Alfie Allen: I asked if I would be alive for the third series of Game of Thrones and the writers gave me a fake script
Game Of Thrones can be pretty dark, but Theon Greyjoy has really been put through the ringer. For actor Alfie Allen, the pain has all been worth it, he tells Susan Griffin.
Alfie Allen was first introduced to the public through his big sister Lily's less than flattering ditty dedicated to her sibling's laziness. The single, simply titled Alfie, was released in 2007 and included the lyric, "You need to get a job because the bills need to get paid".
Eight years on, and he's emerged from his teen slump with a starring role as Theon Greyjoy in the hugely popular fantasy series Game Of Thrones.
"When I got the part I was watching The Wire, so to be part of a HBO show was just a dream," admits the 28-year-old. "I always thought it would get attention in America, but not be huge throughout the world."
The show, based on the books by George RR Martin, might be a phenomenal worldwide success, but none of the cast can rest on their laurels where this hyper-violent show is concerned.
Many main characters played by leading names (including Sean Bean and Cinderella's Richard Madden) have been beheaded and mutilated since the series launch in 2011.
"Yeah, I am worried if I'm going to live or not, because I've got a mortgage to pay," jokes Allen, the son of hellraiser Keith.
If you've so far missed the show, Theon was taken hostage as a youngster and brought up with the Stark family at Winterfell castle. He became friends with Robb Stark, but later betrayed him and captured the fort, only to find himself at the mercy of captors following a siege.
That was back in series two, and the actor recalls how the writers, knowing his concerns over being killed off, decided to play a prank on him.
"I was asking whether or not I was going to be alive for the third series and the writers gave me a fake script, which said I was stabbed in the heart."
As it was, his character wasn't slain but hauled off to a dungeon, where he spent series three being physically and psychologically tortured at the hands of the psychopathic Ramsay Snow, played by Welsh actor Iwan Rheon.
"I think it's meant to make the audience feel uncomfortable. But my poor mother [Alison Owen, a producer], I feel sorry for her," says Allen, grinning.
In one particularly gruesome scene, Theon was castrated. "I only ever get men talking to me about that," notes the actor, who was born in South-West London, attended school in Portsmouth and returned to the capital for college.
By the end of series four, the once-arrogant Theon is a broken, submissive man, referred to as Reek (because he resembles "stinking meat", Ramsay spits at him) and even assists his tormentor-turned-master's plans.
"The Stockholm syndrome [in which hostages can end up empathising with their captors] was just touched on in the past series," says Allen, who admits that despite the gruelling scenes, he's enjoyed exploring his character's tormented state.
"I'm sure there are people baying for even more blood, but through the efforts of [co-creator] David Benioff, and hopefully my acting, you can empathise with the character slightly.
"He's been stripped down to nothing. The bedroom was his only point of authority, and so his only weapon has been taken away from him."
He's keen not to ruin any surprises about series five, but will say: "There may be some light at the end of the tunnel in some weird, dark way."
Although Game Of Thrones takes up most of the year, he does have a few months off, and instead of just sitting back and relaxing, Allen's used this time to forge a burgeoning big-screen career.
"Without a doubt, Game Of Thrones has helped me get into rooms that I wouldn't have been able to get into before," notes the actor, who in 1998 popped up in the comedy You Are Here, created by Matt Lucas and David Walliams, and the movie Elizabeth, which his mum produced.
He went on to land roles in the teen action flick Agent Cody Banks 2, the critically-acclaimed Atonement, starring James McAvoy and Keira Knightley, and then in 2008, took over from Daniel Radcliffe in the national tour of Equus, a role that required him to strip off on stage each night.
In recent years, he's filmed the thriller Confine with his model friend Daisy Lowe, Plastic, alongside rising star Will Poulter, and this month stars alongside Speed's Keanu Reeves in the action-thriller John Wick.
"Keanu's directed a documentary recently, so he's not just the actor. He's a very cool dude and I definitely learnt a lot just being around him on set, and off it as well," says Allen.
In the movie, he plays Iosef Tarasov, a thug whose sadistic actions reawaken a retired hit man (Reeves). He reveals he was "excited about the idea of learning some Russian" for the role, and playing one of the villains.
"I think Chad [Stahelski, the director] said [I had] the best bug eyes in the business, so just needed to give it some intensity," he says, laughing.
"When people say I make a great baddie, I take it as a compliment. It's fun to get to be something that hopefully you're not."
- Game of Thrones, Sky Atlantic, Monday, 9pm
Finest fantasy: What Game of Thrones is all about
- Game of Thrones is a US fantasy drama created for HBO and filmed largely in Belfast's Titanic Quarter.
- It is an adaptation of A Song of Ice and Fire, George RR Martin's series of fantasy novels, the first of which is titled A Game of Thrones.
- Also filmed on location in Croatia, Iceland, Morocco, Spain, Malta, Scotland and the United States, it premiered on HBO in April 2011. The fifth season starts on Sky Atlantic on Monday.
- The series - set on the fictional continents of Westeros and Essos at the end of a decade-long summer - interweaves several plot lines with a broad ensemble cast.
- Game of Thrones receives funding from Northern Ireland Screen - a Government agency financed by Invest NI and the European Regional Development Fund.
- It has received widespread acclaim by critics, although its frequent use of nudity and sexual violence towards women has attracted criticism.
- As of April 2013, Northern Ireland Screen has awarded the show £9.25m and, according to Government estimates, benefited the Northern Ireland economy to the tune of £65m.