GQ: The ascension of House of the Dragon star Emma D’Arcy

The breakout star of the Game of Thrones prequel slayed on screen – while delivering red carpet style moments of pure fire

When Emma D’Arcy removes the signature blonde Targaryen tresses worn for their role on House of the Dragon, the actor becomes unrecognisable. But on the red carpet, their transformation goes beyond taking off a wig. When promoting the Game of Thrones prequel this summer, D’Arcy (who identifies as non-binary and uses they/them pronouns) used each appearance to indulge in both the wonderful and freaky: in London, they capped off a regal Acne Studios look (big white shirt, slim leather trousers) with theatrical gloves and a shimmery gold vest. In Amsterdam, they completed a ballooning Marni suit with sad-clown make-up the colour of rosacea. And in Los Angeles, they wore a severe all-black Vetements suit with Mr Tickle-sized sleeves and Balenciaga platform Crocs.

Improbably, Emma D’Arcy says the inspiration for their red carpet reign came from dazzle ships. The World War 1 vessels were coated in thick, clashing stripes of black and white and the guns were dappled in grey. The idea was that hiding on the open water was impossible, so distorting and warping the ships’ ability to be seen by outsiders made it impossible to understand their movements. The same is true on the red carpet. The outfits “are a disguise, and a mask, but it’s playing a bit of a game within the context of this place,” D’Arcy says. “I wanted the clothes to feel like full armour, so that’s what we did. The Vetements look was boiling, but there’s something about all that fabric felt like a barrier.”

That toughened outer layer will come in handy. Though D’Arcy didn’t appear until episode six of Dragon — Rhaenyra was played as a young girl by Milly Alcock before a 10-year time-jump — D’Arcy has become the breakout star of the juggernaut-sized follow-up to Game of Thrones (the premiere alone brought in nearly 10 million viewers). Alcock recently said the attention from being on the show “fucking sucks”, and the strain is difficult to handle. For D’Arcy, being able to hide in plain sight helps navigate those choppy waters.

Though D’Arcy prefers short hair themselves (“The word I used when explaining it was that I am almost ‘allergic’ to lots of hair”) the luscious Targaryen wig brought about a welcome transformation at work. “I think the art of wigging is complete magic. They are made for you, so they fit your head perfectly. The illusion is seamless. Immediately, a good wig changes your behaviour, your posture, but also, fractionally, it changes how you are read and perceived.” It was so impactful that, whenever it was removed, D’Arcy often felt “rendered invisible” on set.

That invisibility exists for Rhaenyra, too. Despite being born into Westeros’ powerful Targaryen dynasty, and being named heir to the throne, Rhaenyra’s gender is seen as a hindrance, and a threat to the status quo. “I was drawn to Rhaenyra because I saw a person who, from a young age, was sort of obsessed with masculinity. Part of that is an appreciation for the space afforded to men. As a child, my hyper awareness of gender presentation was the same as Rhaenyra’s. I craved the right to take up space in the way that I saw men doing naturally.”

Which brings us to the transformative style on red carpets globally: it’s a way to take up space while protecting themselves. “‘Glamour’ is not a word I’m particularly fond of… I have an awkward relationship with it, D’Arcy says. It feels too loaded a term for the things D’Arcy wants to subvert and achieve. Their mission statement could be summed up like this: “In those inherently public spaces, I try to distance myself from myself. I want to be at least two steps to the left of me, because it can be very vulnerable being out there in these places as myself.” Not camouflaged, exactly, more concealed. But dazzling the whole time.

Written by Chris Mandle
Published November 11, 2022