Maisie Williams Tells Charlie Heaton About Her Newfound Freedom
If Maisie Williams wanted to hit the brakes on the whole revenge-killing thing, it would be perfectly understandable. As the cherubic assassin Arya Stark on Game of Thrones, she’s already perfected the art of striking back. But the 23-year-old actor knows a great part when she sees one, which is why she can now be found putting the kibosh on more unfortunate souls in the comic action fantasy Two Weeks to Live. In the SKY series, Williams plays Kim Noakes, a young woman who was raised as a survivalist by her Sarah Connor-esque mother (Fleabag’s Sian Clifford). She also knows her way around a firearm, which comes in handy when she ventures out into the real world to avenge the death of her father, who died when she was young under mysterious circumstances. The show has been compared to Killing Eve for its fiendish British humor, but also for centering women who are as three-dimensional as they are ruthless. For Williams, who can also be seen in the comic book freakout The New Mutants and the home-invasion thriller The Owners, it’s a new phase in a career that is suddenly wide open after sharpening her skills on one of the most-watched shows of all time. As she tells her New Mutants costar Charlie Heaton, this is just the beginning. —BEN BARNA
CHARLIE HEATON: So how do we do this? Do we just start? I wrote some questions.
MAISIE WILLIAMS: You actually had to write questions? I thought they were just going to give you questions.
HEATON: I’m prepared. Where are you living right now?
WILLIAMS: Technically I live in London, but I’ve been flitting around a bit. I don’t really know where I want to live. I don’t think we want to be in London anymore. I think we quite like being in the countryside, but whether we stay in Britain or we go to France, we’re still deciding.
HEATON: I remember you mentioned that you didn’t know where to call home. I think you actually said, “I don’t really love being anywhere.” That resonated with me, because we have this job where we don’t ever feel settled. You move around a lot.
WILLIAMS: Just out of curiosity, where did you end up buying?
HEATON: In Atlanta.
WILLIAMS: That’s a smart move, because you work there so much. It’s becoming a bit of a home to you.
HEATON:I’ve spent time in New York, but I found that it’s a great place to visit. Every time I go somewhere, I’m like, “This is where I want to be.” And then I’m like, “But do I want to live here?” So it was a surprise for me to buy this place. I like Atlanta because it’s calm, and I’ve got friends here, so it makes sense.
WILLIAMS: Yeah, I’m trying to figure it out. I have had a couple of different places, and I rent them all out at the moment, but I guess what I really missed is having a place which is my own, that I always go back to.
HEATON: I’ve lived out of a suitcase for four years. When you’re a young actor, you’re expected to live a transient life. You start to feel a bit anxious about that. I read somewhere that you’re learning French. How’s that going?
WILLIAMS: It’s going well. Every time I think I’m fluent, I realize I don’t have a clue how to say anything, but I’m going back to Paris to learn some more. I’ve been going to this school called Alliance Francaise, and it’s really great. It’s been nice to spend this downtime concentrating on something, because when you don’t have a role to prepare for, or a script to read, or an audition to do, you can feel a bit lost. It’s been nice to use this time and do something that’s all my own, and not for anyone else.
HEATON: If these questions are boring, you can just say, “Stop asking me these dumb questions.” We’ll do a couple of Game of Thrones questions and that’s it. What did it feel like on your last day on set? Is it burned into your memory?
WILLIAMS: A lot, actually. I was just so hyper-aware, every day of the final season, because I really wanted to savor every last piece of it. A lot of my final scenes were in episode five, which was the battle episode, and I was covered in blood, dust, and rubble, so it was really hot. Before every take I’d have to lie down and they’d pour this icky blood over my eyes, and then they’d put the dust on top, and then more blood. And we’d reset it every single take. I’d have to tilt my head to the side so that the blood went sideways, across my eyelids. It was uncomfortable, but every time I was like, “I’m never, ever, ever going to get to do this again.”
HEATON: That’s really cool. Coming out of it, I’m guessing you had this beautiful feeling of freedom and clarity.
WILLIAMS: Yeah. I think because I had really savored everything, by the time it was over I was ready to let go. There wasn’t any part of me that was clawing at it to stay. And now I’ve come to realize there’s so many parts of the industry which I haven’t even touched, and it’s really exciting to meet with filmmakers, producers, and writers who work on things of all different types of scale, and learn things that are so new to me. I feel ready to show everyone the other parts of myself which they’ve never gotten to see before.
HEATON: I got to watch Two Weeks to Live, which I really loved. You worked on that with Sian Clifford, who I met once and who was so lovely. What was it like to work with her?
WILLIAMS: Sian is truly the kindest soul that I’ve ever worked with. She’ll go out of her way to tell people that she really respects their work. It sounds so simple, but it’s rare to meet people who dedicate their lives to lifting others up. From the readthrough, we were completely on the same page about the characters, the traps we didn’t want to fall in, the mistakes we didn’t want to make, what we needed to amplify, and what we wanted to hold back on. She’s nothing like her character in Fleabag. She’s so sweet and lovely, but she does bitter and angry so well.
HEATON: That’s really nice to hear. There’s something to be said about just being nice.
WILLIAMS: It goes a long way. The age of people being rewarded for poor behavior is slowly ending. We have the best job in the world, and I don’t know why people need to be so angry, because it’s so joyous. And especially right now, we’re at this breaking point. So many parts of society are desperately trying to cling onto this old world, and things are progressing so fast, and it’s such a pressurized moment in time. To be making art right now is special. What we do is going to be around forever, I think. There’s no need to be so mean during that, because you’re so lucky.
HEATON: In the last few years, we’ve seen a lot of shows with strong female leads, like Fleabag, Killing Eve, and your show. You’ve been pretty outspoken about that kind of representation. Do you want to talk about that?
WILLIAMS: I’ve had such a wonderful opportunity to play amazing characters in the beginning of my career, and I’ve learned so much from the women who came before me, because it’s meant that I’ve had a new and a better experience than some of them. It’s like passing the baton. But we’re at a point where unless there are female writers, or female directors, or female producers who can bring these stories to life, there will always be a disconnect between the material and how it’s put together. A lot of people rely on female actors, like, “Can you just sew up all these holes that we haven’t quite figured out? Because none of us know what it’s like to be a young woman in society today.” That’s fine, but there are incredible female writers out there that are doing this already, or incredible female directors who can help with this very problem.
HEATON: We’re on the precipice of change, and it keeps continuing to go in the right direction. It’s great to see that.
WILLIAMS: Absolutely. I was defined by so many of these characters. I grew up watching Sarah Connor in Terminator, or Ripley in Alien, or Trinity in The Matrix. Coming off of Game of Thrones, I was like, “When am I going to play that character?” And then I looked back and realized, “Oh, I think I’ve done that.”
HEATON: Oh, you have. I did want to ask about that cool fight scene in episode two, because I felt it had nods to Game of Thrones. Was it fun?
WILLIAMS: I’ve never really done hand-to-hand combat before. Everything I did on that show was with weapons, which I did enjoy, but it was so much more fun throwing fists.
HEATON: It’s so brutal. How long did you do that for?
WILLIAMS: The whole sequence, from breaking into the house to the end of the fight, was probably four or five days. But really, the big fight, we did it in two nights. We didn’t have long at all to shoot the entire show, so all of the shots were planned before. We had a really strong plan of action, which I’d never experienced before.
HEATON: Also, late last night me and my housemates got to see The Owners.
WILLIAMS: Was it scary?
HEATON: It was fucking creepy. Have you not seen it?
WILLIAMS: I did. I thought it was really scary, but it’s hard to know.
HEATON: Natalia [Dyer, Heaton’s girlfriend] had to leave the room three times. She was like, “I’m done.” Speaking of new experiences, was this your first full-on horror movie?
WILLIAMS: I really wanted to do a psychological thriller. I’ve always loved the genre, and this was set in rural England in the ‘90s, so I thought the imagery would be really cool.
HEATON: For sure. I’m from Bridlington, so I’m really familiar with that lower-class council ‘90s feeling. You’re from Bath, right?
WILLIAMS: No, I was born in Bristol, and then I moved to Bath when I was about 16, so I spent a lot of time in both places. But yeah, that feeling of no escape, very little opportunity, and a lot of petty crime, that was just how we grew up, so it was awfully familiar.
HEATON: I wanted to ask you about this, because coming from Bridlington and Bristol, it felt almost impossible to become an actor. Even being on EastEnders felt untouchable. Do you ever think about that? Because when I go home and I go to the local pub with my old friends, I do get that feeling. It’s difficult being from a working-class background and coming from a small town to trying to break into acting. It is, unfortunately, a little classist. A girl in Bridlington sent me a message saying, “I wanted to be an actor, but I decided it’s probably not going to happen, so I gave up. But then I watched Stranger Things and read you were from Bridlington, so now I’m trying to get into drama school.”
WILLIAMS: Yeah. I was really lucky to find a character like Arya, because they were looking for a girl like me. Going home is really lovely, but totally bizarre, because I still feel like the same person, but it’s very different now. Even in the little village that I grew up in, there’re new families who have moved in. It belongs to other people now, and all of a sudden there’s this famous actress who’s come there. That’s always really strange.
HEATON: I understand that.
WILLIAMS: I think the fear of never escaping stops people from ever getting out. I’ve never really spoken to you about how you got started.
HEATON: I grew up in Bridlington until I was 16, and I lived with my mum and my sisters. I finished school, got my GCSE’s, and at the time I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I was in between music and acting, but my dad lived in London, and I knew I wanted to go there, because whatever I wanted to do, I knew there was more out there than just this town. And I remember my mum being like, “Just make sure you apply for Bridlington Sports College in case you change your mind.” That was the first big decision of many. I moved to London and lived with my dad, and for those first six to eight months, I was super lonely. My dad didn’t really know how to look after a 16-year-old boy. He’d leave me two pounds in the kitchen and be like, “Go get some beans,” so I lived off fried beans and toast. But I stuck it out. And in the beginning it was music. I met a few bands, my uncle had a recording studio, and within the first eight months, I’d joined this band and we did a UK tour. Things were going in the right direction. Then I joined another band, and I got to tour in Canada and Japan, and at that point I was like, “I’ve made it. I’m only 18 but I can die now.” But then my dad wanted rent. He’s like, “You’re 18 now, you’re paying rent.” You’ve only been supplying me with beans for the last two years, and now you want rent off me? For God’s sake. But my sister was like, “Come with me to this casting. If they take you on you could maybe get some commercial work on the side and make a few grand.” And I was like, “A few grand? Wow.” That’s where it began, in an advert for EE, in a conga line with Kevin Bacon. That was my first job.
WILLIAMS: No way. You’re in an EE advert?
HEATON: I was in an EE commercial doing the Conga.
WILLIAMS: I’m so glad I asked. I had no idea. That is perfect.
HEATON: I got two grand, and congaed with a movie star. I was pretty happy.
WILLIAMS: And then Charlie Heaton was born.
HEATON: I would say this to anyone trying to do this. Just take what you can, because you never know what’ll happen.
WILLIAMS: I’ve always got the same advice for people. You’ve got to take every opportunity, even if it’s not an end game. It all pushes you forward, and it’s all going to make a difference. And it will make a wonderful segment in an interview one day.
Makeup by Carole Truquès.