Since dropping out of high school to pursue a full-time acting career, Milly Alcock’s trajectory has been nothing short of magical. Within five years, her onscreen CV has grown to include appearances on Janet King, Fighting Season, The Gloaming and more recently a co-starring role as the young Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen in House of the Dragon, the hotly anticipated film adaption of George R. R. Martin’s Fire & Blood, which is also the prequel to the cult classic, Game of Thrones. As much of a bonafide breakout role as this is, Milly truly ascended the echelons of film and television with her co-starring role in the award-winning Foxtel drama, Upright, alongside renowned composer/writer/ comedian Tim Minchin.
In Upright, Alcock portrays the frustrated, swear-word-slinging misfit “Meg,” who is easily misunderstood as she grapples with her complicated pile of emotions. What Meg lacks in eloquence, the character of Princess Rhaenyra compensates for in articulacy and guile. Both women are equally as emotionally intelligent as they are stubborn-willed, yet their dispositions are disappointed by the authoritative male figures around them. The antics with which each navigates her battle-of-the-sexes power play are what makes both shows irresistibly binge-worthy.
On the hottest recorded day in the UK’s history, Milly put her fan on high blast so she could shoot the breeze with Schön! about purposefully losing herself in the grandeur of onset wardrobe and makeup, the need for greater Aussie representation in mainstream film/television, and more.
We’re chatting on a historic day— it’s the hottest recorded day in British history!
I don’t know Fahrenheit, but right now it’s 38 degrees celsius—I came here to escape the heat, not be re-introduced to the heat…But I’m sitting in front of a fan, sorry if it’s noisy.
That’s perfectly fine. You can go get a bowl of cold ice cream if it helps because you are in the heat of the day…What time is it in London?
It’s 12:45 pm.
Wow, you are in the heat of the day, on the hottest recorded day.
But here we are. We made it.
And to the same hot party. [Laughter]. It’s especially exciting to chat with you because I first became familiar with you as “Meg” in Upright— you gave a phenomenal performance.
Thank you, it’s lovely to hear that.
It’s true, I mean, you keep it coming, from Upright to this new Game of Thrones prequel, House of the Dragon. But speaking of Upright, I heard that you all are filming Season 2 of the show right now—
We just finished it. So I came home, finished Thrones, and went straight into Season 2 of Upright.
If you could give a 30-second elevator pitch of the premise for Upright, Season 2, how would you give it?
We revisit Meg and Lucky’s weird and wonderful adventures, and they get a lot more weird and kooky characters along the way. It’ll make you laugh, it’ll make you cry, but ultimately there’s a beautiful bow tie between the story…The chapter closes there for everyone.
Tim Minchin— your co-star as “Lucky”, and also the show’s writer— describes Meg as “guttural and sweary”, which stuck with me, and made me more curious about how you would describe your character, in your own words.
Meg knows when she has to do the “wrong thing” to do the “right thing”. And she’s extremely empathetic, and extremely emotionally intelligent, which usually gets mistaken for being “guttural and sweaty”. But she knows people, she just doesn’t know how to express it most articulately because of her background.
The two leads— Lucky and Meg— are both misfits of their worlds, drawn together with the beautiful bow tie around their relationship, as you said. Misfits in mind, I read that you dropped out of high school— because it wasn’t your thing— to pursue your acting career. Were you somewhat of a misfit in high school?
I wasn’t a “misfit”, but I did relate to Meg’s feeling about her place in the world— feeling a bit misunderstood, and finding it hard to grasp things that other people found quite easy. I wasn’t a misfit; I always struggled in school, and I repeated a year. So school wasn’t for me because, like Meg, I didn’t know how to communicate what I was trying to get across. I struggled with that. So, a misfit in spirit, but not in practice.
One thing I noticed in Upright is that the desert and the piano are as much a part of the plot as Meg and Lucky’s dynamic. In real life, I believe the desert has a way of upheaving whatever is bubbling beneath the surface within, or in a dynamic. That said, how do you believe the backdrop of the desert enhances the dynamism of Meg and Lucky’s relationship?
I think that the landscape in general is a very key component in our story because it’s an Australian story. And in mainstream media, I never hear my accent on screen, and I never see an Australian story being told, internationally. So think that we utilized the Australian landscape to bring in an international audience, and show that this is what we have to offer as Australians. And Season 2 reflects the landscape that we’re in far north of Queensland, so it’s a completely different landscape— a more tropical landscape. So I think that’s why it’s a key component within the story—because it’s home.
That’s funny you say that, because now when I think about it, I can’t remember the last time I watched a distinctly Australian film or tv series.
You don’t, and that’s the thing— we’ve got great actors and great films, but that’s what’s heartbreaking as an Australian within the industry. The lack of international reach is missing, out feels, at times.
Would you say that you get more roles where you have to put on an American English accent, over quality roles for you as an Australian actress within an Australian production?
I would say that recently there has been an influx in auditioning for international roles where I play an American or a British person, but that’s only because of the path that I decided to take in my career, to make it more international. I don’t live in Australia anymore, so I’m not auditioning for Australian stuff as much, but that’s not to say that there are not quality Aussie projects happening at the moment.
So where are you based, full-time?
Back to Meg, though. She’s a bit of a feisty female character. From your representation of her, what voice do you feel she gives to women of this generation?
In a metaphorical sense, or a literal sense?
Meg’s voice is just a voice. But because she’s a woman, there’s this added pressure to overachieve and do better than the man, because that is the standard. So ultimately, she combats, or utilizes her feminine rage through swearing and being provocative so that she has the attention of Lucky, who is this middle-upper class man. So she has to accentuate her emotional state to get his attention and to get him to listen to her because if she just talked normally, he wouldn’t listen to her…as most women feel.
So she’s not as extreme, or feisty as she seems, she’s just acting out to get attention?
Yeah, she’s trying to get heard in the room.
I notice she [Meg] and Lucky have a playful kind of tug-of-war of power play between the two of them, very much like a bossy big brother, annoying little sister kind of thing. What’s your real-life rapport with Tim Minchin?
The real-life rapport between Tim and I was one of mutual understanding’s creative integrity. Tim and I very much leaned on each other over the shoot [filming] as we were faced with many challenges along the way so it was reassuring to have him by my side.
Let’s talk about House of the Dragon, which just premiered. What can we expect in this instalment that we didn’t get in Game of Thrones?
Well, it’s a different show. I think Game of Thrones fans are expecting a similar tone, feeling and pace to the original. But ultimately, Ryan and Miguel [Ryan Condal and Miguel Sapochnik, the show’s producers] focused on establishing a new aesthetic within the show to distinguish itself from the mother show. So ultimately, the audience can expect…everything. Because they haven’t seen any of it yet.
One thing I’m curious about is how you handle the proximity in the filming schedule: you filmed Upright, then soon after House of the Dragon, then shortly after that, Season 2 of Upright. Do you find yourself— unwittingly— bleeding aspects of Meg into Princess Rhaenyra, or injecting the regality of Princess Rhaenyra into Meg?
I think that ultimately when you invest so many hours into being a person— you spend more hours being them than you do being yourself— ultimately, the physicality and intonation and the way you move, and carry yourself, and think [as the role] bleeds into you and your everyday life…I’ve carried all of those women with me and unwittingly bled similar aspects, but it’s never intentional…It’s habitual, your body recognizes it.
Can you think of a specific time when you did that?
No—I’ve never specifically done that…That’s the thing, you carry them [the characters] with you, and then you don’t realize that that’s them.
There are moments when you’ve acted as these characters and then afterward realized that you were bleeding those behaviours— unwittingly— in real life. I’m not an actress, but there have been recent series that I’ve watched where I find myself unwittingly emulating certain ticks of the protagonist that I’ve been binge-watching.
Hmmm. It would be more so in a day-to-day sense since I spend more time being these people than I do being me…I am so focused on what’s going on and being truthful to the person I’m playing…Like, I’d find myself standing at the bus stop like Rhaenyra and I’m like, “Oh my God, stop! Put your hands by your side. What are you doing?”. [Laughter]. Or you find yourself standing like a different person, or your voice changes when emotion gets triggered in you in your day-to-day life because you’re so used to access that when you’re working… But never on screen; only in my real life, occasionally.
Did you read Fire and Blood since it’s the inspiration behind House of the Dragon?
Yes. I read parts of Fire and Blood because it’s massive. It’s a historical retelling, so it’s not like a nonfiction book, in a weird way.
And you read it before, or after filming?
Before— I mean, it wouldn’t serve me to read the book if I read it after filming the show.
I watched interviews, and several of your co-stars waited till after the show. I find it common that actors wait till after the filming to read the literary inspiration because they don’t want it to influence their intuitive interpretation.
I know, but everybody’s different, and you’ve got to respect everybody’s processes.
This is true…And I don’t want any of your costars to think I’m coming for them when I said that. [Laughter]. Let’s talk about costumes for the show. Matt Smith— your co-star— has discussed the transformative quality that the wigs have on the show. He starred in The Crown— and it’s funny, because I spoke with Tom Bailey, one of the costars of The Crown, and he emphasized how much the wardrobe and opulence of the set decor put him into character and inspired regality in his reenactments. So I’m
curious— for you— what role did the hair, makeup, wardrobe and set decor play in getting you into the role of Princess Rhaenyra for House of the Dragon?
[Whistling music in the background]. Sorry, there’s an ice cream truck. [Laughter]. We talked about you getting that ice cream to cool down. [Laughter].
I know! [Laughter]. I can’t wait till he goes…It’s vital to have costumes and decor that allow you to lose yourself within the space. Game of Thrones is a fantasy, and House of The Dragon isn’t the real world. We don’t exist in the confines of earth, so having the sets and being able to interact with the sets, as opposed to a blue screen or something that you couldn’t tangibly see, touch and feel, was beneficial as an actor to be able to fully invest in that. And ultimately, the costumes change the way that you walk and stand. You can compare your costumes to somebody else’s costumes, and class comes into play, and status comes into play, and their ability to move and not move, and what that means. So it [wardrobe] is essential to accessing them [the characters].
You have a dynamic repertoire of roles under your belt, from The Gloaming, to Upright, to House of the Dragon. Is there a “dream role” that you have in mind that you hope to be cast in?
…It’d probably be Hedda Garbler or Eve in All about Eve.
Wow, that’s a great throwback that I never would’ve expected to hear…Apart from promotional work for the shows, do you have any interesting mid-summer plans?
No, I haven’t been in one place for a very long time because I’ve been working. So I’m really happy just settling, and just slowing down in London, and moving into my first flat.
Sounds like you’re chillin’. So what does the rest of your day look like?
The rest of my day…I’m going to go to a fitting for premiere looks and things, which is very exciting. And I’m going to try and stay out of this heat, and not get dehydrated.
Well, as we say in America, “Stay hydrated!”
Yeah. [Laughter]. And you have a lovely rest of your day…And stay hydrated!
photography. Charlotte Ellis
fashion. Holly White @ The Wall Group
talent. Milly Alcock
hair. Lisa Laudat @ The Wall Group
make up. Jenny Coombes @ The Wall Group
set design. Georgia Currell
lighting. Rami Hassen
developed. Artful Dodgers
hand printed. Camilla Smart
retouch. Grain Post Production
set design assistant. Hannah Knowles
words. Constance Victory