Many have ascended the Seven Kingdoms’ Iron Throne, the most prized seat of George R.R. Martin’s blockbuster A Song of Ice and Fire saga. But it is a station built on daggers, and few have lasted long; as the events of HBO’s Game of Thrones detailed.
The difference for Paddy Considine’s King Viserys is that the expiry date is built right in. He ascends the throne in the first episode of the prequel series House of the Dragon, which starts on HBO Sunday night. But given that the events of the show take place 200 years before those of Thrones, and that Thrones kicks off with Viserys’s Targaryen dynasty in shreds, we’re aware from the outset that things are likely to go horribly wrong.
Still, Game of Thrones assured us from the outset that nothing lasts forever, and yet it managed eight seasons of intrigue and dragons. George R.R. Martin & Ryan J. Condal’s prequel doubles down on both, as Viserys weathers various challengers to his dominion, including his brother Daemon [Matt Smith] and his cousin Rhaenys [Eve Best].
It is perhaps a surprising choice for Considine, best known for an accomplished career in British independent cinema, whose storied collaboration with director Shane Meadows yielded several celebrated features including Dead Man’s Shoes, and whose own accomplishments as a director, with the films Tyrannosaur and Journeyman, have been critically acclaimed. He was nominated for Olivier and Tony awards for his role in Jez Butterworth’s The Ferryman, directed by Sam Mendes, which played on Broadway and in London’s West End.
But if House of the Dragon is Considine’s highest profile role to date, it has been chosen with the same due care he has applied every choice he has made. He was sought out for the part by director and co-showrunner Miguel Sapochnik, who happened to catch the actor in the middle of his own burgeoning love affair with Game of Thrones. And in Viserys, Considine says, he found the King Lear of Westeros, a part too intriguing not to explore.
With the mildest of spoilers for only the first episode of the new show, Paddy Considine reveals that Viserys has all the qualities that make a good king; not that any of them matter to those trying to usurp his throne. He explains his attraction to the show, his hopes for its future, and the turning point in his career that made him fall in love—perhaps for the first time—with his chosen profession.
DEADLINE: Watching the first episode of House of the Dragon, there’s a sense of scale and grandeur that Game of Thrones took seasons of success to build to. Did it feel like the biggest set you’d ever stepped onto?
PADDY CONSIDINE: It did. I think we’re lucky in the fact that Game of Thrones has all gone before us. It started as a smallish, but ambitious show. And then it became epic. By the time Miguel [Sapochnik] was doing “Battle of the Bastards” [Season 6 Episode 9], it was mind-blowing to me, the scale. That was when I first thought the television landscape had changed, that this was cinema on a smaller screen. So we’re lucky to be able to pick up where Game of Thrones left off, and get all of that production value from the get-go.
The show isn’t a spin-off for me. It’s very much a part of the history of Westeros, and within the world of Game of Thrones. We haven’t tried to reinvent the wheel and there are no gimmicks and tricks. We’re just right back there.
DEADLINE: What’s your history with Thrones?
CONSIDINE: It’s a funny one, because I got sent the script for Game of Thrones very early on. My agent told me that HBO were making this show about dragons and different families and kingdoms and I was like, “Ah…” It wasn’t for a specific part; he said, “Just read it and see what clicks.” But I couldn’t get my head around it.
I think it’s a show that takes a little time to get into. For me, then watching the show, it wasn’t really until the Red Wedding [in “The Rains of Castamere”, Season 3 Episode 9] that there was a massive turning point. That’s when you realize nobody’s safe. After, of course, what happens in the first season with Sean Bean’s character.
So, I’d tried to watch it years ago, but I’m a bit terrible with being massively late to things. It takes me time to get into shows. And I didn’t get very far with it if I’m being completely honest. It wasn’t until lockdown that I gave it another shot, and it then became this weird synchronicity, because there I was getting massively into the show when the call came for House of the Dragon. They said, “Are you a fan of Game of Thrones?” And I said, “Well, it’s funny you should ask that.”
DEADLINE: You’d seen all of it by then?
CONSIDINE: Not quite. I probably played up to Miguel that I’d seen more than I had. But we did watch it all throughout lockdown, so I had seen enough to be able to call my wife and say, “I’ve just been offered the role of the king in the new Game of Thrones prequel,” and have it be exciting enough to impress her [laughs].
The last time I had an experience like that was with the first Lord of the Rings film. I was completely not into any of that fantasy stuff; I thought it was a bit lame. It’s funny with all this Stranger Things stuff, because [growing up] we had our own Eddie Munson, a guy called Gaz Ryan, and he was the Dungeons & Dragons maestro and into the heavy metal and all that; he was the one that would read all that stuff.
My bandmate Rich [from Considine’s band Riding the Low], and a couple of my other friends when I was a teenager, all read Lord of the Rings, but I was more into Stephen King, and I was like, “I can’t be bothered to read that shit.” It seemed like hard work to me. So, I went to watch the film, not cynically, but just along for the ride. And I was absolutely blown away by it. I couldn’t believe it. It was transformative. That’s how it felt getting into Game of Thrones.
DEADLINE: House of the Dragon is based on a kind of in-universe history of Westeros that George R.R. Martin published as Fire & Blood.
CONSIDINE: Yeah, it’s written through the eyes of a dwarf character called Mushroom, who’s a court jester. There’s actually a banquet scene in House of the Dragon, and I messaged Ryan Condal and said, “Ryan, can we stick Mushroom in there somewhere?” I was fighting every minute to find an excuse to include Mushroom. But yeah, it’s written through his eyes.
In truth for me, I never read the books, but my friend gave me a massive compendium that had all the histories in. He knew more about my character than I did. When I told him who I was playing, he said, “Oh yeah, he rode Balerion, he did this, he did that.” So, he gave me this book and it was a great reference. And then we’ve got Ryan, who’s an encyclopedia of the world himself.
DEADLINE: It sounds like you’re getting quite into the myth and mythos.
CONSIDINE: You know what, I’m not a massive geek on it, but it has drawn me in. I’ve been offered so much stuff like this in the past and not done it, but it’s not because I’ve never wanted to. Years ago, there was interest in me to do an epic Ridley Scott film, but there was nothing in it for me. I thought, If I’m going to be in the desert for months on end with a sword and a spear, there’s got to be something for me to do. I get a lot of calls that are all very exciting, with great casts, great people involved. Then I get the script and I go, “But anybody can play this. This isn’t something that’s bringing out my stregths.” Even something like The Bourne Ultimatum, which I did do. It was a great thing to be a part of, but anybody could have played that part to be honest.
So, there’s a lot of that in my history, of me turning things down because I couldn’t see the point. When I got this interest and I was going to be playing the king, I was very flattered, but in my mind, I was thinking, This is going to be another one of those. I asked my agent, “Are you sure this is for me?” And he said, “No, they’re not going to anybody else; this is just you.”
The difference is Viserys is an amazing character. I saw a beautiful, fully fleshed-out creation. George R.R. Martin has described him as the King Lear of the Thrones world, and I was really intrigued by that because it was an opportunity to play a great character. That was all I really needed to get on board.
DEADLINE: From the first episode, Viserys seems like a decent, fair and even-handed king. In Westeros, I’m not sure that’s going to be great for him.
CONSIDINE: He is a good king, a good man. The show would imply he was chosen because he was the male, and Rhaenys was passed over for being a woman. But I think he was chosen for his qualities; he’s a scholar and Jaehaerys before him had been a peaceful king. He’s chosen, I think, for his temperament, because he understands that he’s the king of the Westerosi, and he has a respect for it. He has some understanding of the politics and what it means to be a king. But, of course, the struggle of being a peaceful king is probably 10 times harder than being a tyrant, because the toll is greater.
I think Viserys’s failing is that he’s just a good man that wants the best for everybody. He sees the good in everybody, but he also understands the corruption around him. He understands that nobody is to be trusted. It’s something he reveals in his speech in the first episode, when he tells her that the throne is the most dangerous seat in the whole realm. That tells me Viserys is no fool. He’s not a pushover. He knows what he’s doing. And kindness is within him, but it’s also a front to something else.
One of the things I spoke a lot to Miguel about was when I needed to put the dragon into him. It’s alright being a nice and jolly king, but he is a dragon at the end of the day. He has to have that inside him. He’s somebody who believes so much that it costs him the life of his first wife in the opening episode. His pursuit of an heir costs him the love of his life, and it’s something he carries with him the rest of his days. It’s not only the weight of choosing Rhaenyra to be his heir in a world in which they don’t want women in the line of succession, though they clearly don’t. I think he’s forced to, for many different reasons. It’s not a decision he takes lightly; it’s one he toils with. But I think he trusts his instincts, and when he looks at Rhaenyra he sees his wife; she’s what’s left, this living person they created.
He’s also carrying this other secret, which is a mythical dream that affects the future of all mankind in Westeros. In Episode 1 he tells Rhaenyra about the dream and the duty she’s going to have. That there will be storms 200 years in the future [the events of Game of Thrones], and that winter is coming. That if a Targaryen isn’t seated on the Iron Throne when it does, the world of men will fall.
It’s an interesting aspect to him as well, because he’s carrying around this mythical feeling. It shows he’s not just a logical king; he’s buying into that mysticism as well. The notion that this dream could save the world from death and destruction.
It’s something he could never reveal to Daemon. He’s too unruly. As brothers, they’re complete opposites. I think Viserys loves his brother, but he finds him difficult to be around. He’s troublesome and he’s always making excuses for his behavior. It comes to a point where enough is enough. I think that’s another brilliant strand of Viserys’s character; the family dynamic between him, Daemon and Rhaenyra.
DEADLINE: It feels like the love between Viserys and Daemon might only go in one direction.
CONSIDINE: Well, I think Daemon adores his brother, personally. I think that’s part of Daemon’s problem, in fact, is that he wants him to be his big brother.
DEADLINE: But he also wants his throne?
CONSIDINE: I’m not sure he does. Viserys even says he doesn’t want the throne; he’s not interested in. He’s too unruly for it.
DEADLINE: I thought that might have been wishful thinking on Viserys’s part.
CONSIDINE: No, I think Viserys believes that; believes that it wouldn’t interest Daemon to be king. He couldn’t sit in that chamber and suffer the fools all day long. It’d drive him mad.
DEADLINE: It’s a shame because Matt Smith has the perfect stance for sitting on the Iron Throne. He gives it a try in the first episode. You can’t sit normally on that throne; you have to project a certain swagger.
CONSIDINE: It’s a complete disregard for the establishment from him [laughs].
DEADLINE: Your Iron Throne stance is a good deal more measured. You look uncomfortable on it.
CONSIDINE: It’s not an easy thing to sit on, to be honest with you. It’s a throne made of swords; it’s not a thing of comfort. As the king, I tried to avoid those kingly cliches of the hand gestures, but there’s a certain way he sits on that throne. And it changes during the season, by the way. I could show you some real spoilers if I dug into my phone [laughs].
It’s not a lounge chair; it’s a throne. Viserys understands that you have to treat it with respect. And he’s been groomed for it. It’s like the difference between Prince William and Prince Harry, let’s say. Viserys would never be slovenly on that throne. He knows what that seat means and what being a ruler means. Over the season, you see the effect that throne has on him, mentally and physically.
DEADLINE: The throne room has been given a redesign for this show. It’s even grander than it used to be. What was the feeling like, first clocking eyes on it?
CONSIDINE: It was a big moment for me, actually. I think I might have been in full costume when I first walked onto that set; it was definitely a shooting day, at least. I stopped myself from wandering in on a day off. I did go past the workshop one day while it was being built, and so I went and had a bit of a look at them building it. But when I went to the set, I went in with purpose, and I did have a moment of awe. Miguel came up to me and said, “How do you feel about the throne?” I was amazed by it. I got up and sat down on it, and it was an unbelievable feeling. It wasn’t a powerful feeling. I just felt honored to be in that seat.
DEADLINE: I don’t want any spoilers, but I think it’s probably fair to say that in the world of Westeros there are very few guarantees of life, and this is a show all about the succession of kings, which means at some point you’re going to be succeeded. Have you thought much about that; about how limited your time on that throne might be?
CONSIDINE: Well, yeah, but I can’t reveal anything [laughs]. Because yes, it is all about succession. Reading the script, you could take that a couple of different ways. Richard III was a little bit what I went for in my head. Not in terms of a particular framework for the character, but in terms of how I wanted to treat the material with the same respect you’d approach Shakespeare. Why not? You can’t play the game of thrones yourself. I have one duty, and that’s to play Viserys with as much honesty as I can, and with as much commitment as possible. I saw the beautiful tragedy in him, and the complexities.
I remember when we did the readthrough—which is an awful experience anyway, where you just think you’re going to be fired any minute—Miguel said to me, “You need to put more Paddy into this.” Whatever he meant by that, I never asked him, but I interpreted it as, OK, you’ve just given me license to really own this, and imbue it with everything I can. And that’s what I did, and I loved him for saying that.
Years ago, I did a bit of workshopping with Anthony Minghella, working on a character in a strange scenario, because the part had already been cast with another actor. Even people at the studio were going, “Why are you meeting this guy?” Meaning, me. It caused a bit of a storm.
DEADLINE: Which film?
CONSIDINE: It was for Breaking and Entering, with Jude Law. So, it was already cast, and I didn’t understand why Anthony was taking this time with me. I don’t know, he just seemed to have some sort of fascination after seeing me in Dead Man’s Shoes. But for me, it was great to just get to spend some time with this brilliant director and workshop some stuff. I was never right for whatever role he had in mind—even if it hadn’t already been cast—but I really enjoyed the experience.
Anyway, he said to me one day, “Do you love this character?” And I went, “No. I don’t. I can’t connect with him. I don’t love him.” He said, “Then you can’t play him. You need to love him.”
I walked away from that experience thinking, What a load of bollocks, you don’t have to love every character you play, that’s bullshit. But it’s like, no, you do. You do, because if I look back at all the work I’ve done, the best of it, the most interesting, has been when I’ve fully loved the character I’m playing. When I’ve fully believed in that person. So, he was right. All of the characters I’ve played that I feel I’ve imbued with anything interesting, it was because I loved them.
DEADLINE: Does that count even if, for example, you disagree with a character’s choices?
CONSIDINE: Yes, you’ve still got to love them. Because they’re not your choices; that’s what you have to distinguish. I experienced that as a director, when I worked with Olivia [Colman] on Tyrannosaur. There were scenes she just couldn’t get her head around, and I had to speak to her one day and say, “These aren’t your beliefs; they’re hers.” It was a great lesson for me as well, because a lot of actors try to bend things around to their own way of thinking and their own principles, and that’s not the point. You can imbue it with certain qualities you have, but at the end of the day, how you react to something is very different from how I would react to something.
It ends up being liberating, because earlier on in my career, I used to feel like I had to invest every character with some kind of personal experience, or true emotion that I’d felt—which came, I think, because I had no training or real understanding of the craft. Whereas you learn that’s not the case and it liberates you and means you can do a lot more than you could before.
DEADLINE: From the outset, you’ve taken your career in many different directions. You’ve become an accomplished writer and director. You made your West End and Broadway debut in The Ferryman a couple of years ago, and it was your first play. Is your passion for it the same as it ever was?
CONSIDINE: Do you know, it isn’t. It’s weird with me, Joe, because I never came into acting in a conventional way. I don’t think I had that sort of passion for it that other people talk about. To me, it was more of a challenge. It’s hard for me to explain it. But I had a strange relationship with acting; maybe a love/hate relationship with it. And a lot of it came from me thinking I wasn’t good enough.
Doing The Ferryman was a very important step for me. It was a little like going to school, and I learned so much from it. I think I probably learned more about the craft doing that play than I had ever known before. It’s important to have an experience like that in any line of work, but I would go out on a limb and say that I’m passionate about acting now in a way I never was when I started out.
It wasn’t that I was lazy about it; I committed to A Room for Romeo Brass and In America and all those earlier films. It’s just that I started to do a lot of work that floated in the middle just to make a living, and they were things I didn’t really want to do. There’s this reputation around me, I think, where it’s, “Oh, he makes really big choices,” and it’s like, sometimes I’ve just got to go to work, and I don’t want to play someone’s fucking dad, I want to play the King of Westeros.
I think part of my frustration was that I didn’t feel like I was being seen. I was making my own films and doing plays and things like that, but if anything I feel like I’ve finally arrived at a certain point where I feel there’s so much untapped potential. I had to learn that over time. I had to learn how to be an actor and stop being so fucking critical of myself. Learn to just tell the story. The Ferryman taught me that, to just go up there and tell the fucking story. It’s not you versus the audience. There’s nothing to prove. You just have to tell the story. And that liberated me a lot.
DEADLINE: Knowing you a little, it feels like so many of the challenges you’ve taken on have come from a place of wanting to leap into the work and commit to figuring out how to succeed. It’s a fantastic attitude, but the risk with it is that the more you figure out, the less exciting each new challenge starts to feel. It sounds like you’ve started to work out how to maintain that level of excitement even if the challenges you’re facing aren’t new ones.
CONSIDINE: Yeah, exactly. And also, I think there’s a danger that you come to hate the work. You come to hate this thing, and that’s not healthy. You feel trapped. I think for a time I felt trapped by it. I had a wife and children. I had responsibilities. I’m thinking to myself, It’s not their fucking fault that you chose this path and gave them this life. But I felt trapped by acting, like I was going to forever be the guy in the green coat [in Dead Man’s Shoes]. That used to play in my mind a lot. It’s not taking anything away from that particular film, because it had such an incredible impact for me and for people out there who saw it. It’s up there with some of the greatest stuff they’ve ever seen. I hear that, but for me as an artist, there’s something about me that wants to try to surpass it in a way. And when you don’t… It feels like maybe that’s wrong; maybe I should be like, “That was one thing, and then we move on and find other things.”
DEADLINE: I think both things can be true. You can take your shot with the idea of surpassing the unsurpassable and be OK with simply creating a different thing that might also become unsurpassable.
CONSIDINE: Yeah, I think so too, now. But I think if I didn’t care about acting, I wouldn’t have put my arse on the fucking stage in the West End and gone through that, and then took that same thing onto a Broadway stage. If I didn’t care about what I was doing, I wouldn’t be doing that, that’s for sure. I was terrified.
DEADLINE: You worked with Sam Mendes on that.
CONSIDINE: That was Sam, yeah. Another great man. I will forever be indebted to him for what he did for me because I was not in a great place when I started that job. It was another danger job. I kept looking back at my life, and there’d be certain interviews where I was in a bad place. I was always in a bad place. I’m thinking, Is that going to be the story of my life? That I’m always in a bad place?
DEADLINE: Everyone ends up there some of the time. It’s unavoidable and it’s human nature. The difference is you’ve been honest about it. You haven’t put on a front.
CONSIDINE: I think sometimes it sounds like I whinge too much [laughs]. Because the truth is, what I do is considered to be a very privileged thing, and there are so many people out there who would happily step into your shoes. Well, these are my shoes, man. This is my fucking journey, and I’ll do it the way I have to do it.
The truth of it is there’s no arrival. It never arrives how you think it will. Wherever you think you’ll get when you set out, you always end up somewhere else. But you’ve just got to go along for the ride.
I remember watching that Bob Dylan documentary, and he said, “A true artist should never have a sense that they’ve arrived, they should always be in a state of becoming.” That’s true of everything. There’s no fucking arrival, man.