The star on 'Thrones,' social media, and fame: 'I don't want to f--k it up'
As Arya Stark on Game of Thrones, Maisie Williams is all tomboy—short dirty hair, a favorite sword, and a thirst for vengeance. In real life, the now 18-year-old admits she sometimes relishes being girly. Relaxing at the St. Regis hotel in San Francisco before the drama’s U.S. premiere, she talks about getting glammed up for the spotlight. “It’s fun for the other cast members to come downstairs at the hotel, and everyone’s like, ‘We all look so good!'” she says. “Everyone feels great, we’ve all got dresses on, and no one’s wearing armor.”
Still, she says those events can be intimidating: “There’s loads of people photographing you and asking questions. It gets a bit intense.”
Intense might be an understatement when it comes to all the attention that’s been heaped on Williams since the homeschooled actress from Bristol, England, landed the role of Arya on HBO’s dark fantasy drama at age 12. She’s grown up onscreen before a global audience, and after scoring three SAG nominations for best ensemble and almost a million Twitter followers, Williams is working on her career outside of Westeros: She recently wrapped The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, where she plays a homeless teen trying to sail away to an island, and producers are chasing Williams for a movie version of the hit zombie videogame The Last of Us.
But the more famous Williams becomes, the more she strives to remain a person she respects. “I don’t want to be an asshole,” she repeatedly emphisizes.
Here, the decidedly un-jerky Williams takes a few questions about fame, answers a lot of questions about Thrones, and—most important—reveals Monopoly piece kicks the most butt (Note: Portions of this interview have appeared previously online or in print, but this is the first time the entire interview has been published).
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Five years, five seasons. How has being Arya changed your life?
MAISIE WILLIAMS: This last year, the show’s become massive, overwhelming. It’s made me think about my future. I want to [act] the rest of my life, but I don’t want paparazzi everywhere. I don’t want to take a private jet everywhere. People don’t just do that because they’ve got the money, but because they’re sitting in airport lounges and literally doing photo after photo. And I don’t want to be an asshole to anyone. If I watched somebody on television every week and I met them and they were an asshole to me, it would break my heart. But it is an overwhelming life. Since the beginning, people said, “Your life is gonna change,” but I never believed it until this year.
So unlike Jack Gleeson—who played King Joffrey—you want to stick with acting after Thrones?
I want to stick with performing—acting, singing, dancing. It’s the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do. It’s the only thing I’m good at. But I don’t want to f— it up. And I can totally see how it happens. I’m lucky to have a great group of people around me. I look at Lena Headey; I admire her lifestyle. She goes to the awards shows and does the famous things, but still lives a very normal life. I also want to live anonymously, and that’s the one thing I miss: being anonymous.
Who do you look up to in the industry?
I look up to people who are not affected by this industry. Like, I met Keira Knightley at the SAG Awards, and she was just so normal and so nice. When they’re just not affected, you just think, “Teach me!” This industry is crazy. It’s completely mental. Someone makes an itinerary, then [a] car picks you up and takes you over here, and then you get [a] plane, and it’s just easy to rely on other people and become a bit like, “How do I make coffee?” You hear these horror stories. Then you meet somebody who’s like, “Nope.” That’s the sort of person I look up to.
It gives you assurance that there is a way for you to stay who you are.
Yeah. Because before I got into this industry I thought famous people were mean. Then you come into the industry and you realize that’s not what people are like at all. That’s just a small minority, and they’re just the people who get the headlines. No one reads about how Keira Knightley did a really nice interview. That’s not a headline.
What does it feel like when you see a huge poster with Arya on it?
You get a little sensitive. It’s like a little buzz inside you, and you’re like, “You did that, and you’re just as much a part of this as the other characters.” When I was younger, I felt like I was watching it all happen, and now I really feel like a part of it.
Arya would absolutely hate walking a red carpet. How do you feel about it?
Rule number one is to not read what people think about you on the Internet, because it makes you sad. But sometimes I love it. I like shocking people. People are like, “That’s not an appropriate thing for a 13-year-old to be wearing!” I’m like, “Guys, I’m nearly 18!” But I just think, “One day you’re going to realize my age and you’re going to feel silly.”
What’s your least favorite red carpet questions?
“If you could play any other character besides Arya who would it be?” It’s like, season five and we’re still answering this question. I don’t know who I want to play because I get to play Arya and I think she’s really cool. But if I say that then people are like, “Oh, she’s arrogant.” I’m not, I just think she’s really cool. The other one is, “Would do you want to end up on the Iron Throne?” I’m like, “Hard to know. Let’s watch and see together shall we?”
You’re huge on social media, but you’ve also had troll trouble.
If you get misinterpreted, you can’t really win, and I’ve had to accept that over the last couple years. I always have to sit back and remember what I meant to say and who I am, and be happy with that and always be true to that. But it’s hard. It’s like a minefield in this industry, and it’s hard to know what to say and how to word things. There isn’t a guide to doing it right. No one really knows how people are going to react to stuff. I just keep doing what I do, and then I talk to my mom about everything and she always calms me down about stuff.
Is there something in particular that someone’s written about you that bothered you?
Not recently. It’s just that when you say something, and then it gets misinterpreted, and you just want it to go away, and then another person sees it, and then it just spirals and spirals. It kind of gives you a thick skin, and that helps because then I can go into see any casting director and be like, “I’ve got this.” I try and take positives from it and learn from it. And I think that’s like with every 17 year old, but it’s just a bit different because [my tweets are] blasted to nearly a million people.
What kind of parts is Hollywood offering you now?
High school movies, and that’s a bit boring, really. I like to go for characters that I can become rather than be, like, a normal girl. The cool thing about this job is that you get to pretend to be other people. So it’s good to pretend to be cool people. Last year I did a high school movie, but it’s called The Falling and it’s about a mass fainting epidemic in an all-girls school in 1969. I still want to hang out with my peers and talk about having crushes on boys, but in a more interesting way than “the quarterback gets the geeky girl,” you know?
Any updated on starring in a movie version of The Last of Us?
Nothing is set in stone. But if they wait around too much longer I’m going to be too old. So we’ll see.
Any new projects that you’re looking at?
There’s this little British series rumbling about that would probably start after I finish Thrones. I’ve only read the first episode. It will basically be a superhero character, but she’s female, and it’s in the same sort of vein as Kick Ass where she’s not actually super—like she doesn’t actually have powers—but kind of just takes it upon herself and is kind of a little mute, doesn’t speak very much. She’s not in lycra, she wears jeans and a T-shirt—which is the kind of superhero I would want to be if I were a superhero.
Any plans for more school?
No. I’m just having too much fun doing this. I’m enjoying traveling the world, and I can do that during work rather than going traveling.
A typical Maisie Williams day: What’s that like?
I’m quite social. I go to work and then speak to everyone there. Then when I’m home I love meeting up with friends. I call my mom at lunchtime.
How do you keep busy during all that downtime?
I love playing Monopoly on my phone. I play as the boot because I see that as the best piece. Then I put the other player as a thimble, or something really stupid like the wheelbarrow. This is just to make me feel better if they do win. I’m like, “Yeah, but you’re still a wheelbarrow.” I’m so immature.
Have your feelings about the show changed over the years?
At the beginning, I knew nothing. I didn’t know if it was good show or a big show. Season three was when I really realized people really like this show. Now I’m just proud to have done this, because now it makes sense in my head how successful this is. I’m like, “Yeah, I’m in that. I did that.” When I was younger, I guess I didn’t really give the show the credit it deserved, and now I love it.
What’s the hardest thing on Thrones you’ve ever had to do?
When there’s little [stunt or effects gags]—like a sword gag or a blood gag. We can usually go again, but sometimes you have to get it in one shot. Or you can go again, but it’s a bit of an inconvenience. So when there’s a lot of things to think about in one take, it’s just keeping your wits about you. And just those little scenes where you’ve got to swing around and hit that guy, but then not hit that thing, and then make sure you don’t stumble over here, and then make it believable, and make sure it looks like the sword’s going into his belly—it’s kind of hard. Someone will take you through it, and be like, “Okay, you do this, this, this, this,” and your heart’s racing before you go. I had a lot of that in season three with Rory, and I’m like, “Rory’s been doing this all day. If I mess up now it’s going to be so embarrassing.”
Every actor always says their cast is like one big family. But is there anyone on Thrones you don’t get along with?
As the show gets bigger, it’s just the law of averages, right? You get a big group of people, there are going to be a few that you just don’t click with, and that’s definitely the case. I hope that no one doesn’t like me, but you just don’t click with some people and you just stay friendly and maybe someone’s a bit quieter and someone’s got a bigger personality. You think, “Oh, that’s a bit strange,” or “We didn’t really click.” But you don’t have to sit with them because there’s 70 million other cast members. The times when we really get to see each other and socialize is like, in a sick hotel like this, no one’s really tense. They’re all pretty happy.
Arya’s a fan favorite, yet a murderous character. Could she ever do something to turn off fans?
This is what I find strange about Arya and her fans. Honestly, I think there will always be a few who will back her no matter what. Because a lot of other characters do the “right” thing and lose their head. I feel like episode 10 last year was almost that. So many people were like, “Why didn’t you [kill The Hound?]” You have to think about this logically. This guy has been awful to her for years, even in his last moments. She’s very confused. She’s experienced far too much for any person, let alone a child. She doesn’t know what the right decision is. All she knows is she’s not going to give him his last wish. She’s not your favorite character because she always does the right thing. She’s a real person, and sometimes you’re going to disagree with what she does. That’s what I love about the show. I think you’re going to see more of her emotions and decisions coming out this season that are different than what your “favorite character” might do. She’s losing that feisty-little-girl thread.
Will she ever see the Hound again?
It’s unlikely. If she does go back to Westeros, she’s got one thing on her mind, and I don’t think she wants to kill him anymore. In an ideal world where everybody lives happily ever after, they’d become friends and have a little log cabin together.
It would be interesting to have Arya reunite with Sansa at some point. They could trade some stories.
Sansa is starting to realize she’s in a powerful position. But like any normal girl, she wants this to go away. I think most of us would be like Sansa in a similar situation. Sansa’s probably one of the most realistic portrayals of a [teenage] girl in the show.
Who’s had it rougher: Arya or Sansa?
If Arya had gone through what Sansa has, she’d be dead. If Sansa had gone through what Arya has, she’d be dead. They’re both just good at handling what they’ve been put under.
Say Arya could cross one name off her list. Who would you pick?
The Red Woman. She’s bad news to everyone. [Melisandre has] been underestimated. She’s got a lot of power over everyone and ultimately she can be a really dangerous person. Arya doesn’t know that, but Maisie as an audience member knows that. We are seeing cracks in Cersei, but Melisandre doesn’t look like she’s losing steam anytime soon.
Putting Arya in a room with Cersei would be so insane.
It would be amazing, and one would end up dead by the end of it. I don’t know if I want her dead. She’s a baddie, but we love to hate her.
Thrones fans can be super intense. What was your weirdest encounter?
People love asking me to say the [list of characters Arya wants to kill] with their name in it. It’s quite creepy. It’ll be like “Joffrey, Cersei, Alan…” Just, like, a strange suburban dad’s name in the middle. Then they’re recording it and they’re just like, “Thank you.”
What more can you tease up for Arya this season?
I think it’s the first time that Arya’s story is really only complete when you look at all 10 episodes. Obviously people only watch it a week at a time, and I think at first people are going to be like, “Where is this heading?”—until we get to the later episodes. Then they’re going to be like, “That makes sense now. I get it.”
Only the producers and George R.R. Martin know Arya’s fate. Are you asking them what happens next?
Definitely. [The showrunners] treated me to a pizza, and I just sat there asking questions and they won’t answer anything. It’s petrifying.
When you watch old episodes, is there anything you wish you’d done differently?
I can tell when I was really tired that day on the set. I look back at when I was 12 and I was thinking, “I’m hungry, I’m tired”—all those silly 12-year-old things. This year I worked with a girl who was 12 and has been [acting] since she was 3, and I’m like, “You are so much more on it than I ever was.” I was just playing with the chickens or just looking at the horses or yawning. She’s looking at the lights and listening to what people are saying. And I was like, “Oh my God, I’m going to need to up my game!”
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