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Game of Thrones’ DeObia Oparei on Female Power in Dorne and Why We Need More Male Nudity

Photo: Courtesy of HBO

Spoilers ahead for Sunday night’s episode of Game of Thrones.

If Bronn thought he could get away with punching a prince, he learned his lesson when Trystane decided his dad’s bodyguard, Areo Hotah (DeObia Oparei), should return the favor. An actor with a rich theater background, Oparei is also a playwright who is not about to pull any punches — his first play Crazyblackmuthafuckin’self launched him on the London scene, and his second,  N@$#!% on the Lot, is “about a homeless black man who desires to be white, and then turns white,” thanks to an angel’s intervention. Oparei chatted with Vulture about the Dorne story line, male nudity, and erroneous reports that claimed he used to be a stripper.

Areo is a point-of-view character in the books, so it seems like this is just the beginning here …
I see Areo’s story as being incremental, as most of the stories are. Ellaria didn’t have as much to do last season as she does this season. This season she comes out as a firebrand, and I hope that will be the same with Areo. It better be! [Laughs heartily.] I love the books. And I really enjoyed Areo’s parts of the books. He’s very nuanced, and a very political character, very aware of the various forces within and without Dorne. His eye is constantly on the prize. He’s very empathetic, and with the stoicism that he has, a large part of his arsenal is his ability to empathize, and within that, to intuit what another person’s weaknesses are. That’s what makes him lethal. I’d like to think as an actor, I’m empathetic as well. None of us are just one thing, and most of us are more than we appear to be.

The Dorne story line is all about who has Myrcella, and what they are going to do with her. She seems to finally be going home to King’s Landing, but she’s a very different Myrcella than when she left as a child.
Myrcella is a very interesting character because she’s been empowered with a sense of agency and sovereignty that most young girls can only dream of. In Dorne, female power is not seen as a threat. In Dorne, women are powerful, and that’s not feared or checked or quarantined. It’s a world of people of many hues, many colors. And it’s a hedonistic world, where one is allowed to be free with the senses. It’s a sexual, sensual, and visceral world. Racial and gender dynamics are very different, in sharp contrast to King’s Landing. So Myrcella developed this confidence in Dorne, away from her mother and her family, that made her mature very early. And that’s what Jamie finds quite jarring, that she’s carved out her own world and become her own person. She’s a teenager now!

Do you think she’d be a better ruler than Tommen or Cersei? Considering that Tommen is younger and Cersei’s a little preoccupied.
She’s a teenager! [Laughs.] If that were a question in the real world, the power and the ability to exercise power well comes with time and wisdom. So to be given it that early, there’s a big question mark there.

What about Trystane on the Small Council? What kind of change could he bring to Westeros, given that religious fundamentalists have taken control?
He’d certainly be less rigid, coming from a place that is freer, looser, not in an undisciplined sense, but is expansive. I think it will be a powerful alliance, between the Martells and the Lannisters.

Both Areo Hotah and Brienne of Tarth are very big on loyalty and protecting the people they’re sworn to protect. Do you think you could take her?
She’s big! [Laughs.] She’s about as big as me! She’s about as tall as me. She’s got a splendid body. It would depend on the situation. If it was to kill, that would be unfortunate, because that would be quite a fight. He would have a great admiration for Brienne, for her tenacity and her loyalty. What’s really great about the fights she’s had — I love it when she fights, because it upends all the gender norms — but it’s about her tenacity. She doesn’t give up. A fight between Areo and Brienne would be great if it wasn’t as much about brawn as it was about smarts and cleverness. They’re obviously both very strong, obviously both very gifted, one with the ax, one with the sword. Areo is married to his long ax, and with every great warrior, there’s a latent rage and violence that’s contained, and it can come out in a fight. She’s pretty amazing, Gwendoline Christie.

A lot of fight scenes are about the choreography. How does your background as a dancer help with those kinds of scenes?
I think great dance is great sex — it’s all the same. It’s all about the sensuality of movement, every movement you make. That’s why I love doing action movies. It’s all about movement, dance — even if you’re hitting someone in the face. You’ve got to sell it all with great passion. There’s a narrative to the body. It’s exactly the same as dance. So to be able to put the dancer in what I do now, now in Independence Day 2, it’s really exciting.

From what I understand, when you lived in Australia, you had a period where you were a dancer? That you did a variety of different kinds of dance, even strip-dancing?
All of that was taken out of context. Part of the creative journey for me was not to come up the conventional route. I didn’t go through drama school. I chose not to. I came from a very working-class area, a child of Nigerian immigrants. I got into this thing called the National Youth Theatre, and to me, that was all about the status quo. It seemed to me like Downton Abbey — all the working-class and black people were playing servants, or the gravedigger in Hamlet, and the boys from Eton and posh private schools got Hamlet, all the big roles. The youth theater I came from, Greenwich and Lewisham Young People’s Theatre, was very Marxist, and I came out of that, and I was being told that I had to be a servant. I didn’t like that. So I went a different route, and I surrounded myself with people who were really creative, but not in the mainstream. And they were the drag queens, and the transgender writers, and they were doing the most exciting stuff. I just jumped in. I felt part of my remit as my actor is to go where the stories are the juiciest. Don’t be afraid. And I always wanted to experience what performance would be like without the fourth wall, so I formed a company in Australia and we did avant-garde theater, playing with gender norms, conversations about race — we just had a box of issues that we wanted to subvert with our stories, with dance. It was a really exciting time because I felt very cloistered in England, and I thought I needed to discover more about performance, and Australia was a great place to do that. Australia was completely my Dorne. It was a time of great hedonism. We would do these 15-minute shows, in nightclubs, on the street, in festivals, dancing out of a bathtub …

Sounds fun! So how that did that get misreported or taken out of context, that you were a stripper?
I’m sure that in the shows that we wrote and that we performed, there was nudity, you know? I’ve gone nude several times in my work. And then they said I was a stripper for seven years! I haven’t had time to do anything for seven years! [Laughs.] Other than be an artist. Not that nudity was the focus, but it was part of it. When there’s an integrity to the story and the story calls for it, I’m sure I’ve taken off my clothes. I have no qualms about that.

Good, because Game of Thrones might ask you to do that. They’re not shy.
Yeah, and I’m all for that. I’m actually all for male nudity. What’s wrong with showing male nudity? The male body is a place of desire, too, so let’s have some more equality there.

That’s what the female cast members have been saying!
[Laughs.] I’m in! Yeah. I have no qualms with that. But when I see things that say, “DeObia has no qualms about getting out his booty,” that’s just so cheap. It’s not the way I speak. When you read that, you cringe. Not only am I articulate, but I’m quite specific in the way I express myself, and I don’t speak in that kind of language. I would never say something like that.

You are articulate, but your character hardly ever gets to speak. He’s mostly physical. What would you want him to say?
[Laughs.] I hope Areo’s political acumen has a chance to come through next season! But there’s actually a power in saying less. I love a lot of Clint Eastwood’s movies where he hardly spoke. It can have a stronger echo.

Not that Areo is Hodor-like with only one word in his vocabulary, but Areo is also helping someone who is physically incapacitated.
Completely! It is quite Hodor-like. That’s a part of the show, we see a lot of great power with physical disability. Great political power and great physical power don’t go hand in hand. The prince obviously has a great mind, and Areo knows the prince’s pain. When Ellaria screams for blood, Areo knows the pain the prince is going through, even if he doesn’t say it. And that’s a great story ingredient to be mined, for sure. But I’m not quite the Hodor of Dorne. [Laughs.]

GOT’s Areo Hotah on Why We Need More Male Nudity