On the surface, it’s easy to see the comparisons between Game of Thrones and The Last Kingdom. Both take place in cold, unforgiving landscapes with their respective casts draped in faux furs while brandishing swords, fighting both the extreme elements and each other in epic battle scenes. Both feature ruthless leaders constantly changing alliances in the hopes of winning the throne of thrones. And both have a dark-haired, brooding protagonist that fights and — in the latter’s case, f**ks — their way toward their destiny.
That’s where the similarities end. Game of Thrones is obviously a fantasy, while The Last Kingdom is historical fiction, and its titular characters have very little in common outside of aesthetics. Snow often comes across as whiny and pouty in the first few seasons, whereas Uhtred is a cocksure, Dane-raised warrior. “Even though he is super cheeky and he can totally be a dick, he's very truthful, very loyal, very trustworthy. Even though he's being tested from both sides again and again and being distrusted, the truth is that he does do what he says, and is a man of his word,” says Alexander Dreymon, who plays Uhtred. But while Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and Uhtred of Bebbanburg both inspire the type of fanfic and Tumblr posts one would expect from characters played by actors who are essentially walking thirst traps, one of them has yet to have his life consumed by his starring role. And also has no idea what a thirst trap is.
"What'd you call it? A thirst trap?"
"Oh, thirst trap?"
Yeah. Do you know what a thirst trap is?
“I've never heard that. Did you make that word up?” Dreymon laughs, something he does often during both of our conversations. Many of the people he lists as influential in his life tend to be women. There’s a flirtatiousness about him, but it comes across more like an openness toward life rather than anything else. Yet he has moments when he hesitates to be too open, like discussing his private life, which may come with the territory of being an actor. Or it may be because everyone has some sh*t they’d rather not talk about, especially when they’re being recorded.
A sparse Wikipedia entry tells the basics in the most bare-bones way: Alexander Dreymon was born Alexander Doetsch in Germany and grew up in the United States, France, and Switzerland. He’s fluent in three languages (English, French, and German), studied in Paris and at the Drama Centre London, and learned to ride horses while living in South Dakota.
When South Dakota comes up, he laughs and points out how random it sounds. “I had very close family friends which were now almost like my family back then, that lived in South Dakota. And when I was a kid, I was really into Native Americans and my friends were living on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, and as soon as I got a chance I went out there and loved it so much that I just decided to stay there for a while, basically.” He lived there on and off from ages 12 to 16. South Dakota was where he learned to ride horses, drive cars and trucks, and parallels much of Uhtred’s story.
“I literally just realized that while I was talking to you," he says. "It was literally the training ground for The Last Kingdom.”
He was interested in architecture and psychology when he was younger and saw himself studying either one, but deep down always knew he’d be an actor. “I have a lot of cousins that I'm very close to. And one of them is particularly — she's like my sister. We grew up together, and she is three years older than I am. She was a big influence on me when I was a kid. She was my goddess. I did anything she said. You know? I mean, she got me into so much trouble. And we used to take themes from movies and then just reenact them and film them. And I think, I just knew that that's what I wanted to do later on, if I could.” I naturally wonder if moving around so much as a kid made it hard to make friends, maybe even easier to pretend to be someone else.
"I had a lot of older friends when I was a kid. From sort of all walks of life, and that's still the way it is," he says. "You know, my circle of friends is very strange and wonderful. But it's not as if I didn't have any friends at all."
You weren’t a complete loser.
"I did have an imaginary girlfriend."
Did you really?
"Oh yeah, oh yeah. Oh yeah. I was in love with a girl in my class when I was in primary school, and she obviously thought I was a freak, so that wasn't working out. And the the guys in my class, every two weeks they'd say, ‘Hey, we spoke to her and she really likes you now. You should go and ask her again.’ And then I'd go and ask her again."
Oh my God. Was she like, get away from me, you're crazy?
"Yeah [laughs]. And then I remember going home and imagining how cool it would be if she was into me and then I would cook dinner. I would cook for her, you know? And pretend that she'd be over and make food for her and stuff. Yeah, it was fun."
That's an interesting use of the word fun. But OK.
Our conversation veers on and off topic, talking about the show, Henry Cavill’s wig in the upcoming Witcher series (we both agree it looks like an aging Legolas), and how he never played video games growing up because he wasn’t allowed to. He read some comics (Lucky Luke and Mickey Mouse) as a kid and would be down to be in any superhero movie (who wouldn’t at this point?), though he’s not sure who. He asked his cousin how old you had to be to get married when he first saw Princess Leia in Return of the Jedi and loved the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. “I always try to imagine what that first pitch must have been like," he ponders. "When somebody came into a room and went, "I got this story about these four turtles. And they live in the sewers. And they're ninjas.'”
He counts OA actress and co-creator Brit Marling and his co-star David Dawson among the list of actors he’s inspired by.
Shortly after a recurring stint on American Horror Story: Coven, Dreymon endured a rather long audition process for BBC’s upcoming epic historical drama based on Bernard Cornwell’s The Saxon Stories, The Last Kingdom. The books and show tell the story of Uhtred of Bebbanburg/Uhtred Ragnarson, the son of a Saxon lord who was captured and adopted by the Danes. The character is loosely based on Uhtred the Bold, who existed 200 years after the books and show take place and was Cornwell’s ancestor. While many of the events in the show and books did happen, the story of the Christian-born, Viking-raised Uhtred, who helped Alfred the Great’s dream of one England become reality, is fictional.
“There's this one story about Alfred the Great, who when he's on the run and he ends up in this little hut in the marshes, and he and his followers, the little band of people that's left, sleep at a villager's house," Dreymon explains. "The woman asks him to watch the cakes that he's making, and he messes it up and burns the cakes. So there's this sort of mythic story of Alfred the Great burning the cake and getting reprimanded for it, but that's all people know about Alfred the Great in the U.K. Nobody really knows that much about that time in history, because as it's depicted in our story, the Danes didn't really write stuff down. Alfred was the first to come up with this idea of what is now called the Chronicle, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles of writing down history. Obviously, he writes down history the way that he sees it and the way that makes him look good.”
Speaking of someone who likes to chronicle their own life, he’s not on social media — yet. He begrudgingly admits he’s about to join Instagram after the reluctant realization that it may be necessary, both to help promote the show he stars in and Tiger Burning Bright, the wildlife foundation he’s created with one of his closest childhood friends, who’s been working on the ground in Thailand for the last decade. The organization will help individuals who wish to donate to the conservation of tigers by guiding them toward the foundations and initiatives doing the work and providing a clearer idea of where their donations are going.
Outside of The Last Kingdom and the wildlife foundation, he thinks of directing one day, and considers what kind of roles he’d want to play outside of the historical fiction genre, noting that lately he’s been drawn to biographies. He recently appeared at London Comic Con with the show and fans started telling him about Dungeons & Dragons. The storytelling elements to the game have piqued his interest. But, like so many actors, he would love to get back on stage soon, something he hasn't done in a while.
"I think the difference is that you need to have a working instrument when you're on stage," Dreymon says. "To a much higher degree than you do for film. And I'm not saying you need more focus or anything like that, it's simply literally training muscles in terms of your ability to project. And just being completely alive in that sense."
Seasons 1-3 of The Last Kingdom are available now on Netflix.