House of the Dragon star Emily Carey has been winning praise for her role as young Alicent Hightower in the Game of Thrones prequel series, navigating the tricky role of the Hand of the King’s teenage daughter who is maneuvered into wedding the king himself — a man at least twice (possibly thrice) her age.
The 19-year-old actress says one of her biggest challenges making the HBO fantasy hit paralleled her character’s greatest emotional difficulty during the tale’s opening run of episodes — navigating a romantic relationship with Viserys Targaryen (played by Paddy Considine, who is 49, though his character is made to appear far older as the season progresses). And since Carey was raised by a single mother, she also had to chart new emotional territory to forge a connection with Alicent’s father, Ser Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans).
“As an actor, personally, in full transparency, I struggled with Alicent’s relationships with her dad and Viserys,” Carey says. “I don’t have an equivalent in real life. I don’t have a dad. And I also have never had a romantic interest — especially not with an older man. So to navigate those relationships and the journeys that those individual relationships go on was super challenging. As actors, we bring a lot of ourselves to the people that we play. I want it to be as grounded and as truthful as possible. But especially when it’s put into a world and dialect you don’t normally speak in, you can feel very far removed from the characters. Of course, none of it’s real and as actors we love to step out of our comfort zones. I enjoyed it. It was a lot of fun trying to navigate those relationships. But it was difficult at times, I’ll be honest.”
That said, Carey emphasized, “For the most part, I had the best experience and I wouldn’t change a thing.”
Carey further noted to Newsweek that the show’s intimate scenes “scared” her, but the use of an intimacy coordinator on set made her feel comfortable. “Still being 17 [when cast], the first scene that I read from the show was my sex scene and my intimacy scenes, that includes the scene where I’m bathing the king … In the rehearsal room, [the coordinator] was a massive help and on set she was a massive help. Yeah, it was a lot easier than I thought it was going to be.”
The English actress has been working since she was just 8 years old and appeared in various roles in the London theater before playing young Diana Prince (a.k.a. Wonder Woman) in the 2017 DC film Wonder Woman and then played a young Lara Croft in the 2018 Tomb Raider reboot. “I seem to have made a niche for myself playing ‘the younger version,’” she quips. “Apparently, I looked like a lot of people — or I’m just very moldable.” She also starred in the 2020 fantasy film Anastasia: Once Upon a Time.
Carey’s physical similarity to Olivia Cooke — who takes over the role of Alicent Hightower partway through the first season of Dragon — is rather uncanny in the series. Carey had been repeatedly told she looked a bit like the Ready Player One actress before she landed the Dragon role, and when Cooke debuts onscreen later this season, the two look so similar it actually takes a few moments to realize the actors have changed.
“But the main thing was, watching her work, our acting styles are actually very similar, which is something I think [showrunners Ryan Condal and Miguel Sapochnik] had clocked,” Carey says. “The main thing they were looking for was just that we could make the same choices and perform the same character. But it was certainly intimidating because I admire Olivia as an actor and a person, so I was just excited to be in the mix for it.”
Like her co-star Milly Alcock, who plays Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen, Carey was surprised and excited to see how much screen time Dragon was devoting to Alicent and Rhaenyra before the other actors take over the roles. “I think it was really important for Miguel and Ryan to show the origin story of how these women came to be the women that [fans of author George R.R. Martin’s book Fire & Blood] know,” she says. “You need to see a significant amount of how Milly and I interact to actually find that journey. You see also see their relationships with the people around them and the world and it all contributes to this journey of seeing how they become the women that people love — or hate — depending on your personal opinion.”
Alicent, in particular, is a character that’s eventually perceived as a Cersei Lannister-like villain by the book’s readers. Carey hopes that her time as young Alicent helps humanize the character .
While the first six Dragon episodes shown to critics march relentlessly forward in chronological order — with plenty of time jumps spread throughout — one can’t help but wonder, given the popularity of Alcock and Carey’s takes on Rhaenyra and Alicent, if they’ll perhaps somehow appear again in season 2.
“It’s been spoken about, conversations have happened, but, in all honesty, I know absolutely nothing and I have no idea,” Carey says. “Of course, I would love to come back. It depends on how it’s received and where they want take the show next. I’m just going with the flow!”