House of the Dragon
Emily Carey on Her Head-Spinning Journey In and Out of Westeros
If there’s one thing Emily Carey is used to, it’s playing younger versions of onscreen characters. In 2017, the 19-year-old British actor was cast as the childhood version of Diana Prince in Wonder Woman, learning the specificities and intricacies of Gal Gadot’s speech pattern. A year later, she played the teenage version of Alicia Vikander‘s Lara Croft in Tomb Raider. But, this year, Carey was approached with her biggest task yet: to introduce the world to Alicent Hightower in HBO’s new blockbuster Game of Thrones prequel, House of the Dragon. Alicent, who begins the series as Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen’s (portrayed by Milly Alcock) dutiful friend, morphs into a calculated, sly, and sharp social chameleon, who, by the end of Carey’s five-episode run, is the queen of Westeros, before the role was taken over last week by Olivia Cooke following a 10-year time jump. Following the whirlwind of House of the Dragon‘s record-breaking first half, Carey sat down with us to discuss her preparation for her role, her most memorable moments on set, and what comes next.
JACKSON WALD: There is real, tangible chemistry and rapport between you and Milly Alcock, who plays Rhaenyra Targaryen. How did that chemistry develop over the course of the season, and how did you guys get to the flow state where you were able to just play off of each other?
EMILY CAREY: Milly and I made a point to get to know each other before we even landed on set. First of all, it was a really scary, daunting experience coming onto a project like this and knowing no one. We both actually asked our agents, separate from one another, who was playing their counterparts. Milly was cast before me, and the second she found out that I’d been cast, she wanted to know who I was. We were given each other’s emails, which just felt way too formal. So I stalked her Instagram and slid into her DMs and was like, “Hey, we’re going to be working with each other. I think we should get to know each other.” We met up a few times throughout the rehearsal period. I remember FaceTiming while she was still in Australia. Luckily for us, the chemistry came quite organically. We get along great in real life. So it all happened very naturally.
WALD: You guys were some of the younger people on set. How did that help? When you were actually there filming, was she someone that you could just hang out and kick it with?
CAREY: One-hundred percent. This is such a niche, shared experience for both of us. And it was for the majority of the cast. I’ll be honest, even some of these legendary actors were taken aback by the scale of the set. This is probably one of the biggest TV shows ever, and its predecessor, Game of Thrones, is definitely one of the biggest TV shows ever. It’s a strange little bubble to be in, especially when it was all top-secret. Throughout the first few months of filming, we actually couldn’t tell anyone what we were doing, so we sort of clung to each other. We’d go out for drinks and have a debrief at the end of each week. We literally couldn’t talk to anyone else. But at the same time, I don’t think I would’ve wanted to. As I said, it’s such a niche experience. I don’t think we’ve let go since.
WALD: Did you have any friends from home ask you where you were? Did you have to come up with any creative lies?
CAREY: Luckily I didn’t have to lie too much, because a lot of my friends are within the industry, so I can just say, “I’m on an NDA, but I’ll let you know when I can,” and they all get it. But it’s weird having to turn even my Snapchat location off and things like that because it was so confidential.
WALD: You mentioned the scale of the show. Going into it, knowing its fan base and the fanatical attention it receives online, how did you prepare yourself for something on such a grand scale?
CAREY: I don’t think you ever really can prepare yourself. I prepared myself for the release in every way I thought I could, and then it released and I was like, “Wow, I was so not prepared for that.” There’s no YouTube tutorial. But going into shooting, I definitely tried not to think about Game of Thrones or the fans, just because it would distract me from the job at hand. The only people on that you should be trying to—please is the wrong word, but keep happy—are the creative team that is on set with you. So I just put a lot of trust in them, and if Miguel [Sapochnik] and Ryan [Condal] were smiling, I assumed I was doing okay, and I tried not to think about what Twitter might say when the episode came out.
WALD: That’s just generally a good rule of thumb, to live your life not according to what Twitter’s going to say.
CAREY: Yeah, for sure.
WALD: Watching the five episodes that are out now, I noticed that a lot of your scenes are in these one-on-one situations with other characters giving long monologues, and you’re playing off of them. I was wondering how you approached those kinds of scenes in particular?
CAREY: I for one, as Emily, am a waffler, so I relate to the people in this world. I think in this world if they have something to say, there’s usually a lot to say. For me, that kind of dialogue work, big speeches or long paragraphs, is something that I really enjoy. I know a lot of actors would disagree with that, but I enjoy that more than a speedy back-and-forth. I enjoy having a lot to say. I enjoy having a lot to listen to. I think it gives things so much depth, in the same way, that even a scene with no words can say a huge amount. That scene with Fabien [Frankel], who plays Criston Cole, when he confesses, that was a huge scene for the both of us, not just emotions-wise, but remembering all of our dialogue. And in the same way with the scenes with Paddy [Considine] where I get my lessons, I gained so much respect for him. I mean, Paddy is outstanding to watch. It’s electric when he’s performing and you’re actually in the room with him, let alone when he’s looking at you and he is King Viserys. It’s remarkable.
WALD: Can you tell me about any specific memorable scenes or anecdotes from filming that really encapsulate the project to you?
CAREY: Wow. Two moments spring to mind for very different reasons, the first one being the scene from one of the most recent episodes, when Otto has been dismissed as the Hand, and he’s warning Alicent as he leaves. And what we’ve seen with these characters, the Hightowers, between this father and daughter dynamic, is that whenever they should be saying they love each other or that they’re going to miss each other, it turns into an argument. But in this scene, they hug, which is strange, and both of them are very emotional, which again is strange. Alicent is suddenly being left to face the truth of this ugly world that they live in, and she’s being left in the hands of the men around her. But from my perspective, I think the scene that is very reminiscent of the show was the very beginning of episode one, the tourney. Every cast member talks about the tourney in interviews and says how fun it was to shoot because it was the first time the whole cast had gotten together as an ensemble. We had this big group scene, and the sequence went on for so long. I think it took a week or so to film, and it felt like one big dysfunctional family. And that is exactly what our show is about.
WALD: You weren’t able to speak to Olivia Cooke before she took on your role. If you were able to have a 30-minute conversation with her about your character, what you did, and who Alicent is, what do you think you would’ve said?
CAREY: Gosh. I mean, it was never that we weren’t able to talk. It was just that it never came to fruition. It was almost a choice from the creative team in the sense that 10 years is such a long time, it’s almost like we’re playing two completely different people. We didn’t really need to talk about where I was leaving it off and where she was picking it up, because 10 years is an incredibly long time. But that being said, it did feel weird to not talk to her. I would’ve taken it as an opportunity to get some security in what I was doing at the time, which now I know would not have been a good idea, so I’m kind of glad we didn’t have that time to chat about the character, because I think I would’ve just been anxiously picking her brain asking, “Am I doing okay, am I doing all right, am I doing the right thing?” But I would be so intrigued to see if Olivia would’ve played young Alicent in the same way that I did, to see if she read episodes one through five and imagined Alicent’s younger self, and whether I played it in the way that she’d imagined. Because I know as an actor when you read a character, you do think about their backstory, and you think about what happened to them to get them to the place that they’re in now. And for her, it must be strange to have it on paper but to not play it.
WALD: What was it like leaving the show and knowing that they’re still filming?
CAREY: We all filmed at the same time, so there’d be days I’d run into Olivia in the makeup trailer and it would be like, “Oh, this is weird. Hello.” But it’s a strange feeling leaving a character’s journey halfway through. I feel like Alicent’s story feels unfinished, because it is—which is why Olivia’s finishing it. But it’s an odd feeling. I wouldn’t say it’s an uncomfortable or sad feeling. Of course it’s bittersweet, but I’m just so excited to see what Olivia does. You never get to see yourself in 10 years. Obviously, and by yourself I mean the character I’m playing. I’m just excited to be able to watch the show and sit back and appreciate it for what it is rather than critique my own performance. It’s just an honor to be the younger version of Liv of all people. I’ve admired her for years.
WALD: Obviously, this experience and this casting is a huge career moment for you. What kind of doors is this opening up for you, and what do you have planned for the future?
CAREY: Acting-wise, there’s not a huge amount I can talk about just yet. But it’s all very exciting. It’s a lot of newness. I’m still slightly overwhelmed, but I have an incredible team. I have amazing friends and family who are keeping me grounded. I genuinely don’t know what’s coming next, which is quite nice. It’s been a whirlwind of an experience. But other than acting, I just got back from Milan literally yesterday. I’ve been exploring the fashion space, which is something I’ve never really had the privilege of doing before. It’s never been something that was accessible to me, so that’s very exciting. I keep saying exciting, but it’s a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing, so I’m just living my best life.
Photographer: Nathan Singh
Fashion Director: Brillant Nyansago
Stylist: Gregory Russill
Hair Stylist: Ben Talbott
Make-Up Artist: Emily Wood