I love doing scenes with two actors in an elevator, but sometimes I’m a little boy and I like swinging a sword with 800 soldiers around. Michiel Huisman
Mention Game of Thrones star Michiel Huisman to a female friend, and the reaction is usually something about dreamboats, perhaps with some slightly labored breathing, and then a question: “Where did he come from, and how is he suddenly everywhere?” The 33-year-old Dutch actor is a rare hybrid species: appealing to fans of beefcake, medieval history, and television of the highest quality. On Thrones, he plays Daario Naharis, the dashing soldier who slayed for and seduced Daenerys Targaryen this past season, resulting in a nude scene that was the male version of #BreaktheInternet and a re-upped contract that made Huisman a series regular.
Huisman got started as a child actor in his native Holland, where he worked his way up to a top box-office draw. His first project in the U.S. was only five years ago, a role on HBO’s New Orleans drama Treme, after which the floodgates opened: In the past two years, along with Thrones, he’s appeared as a wizardly record producer on ABC’s Nashville; a tech genius and the main character’s baby daddy on Orphan Black; and Reese Witherspoon’s fling in Wild. Last fall, he also starred in a short film for Chanel No. 5 with Gisele Bündchen.
Next and notably, he aims for Hugh Grant territory in the upcoming cosmic romance The Age of Adaline. Blake Lively co-stars in the story of a woman who has an accident in 1935 that causes her to stay 29 years old forever. She goes on the run, leaving generations of heartbroken men in her wake, until she meets Huisman’s character, a wealthy philanthropist who tempts her to stay put. Huisman more than holds his own with both Lively and Harrison Ford, who plays his father.
Huisman—who lives in New Orleans with his wife and young daughter—called from Australia, where he’s shooting a movie, one of five to come out in the next two years. I talked with him about those projects, what’s next for Thrones, the prospect of posing for Playgirl, and aiming to be Cary Grant.
MICHAEL MARTIN: What drew you to The Age of Adaline?
MICHIEL HUISMAN: When I read the script, I was a little bit swept away, captivated by the sense of this young woman traveling through time. Right away, I could kind of see how beautiful that would be: to see this person through all these different decades. On top of that, one of the things that I was looking forward to was that he is this perfect single guy, right? He’s in San Francisco. He’s made a fortune. He’s now just a philanthropist. He’s a little bit too good to be true. So I thought it would be fun to try to undercut that.
MARTIN: He’s very persistent and seductive. What would you say is the key to on-screen seduction?
HUISMAN: [laughs] Um, I wouldn’t know. I guess look at the girl and breathe. It’s made very easy by such an amazing actress as Blake. So maybe that’s the secret to on-screen seduction: Blake Lively, in this case.
MARTIN: It seems like you guys have real chemistry in the film.
HUISMAN: We had a great vibe. I really enjoyed working with her. That always helps. I think it’s hard to convince an audience of some sort of chemistry if you really don’t get along. Adaline has a real warmth, and I’m drawn to that.
MARTIN: Did you prepare for the role by watching any old movies?
HUISMAN: I think there’s a certain old-time gentleman quality to my character. I’m familiar with some of the great movies from the early days, and I’ve been watching some Cary Grant movies to kind of brush up. The great actors, like Cary Grant, and the gentlemanliness that they portray in the movies is something that I try to keep in mind. I know how that sounds: It’s like you watch this movie and you think, “Oh, this dude was thinking of Cary Grant?” That’s totally not what I’m trying to say here.
MARTIN: Nothing wrong with that. We could definitely use a little more Cary Grant.
HUISMAN: In general, I so appreciate the manliness of the men in those kinds of movies. They’re kind of tough and keep their hearts close to the chest. But at the same time, they’re vulnerable and not afraid to let that shine through. I like that. I think it’s very charming.
MARTIN: What was it like working with Harrison Ford?
HUISMAN: It was awesome. He was so invested in it, and I was very blown away by that. I could tell that he just loves doing what he does; he just seemed to love telling a good story. He pushed us all, and he really inspired me. Sometimes you think, “You know, maybe tomorrow it all ends, and this is my last movie,” but I can still say I worked with Harrison Ford.
MARTIN: So you’re in Australia. Are you shooting?
HUISMAN: I just finished my first week on a movie called 2:22. I’m really happy with what we’ve done so far. I would say it’s a romantic thriller. This character is an air-traffic controller; he’s a guy who lives by numbers, so he’s prone to seeing patterns in everything. He starts to realize that there’s something happening ever since he met a girl. It seems like things are going wrong at a set time, and it becomes more and more threatening to his life and their love. To overcome that, he has to see what it actually is. It’s a beautiful story about love and karma and stuff like that.
MARTIN: Because Game of Thrones is such a phenomenon, what did you think about taking it on?
HUISMAN: I thought that the role was supercool. And I thought the world in which Daario lives, the world of the dragons, was one of the coolest and sexiest in the whole show. I don’t think I realized the extent of the show’s popularity at the time, funnily enough. I had seen quite a bunch of episodes, and after I was cast, I watched everything again. But I know how its popularity has helped me in the last year to land other roles that maybe before weren’t really in the cards for me yet.
MARTIN: Daario is a very charismatic guy. Talented warrior. I’m thinking of the scene where he, you know, takes care of that guy on the horse.
HUISMAN: [laughs] I love the way you put that. “Let me take care of the guy on the horse.”
MARTIN: Besides that slaying, it seems like he’s got to be a fun character to play. He’s like a medieval Errol Flynn, sort of your classic swashbuckler.
HUISMAN: He’s superfun to play. The writers are so incredible, and they keep writing amazing stuff. If that moment—taking care of that dude on the horse—was the climax of my character, I could have probably lived with that. But it’s going to get better and better and better. It’s just starting. We just finished shooting Season 5. I can’t wait for it to come out, and to see how the audience responds.
MARTIN: What’s your favorite part of doing the show?
HUISMAN: Stepping on set is always overwhelming. When we did that taking-off-the-guy’s-head-on-the-horse thing, we were shooting on this amazing location in Croatia—500, maybe 800 soldiers were around me. I love doing scenes with two actors in an elevator, but sometimes I’m a little boy and I like swinging a sword with 800 soldiers around.
MARTIN: You and Emilia Clarke, again, great chemistry there. Did you know that you were signing on to strip naked in front of her?
HUISMAN: Yeah, I read that early on. I thought it was very cool to see a woman in control, especially because in the beginning of the show, she might not have been so much in control. And somebody has to be the guy who takes his pants off. It’s not something I, like, enjoy doing. But I also don’t mind. Pretty cool moment, you know?
MARTIN: The internet kind of blew up. Twitter freaked out a bit. Very good reviews. Were you surprised by the reaction to it?
HUISMAN: [laughs] I did not anticipate that. I was happy about it. The funny thing is, whenever I’m working on something, I kind of forget there’s a lot of people watching. It makes it easier to be in the moment and to tell a story as well as possible. So when it did air, I wasn’t really prepared for such a strong response. But I’m happy people responded well. It would have been awful if it would have been the other way.
MARTIN: There were reports that based on that scene, Playgirl gave you an offer to pose nude for them. True?
HUISMAN: I don’t think so. [laughs] It never reached me. It may be that my publicist made that call for me and said, “You know what, that’s not going to happen.” And that’s very good thinking on their part.
MARTIN: And somehow you’ve managed to land on another one of the most acclaimed shows on TV, Orphan Black.
HUISMAN: Last year I started out on Game of Thrones as a guest for just a few episodes. After that I was able to do some episodes on Orphan Black and Nashville. So I was on three popular shows at the same time, which is pretty bizarre. But now that I’ve signed on to Game as a regular, it’s important for me to focus my attention on one character. That being said, it was fun to work on Orphan Black. Tatiana Maslany is ridiculous. What she is doing on that show [playing multiple characters]—she’s amazing.
MARTIN: Your character, Cal, is a techie, but he is also sort of a backwoodsman and shoots a rifle. Which is closer to your personality?
HUISMAN: Between the techie and the rifle-shooter, I’d say techie. But then I can already hear my friends laugh when they read this. They’d say, “You’re so not.” I’m becoming more and more of a backwoodsman. I always used to be more of a city guy, and more and more I’m starting to enjoy being in nature. Just to sit and slow down a little bit. But when it comes to being a techie, I’m always precise about the things that I want to know. I love understanding how things work.
MARTIN: Will you be back on Orphan Black?
HUISMAN: I’ll be doing one episode this season. The writing is too good to just let a character hang. Without giving too much away, I think we’ve come up with a great way to explain why we’re not going to see Cal a lot in the future.
MARTIN: As if that weren’t enough, you’ve got something like five movies coming out in the next year or so. What is American Dream about?
HUISMAN: It’s a small independent movie that was directed and shot mostly by Janusz Kaminski, who’s the famous DP of most of Spielberg’s movies for the last 20 years. It’s a very cool story about two young second- and third-generation immigrants who are building this apartment complex. They come up short on money to pay their workers, so they take money from someone they shouldn’t have taken it from. So the American dream turns into a little American horror.
MARTIN: You’ve got two more thrillers going on. The Invitation is about a man at a dinner party who thinks the guests are going to meet a sinister end at the hands of the host.
HUISMAN: And I’m the host! After I wrapped shooting on Adaline, I felt the need to do the opposite.
MARTIN: And then another thriller, The Forest, is a ghost story.
HUISMAN: I’m gonna be shooting this spring, with Natalie Dormer, who is one of my co-stars from Game of Thrones, and whom I’ve never met, by the way. It’s really bizarre, and also shows you how big that world of Game of Thrones is. We’re both on the same show, and we’ve never met each other. She plays a girl who’s looking for her twin sister, and she travels to Japan. I’m a blogger who decides to help her, and we venture into this forest that turns out to be really scary.
MARTIN: How about The Swimmer?
HUISMAN: It’s this amazing story about a guy who travels all around the world to swim wild rivers. There’s this one river in Norway, the strongest river in the world. He decides to go there. He starts to map the journey in the river, as a robber would plan a bank heist, and we slowly realize that it’s probably going to be his end. It’s probably going to be impossible to survive this river. Why would he do this? He doesn’t seem sad at all. It’s really a beautiful story about coming to terms with your past. We start to unravel more and more, and we realize that domestic abuse is one of the things in play.
MARTIN: How did Treme, your leap to the U.S., come about?
HUISMAN: I was already at a point in my career where I felt like I had done everything I could do in Holland three times. I played the lead in what was considered the bigger Dutch movies. I played the lead in the popular TV shows. And I could do that again and again, but it wasn’t really exciting me anymore. So my wife and I said, “We’re gonna sell our house in Amsterdam and move to New York.” I had in mind that, in two years, I would have to land a job. At a very early stage in the casting process, I was introduced to the casting director for Treme. I didn’t get cast on the pilot, but for some reason they kept me in mind. So once the show got picked up, I got a call. My wife and I literally had to cancel an apartment we had lined up in New York and fly straight to New Orleans.
MARTIN: You definitely met your deadline. What is your home base now?
HUISMAN: It’s still New Orleans. We totally fell in love with that city. Although I miss my family and friends when I’m away from Amsterdam, I’ve never had that feeling of missing a city like I have with New Orleans. Especially for the music. When I hear music that reminds me of New Orleans, I think, “Oh my God, I haven’t been to New Orleans for two months; I’ve got to get back. I’ve got to get some funk back in my veins.”
MARTIN: How did you get into the acting business in the first place?
HUISMAN: I started acting as a kid and doing advertising campaigns. I was probably 8 years old, and I really liked the attention. By the time I was 10, I was in a short film [Ayan, 1991], and I went on to host a kids’ program from when I was around 10 until 15. In some ways I’m a child actor. [laughs] I cannot say that without laughing. I do think it was a big difference that it happened in the Netherlands. There was not an industry for child actors. I never really made any money. It was all about fun for me. I played soccer, and I played in a band, and sometimes I was able to do a movie. And my school would cooperate. It was a very easy way to roll into what later became my profession. It’s more innocent. When you’re a child actor in the U.S., it’s a different thing I think.
MARTIN: You can definitely get chewed up and spit out by the machinery.
HUISMAN: Yeah. Eaten up and spit out when you’re 12. That’s pretty hard. That was not the case for me at all.