Fabien Frankel Knows You’re Pissed at Ser Criston Cole

a man sitting on a chair
Fabien Frankel Knows You’re Pissed at Ser CristonEli Schmidt

The following interview contains spoilers for House of the Dragon season 2, episode 4.

If you type “Fabien Frankel” into your search bar, the first three suggestions should look something like “Fabien Frankel girlfriend,” “Fabien Frankel dating,” and “Fabien Frankel wife.” The 30-year-old actor from West London plays Ser Criston Cole on the popular HBO fantasy series, House of the Dragon. Turn out, his character’s forbidden royal tryst made him the most sought-after celebrity crush. And yet, Frankel doesn’t believe me when I tell him that die-hard fans just want to know if he’s taken already.

“No way, bro. Are you serious?” Frankel asks over Zoom, aghast. “That is so funny. I only ever see, I hate Criston Cole. This dude's a murderous fucker. I hope he dies. That's the only shit that ever makes its way back to me. I don't see the lustful posts. I'm glad they're out there, man.”

For context, there’s a reason the fanbase may have turned on Frankel. In just a short time, his character's undergone a whirlwind of a transformation, going from the heartthrob knight in shining armor to the scorned ex-lover who sleeps with your best friend. In the latest episode of the hit Game of Thrones prequel series, he leads an army and beheads traitors in some of the scariest scenes we’ve seen from Frankel’s character yet. “He's gotten dark,” Frankel says. “He's a walking contradiction. He's obsessed with purity, honor, rigor, and structure, and he breaks every one of those forms.”

But underneath all of Cole’s drama and misplaced aggression is a man who’s clearly in way over his head. In fact, audiences may find some delight in watching a dragon humble him in episode 4. After a rousing speech to his men, the beast quickly knocks him unconscious on the battlefield. As Cole crawls out from the wreckage to find King Aegon II (Tom Glynn-Carney) severely burned—or potentially dead—he’s stunned.

“Did you feel empathetic towards him at any moment during all that, or did you still feel the burdening hatred that everyone else feels?” Frankel asks me. I give him my honest take. He’s truly not any more monstrous than anyone else on that show. “What I'm finding interesting is whether it's even possible for an audience to be won back over?” he continues. “Not in the sense that they like Cole, but that they forgive him.”

Below, Frankel discusses the difficulties of playing Ser Criston Cole, filming episode 4's epic battle scene, and his flammable take on the Philadelphia cheesesteak.

a man in a blue jacket
"It’s hard for people to understand the why of what he’s doing all the time, and I feel that way as well," says Fabien Frankel of his House of the Dragon counterpart, Ser Criston Cole.Eli Schmidt

ESQUIRE: Is it hard to play a character like Ser Criston Cole? Are you just mad at him all the time?

FABIEN FRANKEL: He's pretty much the only character in the storyline that you have no understanding of where he comes from, what world he grew up in, or what losses he suffered. It's hard for people to understand the why of what he's doing all the time, and I feel that way as well. Sometimes I can't quite understand the logic behind things. But obviously, for me, I have to like him. That's just the way it is. Or, at least, I have to be able to understand him.

The end of episode 4 felt like one of most shocking moments of the Thrones franchise ever, let alone House of the Dragon. Do you think audiences are going to lose it?

I've been sent the links but I'm not watching it on purpose. I'm scared to watch it in case I hate it. Not hate the show—just hate my own performance. There was a thing that really made me laugh. I don't remember who it was, but someone sent me a photo of Cole next to the Mean Girls quote, "This girl is the nastiest skank bitch I've ever met. Do not trust her. She is a fugly slut." I love it so much, dude.

When you put your helmet on before the battle I just thought, Is this the most armor you've ever worn? It feels like they add a new chunk on each episode.

You're telling me, man. It feels that way, doesn't it? Now I've got the chain mail, the Hand of the King thing, and my helmet. Brother, I fought [showrunner Ryan Condal] so hard to not wear the helmet in that scene. I said, "Ryan, please, can I not wear this helmet? Russell Crowe never wore a helmet when he was given his speeches in Gladiator in the very first scene." I was like, "If Russell Crowe doesn't wear it, can I not wear it?" He was like, "You're wearing it." And that was the conversation.

I imagine there's going to be a lot of talk around your new haircut as well.

Well, mate, the problem is I'm actually wearing a wig. I had to ADR that scene. About a minute later, it's the actual cut. The idea behind it was just that I felt that long hair was very impractical for war. It's much easier to keep clean. It was really a practical decision, and I approached Ryan and said, "I want to do this. I think it's right." It's closer to military than what I have. It's also a nice contradiction to Gwayne's [Freddie Fox] hair. I wanted it to feel like there was a stark contrast between a real soldier and not a real soldier.

Plus, it makes you look a bit older.

Yeah, dude, I'm in my mid-fifties, apparently. I'm glad you think it makes me look older, man. I'm really happy to hear that. When I was shooting, people were telling me it made me look younger and I was so worried. I was like, "Bro, if I look younger with this cut now—and I'm supposed to have aged 20 years, and I look younger in season 2 than I was in season 1—it's a problem."

a man standing in front of a brick wall
"A lot of the stuff that happens to Criston—like seeing him fighting and the relationship with Alicent—is not in the books," says Frankel. "I’m really glad they put that in."Eli Schmidt

What are you most excited to explore next with Ser Criston Cole?

I know what happens. We've all read the book and we all know what happens. Ryan will decide how he wants to interpret that in his own way. But I feel like they haven't been that faithful to the books, to be honest. A lot of the stuff that happens to Criston—like seeing him fighting and the relationship with Alicent—is not in the books. I'm really glad they put that in. It's a really interesting arc. I just hope they do it justice.

I read that Olivia Cooke pranked you on set with a merkin for one of your sex scenes and you were embarrassed. Does the cast often play pranks on each other just to balance out the tension of the show?

You know what? It's out there now. The right thing to do is to put that photo out on the Internet. It is one of the funniest pictures of all time. Olivia and I have a very prankster-y kind of relationship. We're always trying to get at each other and do things to make each other laugh. I can't speak to the Team Black's vibe on their set, but ours is very badly behaved. Mainly because of Rhys Ifans, because he's just the naughtiest professional I've ever met, in the greatest way humanly possible.

What are some of Rhys' antics?

Brother, you name it, he's done it. He'll stroke my sword under the table in the middle of a scene. He'll slap himself in the face using my hand while the camera's close up on him, so it looks like I've slapped him in the face. Then he'll be like, "Fabien, I can't believe you slapped me in the face there." That guy is a prankster to his absolute bones.

a man sitting on a bench
"A baguette is closer to the bread of a cheesesteak. Would you agree?" asks Frankel. (Esquire officially does not agree.)Eli Schmidt

How's Philly? I hear you're filming a new HBO crime drama with Mark Ruffalo.

I've really fallen in love with Philadelphia. Truly. It's probably my favorite city I've been to in America, honestly. I play a young detective with the most Philly slang out of everyone because I'm from South Philly. I talk about Angelo's broccoli rabe. I'm doing a Wawa run every day. I mean, I'm right in the thick of all the Philly references.

As someone who grew up outside Philly, I have to mention your recent take that cheesesteaks are "a baguette."

Dude, I'm so annoyed about it. They did me dirty on that show. I was like, "It ain't on granary bread." A baguette is closer to the bread of a cheesesteak. Would you agree? You're from Philly. What's your take on it?

I just want to be the first person to give you the platform to double down.

Brother, please. Make the title of this article "Fabien Frankel Fights Back." Honestly. It's Cheese Whiz. The beef is flavored in all kinds of nice seasonings. You can have peppers. It's up to you. And it's sort of shaped—at least the Angelo's one that I had most recently—is in a kind of baguette shaped loaf, albeit obviously not French baguette style, but I don't know what you'd call that bread.

You may have just invented the new "Are Nachos a Salad?" meme.

Yeah, like "Is a hot dog a sandwich?" What's your favorite cheesesteak in Philly?

I love Jim's on South Street.

Dude, I'm going to go get a Jim's tomorrow.

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