House of the Dragon star Ewan Mitchell channels horror film villains for breakout role

Aemond Targaryen actor says he turned to masked mass murderers Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers to shape the dragon-riding prince

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It’s rare, but certain actors have the power to change the entire temperature of a series the moment they step on screen. Ewan Mitchell, who only entered season one of House of the Dragon in episode eight, is undoubtedly one of them.

In a show packed with a murderer’s row of seasoned talent, Mitchell’s villainous young prince Aemond Targaryen stole every scene he appeared in during the Game of Thrones prequel. But as a man of few words and a distinctive eye patch, Aemond remains something of an enigma, leaving Mitchell a lot of room to interpret exactly what makes his character tick for himself.

“I mean, it was Shakespeare who said that the eyes are the window to the soul,” Mitchell tells The National. “So what does it mean to only have one of them, and you’ve got a gemstone in the other eye socket? You have to compensate through your physicality.”

To find the right physicality for the role, Mitchell explains, he had to look to unlikely sources. Not from Game of Thrones – he never watched it, he reveals. Rather, he went into a different genre entirely.

“I took inspiration from '80s horror movie icons in Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers,” Mitchell explains, referencing the tenured antagonists of the franchises Friday the 13th and Halloween, respectively.

“They don’t necessarily say anything. It’s just the way that they walk. It’s the way that they inhabit a space – it’s terrifying. No matter how slow their stride, they always catch up with Jamie Lee Curtis [hero Laurie Strode in Halloween].

“I thought there was something interesting there that I wanted to bring to Aemond, especially in those scenes where he doesn’t necessarily say much. It’s through the walk – it’s the way that he owns the space around him. It’s quite scary. There’s this idea of inevitability. There’s no escaping Aemond Targaryen, which I’m curiously fascinated with.”

Filming the show’s coming second season, in which he is set to become a lead character, Mitchell finally settled into something of a routine, a process he revelled in.

“I just love to shapeshift," he adds. "I feel like I’m shedding skin at the beginning of the day the second I get out of the car and go through the process of hair and make-up and costume. Each part of that makes me feel like I’m peeling off another layer.

“Then, when I finally get to set and put the eyepatch on, I’m gone, and all that’s left is Aemond. The make-up and costume team are really quite good – it really does encourage you to abandon who you are.”

In some ways, Mitchell’s Aemond is the darkened mirror image of the character Daemon Targaryen, played by Matt Smith (of Doctor Who and The Crown fame). The connection was not lost on Mitchell, particularly because he grew up just as fascinated by Smith in real life as Aemond is of Daemon.

“Aemon is Daemon’s biggest 'stan', so to speak," he says. "And I was a big fan of Doctor Who growing up. Matt brought electricity and vibrancy to the Doctor, this youthfulness that made it more accessible to me growing up. I dreamt of going on adventures with him as a kid.

“Aemond and Daemon are both princes who stand to inherit nothing but recognise what they want in life and have to go out and get it. Aemond wears the Targaryen black, the long blonde hair. It’s very reminiscent of the young Daemon you see in the earliest episodes of season one. He’s cultivated this image of Daemon, but he’s warped it and twisted it. I find that very interesting."

Even before they began filming together, Mitchell was aware of the power of their connection. He also knew that the first major interaction between the characters in season one would come in one of the show’s most significant scenes, in which all members of the Targaryen family unite for a dinner that ultimately pulls the family apart further.

To make that moment feel as impactful as possible, Mitchell consciously avoided eye contact with Smith on set until their characters finally interacted on screen at the family banquet, playing off his own idolisation of the actor.

“I thought there was something interesting in keeping Matt on that podium, the same way that Aemond keeps Damon on that podium,” says Mitchell.

“But I wanted to make sure everyone was OK with it. So I talked to [creator] Ryan Condal about it, and he was like: 'OK, let me chat with Matt.' I’m very grateful that everyone was on board, and I think it did bring something. It was like capturing lightning in a bottle when Aemond and Daemon face off.”

In many ways, Mitchell feels like an actor whose skills are tailor-made for the world of Game of Thrones. That synchronicity is curious, considering the fact that he deliberately never engaged with the series.

“I didn’t want it to inform my choices,” says Mitchell. “Whether consciously or subconsciously, I wanted to bring something fresh to the table. It’s one of the biggest shows ever, so I know bits and bobs, but I’ve never actually seen a full episode."

Judging from Mitchell’s impact on the series so far, perhaps he was right to study horror films instead. In one of the first season’s most chilling sequences, Aemond chases his cousin through the sky, each of them on dragons.

“That’s a chase sequence – it’s horror," he says. "There are jump scares when he protrudes through the clouds. It’s terrifying."

Will we be getting more such scenes in the second season? Mitchell can only tease.

“Maybe in season two you might see a few more of those terrifying sequences,” Mitchell smirks. “Maybe, I don’t know.”

House of the Dragon season two premiere is June 17 on OSN+ across the Middle East

Updated: June 10, 2024, 8:28 AM