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After devoting a decade of her life to HBO’s global phenomenon, Game of Thrones, Maisie Williams is going indie. In her first post-Thrones role, Williams plays Mary in Julius Berg’s The Owners, which explores a botched home burglary involving a group of friends and an older couple who practice medicine from the aforementioned manor. Williams’ character gets caught up in her boyfriend’s (Ian Kenny) muddled plan, and has to deal with the unexpected fallout.
Coming off of the biggest television production of all time, Williams jumped at the chance to go back to basics via the horror-thriller, as her indie ambitions were inspired by a couple of familiar faces.
“I look up to Robert Pattinson, and I look up to Kristen Stewart. I love what they did,” Williams tells The Hollywood Reporter. “I’ve really just been trying to understand what she did so well, the decisions she made and how that really affected the longevity of her career. So, yeah, I definitely do look up to the both of them, and yeah, I will be taking notes and following in their footsteps.”
Nearly 16 months after the series finale of Game of Thrones, Williams may have added a new wrinkle to the season’s most enduring moment, as well as its biggest swerve — which saw Williams’ Arya Stark strike the killing blow to the series’ big bad.
“[Kit Harington] expected it to go [Jon Snow’s] way, too, and he even said, ‘It was going to go that way. Someone told me in season three that I was going to kill The Night King,’” Williams shares. “And then, he read the script, and it was Arya the whole time. (Laughs.) Yeah, I think it would’ve been too obvious. I’m glad that it was Arya, honestly. I think I had the best storyline of the final season.”
In a recent conversation with THR, Williams also discusses The New Mutants’ long road to the big screen, the movies that frightened her as a child and having to forget her fighting and weapons training for The Owners. Director Julius Berg also chimes in on casting Williams and adding a sledgehammer to her collection of famous on-screen weaponry.
Maisie, since you’ve made several weapons quite famous over the years, can we officially add a sledgehammer to your trophy case as well?
Maisie Williams: (Laughs.) Yeah, it’s true, actually. I hadn’t thought about that. Yeah, there’s a knife in this and a sledgehammer. So there’s a couple of interesting weapons in this film. But, yeah, I must start keeping a note.
Julius Berg: (Laughs.) That was a great moment from shooting. I was happy to offer her this new tool, and I think she really enjoyed it.
This was the first project you shot after Thrones ended, right?
Williams: Yes, it was.
Julius, how did you get Maisie on board for her first post-Thrones project?
Berg: I was quite lucky to cast Maisie after Game of Thrones. I worked with an amazing casting director named Daniel Hubbard, and he’s worked on so many amazing movies like Harry Brown and King Kong. He has a great connection with many amazing actors from everywhere, especially Maisie Williams. So we sent the script to her manager in London, and her manager liked it a lot. Then, she sent it to Maisie, and she also liked it a lot. So we had a Skype call with Maisie, and I had a great connection with her. It was very easy. After that, we started shooting. It was as simple as that.
After finishing a project of such massive scale, was it nice to go back to basics and be reminded that effective storytelling can also be as simple as a few people in a house?
Williams: Yeah, definitely. Although being part of a psychological thriller or a horror is always somewhat hyperreal, I did like that we didn’t have any green screens. A lot of the emotions are a lot more realistic and a lot more pared back. I had really missed that, and so I was glad to be able to just do a lot of really interesting dialogue scenes and see the power dynamics between two people and how that can play out when there aren’t any weapons involved.
Even though you shot other projects during Thrones, does it still feel a bit bizarre when you find yourself wearing modern clothes on a set and not being draped in multiple layers?
Williams: (Laughs.) I mean, it’s definitely a relief. I was quite lucky in that my Game of Thrones outfits were always far comfier than other people’s, I think. Or maybe I just don’t complain as much. (Laughs.) But it was nice to be able to just get dressed in ten minutes rather than getting dressed in a half an hour.
Since you’d done fighting and weapons training for many years leading up to this film, did you have to consciously forget everything you’ve learned since Mary is not remotely trained in weapons or survival?
Williams: Yeah, absolutely. So much of the film and so much of the fight choreography, for me, was really centered around the characters. We were trying to understand why Mary gets walked all over in this film. And it’s because she’s always on the back foot. Why is she always on the back foot? It’s because of Terry (Andrew Ellis). Terry is constantly slowing her down, and I think that’s an intentional thing that the Huggins (Sylvester McCoy, Rita Tushingham) do. Halfway through the film, they make Terry physically so much slower. So I had to think about it more logically in terms of these characters and the situation rather than the training, the fighting and the muscle memory. It was really nothing to do with that. So it was a very different experience, for sure.
For some reason, I can just imagine you holding that knife with such skill that you had to correct yourself to not look as skilled.
Williams: Well, I found that on Game of Thrones, they were always, like, “Look cooler. Do it faster. Be stronger.” So I feel like we got to a place on Game of Thrones where I looked very slick, but I don’t think that that’s so natural. (Laughs.)
The Owners had me squirming in my seat, which led me to think about some of the more terrifying movie theater experiences I’ve had. Do you have a favorite moviegoing experience where you just couldn’t sit still due to the suspense of it all?
Williams: I really didn’t go to the cinema much when I was a kid; I watched a lot of stuff at home. But I do have memories of watching movies at home. I watched Signs when I was, I don’t know, maybe like 5. (Laughs.) It was so scary, and it kind of really shaped my life, I think. Just being so terrified of aliens when I was so young. (Laughs.) Actually, do you know what I remember watching at the cinema? I watched Mars Attacks! at the cinema, I think. I mean, it’s not even a horror, but it did kind of scare me because I was so young. The part where the alien lady [Lisa Marie’s Martian Girl] bites off the guy’s [Martin Short] finger, I had this recurring nightmare where all of these aliens with massive brain heads would come out of my neighbor’s house and they would come up my stairs and they would come into my room and they’d bite my finger off. (Laughs.) And there were so many of them, and it all came from watching Mars Attacks! when I was really young at the movie theaters. (Laughs.)
Is wearing a stocking over one’s head as uncomfortable as it looks?
Williams: I am so glad that you asked because yes. It hurts so badly. (Laughs.) My eyes were just streaming to the point where when it was my last shot with the stocking on, I just ripped it over my eyes so that my eyes could breathe for the first time. I’m not really a whingy person, but I think my eyes are just quite sensitive. My eyelashes kept getting folded in, and they were just sticking me in the eyes. And so, yeah, I just had to do everything I could to keep my eyes open and not have tears streaming. Well, there actually are. There are tears streaming down my face, but you can’t see them because the stocking is just soaking them up. But I’m glad you asked because it sucks, and I literally would not wish it on anyone. (Laughs.)
Lately, when actors such as yourself come off of big projects, there’s a tendency to go the indie route for a while. Rob Pattinson and Kristen Stewart are obvious examples of this. Since you shot The New Mutants during Thrones, I’m not counting that as a post-Thrones project, but is The Owners an indication that you’ll be going indie for a little while? Or is there no grand plan at the moment?
Williams: No, I would say absolutely [about going the indie route]. I mean, the industry is very different to what it was when Twilight ended in that television has skyrocketed recently and not as many indie films are being made. The people who have these really wonderful indie stories have now started stretching them out and making them into TV shows because it’s more likely to get made. There are still indie filmmakers, and I have been meeting with a lot of them. But if there are enough indie movies who want to cast me, then yes, you can say that I will be doing indies for a long time. (Laughs.) But I know that the industry is different now, and so I have to be weary of that, also. But, yeah, I look up to Robert Pattinson, and I look up to Kristen Stewart. I love what they did. I mean, I love what Kristen Stewart did before Twilight, but I really have watched so many of her movies since. I’ve really just been trying to understand what she did so well, the decisions she made and how that really affected the longevity of her career. So, yeah, I definitely do look up to the both of them, and yeah, I will be taking notes and following in their footsteps. (Laughs.)
Have you wrapped your head around the fact that in 5 years or so, you’re going to be on sets with young actors who were literally named after you or Arya?
Williams: (Laughs.) I hadn’t thought about that. I have never encountered an Arya. I’ve encountered a couple of Arya cats, people have tweeted me pictures of their children, but I don’t think I’ve ever met an Arya in the flesh. But, yeah, there are going to be girls that grow up, and they’ll have no idea who they’re named after. Maybe, they’ll watch one day, but it’ll be so part of a different time — a different time where we all sat down and watched a show every Sunday night at 9 p.m. (Laughs.) These kids are just never going to experience television or film in the same way that we experienced that show, so it is funny to think about.
But it’s not just Arya; Maisie is popping up all over the States, too.
Williams: Oh my gosh. Wow. That’s cool. Well, Maisie is a really old name, actually. When my mom told my nan that she was naming me Maisie, my nan was horrified because, to my nan, it was like an old lady’s name. And so that’s, like, what? Four generations before myself when Maisie was super popular amongst babies? So, yeah, I’m glad that people like the name. I’ve always loved my name. It’s always been quite different. I like that it’s got a lot of letters, and I’m glad that people also like the name. (Laughs.)
Is there a Thrones group text and have you used it to playfully tease Kit (Harington) with a GIF of Arya’s big dagger moment?
Williams: (Laughs.) Actually, no, not that. We do tease Kit, but it’s usually about other things, which I probably can’t say. (Laughs.) But I don’t tease him about the dagger moment at all, but maybe I should. That’s a new weapon that I can use. (Laughs.)
Obviously, that was such a left turn since everyone expected him to do the honors and kill The Night King.
Williams: Yeah, they did. He expected it to go that way, too, and he even said, “It was going to go that way. Someone told me in season three that I was going to kill The Night King.” And then, he read the script, and it was Arya the whole time. (Laughs.) Yeah, I think it would’ve been too obvious. I’m glad that it was Arya, honestly. I think I had the best storyline of the final season. (Laughs.)
Without a doubt.
Williams: Yeah. (Laughs.)
As we wrap, I just want to touch on The New Mutants, which was greatly affected by the Disney-Fox merger. Unfortunately, whenever a film is delayed, people’s imaginations tend to run wild. Has it been frustrating for you to see conclusions being drawn before anyone had even seen the movie, especially since you couldn’t come out and correct them? [Writer’s Note: This interview took place prior to The New Mutants’ release on Aug 26.]
Williams: Well, not frustrating at all. I feel like anyone speaking about any movie in any capacity is a good thing, especially one which hasn’t come out yet. I liked that people were speculating, and I don’t believe when people say online, “Oh, who even cares about this film anymore? Who’s even going to watch this film?” I just don’t believe people that are like that because I’m like, “Well, you are, because you’re still talking about it even though you don’t care about it.” (Laughs.) So I think it’s only a good thing. I actually think our numbers are going to be good because of that very reason. There’s so much mystery as to why this film was shelved for so long, and really, I think it was a lot simpler than any of us really had thought. But the drama and the excitement of, like, “It was supposed to be reshot and it’s supposed to be terrible,” I think that just draws people’s interest. I mean, that’s just free promotion for 3 years. There are people who wish that they had people talking about their films. (Laughs.)
The Owners is now available in select theaters and on digital HD/on demand.
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