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[Only IN Hollywood] ‘House of the Dragon’ 2’s Team Green, from a ‘volatile’ king to a dowager queen

Ruben V. Nepales

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[Only IN Hollywood] ‘House of the Dragon’ 2’s Team Green, from a ‘volatile’ king to a dowager queen

Ruben Nepales/Rappler

Following our previous column on 'Team Black,' we bring you 'Team Green': Olivia Cooke, Fabien Frankel, Tom Glynn-Carney, Ewan Mitchell, Phia Saban, and Matthew Needham

NEW YORK, USA – And now, here’s House of the Dragon’s (HOTD) Team Green – including a volatile, “living nightmare” of a king, a dowager queen and a dashing knight who may end up “being the most hated character on television.”

Following our column last week on Team Black, I bring you Team Green – Olivia Cooke (Queen Alicent Hightower), Fabien Frankel (Ser Criston Cole), Tom Glynn-Carney (King Aegon II Targaryen), Ewan Mitchell (Prince Aemond Targaryen), Phia Saban (Queen Helaena Targaryen), and Matthew Needham (Lord Larys Strong).

[Only IN Hollywood] ‘House of the Dragon’ 2’s Team Green, from a ‘volatile’ king to a dowager queen

I also bring back Ray Condal, who returns to Season 2 of HBO’s original drama as the sole showrunner in addition to being the co-creator, writer and executive producer.

Based on the first two episodes I watched, Ryan and his Teams have crafted a sequel that accomplishes that rare feat – it’s better and more thrilling than the original.

These quotes are culled from a roundtable which I attended with a small group of journalists the morning after the grand Season 2 premiere at the Hammerstein Ballroom of the Manhattan Center. With this intimate group, we talked to the talents, who were paired in various combinations.

Some quotes were from the press conference with Ryan, Team Black and Team Green staged on the day of the premiere. Both were held in the Hudson Yards.

Ryan was understandably coy about the buzzed spectacular battle scenes but he did tease: “We have two sequences that we did this year that are certainly the biggest thing I’ve ever been a part of and the show as well, that kind of outstrip just the size and scale of anything we did in Season 1.”

The following are excerpts from our two conversations:

Ryan Condal (showrunner, co-creator, writer, and executive producer)

There were some huge losses at the end of Season 1 in terms of characters. And it feels like in the first couple of episodes of this season that it’s really setting the stage for everything to come and it’s making a lot of the motivations come from different places for the characters. How has that loss really influenced the way that you wrote this season?

Ryan: Yeah, it’s a point of no return in a way. It feels like there are multiple points of no return in this show because it’s one of this kind of entrenched conflict.

So you have these two sides that share a lot of common history that hate each other and the hatred only gets worse as things go on and the tragedies pile up.

House of the Dragon 2 showrunner, co-creator, writer and executive producer Ryan Condal at the press conference in New York. Photo by Ruben V. Nepales/Rappler

And it felt like Vhagar killing Luke – that’s a big sea of change in the way things are going to be looked at. And then what are they going to do – what’s the counter-response to that?

We just wanted to set all that stuff up so that you know all of the characters and understand where they’re coming from and what makes them weak, strong, what they want, and what they love, and then throw them into the mix and see how they respond.

And the scope is amazing. There are these really huge elements when you have scenes with dragons flying and a lot of the stunt work in the series. But it’s so connected to audiences and so grounded because at the end of the day, it’s all about the intricacies of these characters. How do you set about creating that balance between larger-than-life but also really vulnerable human emotions?

Ryan: That’s the trick of the job. It’s television, ultimately – you’re telling these big stories that are often at an intimate scale.

The things that I’m proudest of in the show are often two characters in a room in conflict with one another because you’re making the show’s eight episodes which amount to probably about nine hours of television all end to end.

You can’t fill it all with dragons fighting each other. You must have these kinds of stage stories. And the things that people engage with most are the character levels.

So that when the spectacle comes, if you’ve done your job right, you care about the characters involved with the spectacle and that’s why you take up this really emotional experience out of it.

Talking about the massive universe that George RR Martin created and we all watched on screen, why do you think after so many years, and even decades, those stories hold audience so captivated by it? Like now in the convenient streaming world, we have so many options yet everybody is coming back to it and there is a massive fan base.

Ryan: They’re just incredibly well-crafted stories and characters. For me, it always goes back to the characters with that world.

And if you were to move slightly beyond that, I would just say that the world is so textural and well-realized that it feels real. Even reading Fire & Blood, which again, is a fake history book, which are George’s words, not mine – it’s an in-world history written about this, which could be very dry but it’s incredibly engaging because it’s so textural.

And I think it’s because – this is no secret – Fire & Blood, or this particular story, is based on The Anarchy, which is a famous and very bloody conflict that happened in English Medieval history.

Those little touchpoints that connect to real history make it feel real versus coming into a world that’s entirely fantastical and entirely made up from whole cloth. It does feel like it actually happened in a lot of ways, particularly to me who lives it every day.

I think that’s it. And that helps inform all of the sets, banners, and costumes. What do you guys think?

Ewan: Yeah, I think the first season was shot over a long period of time during circumstances that the whole world felt. We were kind of plunged into the unknown with the pandemic.

And so it’s brilliant that HBO was able to give back a world to the audience that they did know. Instead of being surrounded in this world of unknown, you know a Targaryen is going to be a Targaryen; you know a Baratheon is going to be a Baratheon.

It is that familiarity that during uncertain times, it was certainly something our audience members could hold onto.

This show is epic in proportion. What were the two most challenging sequences that you did?

Ryan: In Season 2? I can’t talk about those [battle scenes] yet. Yeah, we have two sequences that we did this year that are certainly the biggest thing I’ve ever been a part of and the show as well, that kind of outstrip just the size and scale of anything we did in Season 1.

Some people (actors) here in this room might have participated in one or more of them. But yeah, I’m excited for you guys to see them.

Tom Glynn-Carney (King Aegon II Targaryen)

How much fun do you have playing the King who you describe in your own words as “unpredictable, a living walking nightmare”?

Tom: Did I say that (smiling)? Okay, it’s all true. He’s all those things – he’s volatile, he’s fizzing inside constantly, his internal rhythm is very quick and it is insatiable in a sense.

I find that tiring to keep up with so I need to be in the right frame of mind and have a lot of sleep to keep up with him. It is a really fulfilling experience to play a role like him.

He’s a bull in a China shop. He is completely free and explosive. It’s a lot of fun.

You get to do a lot of things and behave in certain ways you could never be able to do in real life. So, that is quite cathartic in many ways.

Was it your first time to watch the Season 2 first episode at the premiere and how do you feel every time you watch yourself on screen?

Tom: Genuinely, I can’t see myself on screen. It makes me panic a lot. I’ve done it before where I watched a film that I did a few years ago and I had a lot of trouble back on set.

House of the Dragon 2 Team Green – Tom Glynn-Carney (King Aegon II Targaryen) at the press conference in New York. Photo by Ruben V. Nepales/Rappler

I was kind of in my head, really self-analytical. But watching it in that setting last night, and seeing everyone else’s work, that’s the exciting thing about last night, everybody is just so gifted.

Seeing how it’s all been pieced together – the music, CGI, it’s more of a spectacle. But yeah, whenever I’m up, I don’t want to be involved.

A lot of fans decided on their Black versus Green Team allegiance after Season 1. Do you think the events of Season 2 could make anybody switch Teams?

Tom: Yeah, you’d hope so. You’d hope that the narrative is still malleable and people can swap and change.

The idea is that – well, for me anyway – you could watch one episode and be Team Black and then watch a different episode and be Team Green. But that’s the excitement of it – the unpredictability of it.

Is that the same thought for the rest of you?

Olivia: We’re so biased at this point. We sort of bleed green and we have loads of fun. So I can’t possibly comment.

And for you Tom, your character was reluctant to step into a leadership role and now we’re getting to see what it looks like as he tries to find his footing. What has that journey been like for you?

Tom: It has been kind of exciting to work it out with Aegon. It was important to me to find somewhere to go with Aegon.

We’d see him at the start of Season 2 with a bit more of a spring in his step. He’s sort of walking two inches higher than he would have usually been.

He’s stepped into these kingly shoes with – well, with enthusiasm. We see a little shift in him at the end of Season 1. And with a small minor hiccup with Rhaenys but we’ll ignore that. Yeah, we’re on to greener pastures.

We are just sort of seeing where that goes. The guy’s riddled with insecurities, vulnerabilities and everything that kind of fractures a person. We’ll see how long he holds together.

Phia Saban (Queen Helaena Targaryen)
House of the Dragon 2 Team Green – Phia Saban (Queen Helaena Targaryen) at the press conference in New York. Photo by Ruben V. Nepales/Rappler

On Team allegiance: I feel like because the only time on set we spend is filming our own scenes, watching the show is going to be my first time seeing the Team Black point of view.

Like who knows, maybe I’ll be like oh, they’ve got a point. But yeah, to me, the show is just about us.

Olivia Cooke (Queen Alicent Hightower)

When we first meet Alicent, she is very naïve. But like a lot of the women in Games of Thrones, they turn out to be more vicious in some ways. Talk about her growth through this – where she understands the power that she yields and how she manipulates it, even though a lot of people see her as weak and how much fun it has been portraying that.

Olivia: It’s hard because I don’t see her as vicious. I think she’s got a point a lot of the time. And she sort of has to manipulate in order to get her point across, to steer these men away from chaos and implosion.

House of the Dragon 2 Team Green – Olivia Cooke (Queen Alicent Hightower) at the press conference in New York. Photo by Ruben V. Nepales/Rappler

But yeah, in Season 1, you definitely saw her as the naïve girl and that indoctrination from her father has set in. And she becomes this mini-Otto Hightower in a way.

And at the top of Season 2, she’s coming into her own power. She’s the most powerful she’s ever been. Her son sits on the Iron Throne. And it’s navigating her two full-grown sons who are beginning to dismiss her more and more.

The fan interaction and the reaction to this show are quite intense. How much, if at all, does that affect how you portray your character?

Olivia: You have to try and not let it affect your performance. A lot of fan theories are really sort of intoxicating and fun.

But then they become infectious. We’ve got beautiful scripts from Ryan, Sara (Hess) and the team and we have to be loyal and monk-like to the text.

What were some of the new challenges you faced by giving life to this new arc of your character this season?

Olivia: Oh God, what to do with one’s face when you’re portraying different kinds of grief and trauma throughout and how to play those varying levels of sadness?

Ryan: I think you’re underplaying your skills and abilities. Alicent gets put through the wringer this year.

She is really forced to reckon with the fact that the thing that she was groomed to do since she was 14 years old, by her father, which is to lift up the greatness of her own house, she’s done that. Now, she’s had a son who’s a king son and put him on the throne.

And in doing so, she has diminished her own power. Because the minute Aegon wears the crown, Alicent’s power as Queen is reduced because she’s no longer the queen of the 7 Kingdoms. She’s now the dowager queen – the queen that used to be.

And she probably didn’t realize in the moment – even though it’s a subtle thing, how much of a power shift that is.

I don’t know how you saw it but very much this season, so much of what Alicent experiences is reckoning with this thing that she was made to do her entire life. She did it, accomplished it and then how it’s landed on her and what that means.

Olivia: Yeah, she’s like been forced into an early retirement, in a way.So what do I do to keep active?

Ryan: She’s taken up breadmaking (smiling).

Ewan: She moved to the South of France.

Tom: She opened up a nightclub.

Olivia: Yes, all of that.

Ryan: No, Olivia is brilliant. Alicent and Rhaenys’ arcs take very different directions this year. This was a hard task that we laid before her and she did a brilliant job with it. I’m very proud of her work and excited for you guys to see it.

Fabien Frankel (Ser Criston Cole)

You’ve said in the past that your character has a darkness to him. Do you feel like that’s coming to the foreground even more this season?

Fabien: How much have you seen?

Ryan: I’ll just scream if you cross the line. Go ahead.

Fabien: Someone said to me at the end of last year – I think it was Sara – who was like, “I hope you’re looking forward to being the most hated character on television.”

So let’s see. But I’m not gonna speak anymore. I’m not saying anything else. I won’t. For me, that’s all.

House of the Dragon 2 Team Green – Fabien Frankel (Ser Criston Cole) at the press conference in New York. Photo by Ruben Nepales/Rappler

Ryan: Cole is a character who has always fascinated me because he’s rare for this world because he’s a self-made man. He got to where he is based on his talents and not whose son he was or where he was born.

Phia: We’re the Nepo babies.

Ryan: That’s right, all of you Nepo babies in here. And he’s embraced that and he wears this like white cloak, like it’s a millstone around his neck. He’s quite proud of it but it’s also this burden that he carries.

Look, whatever you think of Cole, he’s a deeply interesting character in that way. And definitely, now that we’ve moved from peacetime into wartime, it really applies very interesting pressure to his character.

I love where the show has taken it and what Fabien has done with the role. So I’m excited for you guys to see it.

Fabien: That’s why Ryan is the writer.

You are all portraying such richly complex characters in a very complicated story. How do you keep track of where you are when you’re working on this?

Fabien: Very good continuity people who tell us pretty much where we are at each point. May just think like you can always go to the monitor and you’ll find Tess there, who’s our script supervisor, chewing gum and she’ll tell us exactly what just happened, what’s about to happen.

Because you know you shoot it completely out of order. So it’s very useful and then just hope that you’ve not completely forgotten that you’re supposed to be out of breath, which I didn’t do in Episode 3.

Tom: It’s useful in terms of knowing your whole character arc. It’s always useful for me to have some form of timeline. So, to read the scripts and highlight those landmark moments that you know are gearshifts in your character’s progress.

And just to remember where those are, how they shift you and how that informs your decisions as you play the character. But also, it’s just rolling with the scenes, just being present in the scenes.

It kind of does its own job if you just let it happen. Yeah, without the help of Tess and our script supervisors, the continuity team and all, we’d be lost in the woods somewhere.

Fabien, wearing that heavy armor suit, how is that? There is a great shot of you sleeping while wearing that armor.

Fabien: Yes, I did fall asleep in the armor. Everyone has a nap at some point. It got progressively easier. When it started, the armor was built in a certain way, like it is very structured.

There is this thing called a breastplate which is a bit of armor that sits on the top. Once you remove it, you can rest your neck a little bit but for the first six weeks, you couldn’t remove it.

There was no position for me to sit in other than straight. I was very relieved. I think it was the second day of my breastplate being removed and I finally fell asleep.

To those returning for Season 2, how different was your experience as compared to Season 1?

Fabien: I hope I don’t speak like because they’re here but the new actors who have come are just so talented. And so it feels that although we miss Paddy (Considine) so much and like the actors that we lost, Bill Paterson and others, these guys who have just come in have been such a welcome addition.

And they were already a welcome addition in the first season. And I’m so excited for everyone to see everything they’ve done.

Ewan: That was one of the joys of joining later in Season 1. It was like joining a family that already existed. There were no first-day nerves from those guys.

And so you didn’t really feel it either. You made us feel very comfortable and that I appreciate, thank you.

Matthew Needham (Lord Larys Strong)

This story has a lot of Machiavellian twists – whispering, backstabbing and all that. How much do you find it amusing, this play for power and all?

Matthew: I never find it amusing. It’s reality, isn’t it? It is what’s happening right now. If you are in some back room and some high government office somewhere, these conversations will be happening.

House of the Dragon 2 Team Green – Matthew Needham (Lord Larys Strong) at the press conference in New York. Photo by Ruben V. Nepales/Rappler

This is just people making massive important decisions quietly in boring rooms and having a huge effect on the world at large. I don’t find it amusing. I find it horrifying and scary.

How do you memorize the lines? What’s your process? Are you given the entire script for the season?

Yeah but the script changes. It evolves and changes. But I try to just learn it as best as I can because if you don’t, those days are long and if you’re a little bit tired or after lunch,  the brain can get a bit foggy.

So I try to learn it so I don’t have to think at all. Then you can really start having fun because you are not worrying about it. There are days where you’re just sort of waiting for the other person to speak and go, “I absolutely have no idea,” so I just repeat, repeat, and repeat.

Coming off such a well-received first season, how much anxiety or fear comes from wanting to not just recreate the magic but also find new ways to elevate the story and process?

Matthew: Yeah, there’s a lot of pressure. It was so well received that it is sort of a difficult second album, isn’t it? And we don’t want to disappoint anybody.

And everybody in every department is working as hard as they can to make it as good as they can because we don’t want to let anyone down. We’re really excited for you all to have a look at it.

And how about for you Ryan?

Ryan: We run from one thing to the other in this show so it’s like, oh yeah, there was a first season. It wasn’t just one thing that ran into itself. My anxiety in Season 1 was – I don’t know if you guys share the same – is anybody going to watch the show?

And because you’re following the Beatles and the most successful television show of all time (Game of Thrones). How do you follow that? You don’t. You try to make something good that stands on its own.

And that was the challenge in Season 1. There are less nerves going into Season 2 but now, we also have to kind of outdo ourselves because that’s the expectation set before us.

Ewan Mitchell (Prince Aemond Targaryen)

Your character has had a lot of insecurities. He’s someone who has always struggled to find his footing even within his own family. How do you feel like that’s going to influence him further in Season 2?

Ewan: Yeah, it’s that drive that he possesses. He was the only kid in the family who wasn’t given a dragon egg growing up. He was on the back foot and there’s this dynamic that as the person grows, so does the hatchling and they’re very much extensions of each other.

And Aemond was different and he didn’t get an egg. He was bullied for being different.

House of the Dragon 2 Team Black – Ewan Mitchell (Prince Aemond Targaryen) by the famous throne, the most popular attraction at the premiere in New York. Photo by Ruben V. Nepales/Rappler

You’ve got the oldest, baddest, hardened dragon in the known world in Vhagar. She’s like so enormous she can’t fit within the confines of any castle wall and that’s similar to Aemond. He can’t fit in anywhere either. And so they’re able to identify with each other.

That idea of standing in the face of adversity, a 10-year-old claiming this behemoth, it’s a tremendous feat of courage. And this drive is very evident in that and going into Season 2, you’re going to see that drive continue and it’s going to be scary.

How much fun did you have last night at the premiere in New York? Can you talk about this part of being an actor – you get to celebrate the show, the series is done, you’re partying with guests?

Ewan: It was brilliant and it was the first time I’ve seen Episode 1 of Season 2. I wanted to hold off as long as possible. But yeah, it was a phenomenal night.

What better way to kick this whole thing off than in New York and Saturday night, I watched the UFC in New Jersey. I am a big fan of UFC.

I have so much respect for those guys for stepping into the cage and you know every single punch, slap, takedown. It was the best night of my life and yesterday was also the best night of my life. – Rappler.com

In the Philippines and Asia, ‘House of the Dragon’ season two debuts Monday, June 17 on HBO and HBO GO. Subscribe to HBO GO online at https://www.hbogoasia.ph/ or the mobile app via the App Store or Play Store for only P1,190 on the 12-month plan. Or access HBO GO via Cignal and Globe. HBO GO is also available on Android TV, Apple TV, LG TV, and Samsung Smart TV – and comes with AirPlay and Google Cast functionality.

New episodes drop every Monday in the Philippines and Asia; every Sunday in the US.

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Ruben V. Nepales

Based in Los Angeles, Ruben V. Nepales is an award-winning journalist whose honors include prizes from the National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards, a US-wide competition, and the Southern California Journalism Awards, presented by the Los Angeles Press Club.