THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING
Game of Thrones actor Michiel Huisman makes his move
Part of Michiel Huisman’s job, playing the guardian-slash-lover of the queen of dragons on HBO’s Game of Thrones, is getting naked, and looking good getting naked. The Dutch actor knew it might even be the main requirement during casting, which is why, in his first meeting with the show’s producers, he says, “I told them that I would be willing to do that. To train hard. I made sure they knew that I was aware my physique needed to be that of a great warrior.” Smart move.
Now in his second season of playing Daario Naharis, the former- slave-turned-sellsword—or mercenary soldier — who has pledged both his loyalty and his loins to Emilia Clarke’s Daenerys Targaryen (aka Khaleesi), Huisman has been promoted to a series regular. In the Season 5 premiere in April, he got to show off all that hard training, for the second time, in a lingering post-coital shot of his very excellent butt. GIFs soon abounded, as did complimentary Tweets, such as Anna Kendrick’s, demanding more: “Madonna kissed Drake, Hilary’s [sic] running for president, but HBO still hasn’t shown this dude’s dick?? #FeministPriority.”
Huisman, for his part, is happy to join in on the fun of seemingly the whole world talking about his ass. “Well, if I wasn’t comfortable with it, this would be a terrible time for me,” he says. “I’d better hide under a rock until everybody forgets about it.” His wife, Dutch actress Tara Elders, whom I meet later, seems equally amused. “It beats the alternative: People saying your husband’s ass is ugly.”
Huisman attracts far less attention today, sitting in a long, gray wool coat in the corner of Kelley & Ping, a cavernous restaurant made to look like an Asian market in New York’s SoHo. His butt shot seen ’round the Internet aired just a week ago, not long before the premiere of his new romantic drama, The Age of Adaline — in which he plays the love interest of a woman who can’t age (Blake Lively) — but Huisman doesn’t turn a single head. “Maybe because I’m wearing clothes?” he jokes.
“Here’s a women taking full control of her pleasure, telling a man to take off his clothes. I was happy to be a victim of that.”
Not that looking good naked is his only strength—though, speaking as a straight woman, it’s definitely a great one. Huisman, 33, has been in showbiz for more than 20 years — alternating between acting and music — since he was ten. (He’s the only performer in his family, and is sure it must be about his craving attention. “Something in me wants that,” he says. “Otherwise it makes no sense what I’m doing.”) In The Netherlands, he’d starred in movies and TV shows while also touring seriously with his band, Fontane, for which he played guitar and sang, finally releasing a solo album in 2005. “But my musical career never went as smoothly as my career as an actor,” Huisman says, so he gave up the former to focus on the latter. “And I think ever since, I’ve had more fun playing music. Because there’s no pressure. I don't have to prove anything.”
Huisman (pronounced Mik-HEEL HOUSE-man) was actually once a regular at Kelly & Ping, along with Tara, whom he met doing a movie in The Netherlands, and their now–seven-year-old daughter, Hazel. The family had come to New York for six months in 2009 to test the waters for taking Huisman’s acting career international, then decided to make the move permanent. They’d anticipated he’d need two years to get a solid job, but while they were packing up their house in Amsterdam, he got the offer to play a drug-addict street musician on HBO’s Treme, so they all flew to New Orleans instead. Six years later, the couple owns a Victorian fixer-upper as a home base in the Garden District.
Treme’s lack of audience, despite critical acclaim, was a blessing for Huisman (except when it was cancelled in 2013 right after he bought his New Orleans house). He spent four years working with TV genius David Simon and played live with jazz and funk legends such as bassist George Porter Jr. “It was like a dream. I was totally not worthy as a musician,” Huisman says. He also had time to figure out the industry, to work on his American accent, and to take a breather from fame. “[In The Netherlands] we felt like people were always aware of who we were — my wife also being a very well-known Dutch actress. So those first couple years in the States were very liberating, being completely anonymous. It’s starting to change a little bit. But I’m not complaining.”
That anonymity started to end soon after Treme’s cancellation, when Huisman went in to read some mysterious scenes for Game of Thrones. “I knew what show it was for, but they weren’t being clear what character it was for,” he says. “I did think, It’s a little strange. This character reminds me so much of that other character that's already on the show.” This was after Season 3, during which Daario had been played by Ed Skrein, an actor who doesn’t look anything like Huisman; it was in the audition that Huisman found out he’d potentially be Skrein’s replacement.
“I live with two powerful women — my wife and my daughter. I have to be a feminist.”
His first episode, when he strolls out as Daario 2.0 and kills a man charging him on a horse, coincided with his guest-starring roles on ABC’s Nashville as Connie Britton’s music-producer fling, and on BBC America’s Orphan Black as Tatiana Maslany’s baby daddy. “There was just this crazy situation where they all happened to air at once,” Huisman says. From there came a Chanel No. 5 campaign with Gisele shot by Baz Luhrmann, and a brief but memorable turn having sex with Reese Witherspoon in 2014’s Wild.
Huisman has since quit all his smaller jobs in favor of GOT. (His one appearance on Orphan Black this season is just to wrap up his character’s storyline.) “I think it’s important to make a choice,” he says. “I never set out to be omnipresent on TV. I just thought it was good to build a name, or whatever. But now I think, Okay, you've done that. And out of all the stuff I’ve worked on, Game of Thrones is — I don't really have to defend that choice.”
Huisman says he could feel a career boost almost instantly. He’d auditioned for Adaline before the first GOT episodes aired, and hadn’t heard back, but as soon as the producers saw a ten-minute clip of him on the show, he got the part. “Basically, they walked out, called my agent, and were, like, ‘Okay, we want him,’” he says. “Now for the first time in my life I’m at the point that I get more offers than I can do, so I really have to say no a lot. Which is strange but a very cool feeling.”
He’s also being cast as the lead in features, and just wrapped the thriller 2:22 about a man who falls in love with a woman (Teresa Palmer), only to notice that every day since he met her, at 2:22, things go increasingly wrong. Soon after we meet, Huisman is headed to Prague, then Turkey, to shoot a movie tentatively titled The Mountain and The Stone, from director Joseph Ruben (Sleeping With the Enemy), about an Ottoman army lieutenant who falls in love with a Christian missionary right before the start of WWII. He credits all of this success to the exposure from Game of Thrones, and he’s grateful. From his experience in The Netherlands, Huisman says, “I think I have already felt this, what it feels like to be on the rise, and that it can stall. So I try to really enjoy it. And be smart about the choices I make.”
Now it’s just up to him to keep crushing it on the show — he’s already performed one splendid decapitation and is prepared to get naked as much as is necessary to reverse Game of Thrones’ earlier reputation for being all tits, no dick. “Power to the women, you know. Someone has to do it,” he says, laughing. “I mean, I live with two powerful women, my wife and my daughter — I have to be a feminist.”
Huisman recalls with fondness his first butt-shot scene (also wildly GIF-ed) midway through Season 4, when Clarke’s Khaleesi orders him to take off his clothes. “I always liked that because the roles were reversed. Here’s a woman, and not just any woman, but Dany, taking full control over her pleasure, you know? Telling a man to take off his clothes, where it’s often been the other way around. I was happy to be a victim of that.”
Which is why the actor is keeping that ass camera-ready. “Because I’m just always traveling, I’m becoming a champion of street workouts,” he says. That means finding a playground where he can do pull-ups and push-ups at six in the morning. “I don’t have time for the gym anymore.”
Returning to his music is another goal. When he was young, his parents forbade him from being a drummer because they couldn’t stand their neighbor’s drumming. “I'm a grown-up, now. I can do whatever I want. I want a drum kit!” Huisman says. “Because at heart, I still think I’m a drummer.” He’s also bought a travel guitar, a 1955 Gibson, which the family brings everywhere, along with Sally, their “weird, hairless cat,” who they bought to keep Hazel occupied. “The producers know: The cat has to come,” he says. And sometimes, on a 10-hour flight, the cat has to go, a problem Huisman believes he has solved. Two times, halfway through a trip, when Sally starts to meow, he’s taken her to the airplane toilet, put litter in the top of a shoebox, encouraged her to pee, thrown out the litter, and headed back to his seat. “How awesome is that?” he says. “I thought I was kind of like an animal whisperer by doing that. Twice.”
“I think I have already felt this, what it feels like to be on the rise, and that it can stall. So I try to really enjoy it. And be smart about the choices I make.”
Hazel’s playground tends to be her father’s sets. She’s homeschooled, and she and her mother travel with Huisman everywhere, which last year meant living in Spain, Belfast, and Croatia for Game of Thrones alone. “She saw a nice burn last year, like a body burn, a stuntman on fire,” Huisman says. “She thought that was very interesting.”
I meet Hazel a few days later when she and her mother visit Huisman on the set of 2:22, which is filming final exteriors in New York after shooting mostly in Sydney (doubling as New York). She’s a beautiful, precocious blonde, immediately making friends with the adults and kids in the art gallery that serves as a holding station, and amusing herself for a good half hour by trying to climb some pipes without touching the ground.
She also climbs Huisman whenever he comes inside from his busy day of running on the sidewalk and opening doors for the camera. “I’ve been acting with the doorbell and staring longingly at what is supposed to be the love of my life — really just a little piece of tape on the camera,” he says. “Story of my life.”
A young woman approaches and asks him to lift up his shirt so she can tape a microphone to his chest. It is a beautiful sight to behold. She presses a square of adhesive onto his chest hairs and Huisman anticipates the pain and bare patch to come.
“Sometimes it’s, like, ‘Guys, I’ve got this shirtless scene coming up in two days and if we keep doing this, I won’t have hair there!’ ” he says. “That’s what you get for having manly hairs,” the woman murmurs. Yet Huisman may be most looking forward to manual labor. When he finally gets a break after shooting Season 6, he’ll indulge in his favorite pastime of tinkering with his home in New Orleans and the old farm he and Tara bought outside of Amsterdam. “Whenever I can, I try to do something with my hands, you know?” he says, “because I rarely get that satisfaction anywhere else than when I fix something.”
He’s particularly proud of a spackling job he did on the New Orleans house after studying a video on YouTube. It’s not perfect, but, he says, “Every time I walk past that wall, I think, I fixed that wall. It’s pretty cool.” Huisman pulls out his phone to play me the song he listens to every day to get pumped up for work and for life, James Brown’s “People Get Up And Drive Your Funky Soul,” when a production assistant invites him back to set. Tara and Hazel hug and kiss him good-bye. Fully clothed, Huisman steps out the door.