Natalie Dormer has become the go-to actress for spirited, intelligent women. And, as Stylist finds out, there’s a good reason why
Natalie Dormer has just jumped fully clothed into a swimming pool. It is a heated pool in the opulent Hotel Café Royal, but regardless, it’s still a surprise to see a Game Of Thrones and Hunger Games star, in a £6,000 dress, swimming around like a mermaid, hair plastered to her scalp, in full make-up. But then one thing you quickly learn about 33-year-old Natalie is that she’s very much her own woman, with a savage sense of what she will and won’t do. She is an actress who won’t be put in a box, either professionally or personally. And doing so has given her major Hollywood credentials.
Since graduating from drama school in 2005, Natalie’s rise to fame has been slow and steady, with occasional dips into a-little bit-too-slow and not-all-thatsteady. She made her name playing Anne Boleyn in The Tudors in 2007 followed by roles in Captain America: The First Avenger and BBC drama Silk. But then in 2012 along came the character of Margaery Tyrell in Game Of Thrones and Natalie proved herself one of the show’s most compelling talents. And that’s no mean feat in a series which has won both critical and audience acclaim – the finale of season four was watched by 9.3 million in the US, becoming HBO’s most popular show ever.
And then there was that other mega franchise The Hunger Games. In 2014, Natalie starred alongside Jennifer Lawrence, Julianne Moore and Philip Seymour Hoffman, which catapulted her into another league. It’s fair to say Natalie played the game of show business and won big.
Fiercely smart – a missed A Level grade curtailed her plan to study at Cambridge University – Natalie chats easily about politics, philosophy and gender between shots (more on which later). In conversation she can be intense and she is accomplished in front of the camera – although I’m happy to see that she’s eschewed the Louboutins we’ve provided for hotel slippers when we shoot on dry land. She’s 5ft 6 but somehow seems taller, and I notice that most of the undercut she (controversially) had for The Hunger Games has grown back.
Natalie, who was born in Berkshire, is also very down to earth, chatting happily with the hair and make-up team and tucking into a caesar salad, popcorn and green tea. When we discover there’s a press conference for the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) in the hotel she shocks everyone with her knowledge of it. And there’s a brilliant moment when her phone rings. “It’s one of those numbers,” she mock moans – she means PPI – before telling us about claiming back her own PPI and recommending we follow suit: “Don’t use a middle man, fill in the forms yourself!”
Halfway through the shoot her fiancé Anthony Byrne, 39, a director, joins us – they met on The Tudors and he directed her in the recent Hozier video Someone New. The pair have just spent the night at The Langham hotel, “a freebie from the Bafta goodie bag” and Natalie’s brought the chocolates from the room to share with us. “We haven’t spent much time together recently,” she explains. She is happy to be interviewed in front of him: “This is the man who knows everything about me,” she says simply.
For someone about to embark on the biggest year of her career Natalie seems fairly relaxed. She has the title role in BBC drama The Woman In Red and takes the lead in horror Patient Zero with Matt Smith and supernatural thriller The Forest as well as reprising her part in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part Two in November. But before that she’s back on form in Westeros – for how long she won’t reveal – and it’s set to be another rocky ride to reach the Iron Throne.
Something that won’t faze her.
We’re now up to series five of Game Of Thrones. Does the show still feel as exciting? Yeah because the boys, David [Benioff] and Dan [Weiss], the creators of the show, just ratchet it up every season. It’s getting bigger and bigger and they always manage to add new elements of power play you’ve not seen before. Without giving too much away, there’s a religious coup this season which is new.
The show certainly hasn’t got any easier to watch… It is brutal, but it’s also engaging in those elements that make people human, things like sex, violence, avarice, power, grief and death. It’s done with a real irreverency. Nothing’s sacred – anyone can be killed off at any point, just like in life. The show also credits its audience with some intelligence that they can keep up with all the characters and storylines. TV has taught film a lot about how you can have confidence in your audience.
Margaery has her eye fixed on new king Tommen, 12. Dean- Charles who plays him is 17, and there’s a lot been made of the age difference between you both. Does that bother you? It’s interesting that people have made such a fuss out of the age difference, but if the gender roles were reversed, it wouldn’t be commented upon in the same way. I’m just trying to do the best I can in the job I’ve been given. I was cast five years ago; I didn’t know this was going to happen in the story. And I really didn’t, because I hadn’t read the books.
Why not? I asked David and Dan if I should and they said, “It’s up to you. It probably won’t help you with your characterisation of Margaery because we’re going to flesh her out in the show.” Margaery’s personality isn’t written in the book. She’s a good person, she has a good heart.
She is power hungry though… That’s a massive oversimplification. She’s not a single operative, she’s not Lady Macbeth. She’s not power-hungry; she is the ambassador for her family and because of the medieval setting where marriage is the way to play power politics, she is just trying to control the sway of the politics of the country.
You’re very passionate in that defence. I just don’t like oversimplification. Actors go to a lot of trouble trying to make these three-dimensional, contradictory, thought-out people, you know? Sorry, I didn’t mean to attack you…
Totally fair enough. You said earlier, while in make-up, that you don’t want to be seen as an emblem of girl power. Why’s that? Equality is about men and women being equal not girl power. We should all just stop wasting time arguing about definitions of feminism and equality and just concentrate on getting it done. Because equal pay, childcare issues, all the glass ceilings still exist, even within our apparent constitutional and legal equality. But also in the wider world, 39,000 women a day get forced into child marriage. As emancipated, 21st century women who are living in a cosmopolitan city, why are we reducing ourselves and putting our energy into the wrong thing?
How then do you feel on the eve of a general election about politics in the UK? I think there’s an apathy at the moment but I hope that’s just a chapter in history, because it’s too important. Women haven’t even had the vote 100 years, how upsetting that there is already that indifference. Politicians are just coming out with soundbites. It’s really hard to navigate and don’t get me wrong, I’m like, “F**king hell – there’s no one that inspires me either.”
Can you see that changing? I hope we can be inspired by a whole new level of politicians because people fought too hard and there are so many people – especially women – out there in the world who still don’t have a voice. People are interested in politics because they watch House Of Cards and Game Of Thrones. They say, “Oh I love [Game Of Thrones] because it’s escapism” and you’re like, yeah but you love it because there’s escapism at the same time as being accurate to your life.
Have you had any personal experience with politicians? I went to the White House Correspondents’ Dinner a few years ago with Nikolaj Coster- Waldau [Jaime Lannister]. All the politicians and interns go crazy for the show, and it’s obvious why: it’s their world. It’s all politics and deal-making and back-stabbing. I’m sure the corridors of Westminster are exactly the same.
What could modern politics learn from Game Of Thrones? I’m sure David Cameron wishes he had a few dragons that he could set fire to Ed Miliband with. If you’re talking about charismatic personalities we’d all vote for Peter Dinklage [Tyrion Lannister] for PM, wouldn’t we? He’s an intelligent man, a great orator.
Is he as much fun on set as we imagine? Peter is very droll, Lena [Headey] is crazy mad in a fun way – she’s about as far away from Cersei Lannister as you can get. We have a lot of fun. When the alarm goes off at five, and you’re not going to get into a shower until eight at night, you’ve got to laugh.
Are you good at making people laugh? No. I’m one of those people who doesn’t say something for months and then will say something devastatingly funny out of the blue. I’m more the listener. I’m quite an easy-going, fun person. She says… [laughing]
Would you be upset if people didn’t think that about you? I wouldn’t be upset about what people think of me. That’s rule number one of surviving in this industry: don’t care what people think. Just be true to yourself and be as pleasant and professional as you can. If you start caring what people think, you’re screwed.
That’s not always easy though, has that always been your personal experience? That’s the difference between being a 33-year-old woman and in your teens. You know who you are; you’ve gone through a lot of angst to feel comfortable with who you are. Then for a while you pretend you don’t care, and you still do. I think your early 30s is a very empowering age for women, you get your priorities in the right order.
Do you think it’s a coincidence that you’re getting the best roles of your life in your 30s? That’s an interesting question, and I don’t know the answer to it. It’s probably not a coincidence, but who am I to say? I’m kind of grateful that I’m a late bloomer because it’s given me time to develop as a human. It’s also about learning how the industry works, not taking things so personally and learning to – it sounds like a cliche because of the titles of the projects I’ve been in – play the game. If you don’t enjoy the journey, if you’re just striving to get there, then what’s the point?
So enjoying the moment is crucial… The major specification of an actor when we’re in the job and we’re ‘acting’ is: being in the moment. So it’s learning to utilise that skill set that an actor has in real life. That’s something I’ve learnt to do over time.
What does that mean in terms of a career or life plan? There’s no grand plan. I just want to do good work. I study every script on a case-by-case basis of what I think is going to challenge me and make me grow.
And if someone said, “We’ll give you £5million to do this rom-com but it’s an awful script” would you? Well… [laughs] ask any actor that and see what they say. I have the luxury and security of having been in the Game Of Thrones cast for half the year for the last however many years, to be able to spend the next six months asking, ‘What do I really want to do? Do I want to go back on stage for peanuts? I’d really like to, but my team are saying that maybe I should capitalise on my current scene in films at the moment.’ You have to be a bit strategic about it, but that’s the actor’s struggle – it’s the artist’s struggle – to balance your artistic need for catharsis with commercial viability, and that is the line we walk. But then you can strike gold. The Hunger Games and Game Of Thrones have ticked both those boxes.
Will you move to the States for your career? There’s been opportunities to do so and I have a love affair with New York. But in my heart of hearts, I’m a London girl, so that’s why I’ve never fully up and left. I would go to America for a finite period of time, definitely. We do talk about it every year.
Does the fact you’ve had fallow periods professionally inform where you are now? Yeah, that definitely gives you a philosophical stand-point. If you’re persistent and you’re a good person, and you treat people as you would be treated, and you f**king work hard, then ultimately it will all come out in the wash.
And did you ever think about giving up during those times? No. There was no plan B. There can’t be. It was always, “this is who I am. I’m an actor.” I want to tell stories. I’m obsessed with exploring the human condition. The way humans navigate what it is to exist and facing mortality is we tell stories. Because life’s hard, you know? Look at the news; the world is unjust. It’s my way of coping with it.
Is that something that’s been there since you were a child? I think so. All the clothes my family didn’t want anymore, half went to Oxfam and half to my dressing-up box. I was an only child until I was seven, so I did a lot of talking to myself and dressing up in different costumes, and acting out roles.
With roles in Game Of Thrones and The Hunger Games comes public interest. Are you able to still go about your life relatively unbothered? Not any more. Anonymity has kind of disappeared out the window in the last year and a half. But I don’t mind it; it’s part of doing well. It’s a champagne problem: “My diamond shoes are too tight”.
But are there any times when you would like to be left alone? I have a rule that I don’t take selfies with fans… I sound really obnoxious here talking about ‘when I take selfies with fans’. I won’t take pictures with fans in the direct area where I live because that’s my home. That’s not ‘Natalie the Professional’, that’s just Nat going to Waitrose. But if you’re out and about on a red carpet or walking down the streets of Soho of course.
Have you noticed people taking secret photos of you? It happens. And it’s not really ideal. The times it’s happened to me and it’s been an unfortunate situation, I go up to the person and say, “How would you feel if I did that to you? If you’d have asked me, I’d have said yes.” I get very protective when I’m with my sister, or friends, because that’s not their life. But these are all interesting and very modern phenomenon. I’m not on social media and I’m not for a reason. Because I don’t think you can be a hypocrite about it, you know? It’s a minefield, we’re all just trying to get the balance.
You ran the London Marathon last year. Any regrets you’re not doing it again next weekend? That was one of the most incredible experiences of my life – I’m hoping to run the New York Marathon in November. It proved something about my mental capacity that I didn’t know I had. It shows that if you put your mind to something and you’re focused you can do anything.
Game Of Thrones season five continues Mondays at 9pm on Sky Atlantic