?” And the second I found out I booked it, I was like, “Who’s playing the other one? Who’s playing the other young lady?” I wanted to know who Rhaenyra is. So we both unknowingly asked our reps to ask production who the other was. We got each other’s emails, which is really weird and formal, so I Instagram stalked her and DMed her saying, “Hi! It’s really strange. Can we talk because I don’t know about you, but I’m petrified,” and she was like, “Me too.” We FaceTimed and were both like, okay, it’s reassuring that we’re both as scared as each other. [We were on completely] opposite ends of the world, but we were both going into this crazy whirlwind, life-changing experience together. And then we clung to each other and haven’t let go yet.
We worked a lot on the relationship with, of course, Miguel, but also with Clare Kilner as [directed episodes] four and five, because that’s really where you see the difference in the friendship, from where it’s been established to what we see it become, and obviously the spark of what it’s going to be when Olivia [Cooke] and Emma [D’Arcy] take over. But there’s just this closeness between them. I always say that as a 14-year-old, especially as a female, you think your best friend is going to be your best friend forever. There is no other option. It is your person. And it’s almost like having a partner in that sense – it straddles the line between platonic and romantic. As a 14-year-old, you don’t know what those words mean, let alone what the feelings mean. It’s just this tactile closeness. I mean, 14-year-old girls have to change in front of each other, they don’t have to change in front of the boys, and they go to the bathroom together, and that stuff. There’s just this tape. Exploring it was one of the most fun things to do on this job and Milly made it so easy.
Olivia Cooke plays the older version of Alicent. Did you two have a chance to connect before filming to talk the character through?
It was blind, but we just had to trust the creative team. And as much as we trusted them, they put enormous trust in us. We went to lunch halfway through filming, but only because Liv is the nicest person ever and texted me to make sure I was okay. We just went to a catch-up and we didn’t actually talk about the character at all. Ten years is a really long time, you know. That’s a long time in anyone’s life, but especially in Westeros, where time passes so quickly and the people around you change so quickly and circumstances change so quickly. We see them grow from practically children to full-fledged women. There is also a lot of growing up in those 10 years. So it was like we were playing different people. It’s the same character, of course, but I don’t think anyone in their 20s looks back at who they were at 14 and thinks they’re the same person. What did Emma say? At Comic-Con, they said [that] when they watched Milly’s and my episodes it felt like they were watching home video, e.g [a] Targaryen home video and I think it’s so cute to say and it makes sense. We haven’t seen Olivia and Emma’s episode yet. I’m really intrigued to see how it’s going to see me, like my character, my Alicent, on screen in the years to come. It is strange Back to the Future kind of thing.