Features | Written by Andrew Dex 14/11/2022

Gavin Spokes | HOUSE OF THE DRAGON

And just like that, Season One of House of the Dragon has ended! After the brutal first episode, fans were completely gripped, and before they knew it, it was all over. So if you were left eagerly wanting more, then we have something special to temporarily fill that dragon shaped void. Ahead of his appearance at London Comic Con STARBURST caught up with actor Gavin Spokes to reflect on his time as Lord Lyonel Strong in an unpredictability savage season, whilst discussing what it was like to work alongside such a fantastic cast!” **SPOILERS AHEAD**

 

STARBURST: How did you initially get involved with House of the Dragon?

Gavin Spokes: It was about March 2021, and a scipt came through for a new HBO series, and the working title was called “Red Gun”, and it didn’t give too much information, apart from a vague outline of a character, and then I did a self-tape with some dummy sides, so you get like a version of an old script, probably from series two or three of Thrones or something. I sent a self-tape off, and they liked it, and then I did a recall over Zoom actually, with Kate Rhodes-James the casting director, for about an hour and a half. I thought I’ll probably have to have another audition, because the showrunners would want to talk to me, if they like me, because this is a massive job. Then two days later I got offered the job. It was quite a whirlwind, it was like a two week window really. From the first self-tape to the offer. I think I was cast quite late by comparison to a lot of the other guys.

What was that exciting atmosphere like to work in?

 

It is a bit mad actually, once you’re in the bubble, and you’re working on it at the studios, it doesn’t have that kind of secrecy, because you can stand outside having a cup of tea, outside one of the studios, and then you see people another movie walking past you, and it has that strange thing of like this, everyone is having a tea break, or they’ve gone out for a cigarette, and everybody is dressed up as a gladiator or whatever, and it’s all a bit strange and surreal. But yeah I couldn’t tell people for a long time until it was announced. I probably had about six months on the job where I couldn’t really tell people. But a lot of people kind of go “Ah I think I know what you’re doing! You’re learning to horse ride!”

How much did you know about the books or even the Game of Thrones show before joining House of the Dragon?

I hadn’t read any of the books, I subsequently read a bit of Fire and Blood, mainly the sort of stuff relating to Lord Strong. I hadn’t binged Thrones, but I watched the first series and then I kind of left it for a few years, not sort of deliberately because I was working and doing other stuff, and then I kind of came back to it later and watched probably another two or three series. And then I didn’t go back to it, again, not because I didn’t want to, but it just didn’t come round. I think I didn’t have Sky at that time, and I didn’t have a DVD player, I think I got rid of it. And then, when I got offered the job I was like “Oh that’s 80 hours of TV I need to catch up on”, so I did catch up with most of it.

Was there anything you really wanted to bring or see from Lord Strong?

I think it was quite clear, from what Miguel Sapochnik and Ryan Condal discussed with me, that they really wanted this man to be just decent, because there aren’t many decent people in that world. I mean there are a lot of people who believe they are being decent, and believe their actions are just and correct, but I think they really wanted his moral compass to be very straight. Probably a bit of a traditionalist at the start of the series when he says “You can’t have a queen sitting on the iron throne” but he has loyalty to the king. He believes in tradition. I very much kind of saw him as an officer in the British army, who is one of these loyal guys that doesn’t question the prime minister for taking on a bizarre war, in some poor country that is going to get done over. He just is a very moralistic person on his beliefs really.

He seems to be one of the most grounded characters in the entire show, he feels quite safe?

Yeah he is safe. Little to be said for one of his sons, and his other son actually! He is definitely straight, I think that was the thing. We did get that from the books as well, and George R. R. Martin had said he is a very straight guy, and very intelligent. So that was nice. But yes he had deviancies in his past, he has had a few ladies, and there are several children knocking around, it’s not just the two boys.

Perfect! So, what memories do you have from the first day of filming House of the Dragon?

I wouldn’t know where to start, if I’m honest! It was the most incredible day I’ve had in the business. It was an early pickup. I had already been in for a couple of rehearsals, which were actually probably more terrifying, because they were the first times that I properly met Miguel and Ryan, and some of the producers, and some of the other actors. Then my first day was the scene when we are discussing the succession in episode one, and I’m quite vehemently saying “You can’t put a woman on the throne”, and I was sat opposite Paddy Considine (King Viserys) and Rhys Ifans (Otto Hightower), and Bill Paterson (Lord Lyman Beesbury) and all of these heavy hitters and I just thought “Holy shit this is the big time now Gavin, you’ve got to step up.” I think the nice thing is whenever somebody says “Action” or you step on stage, you are all on the same page because you are all actors, and you’re all just trying to serve the moment, hopefully that’s what you are all trying to do, and you realise at that moment you are all kind of equals, but in my head I’m like “Well you’re not an equal, because that’s Paddy, and he is extraordinary.”

Obviously, you share a lot of scenes with Paddy. Can you tell us what he was like to work with, and what you think he brings to the show overall?

Firstly, I had the most fun with him, because we became good buddies. He is generous to a fault, he is good fun, he is silly. He takes the work incredibly seriously but he doesn’t take himself seriously and he was very generous and helpful with me. We made each other laugh, which is really quite lovely. Secondly, his character really felt like the heartbeat of the show. He wasn’t the engine room of the story, but he is certainly the heart of it, and that moral compass. He was the good driving through everything, trying to keep the ship afloat, and I just think that he did that beautifully. The overall arc of his journey, I just thought was extraordinary really.

Then you've got Matt Smith, who really just makes the show an unpredictable watch. What do you remember the most from seeing him on set?

Yeah, to be fair I only did two scenes with Matt. We didn’t really get to do much together, but Matt’s a wonderful actor. He brings so much charm and wit to that role, that that adds to the complexity of Daemon’s dangerous unpredictability. I thought that was wonderful, how you can hate him, and love him all in one. I think that’s why he has become such a popular character within the show, and I think that’s because of what Matt brings to it.

The cast in this show really is just epic. It must have been so much fun to be a part of such a great ensemble of actors.

Absolutely! It really was. It did become, not to all intensive purposes very similar to a theatre job, where there’s a big ensemble so you are with each other the whole time. A lot of us had done a lot of theatre work, and you have that mentality, of being comrades in what is a big machine. There’s a lot of waiting around, and being ready to go as a group. It was quite inspiring to be surrounded by so many brilliant people. Actually I have made so many friends behind the camera, and in front of it, it was a joyful experience from start to finish for me.

Can you tell us what the time jump was like to work on as an actor? Like, how exciting was it, and what do you think it brings to the viewing experience?

I think I’ll have to dance that in two parts. It’s interesting because you’ve got those six years of building up a relationship with two really close friends, Milly Alcock (Rhaenyra Targaryen) anf Emily Carey (Alicent Hightower). Then that jump had to happen in episode six, to then to carry it on to the end of the series, and then going forwards, because they would be too young. I thought it brought just an excitement, you’ve got two sets of people sitting in the same person’s shoes. So their objectives would still probably be the same, their moral compass is the same, but because there’s a different person playing it, they bring their own nuance and diversity to it, and I got to work with Milly and Emily quite a bit and they’re both just cracking people, and I luckily worked with Emily before on a play, she’s an extraordinary actor, and Olivia Cooke [Alicent Hightower] likewise brings something quite extraordinary.

House of the Dragon is known for its incredible sets. I was curious, looking back on the show was there a particular set that you just really loved working on?

I think generally the whole of the red keep is an extraordinary thing to step on. One of my clearest memories from the first day on set, was being taken on a tour around the Red Keep in Leavesden Studios, which, when you walk up a staircase in that set, you’re walking up actual stairs, and then you turn left into an actual small council chamber, and then you walk up another set up of stairs and you walk into the king’s chamber, and then you walk into the courtyard. So you’re walking round an actual castle. I remember saying to Ryan Condal one day, I was like “Mate, wouldn’t it have been cheaper to have just bought a castle? Because this is, for all intensive purposes, a castle” and he said “Well no, this is the cheaper way to do it, if we get a few series out of this, then it’s worth the investment” so the Red Keep is just an extraordinary experience to just be on because it’s so enormous, and so real. The Throne Room feels epic, when you’re in there it feels like a special place to be in, because everybody just associates with the Iron Throne, and what the designers and showrunners did with elaborating on that throne with all of the extra swords, I think gave it an extra little bit of shizzle I suppose!

Great! What were those final scenes as Lord Lyonel Strong like to film, and put together?

There’s two parts to that, I had a cold, and I had a horrendous cough. It wasn’t COVID because we got tested within an inch of our life, and I had this terrible cough, and then I had to pretend to cough because of the smoke, and then I had to scream “Harwin” over and over again for the takes, while trying to smash a door down. So I kept losing my voice, so that had to be done in ADR so there was that going on, so then in the back of my head, every time me and Ryan Corr (Harwin Strong) would see each other, we were just sad because we didn’t want it to be over, we were just gutted. We didn’t film that scene last, it wasn’t the last time we were on set, but it was a sad thing to do, because we knew that that was probably the last time that we were going to be on screen, and it was a big gig for both of us. It was sad, but fun, because filming is always fun.

Like we were saying Lyonel seems to be one of the most grounded. And, it seems that people actually liked him! What do you think his demise has done for House of the Dragon?

Well yeah, I think the original Thrones with Sean Bean as Ned Stark, they set that bar quite early didn’t they by killing him. I think everybody was like “Woah, we are watching something quite different here!” and those people with a good moral compass, don’t generally last long. I think if you’re a decent person stepping into the House of the Dragon or Game of Thrones world you know that you are going to be...I mean, Jon Snow is probably the exception, and they had to bring him back to life. That guy has got a pretty decent moral compass, and they had to bring him back to life, even he was done over.

Sean's part in Game of Thrones obviously became a crucial point in the show to reflect on. How would you like your character to be remembered by fans when they look back on this season of House of the Dragon?

It’s been quite pleasant actually. There’s been a lot of people who really like him, but that’s to do with, I think most of us always, most people, apart from the arseholes in our midsts, I think most people like a decent person. Most people like a morally sound person. So we try and project our own identity on to them. Like yes, “I’d be like him, this man is the only person talking sense, I like this balding man” Yeah, I think it’s everybody hoping that if they were there, they’d be Lord Strong, and I think that’s why they like him. It’s lovely to know that he is a popular character. Maybe they should just start a petition so that he can come back. I mean you never see me die do you? So let’s start petitioning to Ryan Condal now.

What was the most rewarding scene for you to work on, and why?

That is a tough one. Probably the argument with Ryan Corr, who played my son Harwin, because it was really interesting, because Miguel when we turned up he said “We are not going to be in the room with you” Ryan and I looked at each other and we said “Sorry, what?” he said “I want the room to be completely locked off, I don’t want any crew in here, and I want you both to really go for this argument, and I’m going to film it through the window, because we need Rhaenyra's perspective. So he gave us a real chance to play, we had certain marks to hit so we could be seen through the parapets of the window frame, and we had a real chance to play that scene. You really see Lyonel expressing fears and his deepest, darkest worries, quite vocally. Which he hasn’t done in the whole series, he is a very measured, collected thoughts person. Here, it was actually like we could see the love for his children, and actually Rhaenyra and his grand-children, and he wanted to protect them all. So that was nice to play as you see this different side of him, and also the fact that we got to play on a slightly wider lens, so you’re not worried so technically about where you were hitting stuff. So that was really rewarding and it was also Ryan’s first day on set. So bless him he had this enormous argument to do with me, and Ryan is a little bit more method actor than me, so he was getting himself all pumped out, and then there was me being a very British actor who was like “I’ll just wait for action Ryan if you don’t mind”, but it was great, and we had a lot of fun filming it. I think it came out really well. So it was good.

How excited are you for your upcoming appearance at London Comic Con, and what can attending fans expect?

I am stupidly excited, I’ve never done one! I went to one, a long time ago when I was a kid, I went to one in Milton Keynes, I think it was like one of the first ones, I think it was Milton Keynes because there was one of The Goonies there, and I think I was about thirteen. So I went and tried to get his signature, but I never met him in the end. I think I went when he was on his lunch break. I really can’t wait for it. Hopefully, I’m not the guy sitting there who doesn’t have anybody coming to say hello to him. Because I know I’m on the same day as Matt Smith, and loads of other big names. I know Paddy will be there on the Sunday as well. I can’t wait, because I’m really looking forward to meeting people, because you get so many messages sent via Instagram or other social media stuff, and you can’t reply to everybody, because if you did that you’d end up having a million different conversations with a load of people you’ve never met. So it’s quite nice to be able to just have a moment with somebody, well yeah, because I know what it’s like to meet people that you watch, and you think they’re cool, I’d like to meet them. I’m particularly like that with sports, sporting people, cricket and rugby people. I understand the excitement for it, and I can’t wait, and I get to see a few of the old cast members, like Jefferson Hall is doing it, he is a really good mate of mine, so that’s nice. And Graham McTavish, there’s quite a few of us doing this, so that will be good.

For those that for some reason, haven't watched House of the Dragon just yet, why should they check it out?

Because I think, they will be constantly surprised, I’ve had so many friends of mine that are like “Well I’ve watched it Gav because you’re in it, and I really liked it, I really got into it” one of them said “It’s a bit like The Sopranos but with dragons” and I think that’s right. HBO are so good at story. It’s a family drama, in essence, it just happens to have dragons flying around eating each other.

Once you’ve watched the first episode, you’ve got to watch it through to the end!

Absolutely! And like everything you will have episodes that are slower in its journey, but you have to have those for the exposition, for a build up of relationships, to give you plot, and then you can have a blow out in the later episodes. All TV, all story, all narratives work like that. Plays, musicals, there’s always a dip where you think “Oh we might have lost people” but they just need to stay and tune in, and listen harder, because you never know what you’ll miss, especially on something like House of the Dragon, or Game of Thrones, because there’s never a shot wasted.

Gavin appears at London Comic Con on Saturday November 19th. Find out more here: https://londoncomicconwinter.com/guest/gavin-spokes

You can follow Gavin on Instagram here: https://www.instagram.com/gavin.spokes