House of the Dragon_Credit HBO

Source: HBO

‘House Of The Dragon’

Viserys Targaryen is much more than the king of Westeros. He is a complex man, perhaps one of the most nuanced and relatable seen yet in HBO’s ongoing adaptations of Game Of Thrones author George RR Martin’s fantasy novels. But, for Paddy Considine, the actor who played him across nine epic episodes of House Of The Dragon, Viserys was a career-saver.

“He was a gift to me,” says Considine, Zooming from a home office in which a Funko Pop! figure of his platinum-haired monarch, sat atop his own little Iron Throne, looks down from a shelf. “The timing couldn’t have been better. I felt I had a point to prove by playing Viserys. I feel like everything’s passed me by somehow. I’m stuck being the guy in the green coat from Dead Man’s Shoes [the 2004 revenge thriller Considine starred in and co-wrote with director Shane Meadows]. I can’t shake that. Love the film, loved the work, but there comes a point where you say, ‘I’m capable of so much more.’ So this job meant a lot to me.”

Considine relates how, a few years ago, having earned a reputation as one of the most impressive actors on the UK indie scene in films such as Pawel Pawlikowski’s Last Resort, Jim Sheridan’s In America and Matthew Warchus’s Pride, he went for a regal role in another big production. “No. We could never see you as a king,” he was told. “You have to deal with that crap all the time,” Considine sighs.

Game Of Thrones prequel House Of The Dragon represents the prestigious conclusion to an HBO series hat-trick for the 49-year-old, following prominent parts in Steph­en King adaptation The Outsider and folk horror The Third Day, both from 2020. Considine does not hide his gratitude to the network. “Those three projects couldn’t have been any more different,” he says, “and I’ve got to thank [HBO] because they believed in me as an actor enough to give me those roles.”

Given Considine’s indie credentials, bolstered by a pair of impressive directing efforts — 2011’s Tyrannosaur and 2017’s Journeyman — it might be read that his UK-focused career is due to a sense of creative integrity. Or that his only substantial role in a Hollywood production — way back in Ron Howard’s 2005 boxing drama Cinderella Man, alongside Russell Crowe — may have put him off larger-scale projects. Not so, he insists.

“I never had any prejudice against acting anywhere. It was not like I only wanted to stay in these little British films. If I get offered a part in Cinderella Man, I get to work with Ron Howard. That’s an absolute treat! I adore Ron Howard. You want a seat at the table with some of the filmmakers you respect. I’d love to wake up in the morning and think, ‘I’m going to work today with Guillermo del Toro,’ for example. But I was never at that table, or in those conversations.”

However, during the initial press drive for House Of The Dragon, Considine admitted something which seemingly contradicts the above narrative: that he turned down the original series of Game Of Thrones. Not so. “I didn’t turn it down, okay,” he says with a smile. “I have to frame this correctly… I was sent the script for the first couple of episodes. I wasn’t familiar then with Game Of Thrones and my agent said, ‘It’s a fantasy thing and there’s dragons.’ I said, ‘Okay, but what’s the part?’ And he went, ‘See what takes your fancy.’ So it was all a bit vague.

“Unless somebody says, ‘It’s this part specifically,’ then I can read it with intent. But when it’s just, ‘Whatever takes your fancy,’ I’m a bit scattered. I couldn’t get my head around all these Starks and Baratheons. I just thought, this ain’t for me. Who am I supposed to be? So that was it. But it all paved the way for Viserys.”

Flawed character

It is hard now to imagine Considine ever playing any of Martin’s other characters, and his affection for the beleaguered Targaryen monarch, whose health declines tragically over the course of the decades-­spanning season, could not be more evident.

“He’s a flawed character, but he’s a good person trying to do his best in that world,” says Considine. “That was interesting to me — that he wasn’t somebody who’s corrupted by power or by entitlement.” Co-­showrunner Miguel Sapochnik, he adds, had a mantra for Viserys: “‘Good man, bad king.’ But I don’t know if he was a bad king. He was just too human, too emotional to be a king in that world. But he was a good king in that the minute he passed, everything went to shit.”

Playing Viserys in his twilight days, when the physical rot took hold, proved an intense challenge for the actor, who was primarily inspired by Canadian street artist Richard Hambleton and the way cancer affected him towards the end of his life. “I sent a picture of him to Miguel and said, ‘That’s Viserys.’ It was really great, because I got to be the Hunchback of Notre Dame. I got to be the Elephant Man. I got to be the Phantom of the Opera. All these different characters I’d loved and admired over the years.”

However, embracing that gnarled posture took its toll, especially when shooting Viserys’s painfully long walk to the throne in the season’s eighth episode. “I thought, ‘I’m going to fucking take my time. I don’t care if it takes 20 minutes to get to that throne,’” recalls Considine. “But then you’ve got to do it a hundred times, so by the end of it my hip went. And I kept snapping walking sticks. I thought, ‘Well done, mate, what a choice. You’ve absolutely done yourself in here!’”

But it was worth it. The highest praise Considine received for his torturous commitment was from Martin himself. “I got a message saying, ‘Your Viserys is better than my Viserys.’ For him to say, ‘Now I want to go back and rewrite it’ — there’s no higher compliment.”

Considine confesses to some disappointment that, given Viserys’s definitive demise, he will not be returning to Westeros along with co-stars Matt Smith, Emma D’Arcy, Olivia Cooke and Rhys Ifans. Especially as his planned next project, a biopic of boxer ‘Prince’ Naseem Hamed (in which he was set to play trainer Brendan Ingle), has fallen through, because “some financing fell out of it. I’m in this sort of no man’s land at the minute with no job.”

He has no plans to direct again, either, admitting that his experience on Journeyman made him feel “like a bit of a failure” and “put me into a bit of a spiral of depression”. Still, Considine is keeping himself creatively stimulated through his rock band Riding The Low who have “a lot of gigs” lined up. “I don’t really write films anymore, but I’m constantly making music,” he says.

Considine may never be returning as Viserys, but he will always appreciate what Viserys has done for him. “I feel with that experience and that character I’ve been able to put a few ghosts to rest and move on,” he says. “That’s why I have such affection for that character. [Before House Of The Dragon] I just felt stuck. But with Viserys, I was able to climb to the top of the mountain and stick a flag at the top with my head on it, and go, ‘I’m fucking here. If you don’t see me now, you never will.’” The king is dead. Long live the king.