PHOTO BY GARETH CATTERMOLE/CONTOUR BY GETTY IMAGES
ACTOR ALFIE ALLEN SPREADS HIS WINGS AFTER GAME OF THRONES WITH TWO EXCITING ROLES—A RECENT TONY-NOMINATED PERFORMANCE ON BROADWAY WITH HANGMEN AND IN EPIX’S ROGUE HEROES.
Originally from London, Alfie Allen spoke to me from Los Angeles, where he’s spending time with his 4-year-old daughter. “You’ve got the mountains, the deserts, the kind of tropical rainforest in Malibu—so you kind of got everything going for an English person,” he says. He also adds that the people in L.A. are part of the draw. “In L.A., you have to sort of implement a certain amount of self-care to your routine,” he says. “That’s how you find your people here—by how you look after yourself.”
Allen gained international fame with his role of Theon Greyjoy on Game of Thrones, and still gets stopped on the street by Thrones fans. “I think a part of me did quite naively think that it would take three or four years for all that stuff to die down and, you know, it hasn’t ended yet—I don’t mind as long as the people are nice,” he says. “I know what it feels like to be so emotionally invested in a show and to come across the characters that you’ve been watching in a totally different environment. It’s a mad experience.” He recalls meeting the late Michael K. Williams while shooting Thrones. “My jaw just dropped to the floor, so I know what that feels like,” he recalls. As for whether he misses the hit series and his character of Theon, he says, “I definitely do! With the upcoming Game of Thrones convention happening in December in L.A., I definitely got pangs of missing the character.”
Allen is already a fan of HBO’s Thrones spinoff, House of the Dragon, and has caught up on all the episodes that have been released thus far. “The whole Thrones world has been elevated into the public realm again, so it’s been great. I think it’s really beautifully done. I love it; I think it’s brilliant,” he adds.
Before he landed his Emmy-nominated Thrones role, Allen knew from a young age that he wanted to be an actor. Coming from a showbiz family—his parents are actor Keith Allen and producer Alison Owen, and his sisters include English singer-songwriter Lily Allen—he was taken on film sets early on. “I would get to go and spend time with my dad; most of the time he would be working on a film set or doing something musical,” he says. Being a kid on a film set, he adds, always made him excited, and that thrill still drives him today. “It’s something I really enjoy that was instilled in me from a young age,” he shares.
Allen and his sisters all began performing as young children. “Being onstage was also something that was thrust on us from a young age. [My sisters and I] loved it; we used to do this community-led Portobello pantomime [show] to keep the market stalls alive on Portobello Road in Notting Hill,” he says. “That was really our first foray into being onstage and it was totally normalized for me. I’ve always been a bit of a voyeur from a young age, just sort of looking at people’s behaviors. I’ve always been a people watcher.”
Earlier this year, Allen found himself onstage once again, but this time on Broadway for his Tony-nominated role in Hangmen. He first saw Hangmen seven years ago in the West End and was moved by it. “So, when it came around six or seven years after, I couldn’t quite believe it; it was dreamland stuff—I got to experience Broadway for three and a half months; it was fun and amazing,” he says. Set in the 1960s, the dark comedy is about the abolition of the death penalty in the U.K. Flashing forward two years later, the show features a former executioner, Harry Wade, a retired hangman who now owns a pub and is a local celebrity of sorts. “It’s kind of morbid and bizarre that he is a celebrity for being somebody that kills people,” Allen says. As for his character, Peter Mooney, he is introduced as a symbol of the rebellious generation of that time. “It was totally surreal—I miss it so much, the lovely Broadway community who was just so happy to [be] back together again and the actual getting onstage and doing it was such a lovely feeling,” he says. “I just felt so welcomed and enveloped in that feeling. I can’t wait to go back. I really loved it.”
PHOTO BY GARETH CATTERMOLE/CONTOUR BY GETTY IMAGES
“I’VE ALWAYS BEEN A BIT OF A VOYEUR FROM A YOUNG AGE, JUST SORT OF LOOKING AT PEOPLE’S BEHAVIORS. I’VE ALWAYS BEEN A PEOPLE WATCHER.”
When asked whether he likes being onstage more than being on set, Allen says that each possess a particular pleasure. This fall, he can be seen as one of the leads in Rogue Heroes, a historical drama based on a true story. His role of Lt. John Steel “Jock” Lewes in the six-part series recounts how one of the world’s greatest Special Forces units, the SAS, was formed during World War II.
Creator Steven Knight (Peaky Blinders), but also Tom Shankland who directed a majority of the episodes, and the opportunity to play a real-life character—one as revered as Lewes—all drew Allen in. “It’s a pretty big thing to take on, not just as an actor but as a person,” he says of the chance to depict a person from history. “You feel the pressure to get it right. For me, it’s a departure from parts that I played before,” says Allen, who adds that Lewes was a rigid disciplinarian—someone who yearned to be an artist of sorts—who found solace in blowing up explosives as a young child.
Allen had to do extensive research to get it right. He explains that Lewes ended up in Germany and was affiliated with the Nazi party until he saw Kristallnacht and realized what was actually going on. He then deferred back to the British military, even though he was in love with someone affiliated with the Nazi party. “He decided that was not for him and went back to the U.K. and trained with the Royal Welsh commandos,” Allen says. “It was definitely a step away from all the parts that I’ve played before. The really big thing for me was playing a real-life person.” The most difficult part of doing research for the role, Allen notes, was figuring out what about Lewes was propaganda versus factual.
What really helped Allen develop his character, however, was a now-published book of love letters Lewes wrote called Joy Street.“It was a real blessing to have that book because it was really what informed me about his emotions because you couldn’t really get a lot out of any of that propaganda stuff,” he explains.
Allen shot the show for three months in Morocco. “We were in the times of COVID, first in the U.K. where we were encouraged to not hang out with each other at all, so that was weird. We’d come on set, do these rehearsals and military exercises together, but when we’d leave that room, we weren’t allowed to see each other, which is not normal practice,” he says. At first, they had to quarantine, but eventually got to know each other as castmates, like a band of brothers. “It was a mad experience because the environment we were in was so unknown to all of us and it was meant to be testing,” Allen explains. “We felt so grateful to be in these incredible surroundings, just looking out of our windows [to the] Sahara Desert rolling dunes that would change frequently—it was incredible, but then after a while [shooting in the hot desert] was a bit testing… so we were all checking in with each other an awful lot. Most of us are still in contact,” he says. “It was severe but it was amazing at the same time as some of the scenery was just incredible. It was an experience I’ll never forget and I miss it,” Allen adds. “I got back to London and I got that feeling, obviously not to the full extent of what soldiers go through, but we did get that feeling of when we got back, wanting to go back out there again. We just missed it.”
Exploring new places and new roles is not new to Allen, who says some of the best acting advice he’s gotten is from his father, who told him that “95% of acting is about rejection.” He adds that Brian Winston once told him, “You should never ever think you’re better than someone else or worse than someone else when you go on set.” Being on set for Allen means being present and not thinking about other people or their agendas, just staying in the moment. And Simon Cowell foreshadowed Allen’s wildly popular Game of Thrones role by giving him the advice to “Never get pigeonholed.” That’s something that’s challenging in any recurring role with returning seasons, Allen says, noting that with Thrones, “[Simon] saw it coming.”
One thing that Allen is not, is pigeonholed. As for future roles, he says he wants to find parts that are right for him and not put too much pressure on himself to look ahead, but rather wait for the right roles to come to him and help him soar. “I’m just enjoying the L.A. weather,“ he says, “trying to stay healthy in every way possible and enjoy life.”