Steve Toussaint, the British actor currently playing the role of a scheming military commander on HBO’s House of the Dragon, recently spoke to Men’s Health about the series’ casting—and the critique that his character, Lord Corlys Velaryon, ought not to be Black.
That critique, which immediately followed the announcement of Toussaint as Corlys, had to do with the “authenticity” of casting a Black actor to portray the character. (The Sea Snake's skin color, however, is never mentioned in author George R.R. Martin’s novels.)
Lord Corlys is the commander of Westeros’ largest Navy and patriarch of one of the realm’s oldest houses. In the series, he’s treated more as a power-hungry in-law, having married Rhaenys Targaryen (Eve Best), the rightful heir (by birth) of the previous King, who instead chose her younger cousin as successor. He’s something of an interloper amid the extended Targaryen family—and this is also how some fans see Toussaint’s casting in a franchise that has historically included mostly white actors.
When asked about these erroneous period drama criticism—which takes issue with persons of color existing in seemingly white-dominant worlds (Game of Thrones is modeled on medieval England)—Toussaint explains that such diversity is not ahistorical; it is instead just a “very hard pill” for audiences to swallow.
“They are happy with a dragon flying,” he says, of fans’ willingness to accept the fantastical elements of the show’s world. “They're happy with white hair and violet-colored eyes, but a rich Black guy? That's beyond the pale.”
Toussaint’s hard pill isn’t just about existence, but also class. Lord Corlys Velaryon doesn’t simply exist in Westeros; he’s one of the most powerful and wealthy men in the Seven Kingdoms.
Toussaint says his early conversation about the role were less about Corlys’ race than his relationship to his daughter. He sees the character’s motivation as one of ambition and elevation.
Still, he recognizes the importance of his presence on set.
“What has been wonderful is for every toxic person that has somehow found their way into my timeline, there have been so many others who have been so supportive and been like, Oh my god, I can't wait, this is going to be great!” he says.
“Even when we were doing certain scenes, there would be supporting artists who would come up and go, It’s great to have this representation.”
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