Alfie Allen walks into a plush central London hotel suite, eases back into the sofa and starts to enthuse about some of his new hobbies.
“I’ve been enjoying my archery,” says the 25-year-old, who has tousled hair, tight chinos and a bright red jumper. “It’s a lot of fun. And horse riding is brilliant. I’ve really got into it. If I have a spare day, I’ll definitely try and fit in a bit of both.”
These are the skills you pick up when you’ve spent much of the past two years as a key player in Game of Thrones, the HBO production – about the bloody political manoeuvrings of noble families within a fantasy kingdom – in which he plays Theon Greyjoy, a cocky young noble.
I first met Allen over a year ago, before a single episode of Game of Thrones had even been broadcast. He was then, as he is now, enthusiastic and friendly, with an accent that’s norf London by way of a few boarding schools.
At the time, it would not have been unfair to say that he was better known for his surname than for his acting ability. There is, after all, not much you can do about being the brother of Lily and the son of Keith. He makes no bones about the fact that childhood visits to see his father working on set accounted for his ambition to become a performer.
“He’s got a lot of range, my dad,” he explains. “Even though a lot of people see him as a comedian, he is a very, very good actor. I’m not going to lie, I think the whole ‘hellraiser’ tag has held him back a little bit. But that’s not what he’s like. He raises pigs and grows vegetables!”
Keith Allen is the sort of actor you could easily imagine in future episodes of Game of Thrones, I suggest. Allen grins. “It would be brilliant. I would love it. I’ll put a word in for him.” A slight pause. “Although I say that now. I might end up getting on set and thinking, oh God, he’s doing my nut in! Can you please just go away, dad!”
Allen grew up in Islington with his mother, the film producer Alison Owen, and his sister, Lily. He still lives in a flat just off Essex Road, but says he’s now house-hunting in East London. “That was one of the cool things about Game of Thrones, I could spend my money knowing that there was a second series coming up.”
After leaving school, a string of minor film and TV roles followed. He dated fellow actor Jaime Winstone for a period, helping encourage a degree of tabloid attention that had little to do with his own talent. It was, he has admitted, frustrating – “having the profile but not having the jobs to back it up”. A change came when, in 2007, he was hand-picked to replace Daniel Radcliffe as the lead in the play Equus - a role that, notoriously, requires the actor to indulge in full-frontal nudity.
“It makes me laugh when people giggle about that,” he says, perhaps a little annoyed that the one thing everyone knows about his breakthrough performance was that he got naked. “So I just giggle with them.”
That said, there is no shortage of flesh-baring for Allen in Game of Thrones. His character has a couple of what you might generously call “love scenes”, and general raunch levels were high throughout the first season. He squirms slightly.
“I managed to avoid watching all my sexy naked stuff with my family. Although there was one episode I was watching with my mum, where there was a lesbian scene in a brothel,” he says, sinking into his chair and covering his eyes with a hand. “I was like… oh God… this is a bit much.”
Still, there is no shortage of fan blogs featuring images of Allen and many of his young, British co-stars looking buff. He explains how he worked to get as sinewy and lean as a medieval warrior: “Lots of protein. No carbs, no sugar,” he explains, seriously. “I wanted to feel like Theon. I wanted to feel like I could kick the crap out of someone.”
He says it has been strange going from intense filming schedules to suddenly having nothing to do at all. “It messes with your head a little bit. You want to work, but you’re at the mercy of other people’s decisions. What do I do with myself? You try and find things to keep you busy.”
“Erm, I’ve bought a bike. And I have a camera set up at home, so I can film myself practising for auditions, things like that.”
There is, he admits, “a constant worry that you’re going to be found out” as an actor. Filming for the first season of Game of Thrones was “nerve-racking”, although second time around “I felt like I knew what I was doing a lot more. The epic scale of it wasn’t so intimidating and I felt like I was there on my own merit”.
And should he make it to the end of this season alive and into a potential third season (he is keen to avoid any spoilers), his profile will only continue to grow. He has already acquired some American managers who are keeping an eye on Hollywood for him.
“I’ve had the opportunity to do that whole ‘going out to LA thing’ in the past, but I didn’t feel I had the body of work to justify it,” he finishes.
“Now, when I go out there, I want people to know who I am.” At this rate, you suspect it is only a matter of time before they do.
Game of Thrones is on Mondays at 9pm on Sky Atlantic