For viewers of the latest episode of House of the Dragon, actor Jefferson Hall is a familiar face — and not just because of his work in other gritty period pieces like Vikings and Taboo. The 44-year-old English actor is actually a previous resident of the lands of Westeros, having appeared as Ser Hugh of the Vale, a brash young knight who gets murked by Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane, early on in Game of Thrones’ first season.
“I’m not sure they knew I’d been in it before,” Hall laughs. “Maybe I specialize in unremarkable performances, which might be to my benefit.”
Chances are good you’ll remember him after this week. Hall plays not one but two new characters culled straight from the pages of author and series co-creator George R.R. Martin’s novel Fire & Blood: twin brothers Jason and Tyland Lannister, members of one of the Seven Kingdom’s most infamous Houses. Tyland, the younger twin, is the conscientious new Master of Ships on King Viserys I Targaryen’s (Paddy Considine) Small Council; his older brother, Jason, is the smug and smarmy Lord of Casterly Rock and a prime marriage candidate for the Iron Throne’s heir apparent, Rhaenyra Targaryen (Milly Alcock). They may look alike, but Hall says this season will establish they’re as different as night and day.
“Tyland becomes so entwined at the court and learns so much so quickly that he changes,” Hall says. “So, like, at a family dinner, Jason’s talking about the latest girl he’s fucked or the wine he’s drunk or the hunt he’s been on, whereas Tyland’s got some trade secrets up his sleeve he has to swallow and keep to himself. It’s going to be more of a conflict for him to want to share things with his family.”
You were in the original Game of Thrones. What was it like to return to this world after all this time?
Very bizarre, to be honest. When I first did it, I was working with Alfie Allen [Thrones’ Theon Greyjoy] on another job, and he had this book with a dragon on the front. He roughly explained the premise, which just sounded nutty and implausible to me. I was like, “Good luck with that. It’s never going to work.” [Laughs.] Then I had an audition for it, and when you have an audition, you go, “It’s brilliant.” Your mind switches.
Arriving on set in Northern Ireland ten years ago or so, it was unknown. It still had that feeling of, “Shit, is this going to work?” I remember hanging out with Kit [Harington, a.k.a. Jon Snow] and those guys, and they’re all desperately doing press-ups and trying to figure things out. Walking to the studios at Warner Bros. for House of the Dragon and seeing carved statues 70 feet high or whatever in this incredible set … It was a very different energy: Wow, this is high pressure, and a lot to live up to.
I’d imagine playing our first real representatives of one of the major houses from the original show was high pressure too. Do you feel you had to convey that essence of Lannister to the viewers?
Yeah, the Essence of Lannister perfume — I had a little squirt of that. But really, I had to put it out of my mind. [Initially] I thought, Oh, I’ve got to be a little Tyrion, a little Cersei, a little Jaime. But then if I think about my grandfather or my great-grandfather, there’s barely any connection. So I had to forget about those guys completely and look at it as fresh characters with fresh journeys. That was the hardest thing, really: Putting the Lannisters and those wonderful performances we know and love from Game of Thrones out of my mind and going, “This is a completely new character who happens to have the surname Lannister.”
You play both Jason and Tyland Lannister, twin brothers, and I’m very curious about the process. Is it easier to do this kind of thing now in the age of CGI?
No, it’s not easy. It’s a nightmare. [Pauses.] Well, I’ve always wanted to work with myself — I’m a big fan — so that was good. But they say never meet your heroes, so there was that. [Laughs.]
Technically, I worked with a wonderful chap named Andy who was playing the other brother depending on who I was playing, adopting mannerisms for each brother. He was very patient with my petulance and frustrations, because it was demanding in that respect. But it was fun through the scenes where you’re sitting next to yourself, essentially giving each other disparaging looks.
In the brief time we spend with them in this episode, Tyland seems very concerned and diligent, while Jason has that confident, cocky swagger that makes him so unappealing to the people he meets. Is it a challenge to come up with such different characters simultaneously?
Yeah, of course, but also it’s hugely supported by the writing, which was very clear. In George’s world, the firstborn twin is the one that gets all the perks, receives the majority of the inheritance and the kingdom. Being a minute older, Jason has grown up with this sense of entitlement that he will be the Lord of Casterly Rock and Tyland will not.
The way I looked at that idea of Tyland growing up with that disparity was that he’d developed perseverance, defiance, working hard to get what he wants by his own merit. When he goes to King’s Landing, he’s going there not through nepotism, but through having worked hard and understanding what he does, and with an objective to do a good job. He’s a little more resilient and patient and smarter due to his upbringing. Jason’s the spoiled one, really, and this sense of entitlement puts him in a frustrating position when things don’t go his way.
I think the moment people meet Jason they’re going to think, Lannisters, man. Nothing changes.
Oh, shit — well, that wasn’t the intention! Another Lannister, hundreds of years before, exactly the same? Maybe it’s just the wine. [Laughs.]
I also wanted to talk about that enormous golden spear he gives Viserys as a gift. Is there some kind of metaphor at play here?
[Laughs.] We had a lot of fun with the spear. When we saw it, I was like, Oh, shit, they’ve really gone to town on this. It’s an awful present to bring. It’s like how some people bring toasters.
But he’s really proud of this gift. He spends a lot of time with it in his hands. Unfortunately, I don’t think Viserys is awfully impressed with it. But I couldn’t get into any analogies or metaphors of what the spear means. It’s nothing to do with his penis.
It also leads to what winds up being a pretty grueling and unpleasant scene when Viserys, who at this point is badly hung-over, tries and fails to stab that poor stag to death with it.
I’m glad you had an emotional reaction to it! We spent a day in a forest just outside this small town in England with two men dressed in blue jumpsuits, pretending to be a deer, which wasn’t emotional. It was just, “Don’t laugh at the two men doing panto deer acting like Blue Man Group.” It was really difficult.
But Paddy is such a committed actor, and watching him, it was like he was really going through it. I remember thinking, God, this guy’s got a lot on his plate, and the pressure that he’s under is crippling. The way he uses the spear and then hands it back to Jason is quite poignant.
It almost feels like you get a bonus stint on the show by playing two characters at once.
You could call it a bonus, sure! You have two different perspectives, but there’s also a lot of decisions you have to make in your head with your backstory, what isn’t on the page, what isn’t in the book at this stage. I don’t know whether you read any of Fire & Blood, but often a lot of the passages will end with, “But according to this guy, maybe that didn’t happen.” We don’t have a hell of a lot of concrete information, so really it’s playing one step at a time and trying not to get ahead of yourself with the decisions you make.
You’re the first person involved with the show I’ve spoken to who’s mentioned the ambiguity of the source text, in which a lot of contradictory stories about what happened are presented. The show’s going to have to make some decisions about this stuff.
Yeah. It’s going to be down to [season-one co-showrunners] Miguel Sapochnik and Ryan Condal, who make the executive decision on what’s really true. They’re dealing with the idea of stories. If you look at someone like Richard III in British history, who was described as a very malevolent, evil, hunchback king — in certain other accounts, people say that he was an incredible warrior and his shoulder was misshapen because he used a sword so much. History is told by the winners. To tell a story objectively, that’s not being told by the winners, is the challenge that Miguel and Ryan have to deal with.
But it does give you a sense that you don’t know whether you’re going to live or die on these shows. I did three years on Vikings, and there was a producer, Keith Thompson, who was a very nice man from the North — but he’d come over to you and say, “Just to let you know, next week you’ll be dead.” We’d be having coffee in the greenroom and he’d come over and we’d be like, Fuck, it’s Keith. “Can I have a word?” If you heard that, you were toast. [Laughs.] There’s the same feeling on this show. We all have no idea, really, what’s going to happen, which doesn’t let you get ahead of yourself. Sometimes you go, Well, I read the book, and I’m going to be the hero at the end. You sniff the fart a bit too much. When you’re genuinely in a state of, Is this my last week?, that sort of energy keeps you present and focused on the moment.