British Vogue: In House Of The Dragon, Emma D’Arcy Is Reshaping Westeros. Off Screen, They’re Reshaping Hollywood

Written by Admin on June 13 2023

If you were at Trans Pride in London in 2021, you might have spotted Emma D’Arcy amongst the thousands of protesters. Picture it, D’Arcy – alabaster wig-free – sitting with a friend watching post-march revellers dance in the fading dusk of a summer’s evening:

“It’s amazing, isn’t it?” one of them says to D’Arcy. “Such a powerful feeling – what is that?”

They stop to think, and then suddenly realise: “Oh, it’s pride.”

“It was genuinely remarkable,” D’Arcy remembers, “a feeling adjacent to, but different from, joy”. Today, on this gloomy afternoon, the nonbinary London-born actor is perched thoughtfully in a chair with the hood of their oversized denim hoodie up, silver hoop earrings occasionally winking in the light. “I think part of what I was reacting to was the process of converting otherness to exquisite difference.”

D’Arcy, the breakout talent of HBO’s ambitious Game of Thrones prequel House of the Dragon, is a very different kind of Hollywood star – more likely to describe the Golden Globes as the “prom of a school you didn’t go to” and go wild swimming (“along with, you know, all of northeast London”) than get swept up in the momentum of a cultural juggernaut with a reported budget of $20 million an episode. And yet, here they are: possibly one of the hottest actors on the planet right now, one who’s also single-handedly responsible for a 5,640 per cent increase in Google searches for “negroni sbagliato”.

Even though D’Arcy’s tender moment at Trans Pride – they’ve been three years running now – is enough to leave us temporarily choked up, D’Arcy willingly admits that they find it hard to articulate their thoughts at present. They nervously toke on a vape, before duly putting it away for the rest of the interview (“don’t vape, kids”). “It’s not a good time, is it?” they sigh, unscrewing the cap of a battered Chilly’s and taking a generous swig. “In the last couple of years, transphobia has become just broadly more acceptable.” Then a flash of that debonair charm, the one that had people swooning at the mere mention of a certain cocktail (with Prosecco in it): “I tell you what though, the ‘gender critical’ title took me by surprise. I thought I was the one who was critical of gender!”

When viewers last saw Rhaenyra Targaryen, the charismatic ivory-tressed heir to the Iron Throne, her son had just been gobbled up by a Boeing 747-sized dragon. The first series of House of the Dragon ends on a chilling close-up of D’Arcy’s elegantly patrician face – a controlled mask of fury and grief – like a riposte to the naysayers who queried “Emma who?” when the then-unknown was cast to lead the blockbuster. “In the first season, she did a lot of mediating the Targaryen fire,” D’Arcy teases of series two. “I’m excited for her to be released from the endless navigation of people, of personalities – I think the energy for that has run out somewhat.”

When D’Arcy made their red carpet debut, let’s just say a star was born in head-to-toe Thom Browne. Their fashion references include First World War battleships, children’s piano recitals, and David Bowie (of course). “I’m a good magpie,” they demur when talk turns to fashion. “I’ve always shopped in charity shops – it’s how I was brought up. I don’t know how to shop in a place where most things are nice. I have to go into a jumble sale and look for the one item that needs rescuing.”

D’Arcy grew up a quiet, shy child but “a prolific actor-director” in their mum’s living room, with their long-suffering sibling playing every secondary part. “I feel like I’ve been thinking about my relationship to gender at least since I was about five,” they muse. “My journey with my gender identity feels like one of piecing things back together.”

If their words are slow and considered – punctuated by long pauses for thought – it’s because they are acutely aware that trans and gender non-conforming people are in the headlines for all the wrong reasons right now. “We are in a scary period of contraction, especially where trans rights are concerned,” they reflect. “I feel so deeply sad about the vitriol levelled against trans people and gender non-conforming people. I’m also incredibly aware that if I feel like this as a white nonbinary person, I know how much more hostile the environment is for trans women and for trans people of colour.”

Even after they found a family of supportive queer friends in their twenties, they kept their personal identity and professional career strictly separate. Then HBO requested their pronouns before filming, and D’Arcy found themselves at a crossroads. “I had a really strong belief that there probably wasn’t space in the mainstream industry to be gender non-conforming and an actor. I suddenly needed to reckon with that–” a beat, heavy with thankfulness “–and I was wrong!”

D’Arcy’s own approach to Rhaenyra is closely informed by their nonbinary identity. “The conversation that I had with [showrunners] Miguel [Sapochnik] and Ryan [Condal] really early on was about Rhaenyra’s keen awareness of how patriarchy operates,” they explain. “I thought I’d been cast, despite all of my” – they smile warmly, gesturing towards themselves – “stuff, you know? But actually, I really do believe that the ‘stuff’ was also invited.”

That “stuff”, as D’Arcy puts it? I’m willing to bet it’s what keeps viewers returning, producing the kind of onscreen magic that only happens when an actor brings their full self to their work. “Being visible as a nonbinary person is the only meaning I can see in having a public profile,” D’Arcy declares. “My hope is that the more trans people and gender non-conforming people that are visible in this industry, the more hopeful young people in the community will feel about the opportunities available to them.” Then, an invitation: “See you at Trans Pride?”

Written by Zing Tsjeng
Published June 13, 2023

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