You remember the awe, right? That feeling you had months ago, many moons before COVID-19, when Game of Thrones’ ultimate villain died at the hands of one Arya Stark, the small-but-mighty Maisie Williams left clutching the sword. In spite of its otherwise universally panned final season, Game of Thrones nailed it with that reveal. There’s just something about Williams and the furrow in her brow that makes you want the world for her. Even when she’s playing a knocked-up teenager in ‘90s rural England, where she’s somehow been suckered into a home invasion.
That’s the premise of Williams’ newest film, the horror drama The Owners, in which Williams plays Mary, whose boyfriend, Nathan, is so sick of their one-horse town that he decides to steal cash from some old people. Turns out, those old folks are pretty smart, and they turn on their invaders with violent delight. Like so many women left to clean up their boyfriend’s messes, Mary must fight her way out to survive.
A horror fan for much of her young life, Williams is still piecing out her career post-Thrones, and though Mary has none of Arya’s sword skills, she’s no less scrappy. As she promotes her recent releases, including The New Mutants and Two Weeks To Live—all while waiting out the pandemic—Williams is looking ahead to what’s next. And in the meantime, keeping in touch with old friends.
After Game of Thrones ended, how did you go about picking what you wanted to do next? What did you want out of the next phase in your career?
I think I’m still trying to [figure that out]. I took [The Owners] because I liked the prospect of doing something set in the ’90s which was a psychological thriller. Psychological thrillers are one of my favorite genres. I also think the ’90s is such an iconic time period in the U.K., particularly in the rural UK. You always have the images of the supermodels, but I thought it’d be really cool to see how the rest of the world lived.
After the Thrones finale, did you feel at all lost? You’d spent so much of your career and your young life focused on this show. Was that intimidating, or were you immediately ready to dive into the next thing?
I guess for a time, yes, but there’s so many other things that I want to do. And there’s so many things that were never really fulfilled by being a part of Game of Thrones. There’s so many other avenues to the industry which really interest me and so many different types of filmmakers. There’s so much that goes into the preparation and the rehearsing and creating of the character. And with Arya, I did that [character development] 10 years ago, but we never did that again because it was feeding off the work I’d done the year before and turning it into something new. So for me, I found something new, and to show people a different side of myself is something I’m excited [about] for the future.
You’ve been a horror fan for a while. What do you love about horror, and what drew you to The Owners in particular?
It think feeling scared is linked with a very positive feeling [for me], and it has since I was a kid. It’s because I was exposed to a lot of really inappropriate horror films since I was really young. [Laughs] And now, the feeling of being terrified by a movie is an adrenaline rush that I’m really hooked on.
With The Owners…watching it with the score and the edit, it’s so terrifying. And I am in the film! And I was still so creeped out by it. I actually had to turn the sound off at one point. I was like, “This is quite scary.” But originally when I signed on, I actually thought it was really funny.
Your character, Mary, starts out as the somewhat cliche girlfriend role, but quickly turns into main catalyst of the rest of the film. She’s the main heroine, something you don’t always get in the horror genre.
I think [director Julius Berg] wants to do things which are unexpected, and Mathieu Gompel, they wrote it together. They wanted to do something different. Even when Mary tells Nathan she’s pregnant, we went through so many drafts, and in one of the drafts he doesn’t want anything to do with her. And then I was like, “Why don’t we change that? Why doesn’t he be super supportive of her, and that’s kind of what pushes him to take this so far?” Julius was so down for that and changed the whole script. It changed Nathan’s character so much.
This genre has been exhausted. Horror pictures have been filmed since the dawn of time, so it’s nice when you get to work with someone who’s like, “The story has been done before. The genre has been done before. It’s not new. What are we going to do to make this cool?” I really appreciate thinking like that because it goes a long way.
You’re obviously familiar with fight choreography, but I’d imagine this was a lot different than sword fighting. What was filming this new, much messier version like?
Yeah, it was different. And I didn’t want to look like I knew how to fight! I had to internalize so much of it, because a lot of playing Arya was just muscle memory and making everything look as effortless and real as possible. But with Mary it’s just, like, she doesn’t know what she’s doing. She’s just pregnant. [Laughs]
When you’re filming a horror movie, are you ever genuinely frightened?
The only time when I was actually—well, I wasn’t scared, but I felt like what we were creating was very harrowing, was when [actress Rita Tushingham], she had her hands tied to the AGA [gas range] and she’s in her gas-mask suit singing, “Ring around the rosy, a pocket full of posies.” And we did this long take where we just let her sing for probably 10 minutes or something. And she’s singing all these different verses, and she’s in and out of consciousness. And she’s singing like a little child, and she’s singing like an angry grown-up. And just watching her perform like that and having a front-row seat, I was like, “This is probably the most incredible thing I’ve ever watched.”
Since you finished Game of Thrones, have you kept in touch with the rest of the cast? Have you met Sophie’s baby?
No, sadly I haven’t really been traveling much, so I’ve not met the baby! But I have been keeping in touch with the cast. We have a group chat where we all speak, which is really nice.
And I actually live quite close to Kit Harington, and so I see him walking his little doggy during lockdown. I’ve seen him a couple of times, which was nice.
You’ve mentioned how so many horror movies piggyback and play on what’s come before. Especially recently, the horror genre has seen so many reboots. If there were any old-school scary movie that you could reboot and star in, what would it be?
Oh, wow. I’ve always wanted to be the scary person in a film. So, for that reason, literally any scary film incorporating a child, a scary child. I guess The Ring was good for that, right? I’d love to be that girl. But, in terms of a movie which I was thinking about recently? The Hound of The Baskervilles. That film fucked me up so badly when I was a kid, and yeah, I feel like if they are on the reboot train then maybe they could do that. That would be fun.
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