Natalie Dormer on 'Game of Thrones' Misogyny: "It's Not My Job to Defend the Show"
The 34-year-old Max Mara’s Face of the Future talks sexism, chauvinism and Hillary Clinton: "There's this grand debate about where the line is between politically savvy and being a good person."
Mostly known for her ensemble work in such fan favorites as Game of Thrones, The Hunger Games and The Tudors, Natalie Dormer, 34, is ready for her close-up. "This is the year when I'm heading more into my capacity as a leading lady," she says.
The British actress, who is being honored with the Max Mara Face of the Future Award, is swapping dragons and direwolves for whistle-blowers and the NSA in Justin Chadwick's political thriller Official Secrets; she stars opposite Harrison Ford, Anthony Hopkins and Paul Bettany and started production in May in the U.K. Dormer will play British intelligence officer Katharine Gun, who is the subject of the nonfiction book The Spy Who Tried to Stop a War, upon which the film is based.
Game of Thrones has been criticized at times for being sexist and misogynistic. How do you defend the show against those critics?
It's not my job to defend the show. The actor's job is to be the vessel of the text of the writers. Actors almost by definition shouldn't have opinions because the whole point of our job description is that we should be able to empathize with whichever perspective we're given. Sometimes I feel like it's a little unfair that we're asked to defend all the choices in the show.
That said, surely you still have your own opinions on the matter?
Yes, and misogyny does exist in the world — even in fantastical worlds, which are obviously used as metaphors for our real world. I can tell you that [showrunners] D.B. Weiss and David Benioff are about as far away from misogynistic as you can get as individuals. And the fact that in their writing they occasionally portray misogyny or chauvinism is just being accurate to the different tones and colors that exist in society. So as for the more unsavory parts of Thrones, it's good if it makes people have the conversation. That's what good drama does.
You play a character, Margaery Tyrell, who is very cunning …
When people call her Machiavellian or manipulative, I'm like, "Why does political savviness have to be mutually exclusive with being a good person?" Surely, that's what we want of our politicians — we want them to be able to navigate the international stage and be wily players and at the same time we hope that they're good people and that they have a code of morality. That's how I've always tried to play Margaery — that she walks that tightrope. She has this PR dimension to her that I think we recognize in a modern world. I was just reading the news about Hillary Clinton and [her polling] numbers. There's this grand debate about where the line is between politically savvy and being a good person.
Do you think Margaery is trying to make a run for the Iron Throne herself?
Oh God, no. (Laughs.) Margaery is far too clever. She knows that people who sit on the Iron Throne die. You don't want to be on the throne — you want to be the power behind the throne.
Something Cersei (Lena Headey) has mastered, yes?
I've said this before, but in a different scenario, Margaery and Cersei would be very good friends — although, there is a morality line that differentiates the women. I genuinely think Margaery is a good person. I don't think she would be morally capable or competent to go to the darker side in a way that Cersei has done historically.
Have you ever felt uncomfortable with anything in the script?
There have been moments … but whenever I have felt uncomfortable about an element of the show, I have gone to Dan and David and they have always been very open and accessible about mediating that. Obviously, there is source material that has to be honored or respected — but at the same time, they would never put any of their cast in a situation where we felt completely apoplectic with rage or unhappiness. They're very good conversationalists, and they're collaborators and they listen. They've done it with me and other castmembers.
What is the biggest misconception people have about you based on your work?
I've played a lot of these manipulative, savvy, very clever, hypersexualized women, and — like most things in life — it's a blessing and a curse.
What's been your craziest interaction with a Game of Thrones fan?
I was once sent a rubber horse head — like a full-on head mask — by a fan, who suggested that if I was having problems being incognito, that if my profile was too high and I couldn't get away without being approached on the street, maybe I would like to wear this rubber horse head. (Laughs.)
This story first appeared in the June 24 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.