HAVE NO FEAR
Game of Thrones actress Natalie Dormer finds a lot to be passionate about, writes Jonathan Dean
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,