On bassline, coming-of-age and Converse.
T-shirt STYLIST’S OWN, trousers GUCCI
“I still try and live as normal a life as I can. If you want to be an actor and live a glitzy lifestyle then you can hire a bodyguard whenever you go to a music festival. You can do that if you want to.” Suffice to say, that’s not the kind of actor Maisie Williams wants to be. You’d be more likely to find the 19-year-old Game of Thrones prodigy in the mixer at Boomtown caked in glitter than you would at Coachella, cowering under oversized sunglasses and surrounded by heavy set security. Grounded: that’s the first word that springs to mind when you meet her.
While Williams’ 4.5million Instagram followers attest to the wide extent of her (sometimes disturbingly obsessive) fandom, she wears the pressures of media scrutiny and teenage fame remarkably lightly. An endearing bemusement at her own popularity is a recurring theme throughout our conversation. Even those legions of Insta-followers are met with self-deprecating disbelief: “It’s weird… my photos aren’t any better than anyone else’s. They’re terrible!”
Raw they might be, but it’s precisely that kind of unvarnished candour that’s made her a rm fan favourite on GoT — which is saying something given the stratospheric popularity of the show. As pint-sized harbinger of death Arya Stark, Williams has been slaughtering and avenging in her inimitable headstrong style for six seasons, and she’s about to wrap filming the seventh.
As is often the case with actors who start young, it all might never have happened for Williams, had she not caught the attention of an agent in her hometown of Bristol. She was discovered during a dance performance to H2o ft. Platnum’s bassline classic, “What’s It Gonna Be?” at a talent contest — a song which evokes memories of a Proustian potency should she ever hear it these days in the club. Only 11 years old at the time, and with her heart set on being a dancer rather than an actress, Williams won the role of Arya at the second audition she ever attended.
A dream come true for any burgeoning performer, sure. But whereas most of us are afforded the advantage of navigating the awkward path through adolescence in private, Williams’ teenage years were played out (at least in one respect) very much in front of the camera. I wonder if she ever yearns for a more conventional youth. “It’s not something I’m really aware of because I’ve never really known anything else,” she reasons. “It’s strange because a lot of people would always say to me when I was younger, ‘Don’t change! Don’t forget who you are.’ And I understand what they meant by that but… my personality has taken many different shapes as I’ve grown up, as it does for every teenager. They go through a phase of this and then they go through a phase of that. Doing that in the public eye is really weird because people think they know you and that you’re being different to the girl that they know.”
“We’ve got such a limited time on this Earth and I don’t want to look back at what other people thought of me. I would rather look back on what I did.”
That Maisie Williams they think they know is probably remarkably similar to Arya: smart, independent, and unfettered by gender expectations. And, to be fair to those who con ate character and actor, while Williams might not be as bloodthirsty as her on-screen counterpart, she’s certainly unafraid to speak her mind: whether that’s about the spectre of online abuse (something she explored in the harrowing 2011 drama Cyberbully) or the position of women in the lm industry. After telling me how lucky she feels to play such strong female roles, she somewhat sadly notes, “The older I’ve got, the less of those great characters there are around. I think there was something about Arya being pre- pubescent that was super cool. But as soon as you hit a certain age it becomes a lot more sexualised and therefore more about the way that you look than the content of your character.”
It’s undoubtedly that sense of integrity, not to mention her youthful, daring spirit, which attracted Converse to get Williams involved in their Forever Chuck project; a cross-platform, digital series exploring Chuck Taylor’s considerable impact on lm, music and style. It’s therefore tting that Williams is joined by the likes of Winnie Harlow (“I really respect the work she does”), Years and Years’ Olly Alexander (“who has helped a lot of my friends speak up”) and even Stranger Things star Millie Bobby Brown — Williams recalls plenty of mutual fan-girling when the two eventually met. A life-long Converse wearer, it’s refreshing to see that Williams is as discerning with the projects she chooses to represent as she is with her lm roles. “Huge variety” is what she’s aiming for in her career, and thus far she’s not doing too badly with that particular goal. As well as appearing in touching indie flick The Book of Love, she’s also co-starring in Netfix’s upcoming tech-age superhero film iBoy. Something of a departure from the usual comic book fare, the London- based movie is a hugely entertaining but immensely gritty tale of a young man who, following a gun-shot wound, wakes up with the power to control technology. Initially sceptical, Williams fell for the project after realising “it wasn’t a glamorous superhero movie,” but rather one that “touches on some really important topics… and explores the superhuman fight that you go through when you’re looking for justice.”
Add to that a role alongside Tom Hiddleston and Eddie Redmayne in Early Man, the latest feature from Wallace and Gromit maestros Aardman Animations, and you get some idea of Williams’ hunger for diversity in what she does. Citing Wes Anderson as a personal hero, she even hints at a desire to direct her own project — though admits the timing would have to be spot-on. With a dose of self-aware faux-profundity she muses, “at the end of the day we’re all going to die… We’ve got such a limited time on this Earth and I don’t want to look back at what other people thought of me. I would rather look back on what I did.” You can bet she’ll be deservedly proud of herself when she does.
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