House of the Dragon’s Emily Carey on feminism, friendship and how she overcame a mental health ‘struggle’ while filming

Hi Emily! Thanks for talking to me today, and congratulations on your starring role. How do you feel about joining the Games of Thrones universe?

I’ll be honest: it was petrifying, overwhelming and daunting. There have been a huge amount of tears! It’s completely going in blind, into the unknown. I had no idea what to expect from it: I was not a fan of Games of Thrones, which I think was a good thing in a way that I wasn’t freaking out in that sense. But of course everyone knows Game of Thrones. it’s just strange as an actor to come into a world that belongs to the fans already, rather than fans, flocking to something we, as actors, have created. If that makes sense. Everyone knows how mammoth and how huge it is, but I didn’t watch the show until we were in pre-production. I just think fantasy isn’t my genre, you know, I’m more of a cheeky romcom kind of gal, which isn’t, isn’t very Game of Thrones-y at all, but it was when I watched it that I was like, oh, I get it now. I get the hype. It’s so much more than dragons and stuff. It’s very grounded, truthful characters and the stories and themes that a modern audience can relate to. There’s so much more to it than what I thought it was. And hopefully this show will do the same thing and pull in more people.

What was your favourite thing about playing Alicent Hightower?

Alicent Hightower is very near and dear to my heart. Our brains function in similar ways, I think – we respond very emotionally. When we first meet her, she’s this anxious, nervous young girl… very much a people pleaser. She does this thing where she picks at her cuticles as a form of self-harm or stress relief. She is very internal. She’s best friends with Rhaenyra, who is the complete opposite to her. Rhaenyra is very external. She pushes things out. They process emotions differently and they perceive the world in very different ways, which is why I think they’re so close. Beause they’re constantly learning and taking things from one another and they balance each other out very well.

I wanted to ask you about the challenge of playing a younger version of a character. Because obviously you’ve done that before in previous roles, for instance in Tomb Raider – how did this experience compare?

Yes. I think this is my sixth or seventh “younger version of”! I just looked like a whole lot of people. It worked out great for me, you know? It’s an experience. This is so different to any sort of younger version I’ve done before. I mean, granted, a lot of my younger versions have been one scene or a flashback or a walk-on and this, I got to go a lot more in depth. The creative freedom that I had with the role was something that I’ve never had before. Like, in Wonder Woman, Gal Gadot, who played the older version of me, actually recorded my lines and then I had to learn how she spoke. I didn’t get to speak in my own way. I was strictly there to play a younger version. Whereas with this job, specifically, there are 10 years between me and Olivia Cooke (who plays the older version of Alicent). And so much happens within those 10 years. Circumstances change people – they push them around. You’ll see [Alicent and Rhaenyra] go from practically children into fully fledged adults as a whole lot of growing up to do in between then as well. It’s like we’re playing two completely different people. At the beginning of rehearsals, Millie and I were like, when are we going to meet Olivia and Emma [D’arcy, who plays the older version of Rhaenyra]. And it became clear that, for Miguel [Sapochnik, who directed the series] this was a choice, not just an accident, that we weren’t meeting. He liked that disconnect, which I think is interesting. We haven’t even read the episodes we’re not in, so I have no idea what happens. Obviously we never crossed over on set. So I have no idea what Olivia did with the role. And I’m just excited to see it as a viewer.