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Matt Smith & Fabien Frankel Interview: House Of The Dragon

Matt Smith & Fabien Frankel Interview: House Of The Dragon Image
  • Posted on 09th Aug, 2022 06:44 AM

House of the Dragon stars Matt Smith & Fabien Frankel discuss how they approached playing Prince Daemon and Ser Criston Cole respectively.

House of the Dragon is already setting the world on fire before its August 21 premiere, with fans of HBO's Game of Thrones clamoring to see how the first spinoff will handle the epic story. Based on the events described in George R.R. Martin's Fire & Blood, the new series takes audiences to the height of House Targaryen's reign and chronicles how a dispute over the Iron Throne leads to chaos and bloodshed.

Showrunners Ryan J. Condal and Miguel Sapochnik (who directs several episodes of House of the Dragon season 1) have amassed a hugely talented cast to portray the key members of the royal family and their allies. Matt Smith (Doctor Who, The Crown) plays Prince Daemon Targaryen, the presumptive heir to King Viserys whose relationship with his brother is strained by his wanton ways. Fabien Frankel (The Serpent) plays Ser Criston Cole, a Dornish knight whose skill with the sword makes up for his common birth.


Related: Which Game Of Thrones Episodes To Rewatch Before House Of The Dragon

During a recent round table interview, Screen Rant and other media outlets had to opportunity to speak to Smith and Frankel about how they prepared for House of the Dragon season 1 both mentally and physically, where Prince Daemon and Ser Criston's loyalties lie, and which aspects of filming were most uncomfortable for them.

Photograph by Ollie Upton / HBO

Fabien, your character's shifting allegiances was one of the bigger turns in the book. Is that something that you're hoping is seeded through the season?

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Fabien Frankel: I can only speak to the first episode, [but] I think that shifting allegiances is a theme that runs rife in Game of Thrones and in the books—and in certainly in our show, it's the same. It's something I've thought about, definitely.

In that first episode, his allegiances are to no one but himself. Which I think is interesting. He's one of the only characters who has no allegiance to anyone, although I think Daemon has allegiances to himself in some way as well.

Screen Rant: Daemon, obviously, has a very conflicted relationship with all of his family members. But his relationship with Rhaenyra is very interesting, because they're in a way rivals for a position. And yet he seems to have a soft spot—perhaps an uncomfortably soft spot, in my opinion. Can you talk about that dynamic?

Matt Smith: In everyone's opinion! I think Daemon has such an intrinsic link, biologically and physically and mentally, to his brother. In some way, Rhaenyra's inherited that, and they're the only two characters that he really gives a damn about. The rest? Maybe Mysaria as well.

But I think it's a bloodline thing with Daemon. I think he's got a really warped sense of loyalty, and Rhaenyra and his brother King Viserys really feel the full front of that.

In what ways did the original Game of Thrones series serve as a way to inform coming into this world, or did you avoid it at all?

Fabien Frankel: We definitely didn't avoid it. We both watched the show; we love the show. And I think that we feel very lucky to join a dynasty of television. But our show is different in a lot of ways. Times have changed, and TV's changed massively. Technologically, and also, you have directors that were never making TV before now making TV. Alfonso Cuaron is doing a show for Apple, or David Fincher did a TV show, and I don't think that would have happened before. But we definitely didn't stay away from it, no.

Matt Smith: Certainly not. It was a great source of entertainment, I think, over the years. I watched it as it came out, Game of Thrones, and it was a good reference point. But I did re-watch it with our show in mind. I think our show feels like an original world and an original time—and we're trying to do something original with it whilst delivering on the hits [and] the themes, I suppose, that exist in something like Game of Thrones.

Fabien Frankel: I watched it in a panic the night before we started filming. Yeah, I just got panicked. I was like, "Sh*t, am I gonna...? Do I know what world I'm in, or do I have to do some of that."

Game of Thrones has gotten a lot of guff over the years for having a lot of sexposition. You have two scenes in the pilot that show how that idea can still be in a show, but not be used in a bad way. What felt important to you during those scenes? What did you try to get across about Daemon in those moments, and how did it feel to be the saddest person at the medieval orgy?

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Matt Smith: I don't think it's ever nice to be the saddest person at the medieval orgy, is it? But I think it tells you something about Daemon. On paper, people keep saying, "Is he a villain?" and all this, and he does really bad stuff. That's true. But I think, deep down, there's a real sense of fragility about him. There's a strange vulnerability. And he's got a strange moral compass, which is war, but it is a moral compass in his own way.

I don't know, really. No one likes doing sex scenes. They feel quite exposing, do you know what I mean? But luckily, Sonoya [Mizuno], who plays Mysaria, was just really wonderful. We had an intimacy coordinator, and that all felt quite good and safe and stuff. Do I love that scene? I don't know; I have a question mark against it. But that's the world that we're representing. That's the world that George has written. That is the world of House of the Dragon. And we're trying to represent the books as truthfully as possible.

Screen Rant: Fabien, Criston Cole comes from the Dornish Marches, which is a place that we have not really explored in Game of Thrones yet. How did you approach your character and his culture? Did you draw from the books at all?

Fabien Frankel: I did. Yeah, I did. The books, [and] there's summaries on the internet of the way the Dornish were spoken about in King's Landing.

My family are from all over the world; I feel very lucky in that. And I think that, when you have a character that doesn't come from the same world as everyone else, you instantly find yourself isolated. I thought that was a very helpful tool for me, in terms of the way that I wanted to create this character.

You can find on YouTube, there are videos of the way the Dornish are spoken about; with disdain, and a lot of hatred, and a lack of respect for the way they live their lives. I actually think it echoes modern day racism in a lot of ways.

Let's talk about the physical preparation for the role, on regards to fighting. How early did it start before production, and what led to the head injury, Matt?

Matt Smith: Which one? It started very early, actually. We didn't start shooting 'til April, and we were rehearsing throughout March, weren't we? So, a good eight weeks before the fight, and that was pretty regular. And we learned it like a dance, really—just learn and practice and learn and practice and work on your swordplay and your responses and all that sort of stuff.

And then, we were just we were sort of rehearsing one day, weren't we? It happens. What are you going to do?

Fabien Frankel: I don't regret it.

Matt Smith: Oh, thanks, mate. Cheers. See, this is what I have to deal with. I've created a monster. [Laughs]

What kind of details felt most important to you, in the sense that maybe the audience wouldn't even see them, but they helped you inhabit the world?

Fabien Frankel: I asked to have a dagger that's never seen in the show. I just wanted it; I had it in my back the whole show and every scene, and I thought it was something I wanted there. There was no need for it or anything like that. It just helped me.

I felt like the swords are heavy, and they're big. There's something about a dagger that I think, especially in close proximity, can be quite a dangerous weapon. It made me feel tough, which I don't necessarily feel every day.

Matt Smith: Nice. I added this belt, because there's no pockets.

Fabien Frankel: And we love pockets. Matt and I are big pocket guys. We're big pocket users.

Matt Smith: But I couldn't have them, so I got this belt [made] where I could sort of anchor my hands, which was pretty cool. But props to Jany [Temime], the costume designer. I think she's done really glorious work. Beautifully tailored and fancy. I think it's really good.

Screen Rant: Over the course of the season, is there any dynamic or unrevealed aspect that was most exciting or surprising for you?

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Matt Smith: I've got a great short wig.

Fabien Frankel: At one point in the show—I guess it's not really a spoiler—I get to take my armor off and wear something else, which I thought was very exciting.

Matt Smith: We were all very, very excited. Honestly.

Fabien Frankel: Yeah, very excited for me.

Matt Smith: There was a lot of talk about the armor; how heavy the armor was, how hot it was, how difficult it was to sit down and have his lunch. And the day he got it off, fireworks went off.

The House of the Dragons panel at Comic-Con was on Saturday, and so was the Marvel one. Matt, did you get a chance to run into Karen Gillan at all?

Matt Smith: Yeah, I saw Kaz on Saturday night, and I said hello to my old friend. And Jenna. We were in a sort of time vortex; all three of us.

Fabien Frankel: Yeah, at one point I felt like I was kind of in the TARDIS.  Between you and Jenna and Karen.

Matt Smith: It was lovely to see them both. Two of my favorite people—certainly my two favorite companions, along with dear Arthur.

House of the Dragon Synopsis

House of the Dragon, the eagerly awaited prequel to Game of Thrones, is based on George R. R. Martin’s Fire & Blood. Set some 200 years before the events that unfolded in Game of Thrones, this is the remarkable, turbulent story of the House of Targaryen.

Check out our other roundtable interviews with House of the Dragon stars Olivia Cooke & Emma D’Arcy, Steve Toussaint & Eve Best, Milly Alcock & Emily Carey, and Paddy Considine, as well as with showrunners Ryan Condal & Miguel Sapochnik.

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More: House Of The Dragon Will Make One Of Daenerys’ Coolest Traits Even Better

House of the Dragon premieres August 21 on HBO and HBO Max at 9pm ET/PT.

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