ou need to write a whole other article about that,” says Natalie Dormer, sweeping her hair to one side casually, the shaved part of the head she sports as gun-toting rebel Cressida in the Hunger Games: Mockingjay films having completely grown back. But try as she might to keep that particular Games hat on today, there’s no escaping the Hodor-sized elephant in the room.
Dormer came under fire earlier this year for comments she made about her role as scheming Queen Margaery Tyrell in Game of Thrones. In the show, Tyrell makes a play for power by seducing a young King Tommen (aged 12 in the books, but played by 17-year-old Dean Charles Chapman). But when Dormer was asked about the scene in an interview, her comments were grossly taken out of context online to imply that she condoned having sex with underage children. In August, the actor released a statement on the website Gossip Con to clear up once and for all that her words had been twisted. Only, from the sounds of it, she’s not quite finished yet.
“There are several things at play here,” she sighs, staring me down with a defensive yet weary glare. “The first point is that the male actors in the show don’t get a lot of flak when they’re raping and murdering, because people understand it’s fantasy, and yet if a female actress has to portray something – which isn’t portrayed explicitly – I get flak, personally.”
Natalie Dormer as Cressida in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2. Photograph: Murray Close/PR company handout
And the second? “That everyone in Game Of Thrones, from Emilia Clarke to Sean Bean, is aged up. When I did those scenes I never imagined I was portraying someone going to bed with an underage child.” Dormer was still concerned enough prior to filming to call the show’s creators, David Benioff and DB Weiss, to ensure she wasn’t put in a “compromising position”. Yet, had that age gap been the other way round, would the world have batted an eyelid? Dormer takes the words out of my mouth. “Frequently the age gap between a male actor and his female love interest in movies is 15 years-plus. Frequently,” she emphasises. “And the same comments are not made.”
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 review: Jennifer Lawrence drags franchise through final round
As an actor who’s often outspoken on ageism, sexism – any kind of controversial “ism”, really – this is the sort of scrutiny that Dormer has had to get used to, fast. It means that conversation with her veers between the candid and cautious. You ask her a question and she deconstructs it to such a degree that you almost forget what you’ve asked her. And she is painfully self-aware, her answers peppered with disclaimers, like excessive footnotes in an otherwise enjoyable read. Still, when you’ve just had your big break thanks to two multi-million dollar TV and film franchises, you have to play the game.
Born in Berkshire and mostly a straight-A student, Dormer only opted for drama school when she missed the grades to study history at Cambridge. Her first role was a biggie, alongside Heath Ledger in 2005’s period romp Casanova, but also a false alarm. There was talk of a three-film deal with Touchstone Pictures, but it never materialised. Due to what she has since described as “bad representation” she found herself out of the audition loop and doing temp jobs for nine-and-a-half months afterwards. Eventually, though, in 2007, along came a plum period role in the shape of The Tudors’ Anne Boleyn and her profile has steadily risen ever since.
Dormer as Ann Boleyn in The Tudors. Photograph: Allstar/BBC/Sportsphoto Ltd./Allstar
Now 33, Dormer has gained a better sense of perspective on her career trajectory. “I’m really glad now that I didn’t pop earlier, because in my 20s, I wasn’t ready,” she reflects. “To get your identity as a woman sorted before you’re questioned about it constantly, and asked in the public sphere to qualify who and what you are… I think most 33-year-old women would say: ‘I wouldn’t do my 20s again for love nor money.’” She’s clearly alluding to her Hunger Games co-star Jennifer Lawrence, who seems to get just as much, if not more, grief for a) being a woman, and b) speaking her mind about it. “With every burden there’s a gift, and with every gift, a burden, as Jennifer’s career proves,” she muses. “When you’ve seen an existence like Jen has, up close, it makes you think hard about what you thought you were striving for in exposure.”
‘I was getting tired of sitting around in a silk shirt’
Dormer’s no stranger to exposure of a different kind. I do wonder how she really feels about nudity being so prevalent in the roles she plays, though, as “powerful” as they may seem on paper. It’s not just The Tudors and Game Of Thrones: more recently, there was BBC2 primetime drama The Scandalous Lady W. Based on a true story, Dormer played the lead Lady Seymour Worsley, who was the talk of 18th-century high society when she left her husband for his best friend. Things get quite steamy. It must be disappointing to bag your first feature-length lead role, only to be asked to take your clothes off. Again.
“I don’t know what the answer is,” she says, shaking her head. “Female empowerment shouldn’t be exclusively about sexuality. And you meet a lot – and I’m going to be careful what I say here – you meet a fair fraction of male writers and directors who want to wave the equality flag and believe that they’re making you a kick-ass female assassin, and they’re empowering you. Whereas true empowerment would be…” she breaks off with a laugh. “You know, not a stylised, hyper sexualisation.”
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell in Game Of Thrones. Photograph: Other
That certainly explains Dormer’s enthusiasm for playing bad-ass film-maker Cressida in the Mockingjay movies. With her undercut and tattooed head, she’s about as far from a wronged woman in a pompadour wig as you can get. “It’s so refreshing to play a woman who’s not defined by the love of a man. I was getting a little tired of sitting around in a silk skirt. It was a good antidote to put on a pair of army boots and run around in the mud for nine months,” she recalls, “but by the time I had finished, I was ready to put the silk skirt back on.”
The Hunger Games: Jennifer Lawrence on Katniss, a \'futuristic Joan of Arc\'
For someone who ricochets constantly between the period and fantasy genres, I wonder who of all these characters she identifies with the most. But Dormer foils my attempt to delve deeper. “It’s always been a joke to a lot of my friends that I play these cool femme fatales who look like they could take over the world with their little finger. I’m not really that, it’s fair to say!” she says. “When it comes down to it, I’m quite a loquacious, quirky, clumsy human being.”
It obviously frustrates her to be categorised and when I ask if she’s worried about being typecast she sets me straight. “I’ve done no more costume drama than Kate Winslet or Keira Knightley,” she points out. “I’ve only put on a corset three times in my life and actually Margaery’s isn’t a corset, it’s a weird infrastructure that puts my breasts up under my chin.”
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The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 - video review
Her next few films see her bust out of that “weird infrastructure” even more. Next year, there’s January’s promising horror film, The Forest, in which she plays a woman who goes in search of her twin sister in Japan’s Aokigahara (“Suicide Forest”) after she mysteriously disappears. Then there’s her turn as a leading virologist tasked with curing the infected in fantasy thriller Patient Zero in the autumn, opposite Matt Smith and Stanley Tucci.
Dormer is clearly excited about having more to discuss in interviews than dragons and doom-laden worlds. “That box people put me in is going to dampen down over the next few years,” she says, as she reels off this list of left-turns. But just in case of any doubt, she locks me again with one of those steely looks, somewhere between Maergary’s chilly gaze and Cressida’s gutsy glare. “I’m aiming to die doing this job,” she adds with unwavering conviction. “Does that answer your question?”
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