“I love those women that I play that have sexual power,” says Natalie Dormer. “But I’m trying to step away from it for me, and for my artistic growth. It’s also more who I am. I’m not that woman.”
There’s something about Dormer that’s led to her repeated casting as the wolf in sheep’s clothing—a character she alternately refers to as “femme fatale” and “honeypot.” Perhaps it’s her thoroughly sentient blue eyes that seem to hang on every word, that casual British sophistication, or the lopsided smirk. Whatever it is, she’s managed to carve out a niche as the sexy, Machiavellian maiden, first as Anne Boleyn on The Tudors, and then her deliciously cunning portrayal of throne-thirsty Margaery Tyrell on Game of Thrones.
But as Cressida, Dormer’s swapped her corset and regal wig for jet black military fatigues and a half-shaven head (think: Skrillex) tattooed with vivid green vines. She’s a member of the rebel faction that’s readying for a fight with the Capitol in Francis Lawrence’s The Hunger Games: Mockingjay–Part 1; one who’s tasked by President Coin (Julianne Moore) with creating propaganda videos showcasing the uprising’s symbolic leader (or Mockingjay), Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence).Dormer shot the two Mockingjay films back-to-back between Thrones seasons, giving herself just four days off between the end of shooting Season 4 in Croatia to starting on Mockingjay in Atlanta. Then, after wrapping the films, was back in Margaery mode a month later shooting Season 5 (which she’s since wrapped).
The Daily Beast spoke to Dormer about her badass new role and all things Game of Thrones.
So, the hair. I’m assuming you wear a wig on Thrones, because there’s no way they’d allow you to get this ’do otherwise—unlike Kit Harington, who told me he’s pretty much stuck with that haircut until the end of Thrones.
I was very grateful that we had the foresight before I started Thrones to go, “You know what? There might be roles you want to take that would require different hair.” [Kit] was an idiot. Lena, Emilia, and I are laughing because we sorted the wig thing out nice and early.
How were you cast as Cressida in Mockingjay?
I was a massive fan of the first movie and hadn’t read the novels, but then I got the phone call about Cressida and did an audition tape at home on a Canon 7D with my hair scraped back in a really tight ponytail, and sent it off to Francis. I got the phone call saying, “They love you. They want to know if you would be up for shaving your entire head.” I took a deep breath and said, “To be a part of The Hunger Games, yes.” But I got off lightly because I had a conversation with Francis and we came to the conclusion that we’d shave off just half the head.
I’m assuming your character isn’t named after Prince Harry’s on/off girlfriend.
Are they still together? [Laughs]
I don’t even know anymore. The Hunger Games universe is refreshing because it isn’t so patriarchal. You’ve got Katniss as the protagonist and Julianne Moore as the president of District 13.
Women are over 50 percent of the population. It’s one of the few films that actually represents us. What we’re aiming for in the industry is not to go, “Girl power! Wave the flag!” We want to get to a place where the gender is irrelevant, because then it’s about the personality, and about the story. What I love about Mockingjay–Part 1 is that President Coin or Cressida could have easily been played by a man, and if you look at Interstellar, the Anne Hathaway or Jessica Chastain roles would have been men years ago. I’m glad that cinema is catching up to what television has known for a while: that three-dimensional, complex women get an audience engaged as much as the men. I’m a feminist in the true sense of the word. It’s about equality.
It’s pretty crazy how that word, “feminist,” has become a trigger-word in 2014. Time magazine even included it on a potential list of words that should be “banned” in 2015.
It really is crazy that the word “feminist” can have negative connotations in 2014. It upsets me that the younger generation of women think it’s a dirty word, and associate it with a kind of militantism or a sense of female superiority. It’s not. It just means liberation, and equality.
Speaking of “equality,” I understand HBO has a “boobs mandate,” but lots of viewers of Thrones think the show could use some more dick in there—for symmetry.
Well, during the first season Alfie, Richard, and several of the men got naked—although not all the way. I suppose it’s just the rules of broadcast television, isn’t it? I think Thrones has been better than your average show with the equality, but they could definitely ramp it up! Absolutely.
Did you base the character of Margaery Tyrell on anyone in particular?
It was based on the media circus that surrounds Kate Middleton. It’s the Princess Diana effect. Whether you’re talking about the royal family in our country, or the first lady obsession in this country—Michelle Obama, or Hillary Clinton before her. Because Margaery is very politically savvy and our royal family tries to keep out of politics, it’s a hybrid of that statesmanship between the royal family and the first lady.
There was a particularly awkward sequence last season on Thrones where your character is forced to seduce the boy-king, Tommen Baratheon.
That scene was altered because I phoned Dan [Weiss] and David [Benioff] and said, “I’m not comfortable doing this.” It’s the nature of the beast that I’m four years into playing Margaery Tyrell and the big plot points of the book are in stone. You can’t change them. George R.R. Martin wrote a particular plot line, so on the specifics of Margaery and Tommen getting married, there’s nothing I can do. On the show, we had to find a way to navigate that in a sensitive way. There’s more of it next season too, and we’re trying to handle it with intelligence, and integrity.
Wasn’t as fun as seducing Brad Pitt in The Counselor. Not too many people get to put one over on that guy in a film—and do it convincingly.
When Ridley Scott was at the end of the phone, then of course I jumped at that opportunity. I thought, “I’ll play a femme fatale/honey-trap one more time for this.” [Laughs]
You seem to exude so much confidence onscreen, but I read that as a child you suffered quite a bit of bullying, and that growing up was very hard on you.
I suffered quite a bit of bullying, yes. I don’t know why. Life’s hard, man. School is hard, and I was a late-bloomer in finding out who I was and how to be myself. Kids are very cruel to each other. It was never mental—it was physical, and psychological. And that’s the worst kind of bullying because it’s hard to grasp on to and explain it to other people. It’s a cliché, but what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
That lesson could also apply to your acting career. You were cast as one of Heath Ledger’s conquests in Casanova, and then things went quiet for some time. What happened?
A lull. It was due to bad representation. I was attached to an independent film that didn’t have its money, and instead of keeping me on the audition circuit, they just took me off. When the movie fell through, I had spent many months not working, and was waitressing and doing data entry to make money—these temp job situations. It was a mismanagement situation that led to me not acting for 10 months. That was a very steep learning curve for me. Then I landed The Tudors and managed to pick up some momentum again.
Why do you feel you’ve found yourself in so many costume dramas?
There’s a lot of costume drama out there. I suppose it’s the destiny of a lot of British actors because we make a lot of that stuff, and Americans like a lot of that stuff. Look at the success of Downton Abbey. I’d love to run around in a T-shirt and jeans more often, and I’m going to do a lot more of that next year in the films Patient Zero and The Forest. Cressida was a nice departure—to challenge people’s perceptions of me in the long skirt with the long brown hair, and I enjoyed that because that’s what I want to do. I want to keep people guessing.