Emmy Nominee Alfie Allen On Life After “Game Of Thrones”

Alfie Allen
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Photography: Gavin Bond

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Shot on location at The Millennium Biltmore, Downtown Los Angeles 

Alfie Allen is feverish and fatigued on this gloomy August afternoon. But while the former results from an aggressive 24-hour bug, the latter is actually symptomatic of something good: he’s still on such a high from scoring his first-ever Emmy nomination that he simply can’t sleep. 

“I think I’m still in shock,” the Game of Thrones star admits. “I’m losing sleep over something that is ultimately positive.”

What he means by “ultimately” has nothing to do with the nomination itself, but the personal ups and downs he’s encountered playing Theon Greyjoy. It hasn’t been all sunshine and roses. Theon has been (up until this eighth and final season) one of the most reviled figures on the show.

And, to be honest, the 33-year-old actor never expected to be celebrated for playing a character with whom he himself could not always identify. He had not even realized the Emmys were being announced on July 16.

At the time, he was busy picking up a gift at a London boutique when he got the call. “[My agent] said, ‘Congratulations.’ I said, ‘For what?’ And she said, ‘Your nomination.’ I thought it was for a group nomination!” 

His apathetic relationship with Theon aside, Allen also didn’t expect the accolade because he was one of three Game of Thrones stars to nominate themselves (on his end, after much urging from his manager). Along with co-stars Gwendoline Christie and Carice van Houten, he was recognized by the Television Academy with the names HBO submitted for consideration: his fellow Supporting Actor in a Drama nominees Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Peter Dinklage, as well as Kit Harrington, Emilia Clarke, Lena Headey, Maisie Williams and Sophie Turner.

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The fact that he is an instrumental part in helping the epic fantasy series reclaim its rightful Emmy throne with a whopping 32 nominations is not lost on him, but is not something he’s actively thinking about. He’s still too overwhelmed to do much of anything. “I didn’t even really celebrate yet [because] I haven’t really even registered that it’s true,” he admits.

He’s been wide-eyed and incredulous through it all: the group conversation with the GOT cast and crew (“The WhatsApp group chat went crazy!”), television appearances galore and the thousands of congratulations rolling in from fans.

But whether he wins or loses come September 22, on Emmy Sunday, isn’t important: “Eighty percent of it, for me, is that I’m even there,” Allen confesses. “If it all goes right on the night, then great.” He mostly appreciates being able to share the history-making night (given that it’s Thrones’ last Emmys) with the people with whom he’s become closest and essentially survived a battle.

“The greatest takeaway for me from Game of Thrones is [that] I gained a second family. It’s the people, man. It’s the friendships and the family that I have gained from [the show]. I know it sounds cheesy, but it is true,” he confides. “We’ve all been though it together for years in the muddy fields of Belfast… and to be able to celebrate it at the end is such a great thing.”

He isn’t emotional, however, talking about the end of this Game of Thrones era. Despite it being such a large part of his life for the last eight years, it didn’t completely consume him. “It never was my day to day. It was always about a three-to-four month period of my life every year.”

He continues, “It was about June or July that the scripts would start coming in. The second half of the year was GOT-dominated; the first half of the year was when it was being aired. So I’m fine with it [ending]. At least, I think I am. I definitely got to leave the show earlier than everyone else—I died in episode three. I finished shooting a lot earlier. I got to say goodbye to it in my own kind of way. I’d say the night of the Emmys is going to be the night when I finally say it’s over, it’s done.”

And speaking of endings, his thought on the series finale is a positive one, much like that of Sophie Turner and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, who was publicly booed at Comic-Con for defending the show’s ending. Lena Headey, Natalia Tena and even his dear friend Gwendoline Christie, however, have been vocal about their disappointment.

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“It happened with Breaking Bad and The Sopranos—no one was really happy with the ending of those shows. I was happy with the ending of those shows, by the way. In all honesty, I thought it was nice the way [GOT creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss] wrapped up the last three episodes. Maybe I was satisfied with the way my ending wrapped up and so, by the time the finale aired, I was like, ‘It’s great!’”

He adds, “HBO set out to do a fantasy show that was steeped in familial relationships, and I think that’s what the last three episodes did; it rounded out those bonds. Some people might think it was hastily done, but what kind of pressure Dave and Dan were under, we can only guess.”

“It’s a mammoth task trying to please so many people who have been so emotionally invested in something for so many years,” he continues. “You’ve just got to get on with it. I think it was always going to go out with a whisper, man. I don’t mean that in a defamatory sense at all—I think it was so huge that [the only way to end it] was going to be a burn out, not fizzle out. It’s such a hard thing to write though. To really get that right is tough.”

No other character on the series suffered quite like Theon Greyjoy—who was tortured, emasculated, flayed and castrated, among other horrific indignities—and Allen found it difficult to play a character so darkly for so long without internalizing some of his pain.
Theon was equally arrogant and narcissistic, cocky and cruel, before his capture by Ramsay Snow, which made viewers less sensitive to his humiliation and dehumanization.

It is only in the show’s final season that he begins to redeem himself for betraying his best friends, the Starks, in season 2. He proves that he is a man who is willing to fight; he is no longer weak or afraid. In fact, he dies defending Bran—the eventual ruler of Westeros—by sacrificing himself to the Night King during the Battle of Winterfell.

Theon doesn’t vocalize the question he’s struggled with for the entire series, but Bran gives him the words he needs to hear anyway: “You’re a good man.” He says “Thank you” and, with tears in his eyes, Theon Greyjoy dies a noble death. It’s a powerful scene, and one that surely contributed to Allen’s Emmy nomination.

“Theon was the most human character [on the show], in my opinion. He makes mistakes. There’s nothing regal about him. He was hated at times and reviled.”

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And that wasn’t always easy to take, especially when fans associated him with a character he wasn’t often proud to be. Allen even opted to stop reading anything about the show or himself online after the show’s second season. “It was really, really hard,” he admits. “I’d walk into rooms and it would feel like I was standing there naked. It’s different now, I suppose. Because [Theon died with] honor and redemption, people have come off the hate wagon and are now liking the character for how he went out.”

He shares, “I poured my heart and soul into the character and my work, but there were times during the show that I felt I was being laughed at. Theon, Reek, whatever we called him at the time, was being humiliated on the show, this global juggernaut, for such a long time. And it was hard to separate myself from the character. It can really take a toll.”

He had to take it in stride, but wishes belatedly that he had opened up more at the time. “When I was going through all that stuff, it wasn’t easy. We as people—and especially men—don’t really talk about our problems too much. We think it’s a sign of weakness, when it’s not. We should allow ourselves to be a little more vulnerable. At times, I had to step back and think, ‘At least I’m doing something that’s divisive. It’s not just like I’m the hero or the bad guy.’ I guess that’s kind of part and parcel of this profession.”

At times, however, it was so bad for Allen that he even wished he’d have been cast in a different part. He initially auditioned for the roles of Viserys Targaryen (who was played by Harry Lloyd), Rob Stark (played by Richard Madden), Jon Snow (Harington) and, of course, Theon.

“I don’t regret getting the part of Theon. There were times during the show that I would have said different without a doubt, but, then again, I don’t want to do Theon a disservice. [It goes without saying that] the relationship I had with that character was hard at times, but it’s lovely that I get to end this journey on a positive note.”

And there’s more than just one: since the nomination, his future now looks beautiful, not bleak. “I feel like I’m in a dream world [that my life and career are now changing],” he admits. “I know it sounds like I’m adding some kind of romanticism to it, but I’m really not. I was properly getting ready to get back to not working.”

Allen confides, “After what the character had been through and the kind of mocking nature of it all, I felt like, at times, that I wasn’t really destined for a happy ending. “I know it shouldn’t work this way, but sometimes it feels as if it does. When you get an Emmy nomination, it changes your landscape as an actor.”

If his first post-GOT project is any indication, he won’t be sitting still for a very, very long time: Allen will appear in the Fox Searchlight dramedy Jojo Rabbit, come October 18, as part of an all-star cast that includes Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell and Rebel Wilson.

Choosing this film, at this time, was a critical decision. He hated the idea of being typecast and, after playing someone so broken for so long, he was ready to have a laugh. But we should also note, with Jojo Rabbit, he does not play it safe. Set during World War II, the film—based on Christine Leunens’ book Caging Skies—revolves around a young German Nazi-in-training, whose best friend is an imaginary version of Adolf Hitler (played by the Oscar-nominated director of the film, Taika Waititi). “It’s really about a boy who doesn’t have a father figure and is trying to belong in a place where he’s being told to be—their version of [Boy] Scouts is the Nazi uniform—it’s nature versus nurture.”

The content is sensitive, but viewers will see the film’s strengths for themselves. And for Allen, one of them is its director.

Alfie Allen
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“Taika was a big reason [why I chose this project] and, also, it was an opportunity to do something that was completely different from what people know me most for. To do a comedy after Thrones was kind of a dream, especially after what my character went through. It was a very liberating experience. I was overwhelmed and grateful for the opportunity they had given me to work with so many wonderful and talented people and to get back to the spontaneous aspect of acting. Even though HBO gave us a lot of freedom as actors, it was very scripted.”

On the contrary, he says, “Taika is one for letting things flow. He’s like ‘if you want to try something, go for it.’ Without trying to toot my own trumpet, it allowed me to play with comedic timing. I hadn’t been able to do that at all in anything for a very long time.”

In the film, Allen plays Finkel, a Nazi who has a ‘very special’ relationship with Sam Rockwell’s Captain Klenzendorf. “Obviously, getting to play Sam Rockwell’s lover was a highlight,” he says with a grin. “My character adores him [and personally] I think Sam is a f***ing great actor.” He raves, “To form a bond with him on set was amazing. I adore him. He’s just a really humble and down-to-earth guy. He puts you at ease and relaxes you immediately.”
Shooting Jojo Rabbit also gave Allen a taste of what a comedic career could look like—and he definitely wants more.

But he wants to try other genres, too: a romantic comedy, a drama—anything that doesn’t have him wearing chainmail or cutting off his penis. “I sort of try not to see my career as to a point of trajectory, or otherwise it’s going to drive me mad.”

“I’m open to anything.” He notes, “I’d like to do something that really highlights what’s going on in the world at the moment [like] climate change or mental health. Primarily, I’d like to just be happy and do stuff that’s thought-provoking—not just to do it to be a lead role. I’d like to do dark, horrible stuff and I’d like to do jovial, light, funny stuff.”

Whatever parts he plays will have to personally interest him, and they will have to be diverse. “I actually got an important piece of advice from an actor named Simon Callow, who told me to never allow the people around you to typecast you because it just makes their jobs easier. He said, ‘Make sure you’re doing different stuff all the time.’ And that’s what I’m trying to do.” [His career plan seems to be working: both Jojo Rabbit and How to Build a Girl—a comedy based on Caitlin Moran’s novel of the same name—were winners at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, where they premiered.]

The ultimate wisdom, however, came from actor and television presenter, Keith Allen. “My father gave me some magical advice, which I think is really valuable—not just in terms of industry, but in terms of life in general. He said, ‘You should never be afraid to make an idiot of yourself.’ I’m definitely going to try to teach that to my kid. It just enables you to be free. And isn’t that the point?”Theon himself couldn’t have said it any better.

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