Maisie Williams: ‘I really should get a house in Ireland’
The ‘Game of Thrones’ star on her love of Ireland, the problem with stereotypes and her first feminist icon
Photograph: Eamonn M. McCormack/Getty Images
Winter really is coming for Maisie Williams. The final six episodes of Game of Thrones won’t drop until 2019. But the cast of the planet’s biggest TV show are already preparing for production and to say their final farewells to what Williams calls her safety blanket.
It’ll be goodbye to Ireland, too, where the English actor has spent most of her formative years. Between GoT seasons she also shot Niall Heery’s dramedy Gold and the literary biopic Mary Shelley in this country.
“I really should get a house in Ireland,” Williams says. “I’ll still come back. I love Dublin. I’ve spent a lot of time in the Irish countryside. I especially love Belfast. It’s just across the water, so there’s no reason not to keep popping over.”
Aged 20, Williams is old enough to have mastered the tricky-looking heels she wears to our meeting. As ever, she’s fashionably dressed, even though for almost a decade a formidable sense of ownership among Thronies has ensured that every frock, every utterance and every red-carpet appearance has been analysed and debated.
Williams has played GoT’s young survivalist noblewoman Arya Stark since she was 12. Spending most of her adolescence in front of millions of people hasn’t always been an easy business. In addition to “going through bodily changes in public!” and turning to home schooling in order to keep up with Game of Thrones’ gruelling production schedules, since 2015 she has had to keep Ollie Jackson, the boyfriend she met at school, out of the limelight.
Still, the world beyond Westeros is a strange and daunting place.
“It’s only now I’m starting to realise the characters that are available to me because of the way I look and the characters that aren’t available to me,” she says. “It’s a very shallow industry. And I don’t look like someone who is cast in roles that are, well, sexualised. Don’t get me wrong. I’m completely in awe of Hollywood’s leading ladies. I love looking at those totally jaw-droppingly beautiful women. But I think it’s sad that you only get to see one type of beautiful on screen.”
How unlike her own home life. Margaret Constance Williams – nicknamed Maisie after the tomboyish character in the Daily Mirror’s Perishers cartoon strip – grew up in Bristol alongside her three older siblings. Her mother, Hilary, was a university administrator who gave up her job to support her daughter on set. Before the rough and tumble of GoT – a job young Maisie signed up for hoping to earn enough to buy her own laptop – she was, she says, entirely oblivious to societal ills.
“I didn’t even know what the word feminist meant until I became actress,” she says. “Within my family I never felt that I had to conform to any kind of types. I had no idea about what was typically male or typically female. I didn’t even know about skin colour. I used to go trampolining with two guys called Andy. One of them was black and one of them was white. And I remember I was invited to a birthday party by one of the Andys, and Mum said, ‘It’s the black Andy.’ And I asked, ‘Which one is the black Andy?’ I didn’t even know. But I think it’s quite lovely that I was so clueless.”
She did, nonetheless, have an early feminist icon: Ginger the jailbreaking mastermind from Aardman’s Chicken Run. As we meet, Williams has just returned from filming a bucket-list comedy called Departures and The New Mutants, the X-Men franchise’s hotly tipped horror spin-off from Josh Boone, who directed The Fault in Our Stars. But even that project is not as exciting as Early Man, the seventh animated feature from Aardman Studios, in which Williams voices the Bronze Age football star Goona.
“Growing up, I loved Chicken Run, because it’s driven by Ginger, who is such a fantastic character,” says Williams. “So to be a part of that same world and to be playing another woman who is popular for her talents and not for her looks, and whose main story arc has nothing to do with the interest of boys, is very cool.”
Aardman is based not far from where Williams grew up, so working with the director Nick Park was, she says, something she would have jumped at regardless of what other offers were on the table.
“It’s such a huge part of life in the southwest” of England, she says. “I hold Aardman animation very close to my heart. It was huge, obviously, in my school growing up, to the point where I used to do claymation with my friends. We’d make these little stop-motion stories. There was a lot of stop in our stop-motion. But I’d never actually been to Aardman Studios. It was really exciting to look down at these little plasticine figurines. I would have been thrilled to just see the Chicken Run characters or the Wallace & Gromit characters. But to hold Goona, who I get to bring to life, was a total dream come true. It was all my Christmases come at once.”
The Early Man star can’t wait for the attendant merchandise to hit the shelves, so that her nephew’s Arya Stark collectables will finally have some company. X-Men’s Wolfsbane can join the posse in early 2019.
“My nephew is not old enough to have seen Game of Thrones,” she says with a laugh. “So he doesn’t quite understand the small collection of characters I’ve given him. Someday, as he grows up, he’s going to realise, and think, Hang on a minute – all these characters are you.”
Early Man is on general release
Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005) As the town’s giant-vegetable competition approaches, the titular Wigan duo get more than they bargained for when they attempt to brainwash rabbits into hating carrots.
Flushed Away (2006) Hugh Jackman is a pampered pet rat who gets accidentally flushed down a Kensington loo to an underground city populated by salt-of-the-earth types like Kate Winslet’s Rita and a scheming, genocidal Toad (Ian McKellen).
The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists! (2012) A good-natured pirate captain (Hugh Grant) takes on Queen Victoria, Charles Darwin (David Tennant) and rival cut-throats Black Bellamy (Jeremy Piven) and Cutlass Liz (Salma Hayek) in the hope of being crowned pirate of the year.
Shaun the Sheep Movie (2015) After some unfortunate business involving the Farmer, a caravan, a steep hill and amnesia, the woolly face that launched 1,000 backpacks must journey to the city to undertake a daring rescue mission.