The Stunning Transformation Of Emma D'Arcy

Ever since "Game of Thrones" was first aired on HBO, George R. R. Martin's world of Westeros has been one of the most popular fantasy worlds on TV. In 2022, we returned to the "Game of Thrones" universe with the prequel, "House of the Dragon." Set almost 200 years before the events of the famous TV show, "House of the Dragon" follows the thorny succession battle during King Viserys' reign. His daughter, Princess Rhaenyra, is one of the top contenders. She's also the beating heart of the show. As the show's executive producer Ryan J. Condal said to Entertainment Weekly, she is "the most important role in the show, in many ways."

Played by Milly Alcock as a teen and then by Emma D'Arcy as an adult, Rhaenyra quickly became a fan favorite. But even if you're a huge "House of the Dragon" fan, you may not know much about the actor who plays the defiant, independent Targaryen princess.

D'Arcy is a non-binary actor who goes by they/them pronouns and lives in London. While they have appeared in a few British TV shows and films, their role in "House of the Dragon" is what many would call a "big break." Curious to discover more about the up-and-coming actor? Here is the stunning transformation of Emma D'Arcy.

Emma D'Arcy was influenced by the spiritualist church and sci-fi as a child

Emma D'Arcy was born on June 27, 1992 in London. According to The Cinemaholic, their parents are Sally Elizabeth and Richard John D'Arcy and their sibling is the non-binary dancer Chloe "Loe" D'Arcy.

While D'Arcy hasn't spoken much about their childhood, they did reveal that it wasn't exactly conventional. In fact, in an interview with Hey U Guys, D'Arcy explained that their family had "strong relationships with the spiritualist church." "It's great, it's like going — sort of similar to going to a Church of England service, except that sort of in the middle when you might have someone talking for ages, there's a medium who communes with people who've passed for 40 minutes," they explained. "And arguably of the two, I'd say that's more interesting and entertaining."

While D'Arcy isn't an active member of the spiritualist church, their upbringing taught them to be open to all kinds of spiritualism. "I'm open, and my dear, dear grandma passed a couple of years ago, and she was fully immersed in this spiritualist church, and so I will always stay open in case she wants to pay a visit."

In addition to spiritualism, D'Arcy was also exposed to the world of sci-fi as a kid. "Growing up sci-fi was sort of my area, my dad is a huge sci-fi addict," she told one interviewer. "In a big way, that was my entry point to storytelling."

They studied fine art at Oxford University's Ruskin School of Art and acted on the side

After finishing school in London, Emma D'Arcy moved to Oxford, where she studied fine art at the University of Oxford's Ruskin School of Art, per Stylectory. While D'Arcy didn't study acting, they did appear in several student productions. In a production of Martin McDonagh's "Pillowman" at the Oxford Playhouse, D'Arcy played Michal, a mentally disabled boy who murders several children after hearing fairytales. D'Arcy is also mentioned in reviews in The Oxford Student for Jack Thorne's "Bunny" and "The Cosmonaut's Last Message To The Woman He Once Loved In The Former Soviet Union." D'Arcy also went to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival during their final year of university with the play "GRIMM."

Even though D'Arcy went on to pursue acting, they appear to remain interested in visual art. Their Instagram profile, for instance, is filled with artistic shots. In one interview, D'Arcy even claimed that if they hadn't been an actor, they might have been interested in pursuing cinematography as a director of photography.

Emma D'Arcy launched their own theater company

After graduating from Oxford, Emma D'Arcy began pursuing acting. They signed with Roxane Vacca Management and began appearing in plays. In 2016, she played Kat in "Clickbait" at Theatre 503 in London, and received the only praise in a poor review in The Guardian. That same year, D'Arcy returned to the Edinburgh Fringe to perform in two shows, "Callisto: A Queer Epic" and "Children and Animals." D'Arcy received rave reviews for "Callisto," which went on to transfer to London's Arcola Theater. In 2017, D'Arcy starred in "Against" at the Almeida Theater opposite Ben Wishaw. In 2018, they starred in "Mrs Dalloway" at the Arcola, and in 2019, they starred in "The Crucible" at the Yard Theater.

In addition to acting on stage, D'Arcy also launched their own theater company. According to their Amazon Studios biography, D'Arcy became the joint artistic director of the Forward Arena Theater Company.

They landed a few small TV and film roles in different styles and genres

Alongside Emma D'Arcy's theatrical career, the actor began to appear on screens, too. In 2018, they played Naomi in Netflix's "Wanderlust," alongside Toni Collette. They also went on to appear in "Wild Bill" with Rob Lowe, "Misbehaviour" with Keira Knightly and Gugu Mbatha-Raw, and Prime Video's "Hanna," along with several short films (via IMDb).

As D'Arcy's career continued, so did their approach to acting. With each new character, they developed a more refined acting technique, but continued to take a similar approach to everyone they played. "I think my approach to different characters probably is quite similar, like you need to know in a kind of overarching way what the character's want is and what the character's need is and whether those two things contribute to it," D'Arcy told HeyUGuys in 2020, adding that they had learned how to work with projects in different styles and genres.

In Truth Seekers, Emma got to work with some of their heroes

In the 2020 show "Truth Seekers," Emma D'Arcy played Astrid, a woman who can see ghosts. The show was created by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, who are known to British audiences for the sitcom "Spaced" and films like "Shaun of the Dead," "Hot Fuzz," and "Lethal Weapon."

"My character spends most of their time with Nick's character, and I was literally having an out-of-body experience for at least three weeks," they told one interviewer, adding that they had grown up watching their show "Spaced." "Just would never have guessed that I would be that lucky."

D'Arcy also got to work with Malcolm McDowell, another screen legend. "Working with Malcolm was mad," she told HeyUGuys. "I mean just, I never really ever, ever expected in my life to be in a room with Malcolm McDowell, let alone sharing, like, a set with him. That was not anything I expected to be in the diary."

It seems that with "Truth Seekers," D'Arcy had exceeded their expectations for their career — but it was only the start of their rise to fame.

Emma D'Arcy was out of work during the pandemic

While the COVID-19 pandemic provided challenges for everyone, for Emma D'Arcy, who worked on stage and screen as an actor, it proved to be particularly tough. "The last few months have been quite surreal, I mean there was a big section ... during lockdown where really the industry went very, very quiet," they told HeyUGuys in late 2020. "And that was a scary time, because that felt really, like, freefall." They also explained that the theater industry in particular was struggling. "This has been an awful year for theater ... and I can't see it getting any easier at the moment," they said.

As they told iNews, by the time they landed the leading role in "House of the Dragon," they had begun to worry about where their next job would come from. "It was very strange timing," they said. "I was just really delighted at having something to do again."

They returned to work with Mothering Sunday

In 2020, Emma D'Arcy filmed "Mothering Sunday," a film based on the novel by Graham Swift. According to Screen Daily, the film was shot in fall of 2020 thanks to a government-funded scheme to provide COVID insurance for film and TV productions. D'Arcy played Emma Hobday, an entitled upper-class woman engaged to Josh O'Connor's character. As the film's director told Salon, the character is an "ice-cold lady" obsessed with her image. "The first time you see Emma she is caught in a reflection of her own image; you see her through the mirror," director Eva Husson said. "A lot of the characters are caught up in the representation of themselves." The film also starred Colin Firth, Josh O'Connor, Odessa Young, Olivia Colman, and Patsy Ferran.

"That's just been great," D'Arcy gushed to HeyUGuys. "It just felt like everyone there was full of a sort of naughty, giddy energy just at being able to work again. Yeah, being able to do the thing that they're good at. So that's been lovely."

Emma D'Arcy created a makeshift wig for their House of the Dragon audition

After a difficult pandemic, everything changed for Emma D'Arcy when they received a self-tape for an unnamed HBO fantasy series. At first, they didn't realize what a big deal the audition was. "Everyone's making fantasy series these days, so I just thought it was some spoof version," they told iNews. "I didn't realize until I was asked to send in another audition tape." Luckily for D'Arcy, their naivety meant that they weren't too nervous about the audition process.

However, as they told Vogue, the self-tape process wasn't entirely easy. After sending in one tape, D'Arcy was asked by the showrunners if they had a wig — they wanted to see what D'Arcy would look like with long hair. "All I had were some hair extensions left over from a job ... For 24 hours, me and my partner just tried — I can't put more emphasis behind that word," D'Arcy recalled to Entertainment Weekly. "We kept trying until we found something that gave me the illusion I had long hair," they went on. "And then, every time we taped after that, I would sit in front of the telly, and my partner would do my hair extensions for an hour and a half before we taped anything." In the end, of course, the hard work was worth it, and D'Arcy landed the role.

They found a lifelong friend in their House of the Dragon costar Olivia Cooke

While Emma D'Arcy played Rhaenyra in "House of the Dragon," Olivia Cooke played her friend-turned-enemy Alicent Hightower. While the two actors played characters who didn't exactly get along on screen, behind the scenes, the pair was inseparable.

As D'Arcy explained to Entertainment Weekly, the pair hit it off from their first meeting. Apparently, the two actors first met face to face in 2020, when the showrunners set up a dinner for the two leads. "I don't know what Liv would say, but I think I fell in love with her in about 45 seconds," D'Arcy gushed. "Well, I probably worked quite hard to cover that up." They added, "You know those chance meetings that happen where there's a familiarity? For some unknown reason, I really felt that with Liv."

In another interview for Elle UK, the two actors descended into giggles as they joked their way through the questions. When asked who they would like to invite to dinner, D'Arcy simply said, "You," looking at Cooke. Cooke replied, "Me? Yeah, you."

Emma D'Arcy connected with their House of the Dragon character on gender issues

In "House of the Dragon," Emma D'Arcy plays Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen, the daughter of the King of Westeros, who is battling to keep her position as heir to the throne — not an easy feat in a very sexist fictional medieval past.

Like D'Arcy, Rhaenyra is highly aware of the implications of gender. "Rhaenyra is deeply interested in gender dynamics; she has really keen awareness for the different space that men and women are afforded," D'Arcy told iNews. "She feels at odds with the way that she's read. She feels like an inherent outsider that, despite their best efforts, and from a very young age, I think she's seeking a way of living that feels authentic. I find that very moving."

As the actor told The Hollywood Reporter, this interest in gender and the limitations imposed on women is something that resonated with them on a personal level. "I'm a nonbinary person," D'Arcy said. "I've always found myself both pulled and repelled by masculine and feminine identity, and I think that plays out truthfully here. She can't attend court in a way that comes easily to other people."

They got to experience a new scale of filmmaking on House of the Dragon

Even though Emma D'Arcy had appeared in a few TV shows and films prior to their role in "House of the Dragon," the HBO show proved to be a whole new playfield for the actor. As they explained to iNews, "House of the Dragon" was a much bigger-scale production in comparison to their previous jobs.

"It's like no one told them how filmmaking is conventionally done," they said. "Usually, you have a corridor that leads nowhere or there's no back wall in a bathroom. But the King's Landing site is literally a three-story castle built on a soundstage in Watford." D'Arcy explained that living on the expansive set during filming made Westeros almost feel like a real place. "It becomes another reality," they said. And, of course, they got to experience the high-tech mechanism involved in creating the dragon-riding scenes. "You're basically in front of this wraparound LED display — essentially a video game universe that's completely manipulatable — basically on a ride," D'Arcy recalled.

And it wasn't just the big sets or the dragon rides — D'Arcy also explained to ScreenRant that the team would often film two or three scenes at once in different locations. "We had at least two units running simultaneously all the time — sometimes three," they said. "So much production happening simultaneously."

Emma D'Arcy is adjusting to life in the spotlight

Rhaenyra Targaryen is without a doubt Emma D'Arcy's biggest role to date — and a role of this prominence came with a new level of fame. For D'Arcy, whose resume was fairly modest prior to "House of the Dragon," this required some getting used to. "This is all new to me," they told an interviewer from iNews about the press tour. "I suppose it's quite a weird byproduct of the job that I do. I'm in an industry where you can sort of not be an actor tomorrow. It's a hard industry to stay in. Broadly, I just feel very lucky to have gotten to do my job for 11 months longer."

With the release of the show on HBO, D'Arcy got to walk down their first few red carpets. "The red carpet especially is a very unnatural environment," they told W magazine. "It's not normal to have that much attention focused on you — and it's a lot of cameras if you're camera-shy." To get through the experience, D'Arcy used makeup, hair, and fashion as an "armor and a mask."

We're willing to bet that D'Arcy's life in the spotlight is only just beginning — and they'll probably become more accustomed to the attention as their time as Rhaenyra continues in the years to come.