‘I really lean into his charm’: Game of Thrones' Michiel Huisman on playing a domestic abuser
Violent domestic abuse is not what we have come to expect from Michiel Huisman. Over the past decade, the Dutch actor has established himself as one of film and television’s go-to romantic leads. In HBO’s deliriously funny screwball comedy The Flight Attendant, he’s the wealthy expat dreamboat who takes Kaley Cuoco’s air hostess back to a presidential Bangkok hotel room. (Complications ensue, but we can ignore those for the moment.) In Game of Thrones, he was the hot-blooded mercenary who becomes the lover of Emilia Clarke’s mother of dragons, Daenerys Targaryen. In The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, he’s the smouldering, sensitive guy who catches the eye of author Lily James. One Twitter user has been moved to write, “Michiel Huisman is literally the most adorable man alive. I cannot cope with how adorable he is.”
All of which is just to say that when he turns up in a soft, black jumper cradling a glass of red in ITV’s new thriller Angela Black, as the husband of Joanne Froggatt’s Angela, it makes what follows even more jarring. After a late-night row, Huisman’s Olivier loses his temper and attacks her. All we see of it is the aftermath, one of her teeth lying on the perfect grain of the wood floor in their chic, modernist house.
“I put aside my judgment of the character,” says Huisman, when I catch up with him at home in New York. “I try to focus only on his motivations. He’s a master of making it look from the outside as if he’s a great guy, has a great life, great marriage, wonderful kids.” It was what made the character so “enjoyable” to play, he adds, the idea that “even though, pretty early on, we get to see the dark side of Olivier, maybe, if I really lean into the charm of this guy, the audience can still for a bit longer think, ‘Yeah, but is he that bad?’.”
Good luck with that, Michiel. The new drama from the creators of BBC One’s The Missing and ITV’s Liar arrives at a time when awareness of the appalling impact of domestic violence in Britain has never been higher, and the Government’s new Domestic Abuse Bill, which broadens the definition of the offence, will soon come into effect.
It’s not hard, though, to see that charm flows easily from the 40-year-old. Huisman is back home briefly with his family after four months away filming but, he says happily, “they still live here, and they still seem to like me, so that’s good”. He and fellow Dutch actor Tara Elders have been married since 2007 and have a 14-year-old daughter, Hazel. They’ve lived in America for 15 years, after making the decision to sell their Amsterdam apartment to try to find success in the US.
Earlier in a Q&A session, Huisman joked that he had to leave Olivier at the door when he got home, because “my wife really doesn’t accept any of that s---”. But, he stresses, “I realise how important this story is right now, and how to me it might feel very remote, but it is all around us.”
Huisman modelled as a boy, thanks to his advertising exec mother, who used to be in the fashion industry, and then parlayed that into a career as a child star on Dutch TV. His father is in property, and he has a brother who played professional football in the Dutch second division.
Game of Thrones was a breakthrough role. Huisman famously replaced Camden-born Ed Skrein as “sellsword” Daario Naharis after the third season. He doesn’t know why. “Obviously these things rarely happen,” he says, “and when it happens, it’s kind of awkward.”
Was he surprised by his lover Daenerys turning into a mass-murdering tyrant by the finale? “No,” he says. “I thought it was in line with what had been shown before. Power corrupts.”
Of course, Daenerys had another suitor, Jon Snow, played by Kit Harington. The British actor got into hot water in 2017 by saying that he had experienced sexism in the industry, a remark he later amended to a complaint that he had been “objectified, sexually”. As someone whose torso has almost certainly been seen on screen more often than that of Harington, has Huisman ever felt objectified? “No,” he says. “I mean, I understand that the way I look is the way I look. It’s a big part of being an actor in my case.” But, he insists, “no, no, I don’t”.
I ask him about another Brit actor Rafe Spall’s comments earlier this year that he was sick of the pressure on men, as well as women, to live up to unrealistic body shapes on screen, and that for him it involved training and starving himself for months. Does Huisman feel the same? “I know what he’s talking about,” he confesses. “But at the same time, I think choosing your roles wisely… not every role would require that for me.”
Indeed, there’s much more to Huisman’s CV, including a stretch living in New Orleans while playing a street musician in David Simon’s intensely political post-Hurricane Katrina drama Treme. It played into his former career in the Netherlands as lead singer and guitarist of the band Fontane, as well as his role in the US show Nashville, in which he played a musician, too. He remains very proud of Treme, and describes its f-bomb-firing creator Simon, who also made The Wire and was once dubbed “The Angriest Man in Television”, as “intense, but not terrifying”.
I wonder if he’s returning for the second series of The Flight Attendant, in which he appears for large parts in bed with his throat cut. “Well, I think that they would want me to be very vague about that,” he says. “The short answer would be, ‘No, I’m dead. So, it would be hard’. Then again,” he adds with a grin, “I was also dead in most of season one.” This sounds like a tentative yes. He’s undeniably, though, in the forthcoming film A Boy Called Christmas, based on the children’s book by Matt Haig, in which he plays the father of a boy who becomes Father Christmas.
I can’t leave him, however, without asking if it’s time for the first Dutch James Bond? He laughs. “Oh my God, what are people going to think? ‘Get out of here! The Dutchman playing Bond?’ No comment!”
Angela Black begins on Oct 10 at 9pm on ITV