Vogue: A Look Inside Emma D’Arcy’s Transformation for House of the Dragon

When the audience is first introduced to Emma D’Arcy as Princess Rhaenyra six episodes into HBO’s House of the Dragon, she’s giving birth and covered in sweat, with strands of icy blonde Targaryen hair falling over her porcelain face. Instantly, D’Arcy’s character is thrown into more drama (a legacy started with Game of Thrones); Princess Rhaenyra attends a funeral, Princess Rhaenyra defends her children, Princess Rhaenyra bleeds (again) at a royal wedding.

“Emma was very collaborative; we had extensive talks of who Rhaenyra is and when she needed to appear more vulnerable, upset, or youthful—and when a game face was required,” says makeup artist Amanda Knight of not shying away from breakdowns and pain, adding that they even discussed Knight’s own birthing experiences ahead of filming. “We are here to tell a story, whether that be tears, sweat, dirt, or blood.”

And Knight would know; she’s responsible for shaping film aesthetics from Milla Jovovich’s makeup in The Fifth Element to the blue face paint on Braveheart’s battlefields. “I always envisaged an otherworldly look for Rhaenyra, with fabulous luminous skin and a creamy complexion blending seamlessly with the color palette of the blonde Targaryen hair,” says Knight, who was thrilled when D’Arcy was cast. “I just love making up that face!” she enthuses. Together, they brainstormed how a Targaryen at the height of their power would appear, and 5:30 a.m. call times—filming mainly in Leavesden, England—started as a safe space for bonding. “My job isn’t just about how the cast look—in our makeup truck we set the tone for the day on set,” says Knight.

For House of the Dragon, Knight teaming up with hair artist Rosalia Culora cut the prep process down to an hour and a half on most days. After applying a bald cap (in preparation for essential wig work), Knight relied on a trusted kit of products: Oskia Citylife Facial Mist for hydration, which “works great for sweat and smells fabulous”; Chanel Hydra Beauty Micro Serum for believable luminosity that helps “prosthetics come to life and look more like skin”; sheer Chanel Serum Foundation; Fenty Beauty Amber Stick for “a fabulous contour”; Vieve Skin Dew highlighter; IT Cosmetics Tightline Mascara “with a tiny brush for natural lashes”; Suqqu eye pencils; and La Mer The Lip Balm as a final flourish. “I’ve been told by many actors that I do great skin,” says Knight of her notoriously light hand. “Less is always more.”

It’s a sentiment that Culora also found true while working with D’Arcy as the weeks passed. “We began shooting with episode seven, and Princess Rhaenyra had quite an ornate half-up, half-down look,” Culora remembers. While D’Arcy appreciated the effect, “after days of shooting, it could become a bit uncomfortable with the weight of the pieces.” Soon, they found a balance for the elaborate wigs essential to D’Arcy’s transformation and sourced from Alex Rouse, whom Culora describes as a talented wig maker. (“Her workshop is a cave of magic.”) To apply them, Culora would slick back D’Arcy’s short hair and occasionally adapt their natural hairline by shaving the front to help the wig sit more accurately. Then once Knight helped secure the bald cap, Culora began styling. “Emma favored more of the relaxed looks, and as their character developed, we made their hairstyles more organic,” she explains of choosing when to use intricate plaits to build their character arc strategically.

Of the many styles, Culora’s favorites hold secrets that viewers may have missed—like in episode six, “you only really caught sight of it towards the end of the episode, but in the back she’s got a four-strand plait and the braids are shaped as eyes of a dragon.” Ultimately, Culora’s chair was where D’Arcy would end their day on set and morph back into Princess Rhaenyra every morning as they were crowned again with Rouse’s work. “Alex makes them, we transform them, and there is no better compliment when someone asks you, ‘Is that a wig?’” says Culora. “Emma loved it! You know that moment the wig goes on, their character becomes a Targaryen.”

Written by Arden Fanning Andrews
Published October 7, 2022