‘House of the Dragon’ Larys actor on parallels to Littlefinger, Varys

‘House of the Dragon’ Larys actor on parallels to Littlefinger, Varys

Warning: This article contains spoilers for House of the Dragon episode 7.

It’s no coincidence that Larys from House of the Dragon sounds like the shipper name for Littlefinger and Varys.

The man known as “Clubfoot,” for his malformed appendage, lives in the same murky space as these two characters from Game of Thrones, played by Aidan Gillen and Conleth Hill, respectively. The youngest son of House Strong is just as backstabbing and scheming as Littlefinger, as we saw when he cut out the tongues of a few men on death row and tasked them with the covert kills of both his father and brother. He’s also like Varys in that he knows everything about everyone. (That’s why his clubfoot is so big — it’s full of secrets.)

“The ‘chaos is a ladder’ way of life is something they share,” says Matthew Needham, the actor who portrays Larys Strong in House of the Dragon.

But Neeham adds that his role is more than just an amalgam. “I don’t think I would be doing anyone a favor by trying to replicate someone else’s performance, ’cause it’s been done beyond perfectly by those guys,” he tells EW. “I don’t think either of those guys burnt their family alive. I’m sure they did other horrible things, but he’s his own strange guy, I think. He’s on his own path.”

In episode 7, Queen Alicent Hightower (Olivia Cooke) aligns herself more actively with this “dark animal,” as Needham calls him. Despite her horror over the assassinations of Lyonel (Gavin Spokes) and Harwin Strong (Ryan Corr) — actions Larys says he took over at her subtle behest — she knows it’s better to have someone like him working for her rather than as her enemy.

EW caught up with Needham, who says Larys is a “dark animal” who’s “got a strong direction and something he’s trying to achieve.”

GAME OF THRONES SEASON 6- EPISODE 4 Aidan Gillen as Petyr Littlefinger Baelish Credit: Helen Sloan/HBO ; Photograph by Ollie Upton / HBO Matthew Needham HBO House of the Dragon Season 1 – Episode 6; Game of Thrones Season 5 Conleth Hill photo: Helen Sloan/courtesy of HBO

Matthew Needham discusses the Littlefinger and Varys parallels to Larys on ‘House of the Dragon’

| Credit: Baelish Credit: Helen Sloan/HBO ; Photograph by Ollie Upton / HBO; Helen Sloan/courtesy of HBO

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What did you know about this character to start with? He’s really not mentioned in the books much during the time period the show is currently depicting.

He’s a very shadowy figure in the books, isn’t he? I think [series co-creator] Ryan [Condal] and all our writers have done a brilliant job at slightly lifting him off the page a bit more and fleshing him out. I didn’t know anything at all. I hadn’t read the books. I was going off the script I had, and there were twists and turns that came along later, which I didn’t anticipate. So no, I knew nothing going in, which I think is quite helpful, really.

So you could bring your own impressions to the character.

Yeah, I think so. There’s lots of suggestions in there. [Series co-showrunners] Miguel [Sapochnik] and Ryan were the most helpful people at shaping the character, which was so wonderful — trying things out in takes. We had the luxury to find it and let it come organically. It was really exciting, really collaborative, and really enjoyable.

What things did you try out that ended up working for this character?

It’s more of a tonal thing, I suppose. Sometimes it’s a bit back foot and sometimes it’s enjoyable, relaxed. We found the most satisfying to do was playing him quite polite, to fight against any sort of darkness that he was doing, to do it quite matter-of-fact. When we were doing it, it was like, “That feels crunchy.” But we tried a number of ways, so it’s interesting to see what they end up using.

I spoke with Ryan and found his big takeaway from reading about this character in Fire and Blood interesting. He said, “I always knew Larys was a schemer.” I’m curious what Ryan and Miguel first talked about with you when you took over the role and were going over this character.

It’s a hard one because the enjoyable parts I find in this character — in the books, anyway — is the mystery box element of him, where you’re not entirely sure why he’s doing what he does. It’s why it makes interviews quite hard, because I’d love to maintain that slight mystery box aspect of him. If you start explaining away things, it suddenly becomes less interesting. But that was something I was always interested in: the man who’s out of focus, and then he slowly comes into focus. I don’t know if he’s fully in focus yet.

In your approach to this character, do you think Larys has a master plan in mind all along, or was your approach really contingent on this enigmatic quality?

I think he’s got a plan. I think he’s got a direction. I think you can’t be just enigmatic for enigmatic’s sake, just lounging around smoking with nowhere to go. That’d be awful. No, I think he’s got something he’s trying to achieve. They’ve created this incredible character, this man who acts on the world and makes things happen despite looking like he couldn’t hurt a fly. I think he knows where he wants to go. I think he’s got plans, and he’s had, well, all his life to come up with them. So he’s prepared.

He obviously makes such a bold move in episode 6 when he tasks those men on death row to kill his own family. When you came across that moment in the script, what was your big takeaway?

There’s a type of person who could do that — justify that homicide for the good of the queen, to give her what she wants but to also secure his position. I mean, it’s brutal. It’s ruthless. This guy’s a dark animal. It’s a terrifying act of will that he’s able to do.

In that later scene in episode 6 between Larys and Alicent, when you give the facial response to her being horrified, it evokes this sense of madness, almost. Was that intentional? Were you leaning into the fact that maybe this character is a bit mad?

No, I’m not playing it. I don’t think he’s mad. What I love about that scene and what I love doing with Olivia is, as much as it’s a power move and it’s him putting her squarely in his pocket, as it were, there’s also an element of the game. “I will do all this, I will get all this blood on my hands, and you are able to plead naivety.” I wouldn’t say it’s romantic, but there’s an underlying… it’s not erotic, but there’s some sort of frisson there for Larys. She gets to say, “I didn’t want this,” and I know she did. So that’s what I thought I was going for in those scenes. It’s this, “We’re both on the same side here.” But I obviously just look mad. Maybe I’m just mad, I don’t know.

House of the Dragon

Matthew Needham as Larys Strong in ‘House of the Dragon’

| Credit: Ollie Upton / HBO

Steve Toussaint told me that he auditioned for House of the Dragon with Tywin Lannister dialogue. And then Olivia Cooke said she auditioned with Cersei Lannister dialogue. And Milly Alcock said she used Arya Stark dialogue.

How interesting.

I was curious if for this audition you read any characters from Game of Thrones.

No, it was all Larys — all Larys all the time. It was two scenes we have now filmed and done. That’s so funny. It’s like when people audition for James Bond. Don’t they always do a scene from Dr. No? It’s a bit like that, isn’t it? But I never had that.

When I say the name Larys fast, I sometimes accidentally call him Varys. And then in my mind, I’m seeing these parallels between our old Master of Whisperers on Game of Thrones and this character now. Was that a direct parallel for you in thinking about Larys?

That’s not an accident, is it? George R.R. Martin is an extraordinarily intelligent man. I don’t think he would make a mistake like that. That’s a very purposeful thing, so ignore it at your peril. I do think it’s a mixture of Varys and Littlefinger, but I also think they’re three remarkably different people. But they share a sort of murky underworld of the mind. [Varys actor] Conleth Hill is actually one of the reasons I’m an actor. I saw him in loads of plays growing up and just thought he was absolutely magic. So I owe Conleth Hill a lot, actually.

It’s easy to call out the Varys parallel, or even the Littlefinger parallel. Do you feel those parallels are warranted, or that Larys is doing something a bit more unique?

I don’t know if he’s doing something unique, I just think they’re three very unique people. But, of course, the “chaos is a ladder” way of life is something they share. Those are wonderful actors and performances, but I didn’t go and study them. I just felt like it’s its own beast. And it’s different writers. It might be in the same world, but it felt like a different show. I don’t think I would be doing anyone a favor by trying to replicate someone else’s performance, ’cause it’s been done beyond perfectly by those guys. I don’t think either of those guys burnt their family alive. I’m sure they did other horrible things, but he’s his own strange guy, I think. He’s on his own path.

In episode 7 you have that great moment with Alicent on the ship. It was very telling that Larys was like, “Do you want an eye? I’ll go fetch you an eye.” Man, woman, or even child, he does not care. He’s gonna do it. Was that another big milestone for you in understanding just how far this character will go?

Yeah, there’s nothing he won’t do. I don’t wanna speak for the brilliant Olivia Cooke, but that’s an interesting person to have on your side.

Do you think this is setting him up to be a more active player in the events that are gonna transpire in season 1?

If I survive, who knows? You’d have to ask the powers that be.

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

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