Olivia Cooke | Spare Us The Smiting And Relish In The G-Force

Via Issue 193, The Gold Standard Issue

Written by

Annie Bush

Photographed by


Styled by

Mark Anthony Bradely

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SAINT LAURENT BY ANTHONY VACCARELLO dress, belt, tights, stockings, and shoes.

To successfully enter the fantasy realm, there must be a tearing of the veil from one world to the next. Children, pliable as their minds are, perform this veil-tearing with no real degree of effort. Waiting just beyond reality’s gauzy guardians, the other world lies just under the duvet in the throes of school night darkness: a library book stuffed under a pillow, a cave of blankets, thrilling stalactites of story to be illuminated by a covert flashlight. That’s how Olivia Cooke remembers her induction into the fantastical, anyway.

“Reading all night, and then sobbing into my pillow at 4am—audibly—with my mum shouting at me to go to sleep,” the British star of HBO hit series House of the Dragon tells me of her early forays into the fantasy genre. She’s speaking via Zoom from her London home. It’s the end of a busy day for Cooke—the much anticipated second season of House of the Dragon has just premiered, in which she plays Alicent Hightower, former best friend of heir apparent Rhaenyra Targaryen (Emma D’Arcy). Episodes of the critically acclaimed show will be released weekly throughout the summer, but Cooke isn’t taking any breaks—she’s already working on a new project with Robin Wright, psychological thriller The Girlfriend, set to be released through Amazon Prime Video.

Cooke’s remarkable work ethic shouldn’t come as a surprise for a longtime follower. In the past decade, the starlet has commanded the screen in numerous critically acclaimed works. Recently, she played Lou, emotionally fraught bandmate and girlfriend to Riz Ahmed’s Ruben Stone in 2021’s Oscar favorite Sound of Metal. Before this, a number of varied prominent roles: Cooke as leukemia patient Rachel in 2015 Sundance Grand Jury Winner Me and Earl and the Dying Girl; Cooke as quirky teenager Emma Decody in mid-2010s thriller series Bates Motel; Cooke as final girl Laine Morris in 2014’s Ouija. The actor has a propensity for vivifying characters to the fullest extent regardless of medium or genre: “I am picky,” she tells me about the breadth of her work, “but I’m just not exclusive.”

PRADA coat, dress, tights, shoes, and gloves.
LANVIN coat.

Throughout our conversation, Cooke moves between rooms, taking the camera alongside her but never failing to answer a question without a serious pause, delivering her responses with the verbosity and lightheartedness for which she and costar, D’Arcy, have become widely known. We chat about the practice of acting, about staring unflinchingly into the grotesque, about her hopes for her golden years, and about the confines of genre on creative work. If, long ago, an individual’s attachment to the fantastic imaginary was as accessible as a bedtime read, then the universe of the modern adult imagination Cooke has helped elucidate seems equally as available, albeit with a significantly more thrilling topography.

What is it that audiences love so much about mutilation and power, about creaturehood and politics in Westeros, the land upon which Game of Thrones and House of the Dragon is set? As we age, Cooke muses, people are fascinated with the idea of escape—an out that the Game of Thrones franchise has certainly provided to an anxious, overworked public. She ponders further, positing: “We as humans want to feel like we’re giants and godlike creatures who can tame a beast like a dragon. Maybe it’s this innate feeling in us of the need to conquer. God, especially the fucking Brits.” She laughs, “What does that say about us?”

THOM BROWNE coat, shirt, skirt, tie, socks, shoes, and bag.
MIU MIU jacket, sweater, shirt, and skirt.

Jokes aside, a detailed excavation of the public psyche isn’t exactly required to decipher why House of the Dragon is doing it for us all: for many, the show’s exploration of the friendship between Cooke’s Alicent and D’Arcy’s Rhaenyra specifically with the friendship’s enduring significance past a corrosive ending—is poignant and unprecedented in a drama show of this scope. I ask Cooke if the excitement surrounding the series—particularly the questions she (gladly) fields about the power of friendship—has made any impact on the way she frames her own relationships.“I don’t think that the show has necessarily made me reevaluate friendship,” the actor says. “I just think that with the age that I am at now, getting into a new decade, I’ve prioritized my friendships in a different way. I think that, especially in culture, [friendship] sort of takes the backseat. You’re meant to prioritize romantic relationships and familial relationships in your life, but friendships feel deeper and everlasting in a sense.”

Staccatoed by bouts of laughter, Cooke doles out numerous ruminations on life, catalyzed by motifs within the show throughout our call. We approach the subject of power—the times where it’s appropriate to keep it, the times where it’s appropriate to delegate: “I think it’s always better to relinquish power when you recognize wisdom,” she reflects. “Relinquish unhelpful power, whether that be insecurity or ego, when you are confronted with someone who has more lived experience or is just more knowledgeable in said field.” Duly noted.

Cooke feels the most powerful, though, when she’s surrounded by friends, going on walks listening to a well-curated playlist, or when she really finds the music in a particular scene. Though she doesn’t make music herself, there is a symphonic quality to her acting—it’s the same sort of kinetic energy governed by a discernible rhythm that makes any sort of artistic output worthwhile. “It’s all sort of coming from the vulnerable prism of you, isn’t it? Any sort of creative endeavor,” she says. Cooke makes a playlist for every character she’s ever played—save for Alicent. (She claims she “doesn’t know why,” but one might suspect tracks for the Alicent playlist wouldn’t be readily accessible on any sort of streaming platform...Perhaps a Gregorian chant or a live recording of a knife being sharpened on a hot stone would be more appropriate).

LOEWE coat and GUCCI top.

Across all creative mediums, acting or otherwise, Cooke adds that she’s “trying to nurture that spark of vulnerability and not shy away from it is quite important. We’re so mannered now— especially the English—so repressed in that sense. We still have this culture of having a very stiff upper lip in the face of adversity and real emotion and grief. To be able to play those emotions in a really intense way—but in a very safe environment—feels very cathartic, and it’s an opportunity to push yourself to those limits and see, as an experiment, what your body does and how you would react in those moments. You’re always trying to find the truth in it.” Cooke likes to dive into characters (the tender, damaged Lou, the cystic fibrosis patient Emma Decody, the terror-stricken Laine Morris, the ever-vengeful Alicent) because of this exploration of truth, but also because she’s “really nosy and curious. I want to dive deep into who [these characters] are...I think that is the most wonderful part of [the] job, that we get to live all these lives in one life if we’re lucky.”

Olivia Cooke speaks with a diction nearly impossible to not listen to. Her outwardly energetic parlance and melodic speak might be the recipe for a certain viral video involving a beverage choice, or for the fawning ways fans consume any on-camera interview she’s done for House of the Dragon alongside friend and costar D’Arcy. Cooke comes from a theater background, and when asked about a claim she made a couple of years back in which she posited she might be more cut out for TV than theater because of the requisite “big facial movements or big arm gestures,” she chuckles, and corrects me. “It’s so awful, isn’t it? Just like...What a cocky little twat! No, I’d love to do theater [again]. That girl does not know what she’s talking about. Bless her,” she says, still giggling. “Sometimes the things I’ve said get repeated back to me and I’m like, ‘God knows...’ because usually I am just making stuff up in the moment.”

GUCCI coat and top and LANVIN skirt.

Is there anything more to life, though, than the moment? Cooke finds herself hoping that, in her golden years (if she’s not senile), she reflects on this present moment aglow with new work and long friendships and internet memeage—with fondness. “I would like to remember, despite all the constant worrying, that I had a lot of fun. I allowed myself to have a lot of fun. You can indulge, you’re not going to be smited. You can enjoy this time. It’s not going to go away just because you had a nice time.” Though being smote is perhaps the most terrifying thing any actor or civilian might experience by most standards, there are other, more tangible things that scare Cooke. Laziness. Inactivity. The vast blankness of dormancy.

“When there’s a bit of a fallow period, that’s when I scare myself with my own thoughts,” Cooke confesses. “My mum always says: An idle mind is a devil’s playground. I completely relate to that. When I’m not generating, when I don’t feel like I’m working towards something, that can be quite a scary place for me.”

SAINT LAURENT BY ANTHONY VACCARELLO dress, belt, tights, and stockings.

Cooke is unique in this way. Where others would cower—squeezing their eyes shut behind flat palms pressed tight against their browbones—Cooke watches. The horror is not in the hiding, but in the not knowing. It shows in her work. It shows in her Letterboxd. “My Letterboxd does veer on the side of the more intense,” she shares. “Border by Ali Abbasi is one of my favorite films. I love Rose Glass. I think Saint Maud was incredible. These are really uncomfortable films to watch but incredibly artful ones. The Luca Guadagnino Suspiria as well...[I like] the ones that leave you with such a distinct off kilter feeling after you’ve left the cinema.”

Really? I ask, incredulous. You don’t cover your eyes? She answers. Maybe we’re not necessarily talking about films anymore. Maybe we’re talking, again, about traversing that seam between the worlds of fantasy and reality—that ever-opaque, grotesque sublime that was so easily accessible so many years ago, that ever-thickening border between adulthood and the imagination. “I don’t cover,” she affirms. “It’s a bit of a thrill, isn’t it? It’s like being on a roller coaster. That’s the anticipation. That’s the unique selling point. You want that ride.”

LOEWE coat.

Photographed by Juankr at Print and Contact

Styled by Mark Anthony Bradley

Written by Annie Bush

Hair: Lachlan Wignall at Stella Creative Artists

Makeup: Wendy Turner using Victoria Beckham Beauty

Location: The Other House South Kensington

Flaunt Film: Rodney Rico

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Flaunt Magazine, Issue 193, The Gold Standard Issue, Olivia Cooke, Annie Bush, JuanKr, Mark Anthony Bradley, Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello, Prada, Lanvin, Thom Browne, Miu Miu, Loewe, Gucci,