British actor Harry Lloyd is best known for one of the most dramatic “Game of Thrones” exits when his character, Viserys Targaryen, met his demise awash in molten gold.
Though Lloyd is gold-free on the new Starz series “Counterpart,” (which premiered Sunday night) he also makes a splash by bossing around his co-star — Oscar-winning actor J.K. Simmons.
“There’s clearly a spoiled child within me who likes to get his own way,” jokes Lloyd, 34. “[Petulance] is something that [my ‘Counterpart’ character] Peter and Viserys both share. The main difference is obviously the hair, but also Viserys was someone who was convinced that he should be the lead part of his TV show, and was angry that other people hadn’t recognized it.
“Peter is someone who really does not want to be in his TV show. He wants to kill this drama and get back to his comfortable life.”
“Counterpart” is an unlikely genre blend: espionage and sci-fi. Set in Berlin, the series revolves around a UN agency that guards a gateway to a parallel dimension. Simmons stars in dual roles as a mild-mannered bureaucrat and his brash “counterpart” from the other world. Lloyd’s character, Peter Quayle, is a director at the agency.
Starz gave “Counterpart” a two-season straight-to-series order — according to Lloyd, that’s why creator Justin Marks (“The Jungle Book”) chose the network. “When Justin was shopping it around, everyone wanted it,” he says. “I read the pilot and thought, ‘In a world where there’s so much material out there, great original ideas and wonderful TV series, this stands out as something that I’ve never seen before; the philosophical parallel universe sci-fi genre [mixed with] a grounded kind of John le Carré European spy thriller.’
“The detail was just extraordinary. I couldn’t believe that this wasn’t taken from some massive 20th century novel.”
Lloyd’s interest in novelistic scripts comes from a unique place: He’s the great-great-great grandson of Charles Dickens. In addition to “Game of Thrones,” most of his projects have a historical or literary bent (“Wolf Hall,” “The Theory of Everything,” “Jane Eyre”).
Lloyd is asked whether his ancestry impacts his choices ( his first TV role was a 1999 “David Copperfield” miniseries). “[That miniseries] wasn’t a massive part; I was like, ‘It was all because of my acting talent!’ but secretly I worried, ‘This was like a nice little bit of PR for them,’” he says. “So I was very nervous for a while after that, like, ‘I shouldn’t try to cash in on that too hard.’” He maintains that his parents are a larger influence than his famous ancestor.
“I’m sure my interest in acting stems from my interest in books, but I think that has a lot to do with the fact that my parents are both publishers,” he says. “I got the main part in the junior play my first term [in boarding school] because I could read out loud as an eight-year-old kid. From then on, it just became something I really enjoyed doing that wasn’t against the rules and it was more fun than doing the work.
“I thought, ‘One day, I’ll have to give it up and get a real job.’ And I’m still getting away with it.”
“Counterpart” 8 p.m. Sunday on Starz