“No women ever mention that to me. Only the men.”
Alfie Allen is discussing the, er, below-the-belt plight of Theon Greyjoy, the character he portrays on HBO’s monster hit Game of Thrones. Theon — or, rather, Reek, the name bestowed upon him by his tomentor-cum-master, Ramsay Snow — hasn’t exactly had things go his way during the past few seasons. He was cast out by his disapproving father, Lord Balon of the Iron Islands, while trying to forge a strategic alliance for the ultimately doomed King of the North, Robb Stark (Richard Madden). After being captured by Ramsay Snow, the bastard son of turncoat Warden of the North Roose Bolton, Theon is mercilessly and sadistically tortured by Ramsay while tied to a cross, culminating in his being unceremoniously relieved of his genitals and redubbed Reek.
In Season 4 — just released on Blu-ray and digital formats — Reek is a hapless shell of his former self, wholly subservient to Ramsay Snow’s every whim. “Theon’s only point of authority was in the bedroom,” Allen observes, “but now he’s being punished for his sins.”
Allen, 28, called Digital Trends from the Corinthia Hotel in London to discuss Reek/Theon’s many trials and tribulations during Season 4 and what it’s like shooting in Belfast — plus he drops a few tantalizing hints about the upcoming Season 5, which begins airing April 12. “It pays the mortgage,” chuckles Allen about the level of strife he’s faced as Reek/Theon.
“There’s definitely a moment or two in Season 5— and one in particular — that will really blow people away.”
That’s one way to stay a cut above. (Ouch.)
Digital Trends: So you had one helluva fun time in Season 4, didn’t you?
Alfie Allen: Yeah! I remember speaking with David [Benioff] and Dan [Weiss, Game of Thrones’s executive producers] about it when we were talking about the physical demands of Season 3, and they went, “You won’t have as many physical demands in Season 4, but the emotional strain on the character is pretty intense.” For me, Season 4 is showing you the effects of what’s happened to him in Season 3 and where his head’s at, at that point in time.
I was also speaking with David and Dan about that part of his anatomy being lost, and how appropriate and relevant that was to the character of Theon.
That’s where all his power came from, essentially.
Yeah, exactly. It’s a big part of his identity, you know? Before that, he had an identity crisis — wanting to be loyal to the Greyjoys, and also wanting to do the deed that Robb Stark wanted him to do. But he was quickly turned by his family. So his only point of authority, really, was in the bedroom. He does start trying to make his own decisions, but he messes up. His lot in his own life was made by himself. But now he’s being punished for his sins, strapped to the cross.
Literally and figuratively! In Season 4, you’re technically playing three characters — Theon, Reek, and Reek pretending to be Theon. How do you prepare for that kind of arc?
I mean, what more could you ask for in terms of content — to be able to play three different roles in one body? It can be kind of daunting, but at the same time, there’s just such depth there. To be able to go there and try and tackle that — I think it’s quite a compliment to (pauses) … to myself! (laughs) No, I mean it’s really down to those boys David and Dan having that faith in me, leading up to that moment when, as you say, he’s pretending to be Theon again.
It was kind of daunting to do, and it did kind of confuse me slightly. But it was needed, and I think it shows where Theon may be returning at some point. I guess that might be the first start of it. For me, the real first start of it is when he finds out about Robb Stark’s death. There’s a part of his brain that’s been inactive that maybe gets reactivated by that news.
Right, you take that slight pause when you get the news about Robb during the scene where you’re shaving Ramsay Snow [Season 4, Episode 2, “The Lion and the Rose”]. It’s a very subtle moment, which got us all thinking, “Oh, is Theon resurfacing?”
Yeah, exactly, and it was intense doing that scene. When we finished shooting, a lot of people were very pleased with it. They could just feel that vibe coming out of the scene, and hopefully it permeated right through to the audience — and I think it did.
Oh, it sure did. Who taught you to shave?
I’ve never really had a shave with that sort of blade before — that very close kind of barber shave. It was tough for Iwan [Rheon, who plays Ramsay Snow], who just had to sit there and get fake hair reapplied to his face every time. I don’t think he enjoyed that too much.
There had to be a certain level of trust there — not just between the characters, but between you the actors: “I’m not going to slit your throat here, Iwan; I swear!”
“What more could you ask for in terms of content — to be able to play three different roles in one body?”
(chuckles) You know, it’s funny when people see us out together in Belfast. They literally cannot get their heads around the fact that we could be friends in real life. It’s a testament to how well the show puts that relationship across, but, to be honest, I really couldn’t do it without Iwan. I really need him there.
You guys do seem to have a certain level of camaraderie. I’m guessing the only thing you don’t agree on is your football teams.
That’s exactly what I was going to say! He supports United, and I support Arsenal. They’re doing better than us at the moment, but we did top Leicester City the other day.
Do you guys wager on the matches?
No, we just play pool. We did have a running competition going, and I can’t remember the score of it, probably because I’m losing. (chuckles) He definitely is a handy guy at pool. Well, we both are.
How is it shooting in Belfast?
That’s the only location I’ve been in. I keep trying to drop hints to David and Dan to send Theon somewhere, but they don’t take those hints.
It’s great shooting in Belfast. There’s a sort of student vibe going on and there’s some good music coming out of there, and it has some good restaurants. But in all honesty, the sun doesn’t shine all that much in Belfast. And, as they say, winter is coming. It can get pretty freezing there.
Winter Is Coming, and All Men Must Die. Now put some sunshine on that!
Hah hah hah!
You mentioned Belfast has good bands — what kind of music do you like?
I like everything, you know. When I was growing up, I was into The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, and stuff like that. As I got older, I got into rap and hip-hop, and that sort of evolved into some more dance-y music. I listen to a bit of everything. And now I’m getting into my classical music. I’ve been switching classical radio on, and I think it’s a sign that I am getting older.
Well, it happens to all of us. Soon, you’ll be hearing the classical version of The Rains of Castamere. Although we’ll have to change it to The Rains of Castrate-amere.
(laughs) Yeah yeah yeah, that would be appropriate! Whenever I go to conventions and stuff and have all sorts of fan encounters, it’s weird — no women ever mention that to me. Only the men.
I think that’s because every guy can relate to that potential feeling. We have the international sign for the “male cringe” at the thought of that ever happening to us.
Exactly! It’s funny — when I sign autographs now, I draw a willie on it, and they love it!
How far ahead have you read in the book series?
“When I sign autographs now, I draw a willie on it.”
I read the first two books [A Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings], and then half of Book 3 [A Storm of Swords]. At that point, Theon isn’t really mentioned that much … I wanted to pre-empt knowing stuff for years to come. I just realized there were things that were taking place on the TV show that weren’t in the books, and there was stuff in the books not in the TV show. I do like to keep things spontaneous when I’m acting.
Game of Thrones is one of the best shot and best looking shows on TV. Does high definition matter to you as an actor, considering how naked and down and dirty you look in certain scenes?
HBO — they really like to keep it real. In Season 4 and in Season 5, there are moments where I have to sort of sleep with the dogs, so I’m getting down and dirty, without a doubt. And throughout Season 3, I had to get about in a sort of loincloth as my costume. So yeah, you have to be in the right sort of shape to do those kinds of scenes.
Do you get a chance to watch the show when it’s finally broadcast?
I just record it on my Digibox, and then if I get a chance to watch it, I will. I haven’t really seen Season 4 in its entirety yet. And for Season 3, I chose only to read my bits and not everyone else’s, because what was going on outside of that [torture] room was completely irrelevant.
Are you allowed to say anything about Season 5 yet?
I can tell you that there will be characters crossing paths and interacting — especially in my storyline — who have never met, or have had just minute amounts of screentime together. That relationship blossoms, and the running theme of Season 5 is that you get so many different characters who were in different parts of the world crossing paths with each other.
I could also say to you that Theon will definitely go through his trials and tribulations this season. And there may be, in some sort of Game of Thrones way, a light at the end of the tunnel for him. There’s definitely a moment or two — and one in particular — that will really blow people away.
It must be special for you to interact with people on the show you personally may never even have met before, period.
I was in New York for a Game of Thrones premiere, and one of the cast members was just so happy to meet me. It was like, “Wow. It’s crazy, I’ve watched you in the show!” It’s crazy that someone in the show with you is practically in a whole other show.
Who said that to you?
It was Yuri [Kolokolnikov], who plays the cannibal [Styr, a wildling who’s the Magnar of Thenn and a lieutenant of Mance Rayder] — the guy with the scars on his face. In the first series, it was everyone’s first time doing it, and now it’s a sort of well-oiled machine, and we don’t really get as many crossover points as we used to.
Here’s a theoretical for you: If your Russian character Iosef Tarasov from John Wick met Theon, how do you think that would go down?
Umm, I think that Theon would kick his ass. Then I think, essentially, they’d end up being best friends.
Yeah — they could play pool, then take turns shaving each other.
Oh yes, that would be interesting!