You’ve got to start somewhere, and if that somewhere happens to be the original British television series Skins, you’ve done something right. Like Kaya Scodelario and Slumdog Millionaire‘s Dev Patel, Hannah Murray began her professional career on the aforementioned frank—and at times frightening—teen drama, playing Cassie Ainsworth. Enchanting, eccentric, earnest, and anorexic, from the moment she first uttered “Wow,” Cassie was arguably the show’s most endearing character. Murray might have done a bit too good of a job—four years on, it is difficult not to conflate Murray with her character. Until you meet her, that is.
Hannah Murray is not Cassie. Rather, post-Skins, Murray took three years off to study English at Cambridge University. She was in the odd film—2010’s Chatroom with Aaron Johnson and another rising British blonde, Imogen Poots, and Womb with Eva Green—and tried her hand at theater on London’s West End. Compared to her high-profile beginning, however, Murray remained rather off-the-radar. Now a graduate, Murray’s returning her focus to acting with a bit-part in Dark Shadows (she plays a hippie) and the role of Gilly on season 2 (and season 3) of HBO’s Game of Thrones. Unlike Cassie (at least in Britain) these are not parts that will launch Murray into instant stardom—but rather a steady, gradual rise. Interview recently met Murray in London to discuss immersing herself in Game of Thrones, imaginary games, and pastoral novels.
HOMETOWN: Bristol, UK
EDUCATION: BA in English, Cambridge University.
IN ANOTHER LIFE… I’d be Elizabeth I.
WORST COLLEGE REQUIRED READING: We had to read some long, pastoral prose pieces and medieval literature, like the Arcadia. It’s not that they were bad; it’s just not really my cup of tea. I did contemporary literature as well, and then they encouraged us to read everything, they weren’t snobbish about it, so I read some trashy best-sellers.
EARLY ACTING: Was I in a nativity play? I think I was an angel; I was a very blonde child, so I tended to get typecast. I have a vague memory of wearing wings.
ON CASSIE’S CATCHPHRASE: Do people ever ask me to say “Wow?” Never in interviews, but a few times on the street. I don’t do it. I try to get away from them as quickly as possible and explain that I’m not a performing seal.
RESEARCHING HER GAME OF THRONES ROLE: David [Benioff] and D.B. [Weiss] gave me some books to read. They suggested I read about the Fritzl case in Austria, because Gilly’s in the same situation, she’s a prisoner. I also watched Winter’s Bone, which is an amazing film. I wanted to get the feeling of isolation, and there’s a scene where I’m carrying around two skinned rabbits, so I thought I’d watch a movie where they skin squirrels. Any research I do for my characters is going to be a bit depressing.
ICELAND OR IRELAND: When I first got the part I was told [we’d be shooting] either in Northern Ireland or Iceland, and I was sort of crossing my fingers for Iceland, not that there’s anything wrong with Northern Ireland. We were about half an hour outside of Belfast. Belfast was great actually; there was always a lot of cast about.
FAQS: [Interviewers] always ask “How much do you relate to your character,” which I think is a bit ridiculous with Gilly. One of the reasons I wanted to do [the show], was that it was set in such a far removed world. I was with my eight-year-old cousin, and obviously he hasn’t seen Games of Thrones, and he asked me “How similar are you to your character, is that a silly question?” Considering that’s what most journalists ask, I thought it was pretty good for an eight-year-old. When I was in Skins, they’d always ask, “Do you think it’s an accurate portrayal of teenage life?”
FAVORITE FICTIONAL CHARACTER: I really like all of the characters in The Secret History by Donna Tartt, especially Camilla, the one girl. I find her fascinating. I like Dickens’ characters, even the less significant ones; they all have these lovely names. Or the Glass family in J.D. Salinger books—I always wanted to be a member of the Glass family.
IMAGINARY FRIENDS: I didn’t have an imaginary [human] friend. I really loved animals when I was little—my friend and I had an imaginary vet’s office, we would mime doing surgery on animals. We treated more injuries than illnesses—fixing with a baby bear with a broken leg, removing a tumor. Of course, our surgeries would take about five seconds, that’s how good we were.
DARK SHADOWS IS CURRENTLY SHOWING IN THEATERS. GAME OF THRONES AIRS SUNDAYS AT 9PM EST ON HBO.