Emily Carey: “I remember thinking ‘oh I get it now.’ There’s so much more to ‘fantasy.’ It’s grounded, truthful and honest.”

Emily Carey on Alicent Hightower, the fantasy genre and the funniest person on the House of The Dragon set...

emily carey
(Image credit: Kyle Galvin)

When it comes to playing the younger versions of iconic onscreen characters there’s one name that comes up, Emily Carey. The 19-year-old British actor already has 15 acting credits to her name, from the 12-year-old sword fighting warrior of Gal Gadot’s titular character in Wonder Woman (2017) to 14-year-old Lara Croft (to Alicia Vikander’s lead) in Tomb Raider (2018).

Her latest project enabled her to really dive in and explore both her character and the fantasy genre, introducing Alicent Hightower in HBO’s critically acclaimed Game of Thrones prequel, House of The Dragon. 

As the dragon ash settles on the series finale, Contributing Fashion Editor, Sarah-Rose Harrison sat down with Emily Carey to discuss Westeros, stunts and sentimental shopping… 

What does the fantasy genre mean to you?

If I am completely honest, before House of The Dragon, the fantasy genre meant very little to me. I never really understood its appeal but when I sat down to watch Game of Thrones after I booked the show, I remember thinking ‘oh I get it now.’ There’s so much more to it than just ‘fantasy.’ It’s grounded, truthful and honest - I wouldn’t have discovered if I hadn’t booked the show. I never gave it a shot! 

(Image credit: Kyle Galvin)

What drew you to the role of Alicent?

I knew nothing about her when I was auditioning because she had a fake name and I was performing dummy scenes. But once I received the scripts and really started delving into Alicent, I was drawn to the way in which she feels so deeply in a world where you’re expected not to feel anything at all. She’s such an emotional character, I was so intrigued to explore that and how she would navigate the world she was born into. 

How did you feel when you booked the job?

I was in complete shock when I booked the job, you never expect it, ever. But this one in particular took me by surprise. I had my final recall with House of The Dragon showrunners Miguel (Sapochnik) and Ryan (Condal), and so I knew I was down to the last few girls, I left the room feeling content with what I’d done but with big jobs it can take weeks, even months before you hear back. So, when my agents facetimed me an hour later (I was eating pasta in my pjs) and told me to get my mum I just glazed over as they told me I had the offer. My ma burst into tears immediately but it took a few days to actually sink in and then I sobbed and sobbed. 

Did /have you purchased anything to mark the moment/role? 

I distinctly remember buying the book to commemorate booking the job, turns out I didn’t actually need to in the end because George R.R Martin kindly gave me a signed copy. I’m not a superficial spender but I did treat myself to a non-dragon-related gift when we wrapped - a pair of ridiculously expensive shoes that are, of course, incredibly painful to walk in. Worth every penny.

What was your process for getting into character?

As the younger version of a character, I was anticipating being guided by my older counterpart so it was such a surprise to be given so much creative freedom with young Alicent. The first part of my prep consisted of a good few story and character meetings ahead of an extensive rehearsal period with the cast. 

During this process, I wrote a diary in character, it’s a process I’ve always found to be a really useful tool when it comes to character work. On this job, in particular, I found it more useful than ever because, with it being such an ensemble show and the 1 hour limit on each episode, there were inevitable gaps in each character’s journey. Journaling really helped me fill those gaps in a very organic way. A stream of consciousness is so powerful, to be able to express it through a character, and to fully immerse yourself in a character’s mind freely writing down a log of their feelings, thoughts. Or, even a scripted day from their perspective is a very liberating process as an actor. It helped me to create the layers that make me feel comfortable in the person I’m creating. 

It was such a surprise to be given so much creative freedom with young Alicent.

Emily Carey wears: Opposing forms earrings, £295, Bar Jewellery; Strapless bustier midi dress, £3,180, Carolina Herrera; Leather gloves, £169, Dents 

(Image credit: Kyle Galvin)

Was there a particular playlist or artist that helped you to do so?

I think music is a really powerful tool as an actor, I curate a playlist for every character I play.  For Alicent, I found myself leaning towards classical music as it helped me to disconnect from the world I was in. I always imagined Swan Lake playing during the green dress moment at the wedding, it just felt like it fitted.

How did your wardrobe inform your character?

The costumes were so incredibly beautiful and intricate. Each and every time I put a dress on, I’d notice another detail or reference. With period dramas, costumes are so important in creating a character, to be able to step into an outfit and for it to feel so unfamiliar seems daunting but it actually makes my job easier. ‘Immersive’ is a word that comes up a lot when I talk about the show, but I think this conversation is where the word belongs. The costumes truly immersed me in both Alicent and Westeros - they physically pulled me upright and made my posture more regal. They corrected the way I stood and altered how I was breathing. Putting on those dresses was magical. 

How do you feel your character has developed over the series?

Playing a character across a span of 5 or so years comes with its own development which was really difficult to play out since the shoot was so long. But it was so rewarding to have this character arc. To have a sort of creative playground was a dream. One of the coolest things about this show is that I got to see my character 10 years down the line, well off from where I left her. It’s such a strange thing to watch Olivia (Cooke) on screen and see myself and my Alicent in her performance. The way she continued developing Alicent is pure art. It’s honestly mind blowing. 

Emily Carey

(Image credit: Kyle Galvin)

Who was your favourite actor (within the series) to have scenes with?

It’s so difficult to choose a favourite that I worked with on the show because everyone was truly so lovely and phenomenally talented. I really enjoyed working with Rhys (Ifans) - he always gave such a grounded performance and it made my job so easy. He actually made me cry in rehearsals with his speech outside the gates in the rain. Such real acting, he’s a mastermind at work. He made me laugh SO much on set, and I think you could ask any cast or crew and we’d all agree Rhys is just the funniest. I also of course spent a huge amount of my time on set with Milly (Alcock), a gem to work opposite. We really bounced off each other and the friendship dynamic came very naturally. She’s like a big sister to me and I’m so excited to see what comes next for her! 

What’s the coolest thing you’ve done on set? 

On “House of the Dragon” the most dangerous thing I do is get pregnant. No stunts for me and, unfortunately, no dragons. But, the coolest stunt sequence I’ve been involved in was my scene in Wonder Woman. Sword fighting with Robin Wright in an olive grove in Italy may be the coolest thing I’ve ever done full stop. I was only 12. To prepare for the scene, I trained  for 9 weeks straight with some of the best stunt performers in the industry at the Warner Bros Studios. Learning to fight surrounded by the fiercest women who played the Amazonian warriors was such an empowering experience for me as a young girl. 

Favourite location you’ve filmed in?

Coming off the back of talking about Wonder Woman, that was definitely my favourite place I’ve filmed. We shot that on the Amalfi coast and I remember being out there for a week or so before actually shooting my scene and being able to go and watch other scenes being shot and walking along the private beach where those incredible battle sequences were filmed. It was all just so, so beautiful. 

Emily Carey wears: Opposing forms earrings, £295, Bar Jewellery; Strapless bustier midi dress, £3,180, Carolina Herrera; Leather gloves, £169, Dents; Vale shoes, £554, Malone Souliers 

(Image credit: Kyle Galvin)

What’s a lesson or note you were given on set that’s stayed with you and informed your work?

I’m so lucky to have been given many words of wisdom from the incredible people I’ve worked with but the first thing that springs to mind is simply the lesson of respect on set. On House of The Dragon we had so many legends of the game - people who’ve worked for years and people who I’d guess have earned the right to be divas and none of them were. I learned when the right time to speak up is and how to go about it from watching and learning from these amazingly lovely people. I learned that you don’t need to sit in silence just to be polite, and you can get what you need and still be a nice human being about it. Treat people with respect and they will undoubtedly grant you the same pleasure. 

What are you looking for in your next project/s?

I want to grow to be as versatile as possible as an actor. I think with this genre it can be very easy to fall into a box or to be forever known as Alicent, when I hope this is only the beginning for me and I can branch out and explore so much more. I love storytelling and that’s why I do what I do. Any character with a story to tell intrigues me and bloody good writing. It makes me excited. I can’t to see what comes next, and I am not limiting myself to anything. 

House of the Dragon: The Complete First Season is available now on Digital and on 4K, Blu-ray and DVD from 19th December.

Photography, Kyle Galvin
Styling, Sarah-Rose Harrison
Videographer, Rodney Rico
Makeup, Sara Hill at The Wall Group using Dior
Hair, Ross Kwan at A Frame Agency using Amika products and Cloud Nine tools Manicurist, Julia Babbage using Mii Cosmetics Nourish + Nurture Nail & Cuticle Oil and Care + Caress Hand Serum assisted by Sara Sorrenti
Casting and production, Sarah-Rose Harrison
Production assistant, Angel Brown
Features writer, Dionne Brighton
Editor-in-Chief, Andrea Thompson
Editor, Sunil Makan

Sarah-Rose Harrison

Sarah-Rose Harrison is the Contributing Fashion Editor at Marie Claire. A London based Fashion and Celebrity Stylist she works across commercial, editorial and advertorial projects as well as personal and red carpet styling. Don't miss her outfit's on Instagram @sarahroseharrison