'Game of Thrones' star Alfie Allen on Theon's torture
Alfie Allen has had a whiplash-inducing experience on “Game of Thrones.” As Theon Greyjoy, boy hostage of the Stark family, he was a relatively minor player in the first season. Then in the second, he had one of the most prominent, clear and interesting character arcs, as Theon betrayed the Starks to get back in the good graces of his cruel father, only to overreach (and murder innocent children) in his attempts to impress dear papa. And he spent virtually all of the third season strapped to a large X-shaped cross, suffering physical and psychological torture at the hands of the sadistic Ramsay Snow (Iwan Rheon), who ultimately mutilated Theon and redubbed him Reek.
And that’s not even mentioning the time that showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss pranked Allen for three weeks into believing that Theon was going to die in the next episode.
Allen was the first of several “GoT” castmembers I interviewed in New York a few weeks ago, and we spoke about the ups and downs of being Theon, the relationship he and Rheon developed during those months of torture, the sympathetic glances he gets from fans in the street, and more.
NOTE: The final question alludes to some new developments for Theon in season 4, though both Allen and I are vague about it. If you’ve read the books, you know what’s coming; if you haven’t and want to know nothing, stop reading before his answer begins.
How much of the books have you read and at what point did you read them?
Alfie Allen: I’ve read the first two and a half books. I can’t remember if I decided to stop reading them at the end of the first series or somewhere during the second. I’m pretty sure it was at the end of the first series.
Why did you decide to stop?
Alfie Allen: Because I didn’t want to preempt stuff for years and years and start getting down the road and just, you know, torture myself into preempting these emotions. And to pressure myself, basically. I didn’t want to do that for years.
“Torture” is an interesting choice of words, given what poor Theon goes through in the previous season. Since you hadn’t ready that book yet, at what point did Dan and Dave come to you and say, “Well look, you’re gonna be tied to a cross for most of the season and tortured and mutilated and that’ll be fun”?
Alfie Allen: They didn’t give it away as much as that. They just told me something would be happening to me and which everyone now knows about, which is what I gasped about a lot. And they told me that was gonna happen and I was like, “Oh really?” But it was interesting because to me, it’s Theon’s only weapon, really. It’s like his only point of authority is in the bedroom. Everywhere else in his life, he doesn’t really have any decisions to make for himself because they were made for him. So to have that taken away from him really strips him down to nothing.
So you’ve got this big block of scripts, and you’re going through them and you’re seeing that this is what you’re going to be doing this year in production. How did you react to that?
Alfie Allen: (laughs) I wanted to have some input into how comfortable things were gonna be. And that was really my only qualm was that I wanted for it to be not too painful but obviously a little bit real. I could work with it, but it was fine. It was really interesting. The way in which it’s done is extra, extra cruel and so I thought that was very, very interesting. The way he’s led to believe that everything is kind of okay and it’s just not.
And was there concern about monotony? Of being in this one location dealing with this one actor?
Alfie Allen: There was. I figured me and Iwan had to become friends. Like with the guy who was playing my dad, I wanted there to be a distance. And with Iwan, we could have tried to have done that, but I think to be in that position for so long with each other and be working those very very long hours with each other, we needed to be friendly, and we needed to really trust each other. So it was just great to be able to build the relationship with this one dude. Working one place, it can get very depressing, especially in that sort of surrounding. It’s really, really dark and very, very real and you just get into it.
So it helped put you into the mind space.
Alfie Allen: II would come away from it feeling awful and I wouldn’t really think about why. “Why am I feeling like this? Why am I feeling like this?” And then when the series was finished I’d be like, “That’s probably why.” Because I’ve been tied to a cross and I’ve got water all over me. But it’s great.
It’s a relief to hear that it didn’t go method, where the director calls cut and Iwan is still cruel to you.
Alfie Allen: No, we’re all good. The only grievance we have with each other is that we’re for different football teams.
Back when you were looking at the books, what did you make of Theon when you first encountered him?
Alfie Allen: One line that definitely stuck with me was that he has a smile on his face that suggests that the world is a joke that nobody else gets but him. I think it was something along those lines. And that definitely made me get what he was about. But at the same time I wanted to have my own shot at it. Obviously George Martin’s image of him, I wanted to do that justice, but I also wanted to bring my own thing to it as well. And George is totally cool with that, and I think Dave and Dan encouraged that as well. As actors, it’s kind of what you do. In the books, he’s more devious, I think, because he’s actually made that decision before he goes over to Pyke that he’s gonna fuck the Starks over. And in the TV show, it’s more like his father turns his head and confuses him. He was just more of a devious character in the books, for sure.