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admin   April 13, 2022   No Comment   Gallery Update - Interviews - News & Updates - Photoshoots

GQ-After becoming one of the most recognizable faces on the planet, Maisie Williams committed to a radical next step: being herself

Last winter, Maisie Williams’ front door swung in the wind and was held in place by a chain that a sharp kick could snap. Williams and her partner, the designer and fashion entrepreneur Reuben Selby, were locking up to leave for a six-week holiday when they realised the latch was broken. There wasn’t time to fix it, so the security of the home they’d just moved into (a 1930s cottage in south-west England, filled with all their earthly possessions) would have to rely on a thin sliver of metal and the goodwill of their postwoman. They decided to simply let life happen.

When the pair returned, nothing had changed. Those earthly possessions remained. The cold house was as together as they’d left it, save for the brown leaves that had blown in through the door and scattered across the hallway.

Williams feels safe here. This wouldn’t be possible in London where, until early 2021, she’d lived for five years. She’d first moved to the capital during the frenzy around becoming one of the most recognisable young actors in the world – partway through the eight years she spent playing the prickly and audacious heroine Arya Stark in the fantasy juggernaut, Game of Thrones. It was an HBO show of the scale and lasting pop cultural stature that seemed to die with the advent of the streaming era.

And then it ended, and her obligations changed.

Part of that aftermath involved leaving the city for somewhere that wasn’t her childhood home, but reminded her of it: pastoral; quiet; the kind of place in which you trust the person who delivers your post. Which is where she is now, an hour from the capital, picking me up from the station in a black Tesla, waving semi-maniacally from behind the steering wheel.

The last time we’d seen each other had been six months prior, at Selby’s London Fashion Week presentation. Back then, she’d come off the back of shooting her forthcoming project, Pistol: a Danny Boyle-directed series about the origins of the Sex Pistols in 1970s London, in which she plays Jordan, the model and punk pioneer who worked alongside Vivienne Westwood in the band’s seminal days. Her hair and eyebrows were bleached, giving her the appearance of a gorgeous and lethal nocturnal animal. Today, though, her roots are creeping in, deep brown, in a cool, unkempt way. From behind wire-rimmed glasses, her brows are shades of salt and pepper.

Her new hometown is part of a wider, unwritten plan. “I’ve always missed that part of my life where there isn’t pressure when you go to the shop and no one cares who you are or what you’re doing or what you’re wearing.” She tells me this with legs curled like a wishbone on the grey sofa in her new living room, wearing acid-wash Acne denim, a Marine Serre second skin and an Off-White logo T-shirt.

Her place doesn’t yet have the air of a “celebrity” home; right now, the design imprint is limited to the furnishings. But it’s cosy. Looking out to the garden, the grass descends into a pit of woodland, with knotted trees and bramble. Roe deer and foxes, rabbits and squirrels come by sometimes, she says. “But no people. I’m in heaven.”


It’s not that Williams is tired of company, more that she’s been battling the idea of being constantly seen for a decade. Leaving London has helped her to answer questions that have plagued her for a while: “What do I really care about? And what do I want to achieve when no one is looking?”

London is like Instagram, an insular gathering of peers and tangential acquaintances, all speaking at each other, conscious of their accomplishments. There, people – whether they’re public figures or not – form themselves in reverse; consider how they want to be seen, then act accordingly. “We subconsciously base our goals and achievements on the way they’re viewed by other people,” she observes, knowing she’s a part of it. “And it doesn’t matter whether or not you achieve those things, because it’s for the satisfaction of someone else. It never feels as good as you pictured it in your head.”

She refers to her own internal sparring as an identity crisis, “but I didn’t confront it until I moved here,” she admits. “The more I tried to be like, ‘Am I like her? Am I like him?’, the more confused I got. Now I just feel like I am doing everything I want to do when I want to do it.” She acts, yes, but her bailiwick boasts many facets: venture capitalist, producer, podcaster, occasional streamer on Twitch. Then there’s her work in sustainability, something that imbues her fashion partnerships with H&M and the luxury brand Coperni. The latter’s CEO and co-founder, Arnaud Vaillant, called her the voice of a generation. “She embodies the strong values of a diverse, innovative and responsible future,” he tells me.

By embracing all these things, she’s quelled her own crisis. Now, Williams says, “I look in the mirror and realise: ‘I see who you are.’”

This level of self-awareness often comes and goes when your job involves playing other people. But looking back before fame was part of her life, Williams remembers an upbeat childhood that gave her solid foundations. Born in 1997, she spent her early years in Clutton, a Somerset parish village of barely 1,500 people, encircled by farmland, with her mother, stepfather and older siblings. She was “outspoken and peculiar”, she says, performing for her friends with the sole intention of making them laugh. She took up dancing classes at primary-school age, and says she was “just very happy at home”.

Unlike most young actors, Williams got ahead in the industry with no formal training or nepotistic leg-up. She was raised in a council house – a fact she once considered almost unremarkable; but today she knows how much harder it is for actors from working-class backgrounds to make it big. Her mother now owns the same house, and Williams goes back from time to time. “I meet people who have no idea how I got to where I am,” she says, loosely clasping the tips of her fingers. Does that assumption annoy her? “No, no it doesn’t! People can think what they like about anyone.” That, like most things, is out of her control.

Williams leaves contemplative pauses in her speech, sometimes as long as 10 seconds, between the end of a question and when she finally breaks the silence to answer it. A decade deep into doing this, she knows when someone is listening. Her words unfurl carefully; she’s seen her interview quotes transformed into tabloid headlines enough times to regret parts of otherwise normal exchanges. Today, on the off-chance she says something she might not later recognise, she chooses to address it out loud.

“That doesn’t sound right either,” she says. “That just sounds like something I’ve read someone else say.” I’d asked Williams to explain the moment she knew that this – acting on camera, being in the public eye – was going to be her future. She goes back and forth, starting and stopping, takes one of those long pauses, and then finds these words: “I knew that the path laid out before me was going to be surprising for a lot of people who knew me, but on the inside I knew that was right.”

In August 2009, just a few months after turning 12 years old, Williams was cast in a role she’d unwittingly spent years preparing for. That adolescent tenacity played well into her role as Arya Stark, the headstrong daughter of the House Stark – violent, whip-smart, powerful. It was the first time she had been in front of a camera.

The casting director Robert Sterne still remembers Maisie’s first audition. “We had seen hundreds of young people for the part,” he tells me, “and then in walked Maisie being honest and brave and unfazed and direct and funny; asking interesting questions. I don’t know how she did it.” Her portrayal of the character of Arya, he says, seemed fully formed from the very beginning.

The character stuck out for many reasons, not least because the idea of a young woman being offered the chance to wield a sword and not vie for the affection of a male character was so anomalous in television at the time. And Maisie, who appreciated the rough-and-tumble experience and did many of her own stunts, leaned into it. The show’s writers “revelled in writing more and more for her character,” Sterne says. “She had a lot to take on and rose to the challenges.”

The show ran for eight seasons, and by the time she’d hit her mid-teens, the world knew who she was. For the first time, she was exposed to that level of fame, walking her first red carpet for season three in Los Angeles. Until then, the show’s younger cast rarely made public appearances. “I’m grateful we were protected from it until that point, too,” Williams says, scratching behind her ear. “If that had happened when I was 12, I’m not sure what that would have done to me mentally.”

She stayed grounded as a consequence, learning how to handle the pressures of fame by twisting them into new forms of motivation. She’d left school by this point – the show’s popularity, she says, led to people changing around her – but instead opted to study at a dance school in her late teens, flitting between Thrones shoots and performances.

“She was just like everyone else, really,” says George Hill, who taught Williams at Bath Dance College at that time. Hill recalls a performance Williams’ class was preparing for, one she was desperate to be involved in but couldn’t rehearse for because of her filming schedule. That restraint didn’t seem to phase her; Williams made her own plan. “She came back in [after the shoot] and somehow knew everything,” Hill says.


Williams remembers the day she was handed a bra in the Game of Thrones costume trailer. It was a coming-of-age moment that, in the context of the show, marked the beginning of a distancing from, if not the fun of playing Arya Stark, then at least the way Williams identified with her. Up until the show’s final season, this image of a violent young girl – tomboyish, if old-fashioned, seems like an apt descriptor – was how she’d been seen by the world. “I think that when I started becoming a woman, I resented Arya because I couldn’t express who I was becoming,” she says. “And then I also resented my body, because it wasn’t aligned with the piece of me that the world celebrated.”

Her recollections of the show are wise but not calculated: you believe her when she says she had a great time working on Game of Thrones just as much as you do when she airs opinions that some may construe as contentious. Maybe that’s the byproduct of playing one character for such a long stretch of time: once you’re out the other side, they’re still lingering like a spectre, one that comforts and irks you in equal measure.

I ask her what parts of the show she misses. Then the silence comes, dead air filled faintly with the crackle of candles on the windowsills.

Eventually, she speaks: “Can I say none of it?”

To miss something would mean you wish for its return, which suggests a dissatisfaction with how we are in the here and now. That’s not a Maisie Williams MO.

“I don’t think it’s healthy [to miss it], because I loved it,” she says. “I look at it so fondly, and I look at it with such pride. But why would I want to make myself feel sad about the greatest thing that ever happened to me? I don’t want to associate that with feelings of pain.”

She’s dipping her toes into a return in other ways, having reprised the role of Arya (in voice only) for MultiVersus, a Warner Bros-produced video game in which characters from across the entertainment conglomerate’s IP battle it out in teams – you can watch her go head-to-head with Bugs Bunny. She enjoyed bringing an element of frivolity to a previously serious character.

But would she do it again on screen? She grins at the question. “I’m not saying it would never happen, but I’m also not saying it in this interview so that everyone goes…” – she gasps, and slips into the skin of a GoT superfan: “‘The spin-off! It’s coming!’ Because it’s not. It has to be the right time and the right people,” Williams adds, her voice warm, and winking a little now. “It has to be right in the context of all the other spin-offs and the universe of Game of Thrones.” But most importantly: “It has to be the right time for me.”

It’s approaching lunchtime, and we decide to get some fresh air. There’s a walk that starts in the bowels of the house’s back garden and takes us out onto a road where horse riders pass. It rained yesterday. “Will it still be muddy?” Williams asks Selby, who’s deep in fashion week preparation. He grimaces a little: affirmative. So she stretches on a pair of tan Rombaut trainers – her chic outdoor shoes – and we set out, hoping for the best.

The air feels grey, but the thorny path in front opens up into wide vistas blotted with auburn-splotched ponies, long rows of slanted solar panels and little houses in the distance. Taking stock of the mud situation, we walk and talk.

Williams compares the aftermath of Game of Thrones’ lengthy TV tenure to “being born again”. The opportunity to embody new characters on a similarly deep level excited her. Even the simple things, like dying her hair carnation pink, suddenly mattered. “I was rejecting a lot of the pieces of me and my image that I’d been so well known for,” she says. But it wasn’t a crisis moment. “It was more that I needed to express myself.” Later, she says the changes were both personally and professionally motivated, to allow those who may have typecast her to see that she’d changed. “I think that sometimes other people need a helping hand to see that you’re a different person,” she says, “and I don’t resent that.”

The hunger for acting persisted, but its connotations changed. “I quickly realised that it was more linked to the shame of being in one good thing and never doing anything again, rather than actually asking myself the question: what do you want to do now?” Williams says.

She wanted to work on a mini-series – something she knew the beginning and ending of – and found it with the well-received dark dramedy Two Weeks to Live, a Sky and HBO Max-broadcasted series about a young outcast avenging the death of her father by seeking out the murderer. It was shot and released within a neater timeframe than the 2020 movie The New Mutants, Marvel’s X-Men spin-off where she played a lead role. For a number of reasons, her first major movie took three years from the shoot wrapping for it to eventually reach cinemas. I ask her why, and as she looks up to answer the question, we realise the muddy patch ahead turns into practical marshland. “I think this is where the horses go so it really chews up the ground,” she says. Her trainers are caked in mud; my trousers are soaked. “Should we turn back?”

She has nothing but fond and “extremely fulfilling” memories of that project, shooting in Boston with stars like Anya Taylor-Joy and Charlie Heaton, in the summer of 2017. “We were all these young starlets who’d had a taste of that world,” she says. The double hit of the Disney-Fox merger paired with the pandemic are her hypotheses as to why the film didn’t do well; it was thrown into cinemas when no one was going out to watch films. Rumoured creative tension between the studio and director Josh Boone has also been listed as a reason for fans’ disdain for the project, which earned some aggressively negative reviews. Williams isn’t so bothered. “I can’t remember what publication it was, but someone said it was the worst Marvel movie ever made,” she says, letting out a tickling laugh. “I still feel kinda proud of that!”

Williams is a master at moving on now. The roles that she plays seem sacred only for a short time, before she makes the conscious decision to remove herself from the places they come from. What comes after – the response, the criticism, the hysteria – isn’t a part of it.

When we meet again nearly two weeks later, this time at the BFI on London’s Southbank, the presence of Pistol in her life seems to linger still. She turns up in a pinstripe grey suit with a cropped jacket and some sneakers, like a business exec coming to a meeting straight from the club. Her hair is as punk-ish as it was the last time.

She chose here because it feels like part of Pistol’s early history. The cast of the show – which includes model Iris Law, Enola Holmes star Louis Partridge as Sid Vicious, Australian actor Toby Wallace, and relative newcomer Anson Boon as Johnny Rotten – would hang out around here in between rehearsals at the nearby ITV building. It was the early days of the third lockdown. The city centre was dead still; Williams, like the rest of her co-stars, was returning to acting after a dormant stretch spent doing other things.

The show is still in the edit when we speak, so Williams tries to explain it to me. “It’s like an album,” she says; a “heart attack in every episode” body of work to be appreciated as a whole, rather than episodically. “It doesn’t owe you entertainment,” she teases, “but it is going to make you feel things.”

The process of winning this role started back in the late summer of 2020. Williams was in Paris, working on a number of jobs – including Selby’s debut fashion presentation – when her agent called, mentioning the project and Boyle’s attachment. He’d been on her hit list for a while. At the time, it felt like everyone was vying for a piece of Pistol, and by the time she returned to London, many of her male friends had sent in audition tapes for the lead roles. When her own time came, she read the suggested scene and sent back the tape. “I didn’t hear anything for ages,” she says. She’d half written off the concept of it happening, but then the NDA arrived, alongside a series of photos and stories of the character she’d be auditioning for: Jordan.

Born in East Sussex, Jordan made the commute from her comely English town to Vivienne Westwood’s Sex boutique in Chelsea practically every day, hair scorched with peroxide, dark makeup dragged to her temples, and wearing an assortment of leather and PVC outfits that made fellow passengers gawk. She was a pivotal voice at the advent of punk, and a strong participant in the band’s rise to fame. Her look was confrontational: she’d cycle to the train station sometimes wearing nothing but a membrane rain mac, breasts on show (paparazzi photos of Williams recreating this scene showed up last year).

Williams recalls those first conversations with the show’s casting directors: we want you to read for this role of Jordan, but you have to know there’s a lot of nudity, they said. She was hesitant at first, “just because of everything that happens in the industry and all the horror stories I’ve heard…I want to be in this show because I’m the best person to do this, not because I’m the only girl who’ll take her top off.”

She wrote a note back to them, airing her concerns. Later, her agent forwarded a clarification from Boyle that put her mind at rest. “Jordan was a political statement,” the note made her realise. “Her entire ethos was turning the male gaze in on itself, and it was overtly sexual in a way that made other people feel ashamed.” She could connect with the idea of being seen as a weirdo. “If I take my top off, I want to make other people feel uncomfortable.”

For her second audition, she joined a Zoom call with Boyle wearing a sheer KNWLS top with no bra underneath. She’d started that journey to embodying Jordan; Boyle seemed impressed by how greatly she’d leaned into the character. “And it worked out,” Williams says, grinning. “I got the part.”


“It was the perfect opportunity for [Williams] to own a big character,” Boyle tells me. “She’s a great realistic actor, but Jordan [rejects] the very idea of everyday life. Maisie’s a bit like that herself. In a quieter, sweeter way, there’s a touch of Oscar Wilde about her, leading an awkward, self-conscious nation into being braver about sexuality, sensuality, gender, beauty…”

The show started shooting in March 2021 after a two-month rehearsal process, and the coterie of kids dove headfirst into a recreated version of 1970s London. Williams insisted she didn’t go method (“I definitely didn’t like, do any drugs”), but she revelled in the opportunity to detach herself from her own life for a while. Her phone – usually a constant fixture of set breaks on Game of Thrones, planning her social calendar – would stay in her trailer. In the era of Pistol, “you weren’t in constant contact with people, so I tried to calm my mind of modern-day stresses.”

She also had the unique opportunity to learn from Jordan, who consulted on the show and was the only non-immediate member of cast and crew allowed on set. “Maisie is somebody who never really wants to be encompassed by security,” Jordan tells me. “She wanted to push it all to the limit.” If Williams seemed cool on the surface, things weren’t so straightforward underneath: “It was a lot of pressure,” Williams recalls, “but honestly, I never needed to feel any type of way. Jordan was never confrontational. She just knew what was what, and if things weren’t right, she’d say.”

Williams was guided on the necessities of Jordan’s mannerisms. “I’m very emotive in the way that I communicate, but she was just constant. I had to stop moving my eyebrows while I was playing her, because she not only has the most incredible makeup, but her expression is painted – it never moves.” Boyle notes this acute attention to detail, calling Williams “precise, like a watchmaker”. In the beginning, the idea of Jordan being on set would panic her. “But then I realised, every single time, I know what I’m getting with her, and it’s me who’s unpredictable.” Chill, she told herself. “Stop thinking everything is either amazing or terrible. Just be.”

Williams is very good at just being now. The crises have passed, the pangs of anxiety about her post-blockbuster future are no more. Should Pistol propel her back into that realm, you reckon she could handle it all over again. But it’s not something she can control, and that hands-off attitude is all that can guide her.

She turns to me; those big, nocturnal eyes are darting and wide – the source of her weird thoughts and secrets. “Not to get really existential about it, but I do think our fate is predetermined. I see things in the future, and have hopes and aspirations, but you can’t take shortcuts.” Then Maisie Williams looks straight at me and smiles, content. “I feel like the path has always been set out. I just need to live it now.”

PISTOL premieres on Disney+ this may.

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