New Face

04.22.14

Game of Thrones’ New Hunk Michiel Huisman on the Revamped Daario Naharis

Notice something different about Daario Naharis? The actor who plays Daenerys Targaryen’s suave love interest discusses peeing on camera and ‘Orphan Black.’

Even the most die-hard fans of Game of Thrones, the vast fantasy epic boasting myriad realms and hundreds of wildly-accented characters, were left a bit perplexed during the show’s Season 4 premiere. What happened to Daario Naharis?

The rakish Captain of the Stormcrows—and love interest of Mother of Dragons, Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke)—had transformed from a dimpled, swaggering, square-jawed Brit with a long, braided Braveheart mane into a moodier, mellower warrior equipped with brown eyes, neck-length hair, a beard, and a more slender frame.

Ed Skrein, the 31-year-old English actor who originated the role of Daario Naharis in Season 3, reportedly left the HBO series to replace Jason Statham in a rebooted Transporter film trilogy, and was replaced by Michiel Huisman, a 32-year-old Dutch actor.

(Neither of these actors, by the way, resemble the Daario described in George R.R. Martin’s tomes. That Daario sports a blue, three-pronged beard, curly blue hair, and a gold mustache.)

On Episode 3 of Game of Thrones’ fourth season, “Breaker of Chains,” we bore witness to the new Daario in all his glory. His queen, Daenerys, is insulted by one of the warriors of the slave city of Meereen during her emancipation tour (he urinates in front of her). So, Daario defends her honor by hurling a dagger into the eye of the man’s charging horse and, in one swift motion, unsheathing his sword and slicing his throat. Then, after a volley of arrows rains down upon him, he unzips his trousers, whips it out, and sullies the ground with his urine in front of the shocked denizens of Meereen.

The Daily Beast spoke with Huisman, who has, in short order, made a name for himself on American TV with roles on Treme, Nashville, Orphan Black, and now Game of Thrones.

How were you cast as Daario? A lot of people were a bit confused when they saw a new Daario pop up in the premiere, present company included.

Initially when I was asked to audition for the show, it wasn’t clear what character it was for. I thought, “This really resembles this other character that’s already there.” It wasn’t until later in the process that I realized that it was actually Daario. But they really allowed me to reinvent it. They told me to keep in mind what the character had gone through, and the backstory, but then just take it from there and give it my own interpretation, which is great, because it would be hard to replicate what someone else had done. The writers and producers were hoping that, although we’d already seen Daario a couple of times, the audience would forgive the change and accept me as Daario from now on.

Did you talk with Ed Skrein at all about Daario?

No, I never spoke to him. I just spoke to David and Dan.

"What the horse did do is fall over in front of me. I was completely blown away. This horse was such a pro."

It is an interesting new take on the character. Ed’s Daario was a more gloating, smiley character, but yours is a bit more low-key and keeps his emotions closer to the vest.

I see Daario as a tiger-like fighter; someone who’s not really in for the long fight, but a quick one. He’s showy, but his showy side comes from not having anything to lose. Up until meeting Dany, he didn’t have anything to live for, so he feels he might as well have a little fun. That’s also why he pees after killing the warrior from Meereen. It’s very showy, but it also comes from, “Whatever, let’s go have some fun.” Daario is a fun character in the Daenerys storyline because he pushes her a bit.

Now, Episode 3 is a big one for Daario.

I saw it yesterday for the first time and I was watching it and said, “Huh? Wasn’t it Episode 3 where I took down the guy?” And I was watching, and watching, and finally at the end it happened.

Where did you guys shoot that sequence?

We shot it in an abandoned quarry just outside of Split in Croatia. Whenever you see the rock walls, those are the actual walls of the old quarry, and then the big walls of Meereen with the statues and all that stuff are all CGI, because we were just looking at rocks. The director would come up to us and say, “Imagine the biggest castle walls you’ve ever seen… and then double it!”

So you hurl a knife at a charging horse. How was that shot?

Going to set and knowing that we were shooting that scene that day was so much fun. I thought, “Really? This is what I do for a living? I get to twirl swords and pretend to be badass?” When you do a stunt like that, it’s all in bits and pieces. So the throwing of the knife was a shot on me throwing the knife in a net located above the camera, and then when the horse was coming, I wouldn’t throw the knife but would just make the throwing motion. Obviously, I didn’t actually hit the horse with a knife and it was all CGI, but what the horse did do is fall over in front of me. I was completely blown away. This horse was such a pro. They did it twice, and then said, “We got it… we’re done.”

Was the horse OK after eating it on the ground twice?

Totally fine! It would just throw himself onto a huge, soft mat covered in a bit of sand, and then it would get up right away. A total pro. All in all, it took us about a week to shoot that sequence.

Did you actually pee on camera?

With 500 extras and 200 crewmembers around, you have to have so much control of your bladder to pee in the moment…so I’ll leave that up to the audience’s imagination.

What’s it like to work with Daenerys…I mean Emilia?

Video screenshot

It’s very inspiring. At the end of Episode 3, we did the stunt and then she goes right into addressing the people of Meereen and the intensity with which she did that was through the roof. She’s all-in and gives everything she’s got. I love that, and I can’t wait to go back for the next season and work more with her.

Oh, so you’ll be back for Season 5?

Yes.

Are we going to see Daario and Daenerys get down this season?

Um…I don’t know! [Laughs]

Can you tease a bit where Daario is going this season?

I think it’s clear from the first three episodes that there is a tension between Dany and Daario that is building, and I think that Daario is not only mesmerized by Dany’s beauty, but also sees something in her that he’s never seen before—a certain heart that he hasn’t seen in any leader he’s fought for. He’ll do anything to get closer to her and it’ll be exciting to see where that goes.

You’re a part of so many good TV shows with your arc on Nashville, Treme, Orphan Black, and now Game of Thrones. TV is really a much different arena today than it was in the ‘90s.

Right, it’s very different from 10, 15 years ago. If you wanted to be a “serious” film actor back then, you didn’t want to do TV, but now so many great film actors are doing TV. I feel very fortunate to play all these different roles in such a short period of time while also being able to incorporate more and more film work. Now, TV has gotten perhaps better than your average film script, but at the same time, it’s fun to give it all you’ve got for a few months and produce a story.

One of your early films was Black Book, which was an excellent World War II drama with Carice van Houten, who’s also on Game of Thrones as Melisandre. Did she suggest you for the show?

I think that’s just a coincidence! It is funny, though, having two Dutch actors on the show. And I love her and her work. One of the first movies I ever did was a movie with her in which I played her younger brother called Suzy Q, and I was just 16. It was a TV movie back in Holland. That was the first time we met. I can only hope that our characters meet on Game of Thrones, but who knows! We can introduce another crazy language to the show: Dutch.

You’re also back for Season 2 of Orphan Black. Where’s Cal Morrison headed?

They’re really close to the vest when it comes to spoilers, but what I can say is that Cal turns out to have a past with Sarah, and Sarah finds herself in even deeper trouble than she’s already been, and it turns out that Cal is quite the helping hand when in need.

You’ve got this interesting film coming up called Wild, opposite Reese Witherspoon, which was written by Nick Hornby. Who do you play in that?

Reese really carries the story. It’s about a woman who, after some traumatic events in her life, decides to hit the reset button by walking the Pacific Crest Trail, and on that walk, she meets many different characters, and I’m one of the people that she meets. I wouldn’t call it the male lead, but I’d say it’s one of the supporting roles. But it was so great working with Reese, who I very much admire, and who turned out to be just a fantastic actress to work with. And my character in Wild is a little bit more of a hippie than, say, Cal Morrison.

And the upcoming movie Adaline is a big one for your career. You’re the male lead in that opposite Blake Lively?

Yeah. We’re still filming that now. I’m looking outside of my window at a dreary Vancouver sky. It’s always raining here! Blake plays Adaline, who’s a woman who, through some sort of bizarre accident, stops aging. If people find out about it she might be turned into a medical experiment, so she’s leading this life on the run, having to move every couple of years so people don’t find out she can’t get older. She meets me, and things happen, and she has to come to a decision of whether she should keep running forever, or to stay. But we’re three-quarters of the way into the shoot, and we’re shooting a lot of scenes now with my parents, who are played by Harrison Ford and Kathy Baker.

That’s pretty badass—to have Harrison Ford play your Dad.

It’s so badass it’s not even funny. I’m just soaking it all in and trying not to fuck it up!