From playing a slappable Game Of Thrones villain to swigging vodka on set, actor Harry Lloyd is on his own path to glory, finds Jimi Famurewa
It’s commonplace these days for eager young actors to dust down library books, tour police stations or employ boxing trainers in the name of method-style research. But Harry Lloyd tends to go the extra mile. He visited Sicily before auditioning as an Italian immigrant in a play. Met real sex workers ahead of depicting a rent boy. And, when faced with his final scene as blond-wigged git Viserys Targaryen in Game Of Thrones, he was determined to find the reality in his preposterously brutal demise.
“I asked a doctor friend, ‘So if someone poured molten gold on my head, what would kill me first? Which part of my brain would it be hitting?’” laughs the 29-year-old from the sunken sofa of a noisy London pub. “Of course, in the end you forget all that and just f*cking scream.” Still, it’s this commitment that has led to scene-stealing roles in everything from Doctor Who (as schoolboy-turned-alien Baines) to new Channel 4 crime thriller The Fear. Lloyd’s destined for big things. But, as he points out, there’s always a future cashing in on a famous ancestor if it doesn’t work out..
You’ve performed in a lot of period drama and a bit of cult TV. Was it a change of pace to play a drug lord’s son in The Fear?
When you see a part and think, “I can’t play that,” it’s obviously something that turns you on. You challenge yourself to have a go. Before [The Fear], I was doing The Duchess Of Malfi at the Old Vic. Big, Jacobean stuff, blank verse, eye make-up and all that. So next up, I wanted to do something modern, something on TV and something funny. Two out of three isn’t bad [laughs].
It’s pretty gritty. Did you research the Brighton criminal underworld in preparation?
Yeah, I hung out with gangsters for a couple of months… [laughs] No, obviously it was tricky. But I went to Brighton and read autobiographies of people who were in gangs in London and Manchester in the Eighties so I could understand the background my dad [Peter Mullan plays blackout-prone mobster Richie Beckett] would have come from. My character Matty is the book guy. He takes care of the money. But if you just Google ‘Brighton drug dealer’ you realise how important the laundering is.
Did you manage to have some fun while filming?
Yeah, we filmed a lot of it in Bristol and it’s a great town. Lots of bars.
Are you good at knuckling down and not getting too drunk while you’re working?
I am, but as shoots go on, it tends to slip as you get cockier. There have been times when I’ve turned up hungover, cursing myself and the person who convinced me to go drinking, before doing a scene when I’m not really on it. Then, of course, you watch it back and it’s the best f*cking scene. It’s so infuriating. One of my first proper TV jobs was a series with Tamzin Outhwaite called Vital Signs and I’d snuck out to London for a party the night before. Tamzin actually had to act drunk in the scene so she had a bit of vodka before because everyone was being naughty and it was the end of the day. I was offered some and all the alarms were going off: be professional, this is your first job, you’re going to get fired. But I did it because I was trying to be cool and hang out with the grown-ups. Honestly, I watch it back and think it was the best acting I did in the whole series.
You got your first TV role in David Copperfield when you were at Eton. Did it lead to any jealous bullying?
No, because even at that point I was already a little w*nky actor. I was doing a lot of plays and I was clearly that guy, so there was no point in going, “Weirdo!” or anything like that.
It’s strange that fellow actors Eddie Redmayne and Tom Hiddleston were a few years ahead of you at school…
It is weird that there’s this bunch of people from the same school. I never know what to say about it, but it is interesting. I feel like I should explain it [laughs]. “Oh, actually there was this secret Asterix potion that we all had in drama lessons.” The truth is, f*ck knows how it happened and in 10 years time we might all be burned out.
Away from that, you were briefly talked up for the starring role in Doctor Who after appearing on the show in 2007. Any truth to it?
Someone asked [then-showrunner] Russell T Davies about me in Doctor Who Magazine and he said, “He should be the next Doctor, ha ha ha.” A throwaway comment. I was doing Robin Hood at the time David Tennant left and my agent said, “Have you seen? You’re being touted as the next Doctor. But I called them and it turns out that you’re not.” [Laughs]
Game Of Thrones was another huge breakout role for you. Did you have any idea what a cult phenomenon it would become, both in the US and over here?
Well, it was the biggest set I’d been on and I knew HBO was making it. I can remember shooting this scene in Malta and Roger Allam’s character [Illyrio] was meant to say something and they suddenly realised it should be said in Dothraki, this invented language. So they sent this whole speech to some guy in Canada so he could translate it and Roger could learn the new lines in his trailer… I was like, “I don’t care if no one ever watches this – it’s f*cking brilliant.” In the end, they cut the scene.
Doctor Who, Game Of Thrones… buy yourself a blond wig and you could appear at conventions for life.
I know, I should cash in. The greatest thing about the wig is that people don’t recognise me without it.
Does any part of you wish your character, Viserys, hadn’t been bumped off?
Not with a death like that. It was fun figuring out how to play such a dick. Plus, if they keep it going for seven years it’ll be like Doctor Who in that every [British actor] will have been in it at some point. It’s cool to have been in at the beginning.
Is it true you’ve just returned from a US road trip?
I had some meetings in the US – like a job fishing trip – and some of my mates were going on a three-month road trip so I tried to combine the two. We had lots of adventures, most of which aren’t fit for interview purposes, but we did meet these girls who were professional hula-hoopers. That was weird.
Finally, Charles Dickens is your great, great, great grandfather. Did you sneakily mention it when you auditioned for the BBC’s recent Great Expectations adaptation?
Yeah, I told them that in his will he’d said I should be in it and have all the close-ups on me… No, it’s a lovely bit of trivia, but I don’t have anything else to add. I’m a big fan, but so are millions of people. I was just born with it so I don’t feel I have anything to contribute. Maybe if the work dries up then I can go on the circuit and record some audiobooks [laughs].
The Fear is on 3-6 December at 10pm on Channel 4