Put me in Alicent’s mind. Princess Rhaenyra is her closest friend and confidant, now she is stepping on the role of her stepmother. And while she may not have a lot of dialogue, it’s clear from her mannerisms and the way she presents herself that there’s a lot of nervous energy going on.
It’s interesting when you say you can see so much on her face and how she holds herself and chooses. It’s because she wants to talk a lot but can’t, or feels she can’t, and it leaks out in small ways. It reveals itself in a flash in the eye or a facial expression or when picked. She can’t physically contain it all — it has to unfurl the seams in some shape or form. I work as a very immersive actor, so when I play a character, my thought process disappears and I begin the character’s thought journey, if that makes any sense. That’s how I work; I blacked out, and it feels more like a transition between the two than a blend as some actors work. And so when I’m in Alicent’s thoughts, I find it very difficult to organize her thoughts because there’s so much going on all the time. I decided to keep a diary. That’s what I do in most of my work to help understand the depth of a character’s brain, and I think it takes it from being a character on a page to being a three-dimensional person. Because nobody says constantly what they’re thinking. There is always a stream of consciousness, and I like to have that on paper to look at. It’s especially useful in this case because with such a long shot we either do something in rehearsals or we shoot a scene in June and re-shoot it later or before that. December, and it’s going to be hard to jump around. So I’ll just read the diary [entry] the day we rehearse it or the day we shoot the previous scene, and it takes me directly back to where my brain needs to be in that mindset. That’s what Ryan, especially more than anyone else, is incredibly attractive about and he finds it fascinating. He will sit and read it.
I remember in our story meetings from the beginning, I had a face-to-face encounter with the character Miguel [Sapochnik] and Ryan and have never had such creative freedom and never been able to dig into it before. I go to my folders and every script is printed out and highlighted and annotated with little protruding tabs. They were like, “Wow! That’s great. What’s going on?” And I was like, “This is how I work. This is what I do.” They said, “Great, let’s work on that.” Miguel is amazing. He makes you feel like you’re the only person he works with and the only person in the room. He’s very realistic, and I like that. We had the support and the rehearsal phase was like we were rehearsing the play that I started at the theater, so, for me, it was a very comfortable environment.
Can you tell me about working with Milly Alcock and building that on-screen dynamic?
I think we were pretty lucky that we didn’t hate each other. We get along really well off-screen, and so the chemistry comes in very organically. Milly landed her part long before I was cast, quite a while before I auditioned, I think. And she asked ages, “Who’s playing Alicent?” And the second I found out I had it set, I asked, “Who’s playing that? Who is playing that young girl? “I want to know who Rhaenyra is. So we both, without knowing it, asked our representatives to ask the manufacturer who the other was. We got each other’s emails, which was really weird and formal, so I followed her on Instagram and sent her a direct message saying, “Hi! This is so weird. We can talk because I don’t know about you, but I’m petrified,” and she was like, “Me too. “We were FaceTimed and we were both like, okay, this reassured us that we were both equally scared. [We were on completely] opposite ends of the world, but we both went into this frenzy together, a life-changing experience. And so we clung to each other and refused to let go.
Of course, we worked a lot on the relationship with Miguel, but also with Clare Kilner, who [directed episodes] four and five because that’s really where you see the difference in friendship from where it was established to what we see it become and obviously the spark of what then becomes when Olivia [Cooke] and Emma [D’Arcy] Undertake. But between them there is only this closeness. I always say, at 14, especially as a woman, you think your best friend will be your best friend forever. There is no other choice. That is your person. And it’s almost like having a mate in that sense – it sets the line between loyalty and romance. At 14, you don’t know what those words mean, let alone the feelings. It’s just tactile proximity. I mean, girls at 14 are allowed to change in front of each other, they’re not allowed to change in front of boys, and they go to the bathroom together, and that sort of thing. Only this relationship. That discovery is one of the most enjoyable things about doing this work, and Milly made it so easy.
Olivia Cooke plays the old version of Alicent. Did the two of you have a chance to connect before filming to talk through the characters?
It’s blind, but we just have to trust the creative team. And the more we trust them, the more they put their trust in us. We went for lunch mid-shoot, but only because Liv was the loveliest human being ever and texted me to make sure I was okay. We’re just digging around, and we’re not really talking about the character. Ten years is a really long time, you know. That’s a long time in anyone’s life, but especially in Westeros, where time goes by so fast and the people around you change so quickly and circumstances change so quickly. We see them grow from actual kids to full-fledged women. There was a lot of work to be done in those 10 years. So it’s like we’re playing different people. It’s the same character, of course, but I don’t think anyone in their 20s looks back at them at 14 and thinks they’re the same person. What did Emma say? At Comic-Con, they say [that] when they watch episodes of Milly and mine, it feels like they’re watching videos at home, like [a] The Targaryen home video, and I think it’s an interesting thing to say, and it makes sense. We still haven’t seen the episodes of Olivia and Emma. I’m really curious to see how audiences will watch me, like my character Alicent, on screen in the years to come. Strange Back to the Future somethings like that.