Even among superheroes, the X-Men have long been a metaphor for growing up, fighting oppression and finding one’s own space within a society that hates and fears them. Perhaps you’ll find that those themes sound too familiar for comfort in 2020, given everything that’s been going on in the year so far.
The same themes are amplified in the upcoming (and long delayed) instalment in the X-Men series, The New Mutants, released in cinemas recently. The film is a horror-tinged spin-off from that universe focusing on a younger set of superheroes-in-training.
Among them: Rahne Sinclair aka Wolfsbane, a teenage mutant with lycanthropic powers who – in a nutshell – was raised in an ultra-religious setting. (Her father was a reverend, strict to the point of abusive to correct any perceived “sins” so much so that he led an angry mob to hunt her down when her powers began to manifest.)
And few are as befitting to give depth to this complex and troubled character as the inimitable Maisie Williams, aka the British actress who – throughout her teenhood – won the world over playing anti-heroine Arya Stark in the HBO epic that was Game of Thrones (GOT).
“Rahne is a stark contrast to the characters I have played before. She is sensitive, she is fragile and nervous, she is uncomfortable in her own skin, and the opportunity to play someone with a physicality like that was something that I didn’t want to miss out on,” says Williams, now 23, in an e-mail interview ahead of our exclusive photo shoot. “When I was a teenager, I used to feel very uncomfortable in my own skin and I know Rahne feels that way.”
It’s no secret that Williams has struggled with bullying, especially when she had returned to school after filming a couple of seasons of GOT. Never mind that her much-loved character was a young noble-turned-deadly assassin, all to right heinous wrongs, Robin Hood-style. These days though, she’s doing the fighting on her own terms.
As is the case with many of the creatives of her generation, she has her fingers in many pies. She’s also a film producer and start-up founder, most notably for Daisie, an app she helped establish in 2017. Officially made public last year, it’s meant to be a platform that emphasises transparency to make it easier for up-and-coming creatives of different mediums (fashion, art, photography, film, music and more) to cross-pollinate and showcase their work.
“WHEN I WAS A TEENAGER, I USED TO FEEL VERY UNCOMFORTABLE IN MY OWN SKIN AND I KNOW RAHNE FEELS THAT WAY.” – MAISIE WILLIAMS
While she’s keeping her plans for it on the down-low, it’s hard to ignore how an endeavour like it feels particularly relevant at a time when multiple cultural movements are emerging to question and rebalance traditional power dynamics.
Read the manifesto on the app’s website that talks about how industry gatekeepers “hold all the power and select only those whom they deem talented enough to advance to the next level… It’s a divisive and alienating way to maintain the status quo and we stand with many others demanding radical transformation”.
“As an actor you have freedom, but with certain boundaries. At the end of the day, you’re still saying someone else’s words,” says Williams. “That’s why I’m so drawn to producing. I would love to create a show or film or anything from the ground up. That way you have full creative control of the set, costumes, words, lighting; you can orchestrate everything.”
It’s often said that actors struggle with being typecast as their most iconic characters, but one gets the sense that Williams – with her take-charge ethos and genre-spanning projects – is doing just fine post GOT. Aside from The New Mutants, her next television role comes in the British dark comedy Two Weeks to Live, scheduled to launch this autumn. In it, she plays Kim Noakes, a young woman who decides to re-enter real life after years of isolation and survivalist techniques she’s had to endure, imposed by her paranoid mother.
Her projects outside of film are likewise demonstrative of her zeal. Of late, she’s been something of a fashion darling, stealing the spotlight at Fashion Week where she’s a front-row regular at brands like Thom Browne and – for Fall/Winter 2020 – Givenchy. Even more recently, she was made one of five young ambassadors of Cartier’s Pasha de Cartier timepiece for achieving success due to her “differences, creativity, connection, multidisciplinary talents, and generosity”.
The most beguiling part about this pint-sized mogul-in-the-making (fun fact: her production company is called PintSized Pictures) however might just be that she doesn’t seem overly obsessed with all that acclaim. “That’s the beauty of being an overachiever,” she says. “Even if the acting ended tomorrow, there are so many things in life I want to pursue. I’ve always wanted to make dolls – maybe out of clay? And then I can make tiny clothes for them.”
Photography Rob Kulisek, Styling Lisa Jarvis Photography Assistants Alban Diaz & Jamie Finnegan Videography Amanda Louise Macchia Styling Assistant Nina Abdelfettah Hair Hei Tai Cheung Makeup Aurelia Liansberg/Wise & Talented, using Dior, Marc Jacobs & Absolution Cosmetics Manicure Sylvie Vacca Casting & Production Tasha Tongpreecha Production Manager Kate Kudinova