We meet the accidental actor collaborating with acclaimed auteurs.
All clothing and accessories PRADA.
Taken from the Autumn 19 issue of Wonderland. Order your copy now.
The first thing I do when I get Nell Tiger Free on the phone is grill her about her name. In my mind, I conjure images of her parents as free-loving hippies birthing their child onto a giant lily pad. She laughs. “Yeah, well actually, my dad’s in recruitment and my mum’s a yoga teacher.”
That’s the first thing to realise about Free. All the expectations you might have about the 19-year-old British actress — especially considering she snagged a role on HBO’s Game of Thrones at the age of just 14, arguably the biggest cult television phenomenon in the world — you can pretty much throw out of the window.
First up, the misconception that her bagging such a sought-after role must mean she has acting in her blood – that can go. Scouted at the age of 11 at Saturday school, an outlet for her fizzing energy, she was picked for an audition, and then the rest was history. She assures me: “I actually never set out to be anything other than, you know, 11, at the time.”
Her first proper part came in BBC One’s 2012 Christmas movie adaptation of David Walliam’s children book Mr. Stink. But then arrived the biggest audition of her life: taking over as Myrcella Baratheon for season five of George R. R. Martin’s viral fantasy series – which had already hit peak mania when Free nailed the audition in her school uniform and despite having little familiarity with the show (mad skills). But six episodes later and her run came to an end, with Free’s departure sealed with an unconventionally tender and poetic Judas kiss. But even more unconventional was the unintentionally callous way she found out about her death. “I found out accidentally really,” she giggles as she remembers. “I was going to a costume fitting in Belfast, and then [the show’s co-creator] David Benioff walked past me, and was like, ‘Sorry we kill you by the way!’ I had no idea!”
Deceased character or not, most people would kill for such a prolific start to their career, and at 19, she’s only just beginning. Most recently, she worked with visionary director Nicholas Winding Refn in his Amazon mini-series Too Old to Die Young, a project she describes as very “intense and tough”, one that is even dark by GOT standards. Free plays a 16-year-old schoolgirl wild child, “who loves coke”, and is mixed up with an older sheriff’s deputy, played by Miles Teller.
Also upcoming is Wonderwell, a coming-of-age modern day fairytale shot in Italy, starring the legendary late Carrie Fisher in her final film, with Free playing a princess. There seems to be a running theme with Free’s portfolio, something that is likely tied to her age. But it is also something she recognises to rectify in shrouded-in- mystery upcoming project with iconic director M. Night Shyamalan. A thriller titled Servant, and with no other accompanying information except that Free will play a nanny who moves in with a young family. As with all of Night’s films, we can anticipate all the disturbing psychological happenings.
“Before Too Old to Die Young, I played a schoolgirl and then another schoolgirl, and then a princess, and you know, although I’m very grateful for every single one, it feels like a really good time for me to transition and find my feet as a young woman in the acting world,” Free admits. “I’m definitely enjoying this progression into things becoming more serious and getting progressively darker. The M. Night series is more of a psychological thing, and it’s more dark.”
At 19, Free has her whole career ahead of her, and the horizon is endless. I mention that I’ve seen videos on her Instagram account where she films herself singing covers and playing guitar, which she assures me is just a hobby for now. I half-joke, asking if there’s ever a foreseeable future where she can see herself making a Bradley Cooper A Star Is Born-style transition into music. “I mean, I’m honestly not ruling anything out,” she cracks up. “I would’ve gone like more of a Sing Street vibe, but yeah, anything is possible.”
Joe Burwin using Bumble and Bumble
Asuka Fukuda using M.A.C. Cosmetics
Edyta Betka using CND
Special thanks to