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The Worst Things Matt Smith Has Done For His Roles

Matt Smith has had one of the strangest and most successful career paths of any actor in recent times. From an almost complete unknown cast as the main character in the immortal BBC series "Doctor Who" to his starring role in Netflix's "The Crown," Smith has become a fixture on television screens around the world. His fame could rise even higher thanks to the role of Daemon Targaryen in the "Game of Thrones" spinoff "House of the Dragon."

Obviously, achieving all of this success has not been easy for Smith. Being part of such high-profile series with hugely dedicated fans is tough by itself, but the British actor has had to make his fair share of sacrifices to get where he is today and done some things that would make many other people squirm. So, if you think the life of an actor is a comfortable and easy one, look at the worst things that Smith has had to do for his jobs — they might make you reconsider.

A prop ax hit him in the face

In "House of the Dragon," Matt Smith plays Prince Daemon Targaryen, a primary character who plays a pivotal role in the series and the civil war known as the Dance of the Dragons. Like its predecessor "Game of Thrones," this new show features plenty of combat scenes as characters fight with various melee weapons such as swords and axes — something that Smith knows only too well.

Actor Fabien Frankel, who plays Ser Criston Cole in the series, revealed during a panel at San Diego Comic-Con that he accidentally hit Smith with a prop ax during filming (via Yahoo!). While it doesn't seem like the injury was particularly bad, Frankel admitted that he was worried that it could cost him the job because his co-star plays such a big part in the story and is one of the most famous actors on the planet. There were no hard feelings, though; Smith said, "He chinned me, but it was alright. I lived to fight another day."

He endured a fan backlash over Doctor Who

Before being cast in "Doctor Who" in 2009, Matt Smith was a relative unknown with only a few credits to his name. These included appearances in "The Ruby in the Smoke" and "Secret Diary of a Call Girl" — both of which starred former "Doctor Who" co-lead Billie Piper — as well as a regular role in "Party Animals." Smith was also in the running to play Will in "The Inbetweeners" according to Digital Spy but lost out to Simon Bird. Smith was also the youngest person ever to be cast as the Doctor at just 26 at the time.

This might go some way to explaining why there was such a backlash to the news that Smith had been chosen to replace David Tennant. The Guardian reported that many fans of the show felt he was simply too inexperienced and unfamiliar to audiences to play a role as important as the Doctor. Tabloids ran headlines asking, "Doctor Who?" (via Daily Mail) and there was outrage about his supposed potential to ruin the show. Much of that outrage abated when he did not at all ruin the show; in fact, Matt Smith's Eleventh Doctor remains beloved to this day. 

Gave up on being a footballer

Before he turned to full-time acting, Matt Smith originally planned on becoming a professional footballer in the U.K. Sports had run through his family, with his grandfather playing for local team Notts County and Smith following in his footsteps by joining a number of youth teams as a child. These included high-profile teams such as Nottingham Forest and Leicester City, the latter of which he captained in his age group (via Desert Island Discs).

According to Esquire, Smith was forced to quit playing the sport after being diagnosed with spondylosis. This is a painful back condition that meant he had to take a year off from competing and wasn't chosen for a professional contract. The actor explained that he was upset at the time, but a drama teacher suggested he try acting. Not long after, Smith joined the National Youth Theatre (via BBC). He continued acting while at university and quickly found he had enough skill to make a career on stage and screen viable.

He ended up in a pay gap controversy

In the first two seasons of Netflix's "The Crown," Matt Smith played Prince Philip opposite Claire Foy's Queen Elizabeth II. However, in March of 2018, it became clear that Smith was being paid more than his co-star despite the fact that she had the more important role in a series that centers on the royal family and the queen in particular.

Both actors were subjected to something of a media storm about the pay gap. Speaking to Vanity Fair, Foy said that the ordeal had opened her eyes and made her question her pay compared to other actors, especially in light of her Golden Globe success for the role. She was subsequently paid some £200,000 in back pay and the production company Left Bank apologized in a statement released to Entertainment Weekly, saying, "As the producers of 'The Crown,' we at Left Bank Pictures are responsible for budgets and salaries; the actors are not aware of who gets what and cannot be held personally responsible for the pay of their colleagues."

Missed out on activities with the cast and crew of Doctor Who

Matt Smith's professional football career ended before it started, but that doesn't mean that the actor does not enjoy spending his free time playing football with his friends and co-workers recreationally. But the actor was banned from ever having a kickabout with the cast and crew of "Doctor Who" during his tenure as the Doctor.

In an interview with the Radio Times (via The Huffington Post), Smith explained that everyone on the show would play football every Tuesday. However, the show's insurance company wouldn't allow him to join in with his co-workers out of fear that he could injure himself and be unable to film. Smith was understanding of the sacrifice he would have to make, though, explaining that a shoot shouldn't end just because he decided to play football and rolled his ankle. He told the source he considers sitting out a round of football a "small price to pay." 

He dangled on a wire 90 feet above London

Like many other science-fiction shows, "Doctor Who" features plenty of action sequences. The Doctor is constantly faced with battling dangerous foes, saving his companions, and chasing down potential threats. That means he had to do a lot of dangerous things during his tenure as the Doctor. In many cases, Matt Smith tagged in a stuntman for the riskiest stunts, but Smith wasn't someone who was prepared to sit back and watch others get their hands dirty.

Speaking to Metro in 2020, "Doctor Who" stunt coordinator Crispin Layfield revealed that Smith was one of the actors who always expressed an interest in doing stunts. In fact, The Mirror reported that Smith asked to perform a stunt for the "Doctor Who" 50th-anniversary episode in 2013. The actor dangled above Trafalgar Square on a wet and windy day for several hours as, according to the story that unfolds in "Doctor Who," the TARDIS flies over London.

A BBC rowing series left him with calluses and blisters

After his stint on "Doctor Who," one of Matt Smith's first roles was "Bert & Dickie." Created in celebration of the 2012 Olympics by the BBC, it tells the story of two rowers who competed at the 1948 Olympics after only being selected five weeks before the competition. According to the BBC, the project required the two lead actors to go through a rigorous training regime to get in shape and look convincing. The pair worked with the Leander Rowing Club in Henley-on-Thames, training alongside genuine Olympians starting early in the morning across a period of a week — something that was particularly difficult for Smith, as he had never been on a boat before.

Speaking in the Radio Times, via The Huffington Post, Smith explained the injuries he had acquired while training: "I've got blisters on the hand, cuts and bruises everywhere. Calluses. Your bum is the worst thing because those old wooden seats are pretty grim... I loved it, although it's taken its toll physically."

He shot the biographical film Mapplethorpe in 19 days

According to noted film industry analyst Stephen Follows, it typically takes an average of around 100 days to shoot a feature-length movie. Post-production can go on for much longer, but principal photography usually involves just over three months of filming. Yet, the shoot for "Mapplethorpe," starring Matt Smith as legendary real-life photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, had a shoot that lasted just 19 days.

Coming after his time on "The Crown," which had a lengthy production schedule, Smith purposely chose the biographical drama as he knew it would involve a tight turnaround. A feature in the Los Angeles Times noted how director Ondi Timoner was impressed that Smith hadn't immediately given up after experiencing the intensity of the hyper-fast filming process. The actor found it difficult, but said, "That shoot was taxing, for a number of reasons, but that's okay. I don't think it should be easy, the artistic experience."

Life as a Targaryen means constantly wearing an irritating wig

Arguably one of the most high-profile shows of Matt Smith's entire career comes in the form of the HBO show "House of the Dragon." A spinoff of the hugely popular "Game of Thrones," Smith plays Prince Daemon Targaryen. As is the case for most Targaryens, Daemon has bright blonde hair. This is in stark contrast to Smith's natural brown color and necessitates that he, along with a sizeable fraction of the rest of the cast, are forced to wear massive white wigs throughout filming.

Putting on the wig every day is no simple task, as it required Smith to sit for over an hour in makeup to get it attached to his head and looking just right. Even worse, the wig itself was irritating and uncomfortable to wear. In a Rolling Stone interview, Smith said, "It looks great but it's a f***ing pain in the arse [and] took an hour and a quarter to put on every day."

Smith almost died in a horse-riding incident

Compared to his roles on "Doctor Who" and "House of the Dragon," you might think that Matt Smith's job on "The Crown" would be safer. While critically acclaimed and one of Netflix's all-time most prestigious projects, "The Crown" is not known for its action sequences. Ironically, one of Smith's most terrifying on-set incidents occurred during a shoot for Season 1 of "The Crown." Appearing on "The Graham Norton Show," Smith explained that he was involved in a near-death accident while riding a horse in South Africa.

The Guardian reported that Smith was on a horse that bolted during filming. Not knowing what to do, the actor simply held on while it made off towards a nearby herd of zebras. The actor explained that "[he] was so scared. As it galloped towards a herd of zebras, a huge man grabbed it by the reins and saved my life." What's worse is that the scene itself never even made it to the final edit and so wasn't seen by audiences, making the ordeal as terrifying as it was pointless.

He couldn't tell his friends or family about getting cast in Doctor Who or House of the Dragon

It is not unusual for actors to have to keep their roles under wraps, especially if they are involved in a big franchise. That usually means they can't speak about plot details or reveal which character they are playing in interviews or when speaking in public. However, Matt Smith has had two roles where secrecy was taken to extreme lengths. After being cast in "Doctor Who" and "House of the Dragon," in both cases, the actor was essentially banned from sharing the news with anyone but his closest family.

Speaking to Esquire in a 2022 interview, Smith explained that almost every one of his friends and family only found out that he would be the new Doctor when the news was officially announced by the BBC. This meant he had to keep most of the people he knew in the dark about the biggest role of his life. The same was true when it came to "House of the Dragon," with HBO telling Smith not to reveal who he was playing until a press release came out months later.

He wore extensive prosthetics for his final Doctor Who episode

As part of Matt Smith's final episode of "Doctor Who," which aired as the 2013 Christmas special "The Time of the Doctor," his character ages considerably while defending the planet of Trenzalore. Spending centuries to prevent the Time Lords from returning and the planet's inhabitants from being killed by the Daleks and other hostile alien forces, he begins to die of old age. To accurately portray this aging process, Smith had to sit through hours of makeup and prosthetics — although some reviews of the episodes praised the prosthetics specifically, which makes the effort seem worthwhile.

Not only did Smith have to wear a lot of makeup for the final episode, but he was also forced to put on a wig. This was not just to help him look like a convincing old man, either. Smith shaved his hair for the Ryan Gosling-directed movie "Lost River," and it didn't grow back in time to shoot "The Time of the Doctor," prompting his shaven head being hidden by a large wig (via Digital Spy).

He injured his neck filming House of the Dragon

"House of the Dragon" requires its actors to be involved in a lot of action sequences. Whether it's riding dragons above Westeros or fighting against enemies in full armor, there are plenty of intensive activities for the cast. While that's plenty exciting for audiences, the downside is it makes it much more likely that the actors will sustain an injury while shooting. That's exactly what happened to Matt Smith during the filming of one particular stunt.

According to the actor, who revealed the injury during an interview with the Hollywood Reporter, he hit a disc in his neck while wearing a helmet. The incident, that took place during a shoot in Portugal, caused considerable pain and made filming more difficult than it would have been. Even months later, the injury was still causing Smith bother, as he said in the August 2022 interview, "I'm actually waiting to go into the physio right now after this to do some work on it. But, you know, it's all part of the process, on some level."

Missed out on working more with Jenna Coleman

On "Doctor Who," Jenna Coleman played Clara Oswald, the traveling companion of the Doctor who replaces Amy and Rory Pond in the TARDIS following the episode "The Angels Take Manhattan." However, she only works with Smith's incarnation of the Time Lord for a year before he regenerates, and Peter Capaldi took on the role of the Twelfth Doctor after the events of "The Time of the Doctor." This was something of a regret for Smith, who expressed sadness at not being able to work with Coleman more.

While appearing at New York Comic Con and reported by Metro, the actor explained that he only had the opportunity to star alongside Coleman for 12 episodes. This is a small run for a character that became one of the series' longest-serving companions. Speaking at the event, Smith said, "That's one of my great regrets, that I didn't get a full season with Jenna." Perhaps his wish to work with Coleman again could be granted in the future if he returns to the show at some point. After all, David Tennant and Catherine Tate are making a comeback for the show's 60th anniversary; why can't Matt Smith and Jenna Coleman?

Smith has filmed a few uncomfortable sex scenes

Now and again, "Game of Thrones" actors ended up in sex scenes and other awkward encounters they weren't always happy about filming.  So, it makes sense that "House of the Dragon" has its share of explicit moments as well, even if the showrunners have said they'll be doing things differently this time around. Even with those changes, it seems as if there might still be too many sex scenes for certain people.

Matt Smith revealed in a Rolling Stone interview that he feels he has too many sex scenes in the show but understands why they are necessary. His approach to these types of scenes boiled down to how the series was trying to adapt the source material of George R.R. Martin's book. Smith explained, "Are you representing the books, or are you diluting the books to represent the time? And I actually think it's your job to represent the books truthfully and honestly, as they were written."