HAVE NO FEAR

Game of Thrones ac­tress Natalie Dormer finds a lot to be pas­sion­ate about, writes Jonathan Dean

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Profile -

Al­most an hour into lunch at a fran­tic restau­rant in Lon­don, Natalie Dormer and I fi­nally talk about her lat­est film. It might have passed un­men­tioned, as the ac­tress had spent three hours lark­ing about for our pho­tog­ra­pher, and talk­ing time felt equally rest­less and ram­bling. And such was the back and forth about Game of Thrones, the show for which she is best known, and its many pros and cons that her up­com­ing film, The For­est, was lost in the woods. It’s fine, as generic hor­rors go, but won’t be what she is, or wants to be, re­mem­bered for.

Game of Thrones, though, is. It’s back on April 25, for its sixth se­ries, and the last time we saw Dormer’s re­gal Mar­gaery Tyrell, who uses her brains rather than dragons in a re­lent­less, de­vi­ous rise to power, she had been locked in an aw­ful jail by fa­nat­ics known as the Spar­rows, who are, es­sen­tially, Is­lamic State with­out YouTube. What hap­pens next to Mar­gaery, one of the hope­fuls for the saga’s Iron Throne?

“She’s re­ally f..king roy­ally screwed,” Dormer beams.

She is en­er­getic com­pany, all “babe” and ges­tic­u­la­tion, re­lieved that the role she has played for five years is still of­fer­ing chal­lenges. “What I love is that you’ve seen this re­ally com­pe­tent woman, but now she’s over­whelmed. For the first time, it looks like Mar­gaery isn’t go­ing to win.” The show’s sto­ry­lines for the next sea­son have moved be­yond Ge­orge RR Martin’s nov­els, so the cast don’t know what’s go­ing to hap­pen. Can you ever turn down a plot? “No. You sign on the dot­ted line, give them seven years and don’t get to al­ter the writ­ing.” But the writ- ers have no love for their char­ac­ters. Are you wor­ried about what a script may hold? “Not re­ally. An ac­tor is a con­duit to a writer. The mes­sage comes from the writ­ing. I can’t — as Natalie — de­fend ev­ery­thing Mar­gaery does, as that’s not my job.”

The prob­lem, though, is that dur­ing its pre­vi­ous sea­son Game of Thrones lost a chunk of fans, mainly thanks to its treat­ment of the fe­male char­ac­ters. To keep it vague for those who have yet to see it, one put-upon fe­male lead was raped while a child­hood friend looked on; an­other, younger one was burned alive, for lit­tle ap­par­ent nar­ra­tive gain.

“Do you watch the show?” Dormer asks, fix­ing me with a stare made more in­tense when I re­alise that I haven’t yet seen her blink. Yes. “Do you think the fe­male char­ac­ters are still well rounded?” I say the nu­dity has evened out be­tween the gen­ders, but more pro­longed, aw­ful things now hap­pen to women. “There are some misog­y­nis­tic char­ac­ters in Game of Thrones,” she says.

Yes, diehards say that all the time, that it’s set in a me­dieval era. But that rape and that in­cin­er­a­tion? Do you get why peo­ple thought it had gone too far? She pauses.

“All I know is that I turn on the news, and it’s cov­er­ing a boy drown­ing off the coast, or chil­dren be­ing shown be­head­ing videos. The hor­ror of hu­man na­ture is preva­lent in our world, and I ap­pre­ci­ate that some peo­ple want to turn on the telly for es­capism — but if that’s what you want, don’t watch Game of Thrones. I choose fan­tasy to vent, to process com­plex political, sex­ual and so­cial pol­i­tics at the safe dis­tance of fic­tion. For me, that’s what art should be.”

She starts tap­ping her hand. Louder thuds to ham­mer home points. I try to in­ter­rupt, but she’s on a roll, high­light­ing the pos­i­tives of the in­creased nas­ti­ness of the huge show. “I think the fact it can start a con­ver­sa­tion about the sta­tis­tics of rape and how much it hap­pens within the fam­ily ...” She trails off, but picks up. “I’m not say­ing it’s OK ...” But she’s not say­ing it is meant to be OK?

“Ex­actly. I find parts of the show dif­fi­cult to watch, but I don’t think we do young peo­ple any favours by shel­ter­ing them.”

It’s an odd lunch: she only drinks wa­ter, while I eat scal­lops, but she in­sists. She’s ea­ger to please, of­ten us­ing my first name, telling me I’m right. Well read (Pin­ter and Shake­speare) and fond of words younger ac­tors don’t of­ten use (“ab­so­lutism”, “kow­tow”), she is a 34-yearold so much in con­trol, thanks to Game of Thrones and her role in The Hunger Games as the half-shaved rebel Cres­sida, that she found fund­ing for a thriller about a blind mu­si­cian, In Dark­ness, writ­ten with her “other half”, An­thony Byrne, a di­rec­tor. It goes into pro­duc­tion soon. She’s wor­ried about hand­ing in a fi­nal draft, though, and says she gets why Ri­d­ley Scott re­leased his di­rec­tor’s cut of Blade Run­ner. Peo­ple can’t let go, and I sense she won’t be happy to, ei­ther.

Back in 2010, Dormer was nom­i­nated for an Ian Charleson award for clas­si­cal act­ing, run by The Sun­day Times and the Na­tional Theatre. She says stage work is where she came from,

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