In ‘House of the Dragon’ Ewan Mitchell leads with his chin

Like most people, Ewan Mitchell is used to anonymity. So on a recent trip to Manhattan, he was surprised by what a hotel doorman asked him when he arrived: “Didn’t you pack your eye patch?”

Mitchell doesn’t normally wear an eyepatch, but Aemond Targaryen, the one-eyed, dragon-riding warrior he plays in “House of the Dragon,” does. The actor is still getting used to strangers making the connection in public.

“I wouldn’t think people would recognize me, but they do,” he said. “I think it’s because of my strong chin.”

It was an afternoon in May, and Mitchell, 27, was sipping a Coke in a hotel bar. He was wearing a black Alexander McQueen suit and getting ready for the second season premiere of “House of the Dragon,” HBO’s “Game of Thrones” prequel that follows two factions vying for the Iron Throne.

When Mitchell made his debut in the second half of Season 1, Aemond, the headstrong second son increasingly coveting his brother’s throne, quickly became one of the show’s most intriguing and terrifying characters. Paired with Vhagar, the biggest, baddest dragon in the realm, and the most chiseled chin in Westeros, Aemond exuded the quiet ferocity of a predator preparing to pounce.

“When I’m dressed as Aemond and I see myself in the mirror, it even scares me a little bit,” Mitchell said.

The shocking ending to the first season, which saw Aemond’s dragon slay Lucerys Velaryon, Aemond’s rival and kinsman, signaled to viewers that the one-eyed prince would play a central role in the brewing civil war. In the most recent episode of Season 2, a fiery conflict between three dragons established Aemond as the new standard-bearer for his coalition—known as the Greens—and potentially the new king of the realm.

The result is that Mitchell, who had never watched or cared much about Game of Thrones before joining the prequel, now sees himself as one of the faces of the franchise. To promote the new season, he’s embarked on his first major press tour and has adapted to its demands.

When he’s not in character, Mitchell is soft-spoken and occasionally flashes a boyish grin, though he retains much of Aemond’s seriousness and quiet intensity. He’s also fiercely private, staying off social media and in the past shying away from sharing much with the public. “Once you lose the mystery, you can’t really get it back,” he said.

Still, he knows that Aemond’s key role in season 2 means he’ll have to step into the spotlight too: “There comes a point where you have to go, now is the time to pull back the curtain.”

Like Aemond, Mitchell is a second son. He grew up in Derby, an industrial city in the middle of England, and his parents expected him to follow in his older brother’s footsteps and join Rolls-Royce (the aerospace and industrial technology company, not the car manufacturer).

Inspired by films like “Citizen Kane” and “Taxi Driver,” Mitchell knew early on that he wanted to be an actor. When he was 13, his teacher asked every student in his class what they wanted to be when they grew up. One wanted to be an engineer, another hoped to work as an electrician.

“Then I suddenly realized, ‘I’m going to be an actor,’ and everyone laughed at me,” Mitchell said.

His family couldn’t afford the tuition for drama school, so Mitchell enrolled in a two-year vocational program, studying design and technology while working part-time in a restaurant and in customer service at a local football club. Halfway through the program, at 17, he was accepted into the Nottingham Television Workshop, a drama group that trains young people in acting. (Alumni include Bella Ramsey, Felicity Jones and Samantha Morton.)

Through the Workshop, Mitchell landed a starring role in a 2015 short film called “Fire,” about a young man who leaks fire from his hands. After the short was released, Mitchell downloaded it onto a dozen CDs, took a train to London, and went to the offices of every agent he could find, giving them all a copy. The one who called back still represents Mitchell.

“Either way, I wanted to make sure I got into this business,” Mitchell said.

He was later cast in the ITV costume drama “The Halcyon” and Netflix’s “The Last Kingdom,” and appeared as one of the Oxford students in the hit film “Saltburn.” But it was the role of Aemond in “House of the Dragon” that was by far his biggest professional turning point.

“Since I brought him in, I feel like I can now determine the course of my career,” he said.

Mitchell had been rewatching the classic Hollywood adventure film “The Vikings” (1958) and musing about how he wanted to play a morally dark character, similar to the one played by Kirk Douglas, when he received an email inviting him to submit a taped audition for Aemond. When he eventually auditioned in person, he left a lasting impression on Ryan Condal, the showrunner of “House of the Dragon.”

“When Ewan walked into the room, he just had a presence that I can best describe as unsettling,” Condal said. “It was a kind of quietly terrifying way that he did it, and it was completely different than anyone else. And then he thanked us very politely and left the room.”

Condal remembers asking Kate Rhodes James, the casting director, “Is he always like this?” She replied, “Oh no, he’s just a very intense guy from the North.”

To prepare for his role, Mitchell didn’t watch “Game of Thrones.” Instead, he read parts of “Fire & Blood,” the George R.R. Martin book that inspired the series, and studied the performances of Michael Fassbender in “Prometheus” and Peter O’Toole in “Lawrence of Arabia,” each of whom plays a character who uses power for his own ends.

On his first day on set, Mitchell consulted with Condal and decided that he would not interact with Matt Smith, who plays Aemond’s similarly menacing uncle and rival Daemon, in order to heighten the tension between the two characters. Mitchell had grown up admiring Smith’s performance in “Doctor Who.” But on set, Mitchell avoided eye contact with him and kept his distance until the climactic scene at the end of the first season, when Aemond and Daemon finally face off.

“There’s an addictive quality to being in the shoes of a character,” Mitchell said. “When you lose yourself for a moment, it’s almost like a dream.”

When he’s not acting, Mitchell still lives with his family at home in Derby and spends time with his dogs, three whippets named Eva, Bella and Bonnie.

While taking on a leading role in an international hit and participating in an extensive press tour are new responsibilities for Mitchell, they are challenges he is confident he can handle. Learning how to manage and sustain this success is a bit like taming and riding Vhagar, he said.

“Now that I’m on it,” he said, “I just have to stay on the dragon.”

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