Matt Smith on Daemon Targaryen in House of the Dragon – “He’s a guy who wants to take the law into his own hands”

Matt Smith, one of the most dynamic and talented actors working today, plays Dameon Targaryen in the new series House of the Dragon. He is also known for his unique portrayal of the long-lived character “The Doctor” in the celebrated Doctor Who series, a role that earned him critical acclaim and a BAFTA nomination.

Recently, the extremely versatile actor also appeared as the villain Morbius in Daniel Espinosa’s film of the same name. Before that, he could be seen in the Edgar Wright-directed horror film Last Night in Soho. Matt could also be seen as Prince Philip in two seasons of the hugely popular Netflix series The Crown, about Britain’s royal family.

He will soon be seen in John Michael McDonagh’s project, The Forgiven. In addition, he will also star in the supernatural horror feature Starve Acre, alongside Morfydd Clark.

So, via HBO Max, Playtech’s editorial team spoke to Matt Smith in an exclusive interview in Romania about his role in the new series House of the Dragon, which premiered on 22 August on the streaming platform.

Ozana: Why did you want to be part of House of the Dragon?

Matt Smith: First of all, it was about the role and I knew Paddy had signed on and I always admired him. And then I read the pilot and thought it was a great read. I couldn’t stop reading and I thought the world in the pilot was clearly created. But especially my role – there are so many shades of grey when it comes to Daemon – you have so many directions you can take the character. That’s an interesting thing as an actor, because you have some control over the story, as much as the script allows you, and I found that very challenging as a role, but also very interesting to play.

Ozana: Who is Daemon?

Matt Smith: I don’t even know where to begin! He’s a very complex man! He’s the brother of King Viserys (Paddy Considine) and part of the Targaryen family. What he is, in a way, is a capricious prince. And he’s a dragon rider.

Ozana: Would you say that Daemon is more than just a mythocan, a “bad boy”?

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Matt Smith: That’s exactly what I wanted to avoid, actually, because on paper it’s easy to turn him into the best fighter, a villain, a villain, so to speak. But I was interested in doing something beyond that, I guess. It sounds like a cliché, but he has a huge emotional vulnerability. His actions have a childish side. He thinks he’s doing good things. Sometimes. Or he’s just a big jerk. And it’s fun for me to play all these shades.

Ozana: How is his relationship with his brother, Viserys, the king?

Matt Smith: Well, this one is also very complicated. First of all, I felt blessed when I found out that Paddy Considine was playing Viserys, because he’s a wonderful actor and a fantastic man. He made this relationship and this process very interesting for me and very rewarding. There’s a lot to be said about and between them: they’re both trying to get each other’s approval in some way. I mean, they’re also deeply in love, but also deeply disconnected and distant. In fact, at the heart of this relationship is a wonderful story about two brothers.

Daemon has a kind of natural dynamic of submission to Viserys, but there’s something beyond that, with Daemon trying to prove something to his brother, to entice him or get his attention. It’s all about Viserys when it comes to Daemon.

Ozana: What can you tell us about his relationship with Princess Rhaenyra (played by Milly Alcock and then by Emma D’Arcy)?

Matt Smith: Again, another complicated dynamic! So it’s hard to summarize, because there’s about a million details that come together with all these characters. Especially as it relates to Rhaenyra, who is part of his family, she’s his niece. There’s a kind of tension that slowly simmers in every scene with the two of them.

Ozana: The character is built as a warrior without equal. What did you have to do to prepare for the role?

Matt Smith: Quite a few things. There’s a lot of fight scenes, a lot of battles, sword fights and all the elements of the genre. So there was a big physical challenge for me, because it’s not really – or hasn’t been so far – something I’ve dealt with or had experience with. But it’s also something that I’ve been approaching as usual, actually – I’ve been trying to learn the role, the fights in an assiduous way… and the other part is hoping that your understudy will help you look good on screen.

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And Daemon also has a special sword. It’s called “The Dark Sister” and was specially produced in Norway. It’s magnificent. They had an armourer in Norway who had excellent steelworking skills.

Ozana: Daemon is also a horseman. Can you tell us broadly what that meant to you in practical terms?

Matt Smith: Well, they built this huge plinth, a bit like those vans you could get into in amusement parks in the 80s and 90s, with hydraulic suspension and they’d rock you on it. So that’s what the plinth looked like. But you’re suspended almost 20 feet in the air. And they let out the wind and the heavy rain and then digitally add my dragon, Caraxes, in post-production. And that’s quite an interesting relationship, because his dragon is sort of a mirror of Daemon. He’s a somewhat grumpy, surly dragon, but when he loves you, he really loves you.

Ozana: Who is Daemon’s main opponent?

Matt Smith: Oh my god, I think everyone? The whole kingdom? He’s a very individualistic guy. He’s a guy who wants to lay down the law for himself. And he keeps starting conflicts for his own personal entertainment. He’s a strange guy, Daemon, because he doesn’t necessarily have an ultimate goal. He doesn’t want to be king or anything, really. I approached the role from the perspective that he wants to cause as much chaos as possible, wherever he is.

Ozana: Did you have to learn to speak Valyrian?

Matt Smith: I can’t say I’ve immersed myself in the Targaryen family mythology, but I’ve learned quite a bit in the language along the way, because he, Rhaenyra, and Viserys are the only ones who actually speak it. I mean, we had so many scenes in Valyrian and those scenes ended up being some of my favorites. It’s nice to play in a different dialect. And I actually learned a lot about Daemon through that, because my reaction was, “Ah, so that’s who he is. He’s got some of that in him.” The Valyrian language allows another side of his personality to come out.

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