After eight years at the forefront of one of the most watched television shows in history, MAISIE WILLIAMS is ready to start a new chapter on her own terms. With her heart set on uniting young artists around the world via a much-talked about app startup, she met GEORGIE WRIGHT to discuss life post-Game of Thrones, the perils of the internet, and why she’s not quite ready to give up life as an actor.
Photography by Richard Dowker
Hair Waka Adaci
Makeup Mattie White
Thanks to RiDa Studios and Pixipixel
Maisie Williams has break up hair, but instead of dying it bright magenta to get over a dude who thinks peak romance is petrol station petunias, she’s just parted ways with one of the biggest cultural juggernauts of the decade.
Game of Thrones – airing its final season this April – is second only to Saturday Night Live in Emmy wins, has spent seven years as the most pirated show online, and has spawned a 117-chapter erotic fanfiction longer than any of the books the series is based on. Shot between 2010 and 2018, Maisie’s played the same character, the inimitable Arya Stark, for almost half her life, returning to set from ages twelve to 20 to come of age in tandem with the series. At a time many teenage girls experiment with piercings, peroxide and dropping shit pills in a field, Maisie was donning crusty sacks and checking off kill lists on a big budget television set.
It makes sense that she wanted to switch things up with a spontaneous, hot pink dye job. “I booked it in and a day before I was like, I should probably tell someone that I'm going to do this,” she laughs, her impromptu do hidden beneath a wig for her SUPER cover shoot. “So I called my mum and was like: ‘Hey mum, can you tell my agents that I'm-going-to-dye-my-hair-pink-thank-you-bye!” Initially they were apprehensive, but came round after everyone else raved about it. She smiles: “It was the first time where I was like, maybe I do know best.”
Maisie Williams has long given off the impression that she’s got her shit together. At 15, she was one of the youngest actresses in history to earn an Emmy nomination for Best Supporting Actress in a TV Drama; last year, she made Forbes’ 30 Under 30 in the European Entertainment category, and, according to Game of Thrones co-star and best friend Sophie Turner, the duo used to decompress post shoot by smoking pot and taking baths together. With all of that success, it’s easy to forget that she hasn’t really had a say over her life since her pre-teens. “For so long I was being led by someone else,” she shrugs. “Like: ‘This is your career, this is what you're gonna do.” By the time most kids were starting puberty, she’d left behind school, dancing, fashion – “all these other subjects that I really love.” But now, she’s free from that gruelling shooting schedule, and she’s taken a step back to re-evaluate before plunging into a smorgasbord of extracurricular activities. “It's only in these last few months that I've realised I can do so many other things as well,” she says. “It's just quite exciting, really.”
At an age where most of us ditch our childhood dreams when we realise they’ll never pay our council tax, Maisie is bravely getting back into them. In her spare time she's painting, drawing and writing music (“Well, it's more poems, I guess, because there's no melody.”). There's also the project that's taken up most of her time: an app she’s built with friends designed to connect young creatives together called ‘daisie’. Like any other start-up, she's involved in every part of it's fruition. She imitates her new life as an on-set assistant, laughing that “now [she’s] the one who has to be like - Tea? Coffee?!’.”
When you’re already pretty far down one career path, veering off-piste is scary – even if you’re just a regular human being with sub-500 Instagram followers. Add to this worldwide fame (Maisie’s IG following clocks in at 8.3 million), trolls, and tabloids gagging to string out young female actresses on the sidebar of shame for simply existing, it's not surprising that Maisie feels the pressure now she's doing something new. “It's like I can never do anything as a beginner again,” she admits. “There’s so many other things that interest me, but now I've established myself as an actor, going into something [people question you] like: 'Oh, what makes you think you can do that?’ I guess that's like a little bit of pressure,” she shrugs, without much concern because again, “it's just exciting.”
On the flipside, fame opens doors, but that’s easy to forget if you’ve been shrouded in it since adolescence, blind to the privilege of connections. Despite that, Maisie seems to have a decent grasp on reality for someone so famous and still young. Most celebrities build apps to capitalise on a pre-established empire: look at Taylor Swift’s ‘The Swift Life,’ a bubble of fan adulation and cartoon cats. Or there’s the Kardashians’ platforms, where they made a quick buck off fans willing to fork out for a #feminist Kimoji pack. Both shut down this year. Conversely, Maisie seems genuinely excited about creating a platform for young people in the creative industries to connect. She credits her peers - all at various stages of their careers - for her ultimately far more grounded outlook. “I think I've always noticed that my opinion and my view of the industry was so different, and so open, and the opportunities were so huge,” she acknowledges. “I wanted to give people the view that I have, which is like - no, no, no, you can make those connections, and it's much easier than you think.”
This refreshing awareness echoes her recent Ted Talk, titled, “Don’t Strive To Be Famous, Strive To Be Talented.” Again, it’s easy to be cynical about someone downplaying fame when they’re already famous, but Maisie’s adamant that getting sucked into the vortex of clickbait and detox tea sponcon that often comes with it is dangerous. “As soon as you get on that train of followers and likes and popularity,” she says, “that's when you end up with that video of that Youtuber filming people that had died by suicide.”
She’s referring to Logan Paul, a vlogger who received much-deserved mass condemnation for posting that now infamous video of him stumbling upon a body in Japan’s Aokigahara forest. And yet even after all the controversy, he’s still managed to clock nearly six million views on a video of him punching a mutant pumpkin the size of a small cow. “It's a fucked up path that drives people insane,” Maisie says. “Actually, [followers] are not what success is; it isn't being known by everyone. It's being really fucking good.”
Which is probably why, despite the multitude of other plates spinning, she’s not giving up the craft she’s been honing for the past nine years. Though right now, her desired roles are almost as hard to define as her career path: “I think it's really hard to pinpoint your taste, and what I'm really struggling with at the moment is communicating that,” she says. She’s optimistic about more people trying to write strong female leads, but wary of how often they fall into the clichéd tropes of a ‘Strong Female Lead’. She wants to play interesting women of different time periods, the kind whose tenacity plays out in nuanced ways that are believable of their era, rather than, say, a 1950s housewife spouting dialogue you’d expect from a 2020 presidential candidate.
She gushes about Claire Foy’s immaculate and measured work as Janet Shearon, the former wife of astronaut Neil Armstrong in 2018’s First Man; it’s a rare turn in a movie age that often throws out historical accuracy in favour of #GirlPower. “Sometimes women are written [in the same way] modern day women were framed in the sixties. And I just don't believe it.” She finds it similarly laughable when ‘strength’ manifests in a cliched manner: as girls who swear aggressively and wear leather jackets. “It's far more to do with the story than character,” she elaborates. “You can be waspy, you can be fragile, but the things that you do are what define you as a person.”
Doing, after all, is what Maisie does best. Towards the end of our conversation, as we discuss her current obsession with consuming documentaries on everything from Christian Dior to Antarctica to 9/11, she lets out a faint yawn. It’s probably just because it’s early in the morning and her coffee cup is empty, but I take it as a subconscious signal that it’s time to wrap up. Because you get the sense that she doesn’t want to sit around in a fluffy dressing gown all day, chatting while her toenails dry. Maisie Williams is a woman who wants to get the fuck on with it.