Maisie Williams: “I think it’s sad that you only get to see one type of beautiful on screen”

Maisie Williams’ career is going well. On top of starring as Arya Stark on the biggest show on television, she has a lead role in Early Man, an upcoming animated movie from the people behind the Wallace & Gromit series; a part as Wolfsbane in X-Men spinoff The New Mutants; and plenty of opportunities in the acting world if she wants them. But even for someone with her reputation, Hollywood is a tough place to thrive, as she related to The Irish Times:

It’s only now I’m starting to realise the characters that are available to me because of the way I look and the characters that aren’t available to me. It’s a very shallow industry. And I don’t look like someone who is cast in roles that are, well, sexualised. Don’t get me wrong. I’m completely in awe of Hollywood’s leading ladies. I love looking at those totally jaw-droppingly beautiful women. But I think it’s sad that you only get to see one type of beautiful on screen.

Williams’ experience in Hollywood has been pretty unique thus far. She was cast as Arya Stark when she was just 13. It was her first acting role of any kind, and for a long time, she didn’t have to deal with the stresses of trying to break into the industry or compete for roles. When you’re playing a character as good as Arya Stark, why go elsewhere?

But Game of Thrones is almost over, and the young cast members who got their starts on the show — including Williams, Sophie Turner and Isaac Hempstead Wright — will soon have to fend for themselves. With the connections they’ve made and the experience they gained, I’m sure they’ll be fine, but it will be interesting to see them play a new ballgame.

Williams has been able to sidestep the shallower parts of the industry partly because Game of Thrones has acted as her “safety blanket,” but also because of how she was raised, as she described to the Times:

I didn’t even know what the word feminist meant until I became actress. Within my family I never felt that I had to conform to any kind of types. I had no idea about what was typically male or typically female. I didn’t even know about skin colour. I used to go trampolining with two guys called Andy. One of them was black and one of them was white. And I remember I was invited to a birthday party by one of the Andys, and Mum said, ‘It’s the black Andy.’ And I asked, ‘Which one is the black Andy?’ I didn’t even know. But I think it’s quite lovely that I was so clueless.

That sounds a little like an Arya-esque upbringing, despite all the restrictions placed on women in Westerosi society. It reminds me of Arya describing the time she shot arrows in the Winterfell courtyard while Ned watched, smiling. “I knew what I was doing was against the rules, but he was smiling so I knew it wasn’t wrong. The rules were wrong.”

Williams also talked a bit about Early Man, with which she has a deeper connection than I assumed. “Growing up, I loved Chicken Run, because it’s driven by Ginger, who is such a fantastic character,” she said. “So to be a part of that same world and to be playing another woman who is popular for her talents and not for her looks, and whose main story arc has nothing to do with the interest of boys, is very cool.”

[Aardman animations is] such a huge part of life in the southwest [of England]. I hold Aardman animation very close to my heart. It was huge, obviously, in my school growing up, to the point where I used to do claymation with my friends. We’d make these little stop-motion stories. There was a lot of stop in our stop-motion. But I’d never actually been to Aardman Studios. It was really exciting to look down at these little plasticine figurines. I would have been thrilled to just see the Chicken Run characters or the Wallace & Gromit characters. But to hold Goona, who I get to bring to life, was a total dream come true. It was all my Christmases come at once.

Who else wants to see those homemade step-motion movies?

Anyway, appearing in so many high-profile projects also means that there are a lot of action figures out there molded in Williams’ image, and she’s determined to put them to good use. “My nephew is not old enough to have seen Game of Thrones,” she says. “So he doesn’t quite understand the small collection of characters I’ve given him. Someday, as he grows up, he’s going to realise, and think, Hang on a minute – all these characters are you.”

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