Maisie Williams Talks Feminist Role Models, Arya Stark, YouTube & New Films
With Game of Thrones Season 5 fast approaching and the return of Arya Stark, audiences have a lot to look forward to in the upcoming episodes. But it’s not only Arya who’s grown up, it’s also Maisie Williams. She attended the Shooting Stars 2015 programme at the Berlin Film Festival, where she was honoured by Natalie Portman. We caught up with her to talk about Arya, the pressures of social media and being a feminist role model as a young actress in the film and TV industry today.
Q: What do you think is Arya’s ultimate goal in Game of Thrones? What is the perfect ending for Arya?
I don’t think that Arya’s after the throne. I don’t think that’s her honest direction. I don’t think that that’s what she’s been fighting for this whole time. I see the perfect ending for her to be revenge and then happiness. And I think those sort of come together in her mind. A few seasons ago I thought Arya wasn’t that driven, but now that she’s lost so much, revenge is top of the list. And I think once she’s satisfied with it, she can live peacefully. Hopefully.
Q: What does it mean to you, to be a part of Game of Thrones? Do you watch the show yourself?
With this show, when you’re shooting, you think you’re a big part of it and then you watch it on screen and you realize there’s this whole other world going on all around. It feels like you can watch it as a fan as well. There’s so many other aspects to the show that I’m not a part of, I can really sit down and enjoy that. Which story line I enjoy most changes all the time. I think story lines pick up and then they die down again. At the moment I’m loving Sansa’s, it’s really interesting and this season is going to be great for her.
Q: At first, everyone got to shoot together and you were all enjoying each other’s company on set. How was the change from that to going off and doing your own story line?
In the beginning it was so lovely to have Sophie and Isaac, who play Sansa and Bran, with me on set. Because when we first started, none of us knew really what was going on. But it was really nice to have those two to feel a lot more comfortable, we sort of learned about this industry together. If those guys hadn’t been there, I would have been completely lost and completely stuck, so we’ve been really supportive of each other and learnt together. When we’re working now, we cross over sometimes with the other actors, but the main times we get to see each other is when we’re doing press, so that makes that a lot more enjoyable. To be back with your friends again, who you haven’t seen in a long time and to catch up as well.
Q: If you had to choose, Arya or Sansa? Which type of girl do you relate to more?
Personally, I’d be more like Arya. But I think everybody is a bit of both. I love to dress up, I love to wear beautiful clothes, but I also love to climb trees, mess around with my brothers and throw a fight. A bit of danger as well. But that’s the wonderful thing, as the world is changing, it is okay to be what you want and it doesn’t matter if you’re male or female. It’s becoming a lot easier to break out of the shell and do whatever the hell you want. It’s not seen as something so crazy anymore, and it’s accepted in a lot of places all around the world. Not everywhere, but that’s what I hope to change.
Q: Are you afraid that people will always think of Arya when they hear your name and being typecast in similar roles in the future?
I’ve been given the wonderful opportunity to play the same role over a long period of time, but Arya also develops and changes, which is why I am so eager to do other projects alongside. When auditioning for other parts, I just try to keep in mind that I have Game of Thrones and a lot of work out there for me in that sort of character and to try and choose other roles and do different things, and not stay in one kind of category. Also at the moment being 17, there’s so many different things that I want to do and the one thing is that I have so much time and I hope that this career goes on for a long time and I hope I get to do all the things that I want to.
I love dance and I love performing. From a young age I was such a show off, probably very annoying, it was just what I loved to do, but it’s not for everyone. For my best friend, it would be her worst nightmare to stand on stage and answer questions in front of people. It would be her worst nightmare to have a film camera in front of her. People are just different and this is just something I thoroughly enjoyed from such a young age. So now that my foot is in the door, I’d love to dance and I’d love to pursue different paths.
Q: For young women especially, you have become a feminist role model with the portrayal of Arya. What do you think about being a role model, is it difficult fulfilling certain expectations?
I think in this industry, for actors and actresses, whether you chose to or not, you become a role model to people and that’s the responsibility you have to take on with everything else. And you continue being yourself and mindful about the people looking up to you. Then there are some other people who just do whatever they want to. Both in my opinion are completely reasonable, but I think I am very aware that the things I say and the clothes I wear are influential to girls and boys. And I think about the characters I play. At the beginning, Arya was just the first role I ever landed, but now as I’m growing up, she’s become such a wonderful person in television for people to watch. And I’m so thrilled I get to be a part of that. I think she’s a fantastic role model for girls. There is no gender stereotype, you can do with your life as you please. It’s almost by chance that I managed to take on this role so young and now that I’ve got a taste of playing these strong female characters that aren’t put into any sort of mould I want to continue doing that.
Q: Do you have role models or idols you look up to yourself?
Recently I’ve been totally captivated by Jessica Chastain, not just her acting, but her as a person as well. I watched her recently in an interview on the Graham Norton Show, and as I was saying earlier, it’s so interesting to see what people are really like and you then realize, how amazing their acting is. They’re so different to these characters, yet you believe them. In Zero Dark Thirty, her character is just incredible! And seeing her as a person, you realize she’s completely different, and it’s so amazing to see the transformation that she takes.
Q: What did you think about the #AskHerMore campaign at the Oscars, with actresses like Patricia Arquette or Reese Witherspoon demanding from reporters to ask them more than what dresses they were wearing?
That whole side to this industry is really shallow. This is what baffles me. Like at the Oscars when everybody is wearing these expensive ball gowns and yet they still have like a best and worst dress. People can wear what they want to, obviously we put ourselves out there, which gives the people the right to have an opinion. But everyone’s going to have an opinion and as long as you’re comfortable and happy with what you’re doing. I really try not to think about any of that too much, cause it’s just exhausting. Like why does it matter, what we’re wearing and what make-up? It’s nice to dress up, I’m not going to say that I’m fighting that completely, I like to wear a pretty dress and all that, but it’s not important for what I want to do in life and what I want to get out of life. It doesn’t matter if I’m wearing Topshop or Dior, I just like being me. As long as I’m comfortable then I’ll wear it.
Q: You’re active on a lot of social media websites as well – Twitter, Instagram, Vine. Do you think it’s important for young actors today, to present yourself to the world on those kind of platforms?
It’s good to show people the real you and that’s why I’m so big on social media, because I love to interact with people directly. Instead of headlines that give off a sort of false feeling about them, like headlines that are a little bit twisted. They are the truth, but they’re worded in a way that give off this vibe. It’s nice for me just to be able to tweet, like this is who I am and people can go there for a much more honest feeling about you.
Q: Some of your most-viewed videos on YouTube are collaborations with famous YouTubers. It feels like in those you are showing your fans, who you are, when you’re not playing a role in TV or film. Do you think it’s important to do those collaborations, especially looking at your generation?
I think YouTube, the internet in general, is a massive place and a huge influence for a lot of teenagers and myself, so YouTube is a wonderful place, where people can just be creative and with no scripts, no plans they can just do what they want to do and I love being a part of that. It’s also really important for me, when you play so many different characters, it’s sometimes nice to show the world who you are personally, who Maisie is. They see you as Arya, they see you as these other roles, sometimes it’s nice to just show people what you’re like and show how different you are to these people. That’s the main reason why I do YouTube stuff and plus, I’m such a massive fan of it. It’s nice to be invited to that. Superfruit, the guys from Pentatonix, they make me laugh endlessly. I love Grace Helbig and Jenna Marbles, just doing fantastic things really and being themselves, and not being affected by anything. When they started doing this, they had no followers, no subscribers or anything like that, they just did it, because they wanted to. And I find it so admirable that they’ve stuck through it for so long, and are now being rewarded for that. I just like the way that that comes about for them.
Q: What are other things you like to do in your free time, what do you relax with after a long day’s work?
I love music, music is kind of my escape when I’m home, because this industry is so crazy, lots of cameras and this and that. It’s sometimes nice to just close your door and put your music on and just relax. I’m from a city called Bristol in England, which has got a great underground music scene, I like a lot of house music, more sort of electro stuff, with so many festivals. I love documentaries and I also love watching this series called The Great British Bake Off, it’s kind of like X-Factor, but for baking. It’s a competition show just for baking and it’s so funny to watch grown men cry over a Victoria sponge. It’s just a nice escape really, to take a break from the acting world.
Q: Can you tell us anything about your future projects and other things you’ve been working on?
In terms of genres to watch, I’m such a sucker for thrillers, but to act in I’ve done a little bit of comedy and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed that and would love to do more. The character that I play in The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea with Jessica Biel is one I’m looking forward to doing again. It’s a very different character, kind of comedic, but also a whole new person, and I’m doing a New Orleans accent. With accents, I thoroughly enjoy creating someone new, I feel like I’m stepping out of Maisie and into someone else, I love that. Creating new people. It’s a wonderful thing, you get to wear these crazy clothes, you would never usually wear and take on this whole persona. And that’s what I would love to do, in the future to do more projects that allow me to create really different people. My character in the film is a kind of a gutter rat in New Orleans, there are girls, that are sort of my age, who choose to live off the map and choose to live away from the system. Which is just very interesting for her, and for me to play.
Maisie Williams won the UK Shooting Star Award at the 2015 Berlin International Film Festival.
Maisie Williams photo by Vittorio Zunino Celotto.