Gayle Rankin Goes From Broadway to HBO in ‘House of the Dragon’

What better way to follow up a Tony-nominated performance in one of the year’s most talked about Broadway shows than with a role in television’s current blockbuster?

After a glimpse of Alys Rivers in the third episode, Gayle Rankin officially arrived in “House of the Dragon” during Sunday’s episode four, which is just the beginning for her character’s journey in the episodes ahead. 

Her premiere in the “Game of Thrones” spinoff show, which became a hit last year with its first season, comes as Rankin is still at work nightly onstage as Sally Bowles in the revival of “Cabaret.” Rankin was nominated for a Tony for Best Actress in a Musical for her performance. 

When she calls WWD, the 34-year-old Scottish actress, previously best known for her role in “Glow,” is prepping for the day’s show, relaxing at home in a face mask before heading over to the August Wilson Theatre. 

While most down time is about keeping her voice ready for Broadway, she’s relishing in the opportunity to finally get to talk about Alys, her “House of the Dragon” character, a long held secret. 

“What’s so cool about the ‘House of the Dragon’ and the ‘Game of Thrones’ empire and fan base is it’s kind of interactive in that the fans are really involved — which is both really new for me, but also really cool and a little bit scary,” Rankin says. “I also feel so confident in my understanding of her and my version of her, which isn’t always the case when you build [a] character.”

Gayle Rankin

Gayle Rankin

Ryan Williams/WWD

Rankin adds that because there isn’t much about Rivers in the books, a lot remains up for debate about who exactly she is and what her motives are. 

“I kind of love taking on those characters, especially those women, because I think I have very strong feelings about defending them and giving them a 360[-degree] grounded experience,” Rankin says. “And so I feel really protective over her and really confident about how I built her and my motivations. So it’s interesting to see her come out in the world and see some of the reactions to her.”

So far, we know that Alys is hundreds of years old and has magical powers of some sort. Rankin says that we will learn more of Alys as the season goes on but that mystery will continue to be center to who she is. 

“What I found really important was to create a backstory for her that ultimately is mostly private for me, because I think an era of mystery is actually really important to the character,” she says. “I tried really hard to ground her as also a woman and not an ethereal creature, but a woman with wants and needs and feminine power that also is complimentary to the other powerful female-presenting characters in the story. I think she has ambition, and she obviously has a lot of history and a lot of power, but she has a purpose and something to do. I think there’s something interesting about a character that could potentially be a witch prophet or has knowledge about other parts of the world than humans. They have all of this power, they have all of this knowledge. What could they possibly want? Figuring that out has been really interesting.”

Gayle Rankin

Gayle Rankin

Ryan Williams/WWD

Despite being “one of the only people on the planet who hasn’t watched ‘Game of Thrones,’” Rankin became a fan of the spinoff’s first season after seeing it and was therefore extremely interested when the audition for season two came her way. 

“In my mind, because I’m a huge theater girl, obviously, and love Shakespeare and love the stakes of those worlds and that time, I do feel like it’s kind of like Shakespeare,” Rankin says. “It’s like Shakespeare — with dragons.”

If these two characters — Alys and Sally — are any indication, it’s fair to say Rankin is intrigued by mysterious women. 

“There’s an untouchable [quality], and not necessarily iconography for Alys, but she does carry a kind of power, certainly inside of the fandom and the books. She’s kind of an icon, and so is Sally, and those women sometimes are hard to want to engage with because you’re like, ‘How could you possibly get inside of that energy?’ But I love that challenge, and I’m humbled by that challenge because it’s hard and no one is always completely whatever you would call successful.”

“Cabaret” arrived on Broadway this spring after a transfer from the West End, which Rankin was not part of, however it is her second time being in a production of the famed show. Ten years back she made her Broadway debut in the role of Fräulein Kost, giving this time around a nice bookending feeling.

“It has been really just a crazy gift that you don’t ever think that you’re going to get in your life and that you are like, ‘Oh my God, I get to see myself, see who I am now through this piece of art, and reflect back on who I was before and who I am now.’” Rankin says. “It’s kind of unbelievable because what’s been so nice about it is that I really do feel like a really different person and a really different artist, and it’s been really humbling and really nice to admit to myself. I wasn’t supposed to play Sally Bowles 10 years ago. I was supposed to play her now.”

Rankin is most imminently looking forward to a Greek vacation, but she’s eager for what comes next professionally.

“What’s so funny is I did a reading of a Greek play a week or so ago — I can’t be stopped, apparently — and it just really made me want to be on stage again. But I’m really excited about doing more television and definitely moving into this new phase of my career where I get to take on larger roles in film, hopefully,” Rankin says. “I’m very open and feel ready to sink my teeth into some really collaborative stuff.”

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