The ‘House of the Dragon’ actor opens up about style, play, and David Bowie in this FRONTPAGE feature from the new issue of Highsnobiety Magazine.
Clothing, for most people, is central to who they are and how they express themselves. But for gender-fluid or trans people, clothes play an even more fundamental role. I’m a trans-masc presenting person, and broadly, my instinct is to wear rigid shapes softly. I used to be more into texture, but now I’m gradually getting more into bright colors. I love wearing things owned by other people with different stories. I grew up wearing garments found in charity shops. I love the idea that my clothes have had a life before me. It’s a lot of responsibility to create a history with an object, whereas getting something secondhand, it has already been on a journey before you. Clothes are armor for me. They’re essential to who I am, and I feel different in different outfits.
I wear things until they ought to be in the rag pile. Outfits are a very tangible way to control how people see you. It’s related to why I dyed my hair bright red a little while ago. I didn’t really recognize myself at first — I felt new, and it was bliss. I’m chasing that exact feeling — a distance from a person familiar with my reflection. It’s also why I’ve worked with the same stylist [Rose Forde] and hairdresser [Jody Taylor] for years. It’s a real privilege to feel seen without any explanation.
It’s all theatrical for me. It’s why I love being an actor. The theater has always been fundamental to my sense of self because it was the birthing ground for my work and identity. There wasn’t a drama course where I went to university, but even then I’ve always found ways to stay involved with theater. I did quite a lot of set design, and I did some acting and co-directing. I studied fine art, but I lost all interest in my art degree when I left university. I dressed differently in university, too. Naturally, we all dress differently in different contexts, but at this time in my life, I was surrounded by a big community of creative people for the very first time and, in turn, my wardrobe became more utilitarian. I don’t like the idea of no longer feeling like the stage is my space. I’m craving the stage right now. It’s been so long, and I feel a new urgency. I’m starting to enjoy all this — the press, the magazine shoots, and the fashion — more, but I don’t love being in front of a camera. Doing press makes you a cartoon of yourself — but I don’t mind. I dress quite cartoonish anyway, so it feels appropriate. I’ve become my own emoji in that [Commission] pink shirt and pink tie. I find joy in that. I loved my shoot with Highsnobiety because I felt like the styling was collaborative and I could be myself.
I’m obviously inspired by David Bowie. Is anyone’s style not inspired by David Bowie? It would be mad to say that! It’s not a conscious decision, but it would be wild to say there is anyone who isn’t influenced by David Bowie. If anything has changed my style, it’s my work. Rhaenyra [Targaryen] and the many skirts I have to wear to play that character, makes me want to dress more masculine. But doesn’t a recalibration process happen every time someone is pushed into a new context? I’ve learned you have to discover what you aren’t to know what you want to wear.
Today, I’m feeling excited and optimistic. I love finding words to articulate things. I feel okay if I can put words to something. And that’s interesting in relation to the descriptors, terms, and labels within fluidity, too. There is a certain validity that comes from having a word to put to something deeply felt. I love Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts for this reason. That book should be a set text on all school curriculums! It’s an extraordinary piece of work. I love the idea that Nelson presents: Language is the only option! There isn’t another tool, but yet simultaneously words are never enough, too. It’s the ultimate paradox and why the text is really important to me as an actor. In any script, the words have to be good. You can learn a lot about a person from how they use or reject the use of language to express themselves. And it’s that rift between what one does try to put into words and what one doesn’t try to communicate that tells you about a person’s psyche and who they are.
I’m excited to go back for season two and find a bit more space for play. Besides, play is what style and art is all about.
Written by Willa Bennett
Published March 2023