It seems unimaginable, but Milly Alcock had never seen Game of Thrones when she landed the role of one of the stars of its new spin-off House of the Dragon, which made it all the more impressive when she stepped onto the set.
“I was just like, ‘Holy shit,'” she says. “I didn’t know you could do television like this. And I think this whole experience opened the door to a world that I didn’t know existed.
The Australian actress plays the younger version of Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen — Wanderlust’s Emma D’Arcy plays the older version — in the new HBO/Sky show kicking off next week. She stands alongside acting veterans such as Paddy Considine, Eve Best and Matt Smith, and for months her face has been plastered on promotional posters around the world.
It’s a journey for someone who, just a few years ago, was washing dishes to make ends meet. However, Alcock seems to be taking it all in stride when we meet in a huge central London hotel room, reporters and Sky staff buzzing around. In the midst of it all the actress sits, fully composed, if perhaps a little over it all.
“I got a self-tape for an unknown HBO project,” the 22-year-old tells me, “and I went to shoot it with a friend of mine.” He had no idea what it was because HBO had removed the names from the script, but luckily his friend sorted it out. “She said, ‘This is a scene from Game of Thrones. This is the scene with Arya Stark.’”
Two weeks later, Alcock was cast as one of the show’s stars. He gives me stories about the shoot; of riding a dragon — “It’s fun for the first 10 minutes, and then when you’re up there for three hours, you’re like, ‘My ass hurts'” — and learning how to emote in Valyrian, the fictional language of the Targaryens.
Growing up in Sydney, Alcock credits an early school production of Little Red Riding Hood (a jazzy adaptation of the original fairy tale) with inspiring her acting.
“I remember being on stage,” she says, waving her hands for emphasis. “I had this euphoric feeling. And I was like, ‘I want it, whatever it is. Yes, I want to feel like this for the rest of my life.’”
She pursued acting with single-minded dedication, taking film acting classes with just “one other girl” when she was younger and attempting to kick-start her career several times as she grew up.
“I was always a little too independent from a very young age,” she says, recalling the time, at age four, “he sat my mother down…and told her it was time for me to go big.” school”.
Undaunted by that inevitable disappointment, she did the same thing when it came time to enroll in the drama high school which she eventually attended. “I enrolled in high school and told my mom when the audition was. I called my agent when I was 13, I called the agency, saying, “Hi, can I audition?”, because I learned very quickly that no one is going to do it for me.”
The tactic paid off. Alcock worked her way through a series of small Australian TV shows – mostly police procedurals, she ruefully admits, because they’re “the only jobs you can do” in Australia – before being cast as troubled teenager Meg alongside by Tim Minchin in Aussie road -travel comedy series Upright.
This was the role he dropped out of high school to play. “I love Mega. Meg is why I’m here,” she says, adding that she recently wrapped filming season two. “Everything has come full circle.”
Despite her love of show business, she is equally adamant that she had to leave her home country to make it as an actress.
“There’s no budget,” he says. “The government doesn’t actually fund the arts. There is no appreciation for the arts. People don’t go to the theater, really; they can’t afford it.
“The only people who go to the theater are old, rich and white. So all the plays they put on are to cater to that audience. Art especially in Australia is not made for a young audience…it rejects them altogether; it’s really frustrating.
As a result, he says, many young actors choose to walk away — in fact, Alcock’s face lights up when I mention his friend and fellow Australian actress Markella Kavenagh, who is slated to appear in the upcoming Lord of the Rings spin-off The Rings of Power next month .
Is Any UK different in the way it approaches the arts? She snorts. “Just the fact that it’s advertised; the fact that people talk about it? You wouldn’t do this at home.
It’s hard not to shrug off the feeling that she’s reeling slightly from the sudden realization of what this interest means to her. “It feels like these are two different jobs,” she says. “Since you go to work, you do the work. And that’s ultimately what makes me really happy. I can walk away and say ‘I’m proud of today. I let go of my anxiety and enjoyed myself and got to explore.’
“And then you get here and there are people waiting outside your hotel with things to sign… I just feel like a different version of myself. And then you have to, like, turn on. I mean, I’ve only ever lived my life as me and now people care. It wasn’t like I’d done any other great work.
However, she dismisses any questions about the anxiety, attributing it to moving abroad on her own, for the first time. “My family can’t come,” she says of the London premiere, which takes place the night we meet. “And it’s just that I really wish my mom could be here, because that may never happen again. So it’s a bit bittersweet… things like this don’t happen to people like me.”
With House of the Dragon finished for now, what’s next? She is adamant that although she has often been cast as “straightforward, strong, independent” young women, she is actively seeking out different roles.
“I want to play a boxer,” he says offhandedly, then adds, “Or I want to play a valley girl.” When I ask her why, she shrugs. “I want to acquire skills through this job. I mean, I’d rather take a great script than a skill, but why not do both?
A few minutes later, she adds another role to her list: Amy Taylor, the lead singer of Australian punk band Amyl and the Sniffers, whose music channeled the “girly rage” she used to play Rhaenyra. “You should look for them,” she adds, as the interview ends and her team descends.
Given the way Alcock devours the screen in House of the Dragon, a punk rock star should be a no-brainer.
House of the Dragon is available from 22 August exclusively on Sky Atlantic and on the NOW streaming service