In the Envelope: The Actor’s Podcast features in-depth conversations with today’s most noteworthy actors and creators. Join host and senior editor Vinnie Mancuso for this guide to living the creative life from those who are doing it every day.
Olivia Cooke had the biggest year of her career in 2022 thanks to HBO’s hit “Game of Thrones” prequel, “House of the Dragon.” To put together her standout turn as Queen Alicent Hightower, she came to accept that it was impossible to meet the expectations of the original series’ devoted fan base.
“Whatever layers I try to give the character in order to make a more nuanced performance—ultimately, it’s not going to please everyone,” the actor says. “But that’s just what I have to do in order to give a decent, honest performance: I have to imbue it with just things that justify the characters, actions, and emotions. And those might not necessarily be in the original text—or even in the scripts.”
In this episode of In the Envelope: The Actor’s Podcast, Cooke brings us behind the scenes of Ryan J. Condal and George R.R. Martin’s series. She also discusses building her layered performance, as well as what it was like to film two of Season 1’s most pivotal scenes.
Cooke ignored social media chatter until after production had wrapped.
“Luckily, I didn’t really invite that in until we were already on the press tour and our episodes were out. Then me and [my co-star Emma D’Arcy] obviously just looked on Twitter. It’s like your phone is screaming at you. There are a lot of opinions and a lot to take in. Realistically, it’s mostly positive. But there are these really gross and flamboyantly evil Tweets that do just reverberate around your mind…. It’s only then when you’re like: Oh, my God, maybe this anonymous person who sent this Tweet is right, not the person who spent two years thinking about the character. To look at that stuff, you’re inviting it in. So you must shut that door in order to do your job. And the people you need to invite in, when it comes to this character in this story, are George R.R. Martin, Ryan Condal and [writer] Sara Hess, and our amazing directors Clare Kilner and Geeta Vasant Patel. Those are the people you want to believe and trust, because you can’t really go along with Twitter fan fiction.”
Ollie Upton / HBO
The actor realized how much commitment ‘House of the Dragon’ requires while filming a tense scene between Alicent and D’Arcy’s Rhaenyra Targaryen.
“It sounds really woo-woo, which I’m not, particularly, but you do sort of lose consciousness with your own self, and you are just Alicent…. It’s like a really super-charged, high level of focus that helps you have the engine to do that. Emotions were so high for five days, anyway. By day five, Emma and I were setting up for a close shot of a knife and Emma’s eye, and we were just in hysterics. We had lost the plot and just could not keep it together. We were so tired. We had nothing left. I was drinking so much water, because I couldn’t cry anymore. I was so dehydrated. It’s just madness, a lot of that. That was our first big emotional scene that lasted over a few days, and we were both like, ‘Oh, fuck, this job is going to require a lot of stamina.’ ”
While filming a scene in which Alicent protects her son Aegon (Tom Glynn-Carney) from a CGI dragon ridden by her adversary, Rhaenys Targaryen (Eve Best), Cooke used physicality to find the truth of the moment.
“In reality, you’re being blown to bits by a big wind machine. There’s dust and dirt just kicking back up in your face. You’re looking at a tennis ball. So you really have to almost roll your eyes into the back of your imagination and go somewhere else. Thankfully, that physicality of trying to put myself between Aegon and Rhaenys helped. All Alicent can think about is: We’re dead, we’re dead, we’re dead. And maybe putting myself in front of my son will char him a bit less, but ultimately, we’re absolutely incinerated. And especially for them, who have grown up around dragons their whole lives, but as Hightowers, they can’t ride them—Alicent has always been a bit fearful of the dragons. To put yourself in front of the beast in order to protect your son is just another show of this stupid, undying love she has for this just absolute miscreant.”
Listen and subscribe to In the Envelope: The Actor’s Podcast to hear our full conversation with Cooke: