English actor Matthew Robert Smith, professionally known as Matt Smith, has emerged as one of the most prolific performers in television in over a decade. Starting with theatre, where he excelled in several significant roles, Smith shot to international fame with his starring role in Doctor Who (2010-2014) and has firmly positioned himself as the fan-favourite character Daemon Targaryen in House of the Dragon — the prequel to Game of Thrones (2011–2019). And this has led to an increased interest in knowing about Matt Smith and his background as an actor.
With the massive success of House of the Dragon and the ensuing recognition that has come his way, Smith is apparently now firmly set for much bigger roles — especially in movies, where he is yet to find as much success as he has garnered on the small screen.
In fact, reports suggest that he is now one of the strongest contenders for the role of James Bond. According to Northampton Chronicle, his outstanding performance in House of the Dragon has led UK bookmakers William Hill to slash his odds of succeeding in the role last played by Daniel Craig down to half from the earlier 40-1.
In case Smith becomes the next 007, there is no doubt that the approximately six-feet-tall actor is going to nail it.
Here’s everything we know about Matt Smith
Early life and career
Born in Northampton, England, Smith would never have become an actor were it not for a twist of fate. If things had gone as Smith wanted early in his life, he could have been known as a footballer instead of an actor.
Playing professional football was his goal at an early age. Smith played at the youth level with Northampton Town, Nottingham Forest and Premier League club Leicester City. However, his dream of playing football was quashed because of a back injury.
Thanks to one of his teachers, he joined the National Youth Theatre and turned his attention full-time to acting. According to Smith, the teacher encouraged him to take up drama because he got his best GCSE grade in it.
He also started studying drama and creative writing at the University of East Anglia. While still at the university, Smith was cast in a play by Wilson Milam at the Royal Court Theatre. Titled Fresh Kills, the 2004 play was his first professional role.
The success of Fresh Kills led Smith to negotiate with the university, and he got permission to graduate without attending lectures.
“I said to them, I want to be an actor so you’ve got to let me go and do this. I didn’t go to any more lectures, but they let me graduate. I would get the reading list and do my work and send it back to them,” he recalled in a conversation with Broadway in 2007.
Smith made his entry into the world of television while making a name for himself on the stage. His TV debut came with The Ruby in the Smoke (2006), a small-screen adaptation of Philip Pullman’s book of the same name. Smith played Jim Taylor, a role he reprised in the follow-up TV movie The Shadow in the North (2007).
Then came his first major television role — that of political researcher Danny in the BBC Two series Party Animals in 2007. The role brought him further recognition.
Interestingly, the year 2007 also marked a much larger career breakthrough for Smith with a return to the stage. Three years after Fresh Kills and three more plays — On The Shore Of The Wide World, The History Boys and Burn/Chatroom/Citizenship — to his credit, Smith got a part in Polly Stenham’s play That Face. Shown at the Royal Court in 2007, Smith’s performance in the play earned him a nomination for Evening Standard Best Newcomer Award.
There was no looking back for Smith. Firmly established as a commanding performer, he appeared in Mike Leslie’s acclaimed West End adaptation of the 1994 Hollywood film Swimming With Sharks and played a major role in the BAFTA-winning series The Street in 2007.
The breakthrough role as Doctor Who
Smith landed the titular role of Doctor Who in the namesake British series in 2009, succeeding in the role after David Tennant. He was 26 when he took the part and, therefore, is still the youngest actor to have played the iconic character.
His casting as the time-travelling alien who goes on incredible adventures was kept a surprise from all. This was because, despite his body of work, Smith was still a relatively unknown pick for the role whose other potential contenders as per bookmakers included Sean Pertwee, the son of Jon Pertwee who played the third Doctor Who; theatre icon Paterson Joseph; James McAvoy, who already had three Oscar-winning movies under his belt at the time; and Hollywood legend Catherine Zeta-Jones.
However, not all were surprised, especially those who had seen him from close quarters. Jon Hyde, Smith’s tutor at the University of East Anglia, told BBC in 2010 that it was “a great achievement” for Smith.
“He was a very dedicated student, very inventive, determined, and you could see he was hugely talented. He is a bright young man and a brilliant comic actor particularly. He had a lot of friends, and worked hard,” Hyde said of his former student, while specifically underlining that he has “very distinctive features and he’s very handsome.”
Steven Moffat the lead writer and executive producer of the series said that Smith “blew us away with a bold and brand new take on the Time Lord, we knew we had our man.”
He added that the role of the Doctor requires a “very special actor” in the shoes.
“You need to be old and young at the same time, a boffin and an action hero, a cheeky schoolboy and the wise old man of the universe,” Moffat said after Smith was announced as the new Doctor in January 2009.
Smith became the eleventh Doctor Who, making his full debut as the character with the first episode of the fifth series in April 2010. Within a short span, he proved why he was the right pick for the role. In 2011, he became the first actor to be nominated for a BAFTA television award in the lead role category for playing Doctor Who. The same year, he earned plaudits from critics for playing Anglo-American novelist Christopher Isherwood in the BBC TV film Christopher and His Kind.
After playing the character in the sci-fi series for about four years, Smith left in 2013.
Further acclaim with The Crown
Smith’s next big acting role came in 2015 with The Crown, the Netflix series which instantly became a hit and is today hailed as one of the best dramas about the British royal family.
In the series, Smith essayed a young Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh — the husband of Queen Elizabeth II. His role lasted the first two seasons, which were streamed from 2016 to 2017.
The first two seasons were centred on the early life and career of Queen Elizabeth II, from the time she married Prince Philip in 1947 to the birth of their youngest child, Prince Edward, in 1964.
Though Claire Foy, who played the young Queen Elizabeth II, was the toast of the two seasons, Smith’s work was also highly appreciated. He earned a Primetime Emmy nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series for his role as Prince Philip, as well as two consecutive Screen Actors Guild Awards nods as part of the ensemble cast in a drama series for The Crown.
Recalling his role in the show following the death of Queen Elizabeth II in 2022, Smith claimed in an interview with The Today Show that the departed monarch watched the show.
“I heard the Queen had watched it, and she used to watch it on a projector on a Sunday night apparently,” Smith said, adding that Prince Philip did not watch The Crown.
He also said that Prince Harry, who stepped back from his royal duties and moved to the US with his wife Meghan Markle, once addressed him as “granddad.”
“I met Harry once, at polo, which sounds a bit grand, but it wasn’t that grand,” Smith said.
“And he walked up to me and went, ‘Granddad.’ He watched the show! Well, I can’t claim to know if he watches it currently, but he watched a bit of it then.”
Smith later reunited with Foy on the stage for the play, Lungs, at The Old Vic theatre in 2019.
Fan-favourite star of House of the Dragon
When Smith was announced as Daemon in House of the Dragon in April 2021, it didn’t exactly get fans of the Game of Thrones franchise excited. Many were sceptical of the casting of the former Doctor Who as the main character who is central to the story’s core plot around the Targaryen civil war.
At the time of the announcement, the hashtag, #NotMyDaemon, was used by those critical of Smith’s casting in a role that is known as writer George R. R. Martin’s favourite.
Cut to 2022 and eight episodes of House of the Dragon season 1, Smith is now the favourite of everyone who watches the show. Such has been his performance that fans cannot have enough of the praise being showered on the actor.
In fact, the show’s executive producer, Sara Hess, told The Hollywood Reporter that Smith’s popularity “baffles” her.
“He’s become Internet Boyfriend in a way that baffles me. Not that Matt [Smith] isn’t incredibly charismatic and wonderful, and he’s incredible in the role,” Hess said. “But Daemon himself is … I don’t want him to be my boyfriend!”
The series presents Daemon Targaryen as a cold, calculating and cruel member of the family. He has killed many, including his first wife and beheaded Ser Vaemond, and is one of the major headaches of his brother, King Viserys I Targaryen, played in the series by Paddy Considine.
Not to mention his intimacy with his own niece, Rhaenyra, whose younger version was played by Milly Alcock and older one by Emma D’Arcy.
When he was approached for the role, Smith was initially reluctant. He told The Hollywood Reporter in August 2022 that he was unsure because it was a tough role, but he agreed because Considine had already been cast.
“I was in a car park and my agent said, ‘There’s this part in this new show that is a prequel to Game of Thrones.’ And I was like, ‘Ohhh. I don’t know. It’s a tough one, isn’t it? It’s a tough one to follow. Haven’t we seen this before?’ But then [the offer] sort of didn’t go away. Then it came up again, and then I went in for a screen test, and then that was that,” he said.
“I became aware that Paddy Considine was doing the show as well. He’d already been offered the role of King Viserys, and I was such a huge admirer of Paddy’s and I’d always wanted to work with him. So that was a real draw,” he added.
At another media interaction the same month, Smith said that his role will make viewers constantly wonder what Daemon’s next step will be.
“At any point, you never really know what he’s going to think, what he’s going to do, which is one of the things that as an actor I found quite attractive because it allows for a certain amount of instinct to come into play,” Smith said.
Such has been Smith’s incredible performance that many believe he will be a prime contender at the 2023 awards circuit, including at the Primetime Emmy Awards and Screen Actors Guild Awards, alongside Considine.
Smith on the big screen
While his television roles have established Smith as one of the biggest stars in the world, his big-screen appearances have been few and far between, and not quite as outstanding.
His film debut came with In Bruges (2008), but his role was cut from the theatrical release. His role as the younger version of Ralph Fiennes’s character, Harry, however, made it to the film’s DVD release.
His next notable appearance was in Terminator Genisys (2015) in which he played an antagonist, T-5000. This was followed by other noteworthy roles in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016) and Last Night in Soho (2021). In between were roles such as Robert Mapplethorpe in Mapplethorpe (2018) and Charles Manson in Charlie Says (2018).
In 2021, he was cast in the supporting role of Richard Galloway in the drama The Forgiven, along with Ralph Fiennes and Jessica Chastain.
In 2022, he got the role of the main antagonist, Milo, in Morbius. Set in Sony’s Spider-Man Universe (SSU), the film headlined by Jared Leto was one of the most anticipated movies of 2022 but ended up being one of the year’s biggest disasters.
Yet, two of his movies that stand apart from the rest in the eyes of critics are Official Secrets (2019) and His House (2020). He played journalist Martin Bright in the former, a film based on the life of Katharine Gun who revealed an illegal snooping operation connected with the 2003 Iraq invasion. In the latter, an acclaimed horror movie about the plight of a Sudanese couple who move to England, Smith played the role of the couple’s caseworker.
(Main and Featured images: IMDb)