British Actors You Should Know: Matt Smith

Matt Smith as Daemon Targaryen in "House of the Dragon"

Matt Smith as Daemon Targaryen in "House of the Dragon"

(Photo: HBO)

With his imposing physical presence and interesting, not quite handsome face, and trademark fall of dark hair, Matt Smith has played everything from artists to time lords, princes, and pimps. Smith was born in 1982 in Northamptonshire, and his first love was football. He signed on as a youth player with his local club, Northampton Town, then Nottingham Forest, and Leicester City. Sadly, an injury put paid to what might have been a dazzling career, and the young Smith found himself without direction. One of his teachers persuaded him, with some difficulty, to become an actor, which at first embarrassed Smith as not being macho enough, but he took a role in a school production of Twelve Angry Men. He won a place in the National Youth Theatre, and studied Literature and Drama at the University of Norwich.

... [a] half blokeish lad next door, half exotic, otherworldly creature, with a passion for footie and poetry in equal measure. Rolling Stone UK

Stage roles followed – Alan Bennett's play The History Boys at the National Theatre in London, and Swimming with Sharks in the West End. Two of the productions in which he featured – That Face and On the Shore of the Wide World – won Laurence Olivier Awards. His big breakthrough was as the Eleventh Doctor in Doctor Who from 2010 to 2013, following which he was chosen to portray Patrick Bateman in the musical adaption of American Psycho at London's Almeida Theatre, despite having no prior singing experience.

Still passionate about football, Smith is a fervent Blackburn Rovers fan. Another great love is music—he DJ’d for a time and, when exploring his parents’ attic, rescued and enjoyed their extensive vinyl collection of 1960s and 1970s music.

Let’s take a look at his work, beginning with a 2006 BBC debut.

'The Ruby in the Smoke'

The Ruby in the Smoke was supposed to be the first in what was intended to be a longer series of The Sally Lockhart Mysteries, based on Philip Pullman's Sally Lockhart series. However, it failed to generate an audience and was canceled after only one installment. However, it not only starred Smith but another actor whose name was made in Doctor Who, Billie Piper, as the companion to the Ninth (Christopher Eccleston) and Tenth (David Tennant) Doctor. 

Piper plays Sally in this rip-roaring Victorian adventure. Her investigation into her father's death takes her to the office of Mr. Higgs (Trevor Cooper). Her father's last letter includes the phrase "the seven blessings," which is powerful enough to kill Higgs. The ruby of the title is pursued by Sally and her friends, photographer Frederick Garland (J.J. Feild) and Jim (Smith), a young assistant at the family's shipping firm. The villainous Mrs. Holland (Julie Walters) is also after the priceless gem in a chase that leads them to opium dens, assassins, and Chinese gangs.

The Ruby in the Smoke is streaming at BritBox.

'Doctor Who'

Bring out the sonic screwdrivers! Smith was invited to audition for the role of the Eleventh Doctor in the greatest secrecy at the age of 26, and when cast, was the youngest actor to play the role. He'd never seen the series and told the audition panel he was usually at the pub at that time of day (Saturday evenings). He almost didn't accept it either, which was understandable, as he was, at the time, taking it over from David Tennant, whose popularity in the role is second only to the longest-serving actor to play the role, Fourth Doctor, Tom Baker

However, he made the role his own, impressing viewers as someone whose appearance suggested both youth and great age, wearing his own tweed jacket and adding the characteristic bowtie. He held the role from Seasons 5 through 7, plus the 50th anniversary special (The Day of the Doctor, where he starred alongside Tennant, guest star John Hurt, and the oldest living Doctor, the aforementioned Tom Baker) before regenerating that Christmas, appearing in 49 episodes, three short of his predecessor Tennant. He infamously begged the crew to let him perform a stunt for the 50th anniversary, which involved dangling from the Tardis above London's Trafalgar Square.

All 40 seasons of Doctor Who are available on streaming, though they are parceled out in batches depending on which reboot they officially belong to. The "Classic" episodes (Season 1-26, plus the TV Movie) are all on BritBox. The "First Reboot" episodes (Seasons 27-39 or Seasons 1-13) are streaming on Max. The "Disney+ Reboot" (which is Season 1, 14, or 40, depending on which counting method you prefer!) is currently streaming on Disney+, with the next season already in production for 2025.

'Bert & Dickie'

Released in the U.S. as Going for Gold, Bert & Dickie, as it was originally titled, was made to celebrate the 2012 London Olympics in London. It told the true story of how Bert Bushnell (Smith) and Dickie Burnell (Sam Hoare) were thrown together five weeks before the 1948 Olympics for the double scull event, for which they won the gold medal. The couple overcame both class tensions (Bert was working class, Dickie came from a privileged university background) and the challenges of competing in an Olympics hosted in London while bombings and austerity measures still ravaged it. 

Britain's reputation was on the line. Created by writer William Ivory (Made in Dagenham) and producer Jessica Pope (Sense and Sensibility), the film is a small-scale but still impressive Chariots of Fire with rowers. (By the way, Smith looks adorable in tiny glasses and tiny shorts.)

Bert and Dickie is available on Apple TV as a rental.

'The Crown'

They say that once you play the Doctor in Doctor Who, it's nearly impossible to shake it. However, Matt Smith basically managed that feat by starring in something that became just as big: Netflix's extraordinarily ambitious six-season dramatized biography of the reigning U.K. monarch at the time, Queen Elizabeth II, The Crown. In an extraordinary physical transformation, Smith starred as Prince Philip opposite Claire Foy as Elizabeth II in Seasons 1 and 2 before passing the role off to the next generation of actors, a decision made from the get-go rather than age up the original cast. 

This is a role he owned, from the stiff posture to the cut-glass accent, portraying a man who rages against the loss of status and fears the diminution of his masculinity as the foreign-born consort of a modern British queen. He was nominated for a 2018 Emmy Award for his performance but lost to Peter Dinklage from Game of Thrones. It may or may not be true that when Prince Harry met Smith at an event, he greeted him as "Grandad."

All seasons of The Crown are available on Netflix.


Attracted to challenges and rewards, Smith attempted to join the Marvel franchise, not through the successful Marvel Cinematic Universe at Disney, but the far more hit-and-miss Spideyverse at Sony. Sadly, the one he landed, Morbius, was not only considered a big flop but one that movie makers were so blind to, social media fooled them into releasing it in theaters twice just to watch it flop a second time. 

Smith played Lucien, aka Milo, friend and brother of enigmatic biochemist Michael Morbius (Jared Leto). Both brothers suffer from a rare blood disease, and Morbius, with the best intentions, discovers a cure which unfortunately infects the sufferer with vampirism. But when Morbius creates an antibody to remove the vampirism, he discovers that his brother is not on board, preferring to keep his vampire powers. Director Daniel Espinosa encouraged Smith to give a bold, villainous performance, and clearly, he was born to play a vampire. 

Morbius is available on Disney+.

'Pride & Prejudice & Zombies'

Based on Seth Grahame-Smith's book of the same name, Pride & Prejudice & Zombies is what it says on the tin, a zombie interpretation of Jane Austen's original. It is a satisfying, creative, and fast-moving treat of a film. England is afflicted with a deadly plague, followed by hordes of the undead roaming the countryside. Elizabeth Bennet (Lily James) and her sisters do what other well-bred young ladies do––become experts in weaponry and martial arts, in between husband-hunting. 

Smith plays a suitably ingratiating and slimy Mr. Collins, anxious to marry one of the Bennet daughters, but, as in Austen's original, marries Charlotte Lucas (who has unfortunately become a zombie). Directed and with a screenplay by Burr Steers, the film also stars Sam Riley (Mr. Darcy), Charles Dance (Mr. Bennet), Sally Phillips (Mrs. Bennet), and Lena Headley as a fierce Lady Catherine de Bourgh.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is available on Roku.


Mapplethorpe moving and perceptive take on the life of American artist Robert Mapplethorpe, who took the Soho avant-garde arts scene by storm in the 1970s and 1980s. After moving into the Chelsea Hotel with poet Patti Smith, he photographed the other inhabitants, musicians, artists, socialites, and film stars, as well as members of the S&M underground. 

Smith once again undergoes a physical transformation in a role as he explores the intersection of Mapplethorpe's art and his sexuality, his religious doubts, and his determination to achieve recognition for his innovative work. Ondi Timoner directs and leads a writing team of Mikko Alanne and Bruce Goodrich. Marianne Rendón (Patti Smith) and John Benjamin Hickey (Sam Wagstaff) also star.

Mapplethorpe is streaming on Peacock.

'Last Night in Soho'

Last Night in Soho is a supernatural, dual-time drama that stars Thomasin McKenzie as Eloise, a student fashion designer in the present day who finds herself transported to another time, the 1960s, and into another person's experience – that of aspiring singer Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy). 

Sandie falls for Cockney charmer Jack (Smith), a music producer, deep into the London gangster scene who promises to help her get singing gigs. Instead, he gets her hooked on drugs and becomes her pimp. It's Eloise's challenge to find justic for Sandie and save them both. 

Last Night in Soho is streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

'The Forgiven'

As wealthy Londoners David and Jo Henninger (Ralph Fiennes and Jessica Chastain) speed through the Moroccan desert on their way to a weekend gathering in the opening of The Forgiven, tragedy strikes when a young local boy is killed. On the advice of their host, Richard Galloway (Smith), and in collusion with the police, they attempt to cover up the death, believing their wealth, status, and ethnicity do not require any effort on their part to keep themselves from paying for the crime. 

That is, until the boy's bereaved father Abdellah (Ismael Kanater) confronts them, setting the scene for either forgiveness or revenge. The 2022 film was directed by John Michael McDonagh, who also wrote the screenplay based on Lawrence Osborne's novel. It was criticized for its overly cerebral approach but received rave reviews for its cinematography.

The Forgiven is streaming on Hulu and on Dinsey+ under the Hulu tile.

'Official Secrets'

Based on true events in 2003 as chronicled in the book The Spy Who Tried to Stop a War: Katharine Gun and the Secret Plot to Sanction the Iraq Invasion by Marcia and Thomas Mitchell, Official Secrets stars Keira Knightley as British Intelligence officer Katharine Gun. Gun received a directive from the NSA urging the British to help the U.S. by collecting compromising information on United Nations Security Council members. This information would be used to blackmail them into supporting an illegal invasion of Iraq. 

Refusing to further the scheme, Gun chose to defy the government and inform the press, at the risk of damaging her career and family. Smith plays journalist Jack Wright, and the film is directed by Gavin Hood, who collaborated with writers Sara and Gregory Bernstein on the screenplay. Matthew Goode, Indira Varma, Rhys Ifans, and Ralph Fiennes also star.

Offical Secrets is available on Roku.

'Starve Acre'

Starve Acre, written and directed by Daniel Kokotajlo, received its British premiere in 2023 to critical acclaim at the British Film Institute's London Film Festival, and was scooped up for distribution by  Brainstorm Media. The film finally makes its way across the pond and will be seen this summer by U.S. audiences. Based on the novel by Andrew Michael Hurley and co-starring Morfydd Clark (Murder is Easy), it is a 1970s-era period piece horror film that also serves as a study of grief, and loss. 

Richard (Smith) and Juliette (Clark) move to a house in a remote part of the Yorkshire countryside. After the loss of their son, Richard begins a study of an ancient oak tree, which releases dark forces into their house and awakens an ancient destructive evil.

Starve Acre releases in theaters and on-demand on Friday, July 26, 2024.

'House of the Dragon'

Another royal role for Smith, this time in the prequel to smash hit Game of Thrones. House of the Dragon is based on the most readable section of the first volume of George R.R. Martin’s Fire & Blood duology (of which the first part is the only one that exists). Two centuries ago, House Targaryen, at the height of its power, fought over succession to the Iron Throne in a civil war known as "The Dance of the Dragons," an event that was repeatedly referenced by the book nerd characters in the original series. 

Smith is Prince Daemon Targaryen, a fierce, unpredictable warrior, and accomplished dragon rider, brother to the King. The blonde wig, Smith told Rolling Stone UK, "... looks great but is a f****** pain in the a**," but enjoyed the physical challenge of the dragon-riding sequences: [Caraxes, his dragon] " a bit of an avatar of Daemon — he’s grumpy, sardonic, insular, volatile, chaotic. There’s a very strong connection between the dragon and the dragon rider.” Emma Darcy (as his wife, Queen Rhaenyra Targaryen) and Olivia Cooke (as their enemy, Queen Alicent Hightower) also star in the series, which boasts a huge cast and dazzling special effects.

House of the Dragon Season 2 debuts on Sunday, June 16 at 9 p.m. ET on HBO and Max and streams new episodes weekly on Sundays through the beginning of August. All episodes of Season 1 are streaming on Max.

Janet Mullany

Writer Janet Mullany is from England, drinks a lot of tea, and likes Jane Austen, reading, and gasping in shock at costumes in historical TV dramas. Her household near Washington DC includes two badly-behaved cats about whom she frequently boasts on Facebook.

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