Entertainment

For Steve Toussaint, the ambitious Lord Corlys Velaryon in ‘House of the Dragon’ is a father first, a warrior second


When you think of “Game of Thrones,” you think of mammoth sets, epic battle scenes and other hallmarks of a prestige fantasy television drama. But for Steve Toussaint, who plays Lord Corlys Velaryon in the prequel series “House of the Dragon,” his favourite scenes were the most intimate ones.

“What I really want to do is one-on-one stuff with people, so whenever I got to do that it was a highlight for me,” the British actor said during an interview in Toronto.

“I was lucky because the very first scene that was shot of the whole season was actually myself and Eve (Best, who plays Corlys’s wife),” Toussaint said. “It was kind of a small thing just by a fireplace and so it was a nice way to get eased in.

“It wasn’t actually until we were on a set for the throne room that we started to go, ‘Oh my God, this is huge’ … because of how big it was and how many extras there were. That was the time when you suddenly realize, ‘Oh wow, this is a really big deal.’”

It is indeed a big deal in the TV-pop culture world.

“Game of Thrones,” an adaptation of the George R.R. Martin “A Song of Ice and Fire” novels, was a blockbuster that brought HBO record viewership and 59 Primetime Emmy Awards, the most won by a drama series.

Talk of prequels began before the controversial series finale had even aired. “House of the Dragon” is the only one that’s made it to air.

It follows the Targaryens, the family that ruled the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros for 300 years before the Baratheons and Lannisters of “Game of Thrones” took over.

If “Thrones” was inspired, in part, by England’s War of the Roses, when two royal families fought for the crown, “Dragon” has echoes of the Tudor era, when Henry VIII’s quest for a male heir roiled the court and the country.

As the series begins, King Viserys Targaryen (Paddy Considine), a weak ruler who was handed the Iron Throne to keep it from going to a woman, his cousin Princess Rhaenys Velaryon (Best), finds himself without a son to succeed him. His volatile brother, Daemon Targaryen (Matt Smith), seems a dangerous choice of heir and his daughter, Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock), has the same argument against her as Rhaenys. Meanwhile, his chief adviser, Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans), and Lord Corlys are both jockeying to cement their power by having the widowed king marry their daughters.

Despite all that scheming and intrigue, Toussaint sees Corlys as a family man first and foremost.

When he met with showrunners Ryan J. Condal and Miguel Sapochnik during the casting process, “we talked mainly about fatherhood,” Toussaint said. “We didn’t discuss the fact that he was a warrior or that he was rich or that he was a nautical man … the way into him was the fact that he is concerned about his family’s legacy.”

Corlys also loves and respects his wife, Toussaint said. “He wants the best for her. He doesn’t always take her advice, but he’s man enough later on to come back and go, ‘Yeah, you were right about that, I should have done that.’ So that side of him was very important to me.

“He’s also very ambitious. He’s very combustible, which is why he needs someone like her to sort of calm him down. One of the things I liked about him is he doesn’t really care what people think of him, other than her. He has a resentment (for) his peers because, as he says in a later episode, ‘They all were born into their money, but I had to go and make mine. I’ve seen war while they were playing at it.’”

Toussaint, who’s known for movies like “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” and “Judge Dredd,” and has appeared in British TV series like “Line of Duty,” is cognizant of the importance of playing a powerful character of colour in “House of the Dragon.”

“We know that representation is important,” he said. “I tell this story all the time about when I was a kid, and we would watch fantasy films or science fiction films, there were no people of colour in them. I mean, my friends would laugh … But the serious side of it is that you don’t feel like you’re part of the world. You don’t feel like you matter.”

He recalled shooting a scene in “Dragon” in which his whole family makes a grand entrance at a wedding feast.

“Some of the supporting artists would come up to me afterwards and be like, ‘It’s so good to see you up on that stage. It’s important for us and it’s important for children who are of colour or mixed race to see this.’”

There was some racist social media backlash to casting Lord Corlys as a Black man, but Toussaint said, “History is moving in a particular way. I think those people are on the wrong side of it. And I can’t waste too much time on some keyboard warrior in his mom’s bedroom, you know, spouting out insults to me or whoever else.”

Asked if he felt the weight of being involved in a spinoff of such a popular franchise, Toussaint said he and the other cast members didn’t think about that when they were making the show’s 10 episodes.

“It was just about acting,” he said. “When we finished, then there was that moment when you think ‘Oh my god, yes, the whole world is waiting to see this thing.’ And so we’re a little nervous. But the joy of it is now there’s nothing we can do about it. We shot it. It’s done. If people like it, fabulous. If they don’t well, we still had a great time making it and we’re proud of it.”

There is, however, one scene that he’s a little worried about.

“I had to do a battle scene. That was physically hard because you’re wearing this … armour. It was hard to breathe. There was smoke everywhere. There was sand everywhere.

“What was so irritating was that I spent a couple of weeks rehearsing with a stuntman and I thought, ‘This looks pretty good. I look kind of sexy.’ But then when we had to shoot it, the stuntmen resolutely refused to come at me one at a time in front of me like we’d rehearsed. So they were coming in from all angles. So whereas, in the gym, I looked very suave and, you know, in control like James Bond on the beach, I was like …” and he flailed his arms from side to side.

“I haven’t actually seen what it looks like. But if it looks good, that’s down to the director and the editors because I was terrible.”

“House of the Dragon” debuts Aug. 21 at 9 p.m. on HBO and Crave.

Debra Yeo is a deputy editor and a contributor to the Star’s Entertainment section. She is based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @realityeo

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