Non-binary actor Emma D’Arcy, is embracing their most fiery role to date, Rhaenyra Targaryen in Game Of Thrones’ prequel, House Of The Dragon. Emma tells us that Rhaenyra is a character whose gender has been a curse in a world where only men can rule. Sound familiar?
Can you introduce Rhaenyra to us, please?
Rhaenyra Targaryen is the eldest child of King Viserys Targaryen. Though, as his daughter, she isn’t expected to do anything important. She is the decentred child, I guess. Conventionally, she’d be married off tactically and expected to bear children to continue the Targaryen line… So, at the start of our story, Rhaenyra has power and determination, but essentially no agency.
What is this world like for a woman?
From the outset, we understand that Rhaenys [Eve Best] was next in line to the throne but a female ruler was unthinkable to the lords of the kingdom, so Rhaenyra’s father, Viserys [Paddy Considine], was crowned instead. So we’re in a context where essentially women get shafted. I think the question of the show is: as a woman looking to rule, how do you convince your male subjects that you are not ‘other’? We haven’t even managed it in 2022, guys! The expectation for Rhaenyra has always been: to have children. And you’d better hope they’re sons. That’s the path that lies ahead. But Rhaenyra starts pushing at the edges of that almost immediately.
How was the part presented to you?
(Executive Producer) Miguel [Sapochnik] and (Creator) Ryan [Condal] spoke a lot about her having a ‘punk sensibility.’ I had a lot of conversations with them about how Rhaenyra is positioned with regard to her gender. Fundamentally, she’s a person who is obsessed with masculinity because, for her, maleness equates with freedom. She’s always been deeply aware that her father needs a son and that she is not that son. She exists alongside a kind of a doppelganger which is Rhaenyra, born male. A version of herself who would have access to all the things that she craves. For me, the question has always been: how do you tell a story from the perspective of a character with very little agency? How do you ensure that you are showing her desire and drive towards self-actualisation – even when the world around her allows no space for that?
Rhaenyra is a ‘dragonrider’. What did that mean for you?
So, I’m supposed to ride a dragon called Syrax and I hadn’t done so much as ride a horse before this. So, they sent me to do some horse riding, which actually was invaluable. Because it turns out that horse riding is, in fact, a dialogue. You can’t just tell them what you want. It turns out they’ve got their own set of desires, wants and needs and you have to account for them.
Then, step two was the bucking bronco. You get on this thing controlled by something that looks like an iPad. The director can plan the ‘flight path’ on this miniature buck, and then the massive buck emulates the same movement. You’re on the back of it with industrial fans blowing at you… I was absolutely giddy. It was like the purest sense of play maybe on the whole job. I had to manually wipe the smile off my face. I can’t recommend it highly enough.