In ‘House of the Dragon,’ Paddy Considine Claims the Crown

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WINSHILL, England — On a blindingly sunny June afternoon, Paddy Considine whipped his sedan through a working-class neighborhood in this suburb in the West Midlands, pointing out the stolid taverns, churches and council houses that combine to cast the long shadows of his childhood.

There was the gospel hall where he and his friends sang hymns when they weren’t “getting kicked out for fighting about.” The pub where men from his estate pursued nightly oblivion. The post office where his tempestuous father “tossed a wheelie bin through the front window” during one of his frequent swerves into rage, a moment Considine memorialized in his bleakly beautiful 2011 film, “Tyrannosaur.”

He pulled to a stop in front of a pale gray two-family house and pointed to an upstairs window. It was his old bedroom, and he told a story about a kid desperate to show the world he had more to offer than it might think.

“I’d run home after school and then put the music on and stand in the window, dancing to Adam and the Ants, so the parents would see me and look up,” he said. “It wasn’t like I was a show-off. I just wanted to be seen.”

He looked at me with a grin that was equal parts affable and intense. “There’s a difference, you know,” he said.

Over a two-decade career in film, TV and the occasional blockbuster play, Considine has thrived within that difference. He has crafted performances that demand to be seen, partly because they forgo performative pyrotechnics in favor of a palpable, at times unsettling sense of the real. The fact that he hasn’t had what you might call a signature role hasn’t kept him from becoming many British actors’ favorite actor.

“I just believe him,” said Olivia Colman, a longtime admirer. “You sort of look into his eyes, and he’s feeling it all, and he means it all.”

Considine’s profile is more modest in America, but it might not stay that way: Beginning on Aug. 21, he will be dancing in his largest window yet. That’s when “House of the Dragon,” the long-awaited “Game of Thrones” prequel series, lands on HBO. A family melodrama with all the violence, sex and power-lust one would expect from a tale set in Westeros, the series seeks to recapture the magic that made the original a global phenomenon before it stumbled to its polarizing conclusion in 2019.

The story, based on “Fire & Blood,” a spinoff novel by the saga’s mastermind, George R.R. Martin, is set nearly 200 years before the events of “Game of Thrones.” It involves an earlier battle for the Iron Throne, one that threatens to crater the Targaryen clan long before their combustible descendant Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) arrives in the original series.

At the heart of it all is Considine, who stars as King Viserys, the ruler whose decisions and frailties set into motion much of the conflict and carnage to come.

It is a surprising bit of casting, at first glance. After arriving as an eccentric thug in the 1999 film “A Room for Romeo Brass,” Considine has made his name mostly in small-bore dramas playing emotionally conflicted men who feel it all, and then some: a grieving immigrant father in “In America”; a religious zealot ex-con in “My Summer of Love”; a murderously vengeful veteran in “Dead Man’s Shoes.”

While he has appeared in franchises (“The Bourne Ultimatum”), genre series (the Stephen King adaptation “The Outsider”) and surprising detours before (the goofball cop comedy “Hot Fuzz”), a dragon epic did not seem like the most natural fit.

“If you look at the body of his work and the type of movies that he does, it doesn’t necessarily lend itself to a big HBO franchise like this,” said Matt Smith, who stars in “House of the Dragon” as Viserys’s belligerent brother, Daemon. “But I think he’s got good taste, and I think he realized the part was really interesting.”

Considine, 48, is a man of multitudes and paradoxes. An acclaimed actor, he nonetheless struggles with attacks of insecurity to the point that he considered leaving projects like “Hot Fuzz” because he felt he was flailing. He has an unmistakable toughness, but what makes it captivating is the sensitivity that bleeds through.

Ryan Condal, one of the “House of the Dragon” showrunners, said that Considine imbued Viserys, a relatively passive character in the script, “with a bit of Paddy’s working class background.”

“What Paddy brought to it was Targaryen-ness, this fierceness,” he said. But as the other showrunner, Miguel Sapochnik, noted: “He wears his insecurities on his sleeve.”

Return to Westeros in ‘House of the Dragon’

HBO’s long-awaited “Game of Thrones” spinoff will debut on Aug. 21.

This combination has already won over the toughest “Thrones” fan of all: Martin, who said Considine’s Viserys surpasses the one in the book.

“Every once in a while, an actor or the writers will take a character in a somewhat different direction that is better,” Martin said. “And I look at it and I say, ‘Damn, I wish I had written it that way.’”

Considine admits that he was flattered to be asked to lead such an enormous undertaking, which will almost certainly result in more people seeing him than ever before. But what drew him in were the same things he seeks in all his roles, qualities that his past and predisposition help him depict with rare delicacy.

“There was just conflicts in him; there was pain in him,” he said. “There was stuff for me to do.”

CONSIDINE SPENDS MOST OF HIS TIME far from the show-business fray. He lives with his wife of 20 years, Shelley, and their three children in the town of Burton-on-Trent, near where he grew up, located roughly 110 miles northwest of London. It helps him avoid having to glad-hand industry types or audition for roles, which he loathes because he’s terrible at it, he said.

While Considine is generally immune to Hollywood cliché, he certainly looked the part when we first met. Sitting inside a coffee shop in a posh village near his home, he was wearing black on black with dark glasses, and he spent the first 20 minutes talking about his rock band, called Riding the Low. He knew how it all came across.

“I know … an actor with a band,” he said.

But the reality is, he has been playing music for longer than he’s been acting, and the band is no mere vanity project: In June, they played Glastonbury Festival, and their latest record included a cameo by Considine’s musical hero, Robert Pollard of Guided by Voices.

As for the glasses, they contain special lenses to treat Irlen syndrome, a disorder that is believed to affect the brain’s ability to process visual information. (Much of the science and medical community is skeptical about the affliction, but Considine and many others say the lenses changed their lives.) Generally funny and easygoing in conversation, Considine said this condition, along with a mild form of Asperger’s he was diagnosed with in his 30s, contributed to a reputation for aloofness as a young actor.

“I couldn’t concentrate or focus on you, so I’d have to look away,” he said. “It led to this behavior of me going within myself and being slightly unapproachable.”

But he is used to being misunderstood — even as a boy in Winshill, Considine had a reputation that preceded him. But it wasn’t his own.

He grew up with a brother and four sisters in one of the few two-parent households in his social circle. His mother, Pauline, was a natural nurturer who temporarily took in kids from around the council estate when things got rough at their own homes. “I’d go downstairs and there’d be, like, a six-foot punk lying on the sofa under a blanket, with a big red mohawk,” Considine said.

His father was another matter. An Irish alcoholic with a depressive streak, Martin Considine was known as a brawler with a quick temper, and was given to staying in bed until the afternoon, “watching ‘Raging Bull’ over and over again,” Considine said.

“I grew up with a lot of labels on me when I was a kid, just because of the reputation mainly of my father,” he said.

For a while, he lived up to them, alienating his teachers by being an uninterested student and a class clown. But when he signed on to a school production of “Grease,” it was transformative in more ways than one. When he opened his mouth to sing “Greased Lightning” in the first rehearsal, he discovered a robust voice he didn’t know he had. On opening night, everyone else discovered something, too.

“It changed the entire school’s perception of me,” he said. “The teachers perceived me differently, the students. And I thought, this is powerful.”

At 16, Considine began a drama program but “didn’t really learn that much, and I just left,” he said. (He eventually got a photography degree.) But he struck up a fortuitous friendship there with Shane Meadows, a fellow Midlander with similar tastes in music and film. Several years later, Meadows cast Considine in “Romeo Brass,” which won both men acclaim.

Higher-profile roles followed in films like the Factory Records chronicle “24 Hour Party People” (2002) and the melancholy immigrant tale “In America” (2003). Then came “Dead Man’s Shoes,” a nervy, lo-fi riff on a slasher picture that stars Considine, in a frightening but grounded performance, as an ex-soldier stalking his brother’s former tormentors.

The film is still revered in Britain — nearly everyone I talked to about Considine mentioned it — though the actor long ago tired of discussing it. (“Part of me wants to die” when people bring it up, he said, but he has made his peace with it.)

That indelible performance indirectly enabled Considine to subvert it, to change perceptions again. He met Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright on the awards circuit for “Dead Man’s Shoes” — it and their film “Shaun of the Dead” were both released in Britain in 2004 — and the result was a part as a doofus detective in “Hot Fuzz.”

“Meeting Paddy in person was a revelation; he was incredibly warm and funny,” Wright wrote in an email. “We knew he had a comic presence that hadn’t been fully unleashed yet.”

“Hot Fuzz” was where Considine met Colman, a co-star, who went on to lead his first feature as a director, “Tyrannosaur.” The film, which he also wrote, tells a grueling but powerful story about a splenetic widower (Peter Mullan) who befriends a devout woman (Colman) trapped in an abusive marriage.

For Colman, then known primarily for comedy and TV, the wrenching performance opened new dramatic opportunities that eventually led to an Oscar for the 2018 film “The Favourite.”

“He sort of directly changed the trajectory of my career,” she said.

For Considine, it offered a chance to revisit his upbringing via the means that had allowed him to escape it. As we drove around Winshill, he pointed out landmarks that had inspired scenes in the film.

“I think ‘Tyrannosaur’ was just a love letter and an apology to my parents,” he told me. “It was me just trying to make sense of some of the things I grew up with.”

CONSIDINE STARTED ACTING long before he became an actor.

As an insecure kid cowed by a chaotic home and by other parents who “shut doors in my face” because of the sins of his father, he learned to perform confidence and swagger. “I had to create a sort of carapace to be able to protect myself,” he said.

That armor never entirely went away — he still dusts it off for premieres and red carpets. Neither did the insecurity. As his career blossomed, it became both the thing that made acting a misery, at times, as well as a force pushing him to go deeper into performances that dazzled his contemporaries.

“In England, I think a lot of actors feel the same way about Paddy,” Smith said. “We hold him in very high regard.”

Tony Pitts (“All Creatures Great and Small”), a friend of Considine’s and past co-star, called him “the male actor that most male actors want to be.”

Considine is choosy about his parts — it’s hard to find an outright stinker on his IMDb page. Friends say this derives from the fact that acting can take a profound psychic toll on him, so he has to be invested in a role to accept it.

“Paddy’s not one to just pitch up and say the lines,” Pitts said. “I’ve seen him when he’s been at the point where he said, ‘I don’t think I want to act again.’”

Wright calls Considine “Mr. 11th Hour” because that’s when he “had to be talked out of leaving” both “Hot Fuzz” and a later comedy, “The World’s End,” over a crisis of confidence about his comic chops. “This was, of course, ridiculous,” Wright said. “It just shows me he cares, maybe too much.”

Considine went through something similar in “The Ferryman,” Jez Butterworth’s 2017 drama set during the Troubles in Northern Ireland. It was Considine’s first play, and he took it on as a kind of trial-by-fire apprenticeship because he felt limited by his lack of formal acting training, even after numerous series and films. “I was running out of places to hide, and I was running out of enthusiasm for it, too,” he said.

He found stage acting terrifying. His self-doubt reached a crisis point during the initial run, at London’s Royal Court Theater, and then again when “The Ferryman” moved to Broadway — both times Sam Mendes, the director, helped him through it. (Reviewing the Broadway production, The Times said Considine gave “a superb, anchoring performance.”) The actor now says “The Ferryman” was “a game-changer,” in terms of his comfort with his craft.

That comfort wasn’t always apparent on “House of the Dragon,” however. Considine said he based the physically ailing Viserys partly on his mother, who went through multiple amputations resulting from diabetes before dying of a heart attack. Colleagues said watching him inhabit the role sometimes bordered on concerning.

“He turns himself inside out in his performance, and that metamorphosis is sometimes really painful to watch,” said Olivia Cooke, who stars as Alicent Hightower, a woman close to Viserys. “We spoke about it, and the only way he can access his performance, sometimes, is to go to such a horrid and painful place.”

Sapochnik said that when Considine struggles with material or anything else, “his default is anger.” Directing him involved “helping to work through that, being patient about it, sometimes saying to him, ‘Mate, calm down,’” he explained. “But also then seeing how he brought that into Viserys.”

At the same time, his co-stars, from old hands like Smith to relative newcomers like Emily Carey, who plays a younger version of Alicent, roundly praised Considine as a funny, warm and supportive colleague and collaborator. The person he is hardest on is himself.

“It sounds like I’m a miserable sod, but I have a good time doing these things, as well,” Considine said. “It’s just that when I perform in any way, I have these challenges in front of me again.”

What keeps him going are the flashes of transcendence. He mentioned one late-season monologue Viserys gives before his family that “touched a bit of old Hopkins,” as in Sir Anthony, one of his acting heroes.

“The moments where you are fully in it, all that goes — all that awareness, all that self-observation, all that stuff, that inner critic,” Considine said. “That horrible stuff just falls off you. And that’s ultimately what I’m searching for.”

And to the extent that any of that horrible stuff is linked to his past, he’s learning to let some of that fall off him, too, as achievements mount and the passing years bring distance and perspective.

“That kid in the window, he hasn’t got to die, but it can’t keep dominating your life,” he said. “You’ve got to explore other things, and ‘Game of Thrones’ is part of that.”

“Who would’ve thought that kid would end up playing a [expletive] king?” he added. “Who would’ve ever conceived that I would be a king in anything?”

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