Image: Rob Greig
The first thing you notice about Maisie Williams is how tiny she is, even with her five-foot frame stacked onto heels high enough to induce vertigo. Then she opens her mouth – and what strikes you is what a normal 17-year-old she is, a ball of energy, excitedly explaining that’s she just passed her driving test. ‘I nailed it,’ she exclaims, then pulls a face. ‘Well, I got eight minors.’
Somehow, Williams has kept a good head on her shoulders while navigating her teenage years and playing Arya Stark in ‘Game of Thrones’. Growing up in Bath, she dreamt of becoming a dancer and had never acted before landing the role of Arya. Her new film, ‘The Falling’, is a low-budget British indie directed by Carol Morley (who made the amazing ‘Dreams of a Life’). Based on real events, it’s an atmospheric, creepy drama about a mass hysteric fainting epidemic at an English all-girls school in 1969.
Maisie, you’re in one of the biggest TV shows in the world. Why did you want to make this tiny indie film in your spare time?
‘The character Lydia was just very different to anything I’ve done before. Sometimes it feels like no one can get “Game of Thrones” out of their heads. They think I just run around with swords, covered in mud and blood. It was lovely that Carol gave me the opportunity to prove I can do something else. I get sent loads of roles that are all action or moody teenagers. There are not many great roles when you’re 17. And the dialogue! Dialogue is something I don’t get a lot of on “Game of Thrones”.’
You left school in year 10. Was it weird putting a uniform back on?
‘Yeah. And school definitely wasn’t the happiest days of my life.’
‘By Year 9, I hated it. I was doing “Game of Thrones” and trying to fit in at school, catching up with my schoolwork, surrounded by people who didn’t like me. I was different and being different doesn’t go down well at secondary school. It wasn’t necessarily bullying, just girls being girls. They would have hated anyone – it was anger at the opportunity. That [opportunity] doesn’t happen to girls where we come from. We’re very normal. No one goes to drama lessons. It could have been any girl and we all would have pounced.’
Did you find out who your friends are?
‘Definitely, and it turns out that there’s only two of them, which is sad. But that happens to people when they go off to university. You don’t meet 50-year-olds who say they’re friends with all the same people that they went to school with. It just happened to me so much earlier. I was going home every day, going: Why don’t people like me? Why can’t I eat my lunch with so-and-so? It was sad, but the truth is people are going to hurt you, it’s just a fact of life.’
In ‘The Falling’, all the girls at a school start fainting. How do you pretend-faint without cracking your head open?
‘We had fainting rehearsals! There were a few cuts and bruises, but nothing serious. We also went into the backstory of this friendship group: who’s closest with who, who’s the odd one out. It was very different to anything I’ve ever done. All the actresses, we slept in one house together. It was just six, seven weeks of madness. I loved it.’
You’re 17 now. Do you feel like an adult?
‘17 is the weirdest age, because you can’t figure out if you want to grow up or be a child. Everyone’s like, “When are you going to move to London?” I don’t know. I feel like I want to be a kid a bit longer. Once you’re over 18, you’re over 18 for the rest of your life. You spend so long being like: I can’t wait till I’m 18. As soon as it happens, that’s it, you can buy all the fags and alcohol you want, and it’s boring.’
When you got cast as Arya, did you have any idea how big ‘Game of Thrones’ might be?
‘No! None of us did. It’s completely changed everyone’s lives. My mum was just thrilled I got the part. You hear horror stories about scary mothers who just want their kids to be famous. I could be waitressing in a restaurant and my mum would be happy, as long as I was happy.’
Is it odd earning so much money?
‘Yes, for a very normal family. I was the youngest of four and there wasn’t loads of money to go round. Now, to be moving out, learning to drive and getting a car – that’s what 17-year-olds dream of. The weird thing is, the richer you get, the more free stuff you get given. I wore a dress last night to a TV awards, which I’ve worn before. And that’s a no-no. You don’t wear the same dress twice. Why? I like it. It’s a nice dress. All that stuff is bullshit.’
Do you get treated differently at home now?
‘No! When I’m at home, I’m just Maisie. Nothing changes. If I started being braggy, my family would be like, “Shut up, Maisie! Who cares? Get off the sofa.”’
You seem to be very determined to stay normal.
‘I don’t want to change. At the start, people would be like: “This is going to change your life.” I remember being 13 and thinking: But I like my life. You constantly have people going: “You’re amazing. Your show is amazing.” But that’s not what I’m about. You can’t lose sight of where you came from.’
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?
‘Last year, I got a really good piece of advice. Someone said to me, “If you don’t respect someone, don’t listen to their opinion. If you respect them, do listen.” I have so much respect for my mother. If she says, “I don’t think that’s a good idea,” I will seriously think about it. If a troll on the internet says “You are ugly,” I don’t respect that person, so I’ll block it out. Equally, if someone I don’t know says, “You’re amazing,” I won’t listen to their opinion.’
What do you say to people who think there’s too much tits and arse in ‘Game of Thrones’?
‘I think it’s balanced, because we have so many strong female roles as well as the brothel scenes. And we’ve had a lot more male nudity recently. I think there’s been a lot of people saying, “When are we going to see the guys?”’
Do you watch the show with your family?
‘Yeah, I watch it with my mother, which is very embarrassing. But we’ve all got boobs.’
‘The Falling’ premieres at the London Film Festival on Sat Oct 11 and opens in cinemas in early 2015.
Find out what to see at the LFF
The London Film Festival (October 7-18) brings the best new cinema to the UK from all over the world. Here are the 30 films we’re most excited about, from Ben Wheatley’s ‘High-Rise’ to Michael Fassbender in ‘Steve Jobs’.