Nonso Anozie talks diversity on the HBO show and opportunities for black actors in the U.S.
Unlike The Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter, HBO's Game of Thrones is a fantasy series that includes characters of color as more than tertiary additions. Enter Nonso Anozie, a 6-foot-6-inch black British actor playing Xaro Xhoan Daxos on the cable channel's latest Sunday night jewel. Drawn from author George R.R. Martin's book series, the highly popular Game of Thrones, now in its second season, has amassed a cultlike following of viewers who have even circled back to read Martin's original tomes.
Studying acting at Britain's all-black Talawa Theatre Company summer school program, Anozie cut his teeth as King Lear in the Shakespearean play. He soon began landing larger roles in television and films both in the U.K. and America, on shows such as Prime Suspect and The Grey, starring Liam Neeson. In addition to his recent Game of Thrones introduction, Anozie is shooting the futuristic film Ender's Game in New Orleans, alongside Harrison Ford and Academy Award nominee Viola Davis.
The Root caught up with Anozie to talk about Game of Thrones and life as a black British actor in America.
The Root: Is it easier to find work in England or America as a black actor?
Nonso Anozie: Many actors are coming to America to work. Idris Elba [who is British] was huge in America, and no one knew a thing about him in London until The Wire began airing in the U.K., which was after the final season's end. Then he became that black guy from The Wire for his character Stringer Bell ... In America, once you get into the pool of black actors that are working, you're good. Then they gradually let more people into that pool -- in England, there's not a pool yet.
TR: Game of Thrones has black and brown characters -- Lucian Msamati's pirate Salladhor Saan and Jason Momoa's Drogo -- where many fantasy films and television shows don't. Tell me about that.
NA: HBO really wanted to cast me in the first season, and I auditioned for a character but then I got another pilot. They loved my audition so much that when this character Xaro Xhoan Daxos came up, they called. He's richer than [villain] Tywin Lannister, so the black dude's the richest guy on the show.
Xaro meets Daenerys Targaryen while she's wandering in the desert. She's got dragons, I'm really rich, let's see what we can do -- and we start a friendship. It's really interesting what we get into for the rest of the season, but I can't say anymore because of how it all turns out.
TR: Is the storyline close to the book?
NA: My character is a departure -- I'm black and I'm straight. In the book, Xaro is camp, someone you don't believe is straight but claims to be, and he cries all the time, but we decided to do something else. Game of Thrones is going to unfold in a great way.
TR: Tell me about Ender's Game, the movie you're filming in New Orleans with Viola Davis.
NA: It's starring Hugo's Asa Butterfield -- we worked together on Nanny McPhee Returns -- Harrison Ford, Viola Davis and Ben Kingsley. Ender's Game is set 60 years from now; Earth has been attacked by aliens, and we are preparing a pre-emptive attack on the [next set of] intruders. It's really dark, actually. I'm a hard-ass in this one. In The Grey I was a bit soft and friendly; in Game of Thrones, Xaro is smooth; and in Ender's Game, I'm just angry all the time. I like the variances of characters I get to play.
TR: How did you get into acting?
NA: I was born in London, grew up in Camden. I got a taste for acting at 10 years old -- my headmaster had me play the daddy in the Bible story of the prodigal son. I put on a big coat and glasses. People laughed at the end, and I got something from it that I never wanted to release. I got really into it at 18 and tried acting without going to university, and that was hard ...I didn't come from a theater family, and when I told my careers adviser about acting, he suggested I look at something like plumbing, saying, "Even young, handsome white boys find it difficult acting -- you're a 6-foot-6-inch black man."