The Age of Adaline, a new romantic drama released Friday, is being sold on the strength of Blake Lively, an actress who’s been a familiar face and name for nearly a decade. For her co-star and love interest, though, the producers went with a star whose name most moviegoers likely couldn’t pronounce even if they knew it—though he might be as familiar as Lively.
Michiel Huisman, the male lead in The Age of Adaline, is among the many actors being pushed to megafame by Game of Thrones. On HBO, the actor plays Daario, the lover of Daenerys; it’s not the most substantial role in all of Westeros, but one that’s helped make a Dutch performer a credible counterbalance to Lively onscreen. And it’s not just Huisman whose persona has gotten a boost from Sunday night’s biggest show: Natalie Dormer, the canny Margaery Tyrell, is now a fixture in the Hunger Games universe, while Sophie Turner, the sensitive Sansa, is in the next X-Men flick. That franchise also played home, in its 2014 installment, to Peter Dinklage, who after years of critical respect crossed the rubicon into stardom with his role as Tyrion. And Emilia Clarke, the mother of dragons herself, steps into the iconic role of Sarah Connor in the next Terminator film.
Among prestige dramas of the recent past, only Thrones has managed to put so many people on the star track. What’s so special about it? Perhaps it’s the show’s extremeness. Game of Thrones plays with a palette of special-effects and action sequences that equip more or less any of their actors to take their place in a Hollywood whose multiplex fare has only grown more baroque. A movie producer can assume an actor who’s been to Westeros can be believed as a mutant fighting for humanity, or as the unlikely ally of an Arnold Schwarzenegger-sized robot. And actors leave the show with little baggage in terms of growing over-associated with the specifics of their roles: Their characters are in such specific, strange situations that it’s impossible to extrapolate too much. (That is, Clarke will be believable in any movie even when she’s not the mother of dragons, because that’s hardly a character type that ever recurs.)
But it’s not just the sets and premises that make Game of Thrones a star factory. The show, more than any other on TV, plays with big, garish emotions, ones that feel suited to the biggest screen possible. On Thrones, Daario is a man with shifty motives who’s nonetheless devoted to his queen; Huisman’s character in Adaline is, similarly, roguish and besotted with a mysterious, supernatural woman. (Daenerys, on Game of Thrones, walked through fire and didn’t die; Lively’s Adaline is a woman without the capacity to age.) It’s little wonder the stars of, say, Mad Men or of Breaking Bad have found comparably less traction onscreen: Their inner lives are those of humans, completely incongruent with the sort of simple, broad-brush characterizations that, these days, get blown up onto a movie screen. Jon Hamm carries a lot of baggage from his role on Mad Men, and part of that baggage is simply that viewers associate him with subtlety and complication.
Huisman is very good in Adaline, but the movie requires him to do little more than smolder in Lively’s direction—much as Dinklage, for example, has had to be stagily sneaky in both Thrones and X-Men. As a conduit to fame, Game of Thrones pre-does the movie industry’s work for it, turning actors into archetypes.