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'I'm gullible… I don't get the sarcasm thing' - Maisie Williams talks life after Game of Thrones

Actress Maisie Williams tells Dónal Lynch about transcending child stardom, revelling in lockdown, the difficulties with friendships and life after Game of Thrones

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Maisie Williams

Maisie Williams

Maisie Williams

Maisie Williams is wandering the streets of Paris when we catch up. The city has been something of a second home to her lately. Last year she sat front row at the Thom Browne and Givenchy Spring 2020 shows and Vogue followed her around gamely trying to make her wellies - a sensible adjustment given the pouring rain - into a fashion statement. In lockdown she has returned to the Covid-ravaged City Of Lights, but the flashbulbs and red carpets have not been part of the deal.

"I've always wanted to learn French so I've come here to do that," she explains. "It's much easier being immersed in the language. Paris is a magical place and since I'm unemployed at the moment, I was free to be somewhere I wanted to be. I don't really go out much anyway so the virus hasn't really affected me much at all. I think it's been much harder on people who like socialising. One benefit of it all has been that it has made me feel very creative - I can't stop coming up with fun ideas for new things. I've also read a lot of books. I'm one of these people who's loving the new normal."

Williams is probably best known for her role as Arya Stark in Game of Thrones, which won her an Emmy nomination and a legion of fans. At the age of 12 she beat 300 other actresses for the part and was propelled from a three-bedroom council house in Somerset to worldwide fame. Her mother gave up her job as a university administrator to support her daughter's career and Williams spent big chunks of each year filming, being tutored on set whenever she was away for longer than 10 days. The show made her a child star in an industry notorious for eating its young.

"It was bizarre how it all happened but I was really lucky to be protected by my mum," she tells me. "One important thing was that it was my own dream and it was something that happened on my own terms. It wasn't driven by my parents. I think when it's someone else's dream that is being lived out, that's when the problems come for child actors."

That maternal protective instinct is a theme of Two Weeks to Live, a dark, deadpan six-part comedy starting this week on Sky One and streaming service NOW TV. Williams plays Kim, an outsider who has been raised by her survivalist mother Tina (Sian Clifford) in a remote part of the British countryside. The character, much like Maisie herself, is simultaneously knowing and childlike.

"When we meet her, she's venturing out into the real world for the first time in 16 years," she explains. "She's almost like a bit of an alien at the beginning. She's innocent and naive and she's seeing the world through rose-tinted glasses, and that was what I was really drawn to in the character. The show in general is a lot darker than that. So it's this juxtaposition between these very adult themes and this young girl who is like a lost puppy, just looking to have a good time. I think I see myself in her in that I'm gullible and she is quite gullible. Sometimes when people make very edgy jokes I think that they're being serious. I don't get the whole sarcasm or wit thing. I'm like 'really?!'"

Williams spent a lot of her teenage years in Ireland. Between Game of Thrones seasons, she also shot Niall Heery's comedy-drama Gold and the literary biopic Mary Shelley in this country. "I loved being in Ireland, people are so welcoming. People are so apologetic about the weather, as if it's their fault. And yet the weather, all the rain, makes it so special. I've been to so many countries but there is nowhere that looks as beautiful as Ireland."

She came up in an era when the #MeToo movement swept through the entertainment industries but she says that progress, in terms of the way women are treated, has been mainly seen on the screen. "We've certainly seen a lot of changes in the way women are depicted on the screen and there have been more strong female roles but in terms of the way women working in the industry are treated - writers, actors, directors - I don't think there has been enough progress."

Last year her Game of Thrones co-star Sophie Turner told Dr Phil her friendship with Williams had a "quite destructive" side because they didn't really talk to anyone else on set besides each other. The hothouse nature of their relationship is more easily understandable when Maisie explains her take on friendship.

"I think acting makes friendships more difficult because you don't have a lot in common with your peers. Acting forces you to have different kinds of friendships. Your personal time is very limited and you travel so much. You might enjoy someone's company but it's hard to actually make close friends. Now that I'm older I feel like I have better friendships."

The success of Game of Thrones has made her a hot commodity but she says its success is not something she feels any pressure to repeat.

"There is pressure in some ways to do something that is as successful as Game of Thrones has been. But really I think there were so many artistic things that made the show great - it wasn't simply that it reached such a big audience. I think if I were to try to do something that had that many viewers again, I would probably fail."

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Two Weeks To Live is available on Sky One and streaming service NOW TV from September 2


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