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Jamie Kenna

“I’m not playing this cool” – Jamie Kenna on House of the Dragon

Culture

Jamie Kenna on how he bagged the role of Ser Alfred Broome in House of the Dragon, and is loving every minute of it

In the lead up to the new season of House of the Dragon, one of our favourite little moments came on the Instagram page of Jamie Kenna, who has joined the cast as Ser Alfred Broome, one of the members of Rhaenyra Targaryen’s Black Council. The British actor was in New York for the show’s premiere and decided to film himself as he was ‘having a moment of reflection’. “It’s not cool to say how excited you are, and I’m not bragging…but this is one of those moments I don’t want to pass. I’m out here in New York for the premiere of House of the Dragons, which is one of the if not the, biggest show in the world. Which I am in…my first home was a caravan of the side of the A20 at the back of a transport caff…I’ve worked hard and believed in myself, and this is one of those moments where I can go, ‘Look at how far I’ve come’.”

And this is the thing when you speak to Jamie: the humility and candour and down-to-earth wit shines through, and you can’t help but be delighted for him being in the series. That he plays one of the shows biggest new bastards makes it all the better.

While Jamie has had experience of proper public fame from being on Coronation Street, you suspect things are going to hit a whole other level when it comes to Game of Thrones fans. And you feel he’s going to enjoy every minute. Hope you enjoy our in-depth chat with Jamie that occurred just before the first episode landed…

Firstly, just at this moment just before it lands, how are you feeling about it? We loved your post from New York…

Yeah. I mean, it was a genuine. I like to do my own Instagram my social media. I’ve had many offers for people to run my social media but the reason I do it is because I want it to be personal. And I think it’s important to share those moments.

I’m a working class oik that followed his dream and it’s working out all right so far. There’s such a cry to play it cool, particularly on social media, to create this false persona where everything’s great. I like to go on there and say when things are crap and I also like to go in there and say when things are good. I acknowledge both those moments. And that was just a massive one. I’m in New York City waiting to go to the premiere of the biggest show in the world. It’s a lovely, lovely thing.

Did you say your first home was a caravan near a motorway café?

Yeah, so my dad and mum took over this transport cafe on the side of the A20, the road that leads into south London. They lived in a little caravan at the back of it. It was an absolute hovel. I used to be in the baby bouncer under the deep fat fryer. My mum still cooks everything in lard as well, old habits die hard. But that is genuinely where I come from.

I originally wanted to be a footballer. That was my dream. I was asked recently how I transitioned into being an actor, and I was like, I don’t think I transitioned. I always wanted to either play football or perform. Both, I think, go hand in hand. It’s just that where I came from, there was only opportunities to play football. There weren’t opportunities to perform. And if you’d started performing, you’d get your head kicked in. So you wanted to keep your head well and truly below the parapet. I was a decent footballer, so that was my way in.

The way I see it is I have a responsibility to post things like that. When I go in to do workshops in drama schools and talk to kids – I’m a patron of a drama school here in Brighton – I love to spread that message because I feel that I represent a demographic of people that don’t know how to get started.

The drama schools didn’t pass by my caravan that often. They weren’t stopping by for a bacon sandwich. I just kept at it. The will was there, and eventually I had opportunities. I think it’s different nowadays, probably.

There has been a lot of talk about class and acting and there being an established route if you’re upper class, but not in the working class world. Especially when the people around you might look down on you for that kind of thing, not see it as a particularly manly thing? Is that your view?

I mean, it’s all of that. I’m a child of the Seventies, so we were taught to shut up, pick a trade and get on with it. Or you go in the army. That was that was literally my career advice. People who always need plumbers, and because I like sport, ‘have you ever thought about the army?’ I very nearly did go in the Army.

I think with the class thing, it’s just opportunities. These things cost money. When I was in New York, I was chatting to someone and he was asking me why Brits aren’t very good at tennis, considering it’s our game and we have the world’s best tournament. I was like, it’s because this you can play football anywhere, there are goals drawn on a wall in any car park. But you can’t just go and play tennis. Most of the tennis courts at my school were places you went to smoke. There were no nets. To get the opportunities you have to have money. You have to have people willing to drive you the length of breadth of the country to invest in you.

And I think drama is the same. National Youth Theatre. I would have loved to have done that, but it was I would It was never on my radar. And nor did they come knocking. They weren’t dropping flyers into my school. The opportunities weren’t there and my parents couldn’t have afforded it even if they were.

When I went to drama school, I got a scholarship, and it made a massive difference. I’m now a dad of two, and if my kids wanna have a go at something, we try and find a way to let them have a go at it. But I didn’t come from that world, nowhere near it.

Cut to the present day and you’re in New York and the premiere of House of the Dragon. What was that experience like?

It was incredible. So surreal. They sent a car, and they said, ‘Oh, there’s gonna be some fans, like a fan zone outside the Manhattan Centre.’ I thought, well, they won’t know who I am. And I got out of the car and they were all screaming my name, which is just absolutely mind blowing.

Obviously, they’re aware of who the new characters are. But it never ceases to amaze me that anyone knows who I am. I’ve done a couple of red carpets in my time, but this was huge.

And to be out there to be in New York, somewhere I consider the home of theatre and drama, to be there as a as a performer, you know? I said it on my Instagram, like it’s 20 odd years ago when I ran out of ideas and on a whim thought, ‘I’m gonna go to drama school.’ Did I think I did it could happen, internally? Probably not, but that’s what I set out to do, to try and achieve the things that I’m achieving.

And that’s why you’ve got to acknowledge that. Look at where I am you. I’m not playing this at all cool.

So how did you actually land the role?

They made me work for it. Emotionally and physically.

I taped for it. Then I got called in for a face to face meeting, which are really rare in this day and age. Alan Taylor, one of the directors, came over and there was a producer and the casting director. And then there were some people on Skype in LA and New York. So it was big.

I went up and there weren’t many people outside waiting to go in, so that made me go, ‘OK, I’m quite close to this.’

Normally at that point, it’s cue the capitulation: tripping over the carpet, cracking jokes every two minutes, making everyone feel uncomfortable, and then I leave going, ‘Oh, my God. Why did I do that again?’

But it actually went brilliantly. It couldn’t have gone better. I read it and then read it again. And we were chatting and laughing, and for the first time ever my jokes were funny, and I left going, ‘I think I’m gonna get this, I think this is it, I think I’ve just nailed that.’

And then I didn’t hear anything. A week went by, nothing. I mean, this business is always full of question marks. You never know what how it works, what people are thinking. People always talk about the rejection, but it’s not about the rejection, it’s about the ghosting.

If they turned round and said, ‘Do you know what? You’re not right or you didn’t read that very well’ or ‘you’re too big,’ you could sulk about it for 10 minutes, have a coffee and get over it. But it’s the ‘wow, that was amazing. Thanks.’ And then you don’t hear anything. It’s like going on a date with someone. You’re like, ‘What did I do wrong?’

My agent called about a week or so later and said it’s not going your way. I was absolutely devastated. I sulked, threw my toys out the pram, did all of that. And everyone talked me down and I cracked on.

Unbeknownst to me, there had been a lot of conversations, and two weeks later my agent called me and said, ‘They’ve come back and they want to offer you the job.’

I was outside Finsbury Park tube station, having just been for a meeting for something else, and I literally burst into tears. My agent was in tears and I was in tears, and it was the most incredible feeling because I’d lost it and I knew how much I wanted it. So to get it again was just a double whammy.

A car picked me up 20 minutes later, whisked me off to Leeds. I had a costume fitting, and a week later, I’m on set with Matt Smith and Simon Russell Beale..

It was an amazing feeling, to have been that close, lost it, and then to get it again, it was dream come true.

Jamie Kenna

So how was it being on set, when you then actually have to deliver?

Yeah, there’s so much pressure. Especially going into something like this where the stakes are really high. The budgets are really high, you know. The expectation is massive, and also you know what an opportunity it is.

But then again, you don’t wanna pay too much respect to that, because then you’ll just clam up.

Luckily, and I’m not just saying this, I’ve waited for this job for 20 odd years, and it exceeded all my expectations. Everyone was amazing. Matt Smith is such a nice guy. He really is welcoming, really friendly, always there with a hug.

And Simon Russell Beale, theatrical legend, is brilliant. My first day was with those two guys. It just exceeded everything I wanted it to.

Can you tell us about your character and what people can expect?

So I’m the queen. No, I am Ser Alfred Broom. He is a member of the Black Council, so he’s not a Targaryen by birth, but he’s a Targaryen by employment. I think generations of my family have been within the house.

And he is very loyal. He feels that things should be run a certain way. He’s definitely not shy in going to war, going to battle and charging forward with strength and honour.

However, that makes him a little bit of a thorn in the side because he’s not always in agreement with how things are panning out and the decisions that are being made.

So it’s fun. It was a lot of fun to play. He’s what is technically known as an arsehole.

That’s a dream to play, though, isn’t it? 

Yeah. That’s what I play a lot of. I either get hard men or big dopey people. I don’t get anywhere in between. Often there’s a little bit of an empathetic side, or but not with Ser Alfred  and I didn’t want to play him like that. He’s an antagonist for sure. And he is a bit of a chauvinist. He’s a bit of a pig.

It’s fun to play because there’s no softer side to him. He’s a hard man. He’s a hard man in in stature, he’s a hard man in thoughts and he’s not emotional. I don’t even wanna hug him, although he probably, deep down, needs a hug.

It obviously happened quite quickly, but did you research, or look at other actors who’ve played similar roles? How do you get yourself prepped for it?

I wouldn’t ever compare or look at other actors, although I don’t think you can help but subconsciously watch other actors, and seeds get planted.

But I’ve been doing this for a long time now, so I’ve developed my own processes. Every character is different. You read the scripts. You figure out how you feel about people, how they feel about you, where you fit within the picture. And it becomes clear quite quickly when you’re even auditioning for a character.

Although it’s hard with House of the Dragon because so much of it is protected by NDA’s. You don’t often get the real scripts, so you have to make a bit of a stab in the dark.

And then I mean, man, when you turn up on those sets in those costumes, it goes up another level.

If you’ve done enough character work and you know who you are, and then you put those costumes on and sit around a table lit with candles and in those ginormous chambers with everyone dressed like that and the mood in the room. If you can’t do that…

It’s like playing football on a bumpy Sunday morning park pitch and then suddenly you go to Wembley. If you can’t play football on a pitch like that, then you might as well give up, I think.

Can you give us an idea of the scale of things? Were you doing outdoor and indoor stuff and was it all huge?

It’s phenomenal, all the sets. I was at Leeds, I only really worked at the studios. We were outside a bit because we did some on the back lot, where they build different sets and externals. But mostly it was indoors. And mostly I was around the painted table.

You completely forget that you are in a huge hangar off the side of the M25, with the castles and the corridors that they build. It’s phenomenal, like big stone steps, staircases that go up 30 ft in the air. And you walk in and the floor is like a hard rock floor, but it’s all just plywood and stuff. It’s so clever.

I remember we did one scene on the set of Harrenhal, and once we wrapped, they were taking it all down and building something else. It’s unbelievable how they do it.

You can’t quite get your head around the fact that it is a set. Just wait until you see it, it’ll blow you away.

Did you manage to steal anything from the set? 

I’ve actually got the painted table here…

Everyone asked me that! I don’t know if it’s my reputation or whether everyone get asked that.

My character wears a little ring and it’s just a bit of costume jewellery. It’s nothing spectacular, but they just wanted me to have a ring. And one day I forgot to take it off and they were ringing me. The costume department were going, ‘Where’s your ring? Where’s the ring?’

I was like, ‘God, Sorry, I’ve got it. I’ll bringing it back tomorrow.’ I brought it back but I know they’ve got another one, they’ve got two or three duplicates. And I said, ‘What’s the big deal?’

And they went, ‘You’ve got no idea if that goes missing. That’s gonna be worth a fortune. Anything that’s associated with this franchise is worth a fortune.’

So I was like, damn it, why didn’t I say that I didn’t have it? Why didn’t I keep it?

But no, I didn’t steal anything. You’re publishing this, so I can’t obviously say anything different.

Are you prepared for the next level fan obsession? People properly recognising you in the street and discussing the ins and outs of every little nuance and line that you have?

I don’t think the House of the Dragon fans can be crazier than the Coronation Street fans…

I mean, love it. I feel a real honour, and I feel it’s a real privilege to take on the mantle. I don’t take it lightly, and I don’t underestimate how people how much people care.

I joke about Corrie, but you know it’s precious to people, and when you go into that show, there’s a responsibility that comes with that. You can’t just dismiss that. I know people argue, ‘I’m just an actor’, but I do think there is a responsibility of being in the public eye and being part of something that means so much to people.

You’re in their living room three or four times a week and you can’t ignore that. I know the Game of Thrones/House of Dragon thing is also so massive for people, and they invest a lot of time and energy and money into it. You gotta give back to that for sure.

What else have you got coming up? Have you got anything else you can tell us about?

I’ve just finished doing a film which was amazing cos I filmed it in my home city of Brighton, called Promenade and I work with a couple of legends on that. It’s a nice, light hearted, a twisted comedy about a quirky Regency block of flats, and something gets stolen. It was a lot of fun. It was so nice to be working with some brilliant people. I can’t remember what platform that’s out on, but we’ve just literally wrapped on it a few weeks back. Also a couple of other things that aren’t quite over the line yet, so I’ll keep them to myself.

What do you hope people will get from from the new series of House of the Dragon?

I just hope they love it. I think it’s hard when you do like a prequel to something like Game of Thrones, which came in with no expectations and built and built and built and won awards and became what it is. I think when you’re then making something off the back of that, whether it’s a prequel or whatever, there’s a pressure and an expectation.

I think season one really delivered, and I think the fans really took to it. Obviously, it won some awards, and so now the expectation is even higher. So I hope they think this one is brilliant.

It’s war. I think the first season was very much an explanation. A lot of backstory. I think now it’s more Game of Thrones. So hope they love it as much as I think they will.

Best of luck with it all, and the fan fever coming your way…

Everyone keeps saying that, everyone says that your life’s about to change, but I don’t know. Maybe it will, but I’m always a bit sort of sceptical. If it gives me a few more jobs off the back of it, that’s fine.

House of the Dragon is on Sky Atlantic now. 

Follow Jamie on Instagram.

Photo credits:

Photographer – Jemima Marriott
Stylist – Prue Fisher
Grooming – Megan McPhilemy 
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