Look carefully at King Viserys I Targaryen in House of the Dragon, and atop that famous face of Paddy Considine, the silver-blonde hair should be just as recognisable. One of the many allusions to Game of Thrones before it, it’s exactly the same colour as his descendant, the most prominent member of the Targaryen family so far, Daenerys.
“When we were finding the colour, they had her hairpiece and the shade was worked from that, and it became mine,” he tells me. “So there’s this little nod in the DNA of where she got her wonderful hair from.”
But rather than his hair, it’s his heir that takes centre stage in this prequel of Game of Thrones, the TV behemoth that made fantasy buffs out of tens of millions of us, ignited the screen industry in Northern Ireland, and delivered the most shoehorned-in cameo, courtesy of Ed Sheeran.
Centuries before Daenerys launches her claim for the all-important Iron Throne, the tension in the House of the Dragon similarly centres on who will succeed Viserys as ruler of Westeros (demonstrating that history does indeed repeat itself).
While Viserys chooses his eldest offspring Rhaenyra (played by Emma D’Arcy) as his successor, his second wife, Lady Alicent Hightower (Olivia Cooke), believes their son Aegon (Tom Glynn-Carney) is the rightful King. So begins the dance of the dragons, the bitter battle that divides House Targaryen — and Westeros — into warring factions.
“He’s trying to do the right thing. He’s a good man but I don’t think he’s fully cut out to be a king,” says Considine of his character. “He’s also carrying a massive secret that has implications 200 years in the future. He has this knowledge of a dream, which he has to pass on to his heir, and it’s a very serious thing. So he’s carrying all these different weights.”
I’d been offered things in the past in epic movies, but there was nothing really for me to do. I was offered a Marvel series, and I couldn’t even find the character in the script
Since the TV series only uses the source books — in this case, George RR Martin’s 2018 novel Fire & Blood — as a guide rather than a bible, we’ve yet to see whether Viserys’s role runs a scene or a series.
In a surprise to no one, home preview screenings are so closely guarded that they aren’t sent out in advance of our chat. But 48-year-old Considine, a softly-spoken, salt-of-the-earth type, assures that it’s a meaty role.
“I’d been offered things in the past in epic movies, but there was nothing really for me to do. I was offered a Marvel series, and I couldn’t even find the character in the script.
“So when I first got into a conversation about House of the Dragon, I was anticipating a couple of scenes here and there and that was pretty much it. But it wasn’t. There was a great, great role there, and I saw a lot of really great qualities in this character.”
Considine learned he got the job in Ireland, in the middle of filming Wolf, the arthouse film also starring George MacKay and Lily-Rose Depp. “I just assumed that I’d be moving to Northern Ireland for a year. I know Game of Thrones was a massive Northern Irish production and it was buzzing there for years, giving a lot of work to a lot of people. But this time, 90 per cent of it was shot in the Warner Studios in Leavesden. I got to go to Spain for a day, Cornwall for a bit, and that was about it.”
The reason, according to NI Screen chief executive Richard Williams, was that “Northern Ireland was not in a position to deliver, in location and other ways, on what was required”.
It was a shame for Considine, especially given his Irish roots: his mother’s father was born in Dublin but moved to Inverness in Scotland at a young age, and his father was from Limerick. “I’m loath to do one of them Who Do You Think You Ares, because God knows what I’ll unearth,” he says. “I’ll probably find out that my grandad was a bare-knuckle fighter or something crazy like that.”
Considine’s fractious relationship with his father has been a loose theme in his career, in which acting is only one strand. The theme is found in Tyrannosaur, the powerful drama starring Peter Mullan and Olivia Colman that he wrote and directed — which earned him an award for Best Director at Sundance — and in The Death of Gobsh*te Rambo, the latest and third album from his band Riding the Low. (A vanity project it is not — we speak soon after the band have returned from playing at Glastonbury, and they’ve already been invited back next year.)
It sounds really silly but I just didn’t know how to approach work ... I didn’t know how to live the life of an actor
Growing up as the second youngest of six children in Staffordshire, where he still lives with his partner since their teenage years and their three children, his household was far from creative; neither his father nor mother worked and he looks back on his childhood as “chaotic”.
After a canny teacher enrolled him in a drama group at school, at 17 he took a drama course at Burton College, which, serendipitously, is where he met now-Bafta-winning director Shane Meadows. They formed something of a creative partnership that resulted in their first critically acclaimed piece, A Room for Romeo Brass, and later, in 2004, Dead Man’s Shoes, which Considine co-wrote with Meadows, and for which he won his first major acting awards.
Since then his work has varied wildly, swinging from high-profile projects such as playing the lead in Jim Sheridan’s In America, to music videos for Coldplay and the Arctic Monkeys, to TV roles such as the title part in ITV’s The Suspicions of Mr Whicher. But his natural domain is indie films, having appeared in 24 Hour Party People, Richard Ayoade’s Submarine, both Hot Fuzz and The World’s End, and Journeyman — the critically acclaimed drama about a boxer with a brain injury which he wrote, directed and starred in.
All this under his belt, yet Considine is open about the fact it was only in 2017, in Jez Butterworth’s multi-award-winning play The Ferryman (centred around The Troubles), that he became confident in his acting abilities. Through the act of improving by repeating his role almost every day for months on end, he realised the root of his impostor syndrome was his lack of formal training or a mentor to show him the way.
“It sounds really silly but I just didn’t know how to approach work,” he says. “I didn’t have an example, so I didn’t know how to live the life of an actor. I didn’t know about techniques of learning and breaking down scripts and how much work you have to do at home.
“But it was also about dealing with insecurities and fears — you have to learn to let them go because they stop you from reaching your potential.
“I felt like for years I’d been apologising for being an actor. I felt like I was shit in everything. Then you get the culture we have now, where people can’t wait to comment on how crap you are. I got sucked into that for a little bit. But then I couldn’t believe that I was fragile enough that some random person’s comment could make me not want to watch my own work any more.”
So the prolific role of Viserys “came at exactly the right time”, given House of the Dragon is arguably the most anticipated TV series in history, and Game of Thrones fans are no wallflowers, as proved by the backlash to its haphazard ending.
“I had a really straight head about [the pressure and the expectation] early on,” he says. “I’m well aware we’re walking into something that’s well established and became a global phenomenon. We served it as best we could. But I can’t carry Game of Thrones on my shoulders and neither can the others, it’s not fair.
“So I just put that out of the picture. There’s nothing I can do. I’ve just got to turn up and play King Viserys and do the best possible version I can do. I gave it my heart and my soul, and whether people like what I’ve done is entirely up to them.”
As wise as that approach may be, he’s still preparing for negative comments, and aware that memes have already started popping up based on preview pictures and video clips.
“There’s a great fan base out there, there’s some horrible bastards who want it to fail, and there are others who are only critical because they want it to be good.
“But I checked out of all of it when the news broke that I was cast, and I was getting comments on my Instagram about how so-and-so should have been cast. I was like ‘I haven’t even uttered a f**king line yet. You’ve got no clue what I’m going to do with this character so just sit your arse down and f**king wait’.
House of the Dragon is the first Game of Thrones spin-off to come out of the traps, but there are other pilot projects in the works. The Sea Snake centres around the title character of Corlys Velaryon, who we’ll meet in House of the Dragon as played by Steve Toussaint. There’s reportedly a sequel following Jon Snow’s story, which sees Kit Harrington reprise his role, and there’s an animated series with the working title of The Golden Empire. Elsewhere, the Nymeria series, 10,000 Ships is set a millennium before the events of Game of Thrones.
For now, for better and for worse, all eyes are on House of the Dragon and the King whose succession is the central conflict. And at long last, Considine is comfortable with that. “I’m really enjoying acting at the minute,” he says. “The impostor syndrome has dropped away now. I really feel like, enough of that. It’s time to grow up and move on with it all.”
House of the Dragon airs on Monday August 22nd on Sky Atlantic and streaming service NOW