It just doesn't seem right watching Natalie Dormer act in contemporary clothing, let alone with her natural blond hair.
"I do quite a lot contemporary stuff," Dormer told me, laughing, during a phone interview from London, "but the American audience perhaps wouldn’t know me so well for that."
What Americans do know the British actress for is her role as the brunette Anne Boleyn in "The Tudors," Showtime's bodice-ripping take of the lives and wives of 16th century British King Henry VIII. BBC America currently airs repeats of that series on Wednesdays, but fans can see the modern, blond Dormer in the network's horror-comedy mashup "The Fades," in which she plays Sarah, a ghost-fighting "angelic."
Without spoiling—the network airs the fourth of six episodes at 8 p.m. Feb. 4 (but I recommend you find them and start from the beginning; my review here)—Dormer's character is put through the wringer.
"I got a great kick out of this show because it was so physically demanding," Dormer said. “A lot of extreme stuff happens, without giving too much away, we all had ash being blown in our faces or were covered in goo and glue or had to deal with peculiar, extreme physical situations.”
Dormer dons period costumes again for her role in Season 2 of HBO’s fantasy hit "Game of Thrones," which begins April 1. She finished filming in December, but did not want to reveal too much about her character, Margaery Tyrell. Like Sarah in "The Fades," practically anything you say about Margaery is a spoiler.
But I think it's fair to say that Margaery is the sister of the Knight of Flowers, who after much drama marries a contender to the Iron Throne. And Dormer did say she's signed on to the show for multiple seasons. "Absolutely. Margaery really comes into her own in series [seasons] 3 and 4."
While you're waiting for "Thrones" to return, you can see Dormer in the Madonna-directed film "W.E.," which opens Feb. 10 in Chicago, and in modern clothes—and goo—in "The Fades."
Dormer and I talked more about Sarah and "The Fades," so stop reading if you're not caught up. We also talked about "Games of Thrones," "W.E." and working for Madonna.
ABOUT THE FADES
OK, so it’s been awhile since you filmed “The Fades” but hopefully we’ll—
You’ll jog my memory. [Laughs.]
I love that it’s this mix of comedy and heavy drama and romance and scariness. Is that kind of what struck you, too, and attracted you to it?
Absolutely. I think [creator] Jack Thorne [who also did the Brit version of “Skins”] is a master at sort of mixing these genres up. And his dexterity in the script was what really attracted to me to it. When I read the script initially, because he can jump [not just] in a few scenes but within a few lines from a very funny moment to, as you say, a very profound or a very scary moment. And that's really down to Jack’s writing. That’s the way Jack writes. He’s very agile and dexterous in the way he writes and its kind of fun to have to keep up with the writing, so to speak.
But I think that's what makes the show. I think that’s what made the show as popular as it has been, because it’s so hard to sort of pigeonhole it and say this is good for people who love their teen comedy or this is good for people who like to be scared. It’s got that little bit of everything as does human life, right?
True. It’s fun to see you not in a corset and long skirts for once, in period costumes—and with blond hair. How was that?
[Laughs.] I do quite a lot contemporary stuff, but the American audience perhaps wouldn’t know me so well for that. As you say, they’re used to seeing me in long skirts and a corset.
I got a great kick out of this show because it was so physically demanding. And it wasn’t just the same for me. It was for a lot of the cast. There’s a lot of running around. A lot of extreme stuff happens, without giving too much away, we all had ash being blown in our faces or were covered in goo and glue or had to deal with kind of peculiar, extreme physical situations that Jack had dreamt up. So I think any actor kind of really enjoys that, because if you get pushed and challenged physically it just adds to the whole fun of the game and playing it and finding something new, like surprising yourself.
With all the special effects and things going on, is it a challenge to act without that stuff being there in front of you?
We had the most amazing—considering the budget, I mean—it’s kind of testament to what grassroots like British TV can do. We in no way had any kind of budget that you would expect for this kind of show or maybe an American audience would be used to having. So it’s a testament to our effects team, how good a job they did.
And not as much was done, like CGI, as you would imagine. If they could give it to us physically, they would. I mean, like the make-up, they did an amazing job with the fades with prosthetics. And as the story continues, you see more and more gory stuff.
But it’s kind of a blank canvas, because Jack created this whole new mythology, this whole new theology based around the science behind the fades. So I think that the make-up and the special effects people had a lot of fun with this blank canvas, you know, creating this whole new world or parallel world.
It was fun for all of us in that way, because say with the vampire genre or the zombie genre, which everyone knows the answers to. We’re kind of acquainted with them after a certain point, because there have been so many shows or films, like the vampire thing, whether it be “Interview with a Vampire” or “Twilight” or “Buffy” or whatever it would be, those certain rules that we all know historically about like a vampire, like garlic, stakes through the heart, must be invited in, all that kind of stuff. And, similarly, with zombies there are those things.
What was great about this was we were all learning together, the writers, producers, actors, makeup. It was kind of like, “Can they do that?” “Can Fades do that?” And what do we think, what’s the answer to this question, you know, how would we portray that, how would we comment on that. It was a lot of fun for all of us, because we were writing a mythology from the start, from scratch.
It’s interesting that Sarah, even as a Fade, seems to be clinging on to her human life and especially to Mark. Did you find it fun to play that love story?
Yeah. It was really interesting. All goodsci-fi or supernatural asks really interesting, profound philosophical questions. There’s a lot of fun in there but you’re classic, great horror orsci-fi asks you philosophical questions about the human state as well.
And for me what was interesting was this whole thing about death and love and that love can live beyond the other side and this fear that we all have of what's beyond and losing our loved ones and being alone. The show does ask some quite big questions, which I think is good and totally in context with kind of the teenage cast that sort of leads us in, because when do you have all that angst about life and death and your sense of identity? That's when you’re a teenager, when you’re an adolescent, when you have all these profound questions hit you the first time.
And I just thought it was really cleverly done the way all the characters were interlinked. I had so much fun as well, so much fun, working with Johnny Harris, who’s a BAFTA-nominated actor in this country and he’s playing Neil in the show. And he was just such a good comrade to be working opposite. Sarah’s story, that sort of triangle of loyalty, [should she be] loyal to Neil and the angelics or be loyal to her husband in her other life was a real gift to play that friction, to be torn like that.
So tell me, do you believe in ghosts?
Do I believe in ghosts? [Laughs.] I’m sorry. I’m laughing; I get asked this in every interview to do with this show. It’s like I’m not saying that you’re unoriginal or anything. [Laughs.]
Well, it’s an obvious question, I guess.
Sure it is. Look, hey, the biggest question in life is death; that’s a cutesy thing to say, but it’s true. And what I find so fascinating is all the way that really different religions handle it, you know, be it Hinduism, Buddhism, Roman Catholicism, everyone’s got a take and set of answers for it.
And what I just love about Jack is Jack’s writing this whole thing and going, “Here’s my answer.” [Laughs.] It’s just like sure, why not? I mean, some people have got this kind of attitude to religion that would say, “Well, your answer is as good as the next persons.” That's what I kind of find fascinating, really, is a fresh take on what could be the big unanswered question.
Right. So do you?
Do I believe in ghosts?
No, I’m probably going to give you a really “actor” answer. I believe in energy, so it depends on how that manifests itself. But, you know, I think Mr. Jack Thorne’s answer could be given as much credit as anyone else’s. [Laughs.]
Right. I loved the whole idea that they're trapped and that man has sort of taken away their ascendant spots.
The idea that I really love in the show, Curt, is that life is unfair, so whoever said death should be fair? I think that fundamental premise of it being random. Some people have managed to ascend, some people haven't. Death can be as crappy as life can in being unevenhanded in that way. I think that's a really clever, interesting premise to start, and I like that a lot, that's what attracted me.
ABOUT GAME OF THRONES
With “Game of Thrones,” you’ve signed on to the biggest craze in the States, I think, probably around the world.
Well, again, all I can say is “Thrones” is just like “The Fades,” in so far as the quality is just there in the script, immediately, before you’ve done anything. When you’re just sitting down reading it, the quality just glares at you from the page.
And I kind of kept away from the show when I was taking the meetings. I wasn't acquainted with the show before I went in to meet the delightful Mr. [David] Benioff and [D.B.] Weiss [exec producers].
And I’m kind of glad I didn't, actually, because I think I would have been scared off [laughs], because it was so awesome when I watched it.
And I’m really, really proud to be a part of the “Thrones” family now. I just finished second series before Christmas and I’ll be doing third series in the summer. And I think, again, it’s really bravely written. It’s got a phenomenal cast, and, yeah, it’s a great privilege to be a part of the gang, and it’s a big gang.
It’s a huge gang, yeah.
It’s a huge gang. But I have to tell you it’s a really well supported, frankly, family. It really is, so it’s cool. I’m very proud.
One of your “Fades” castmates is in this, too.
Joe Dempsie [who plays John in “The Fades” and Gendry in “GOT”], yeah.
Tell me about your character, Margaery Tyrell, as much as you can say. It’s kind of weird, because saying anything, almost like with Sarah, saying anything is sort of a spoiler I think.
Yeah. Well, to be perfectly honest, I would have to agree with you there. So maybe I’ll ease off on that. [Laughs.] It’s really interesting, because both shows have this amazing cult following, you know? ... It’s kind of intriguing to be opened up to the sci-fi, super horror or fantasy communities and seeing just how dedicated they are. I’ve never come across fans, like cult fans to these cult shows. They're just so supportive and they’re so dedicated. And, as an actor, you really feel supported and you want to really push yourself, because there’s just so much enthusiasm.
I heard you’re a good fencer and I was wondering if Margaery is ever going to take up a sword.
Oh, well, you know [laughs], I have a few seasons in me. You never know what's going to happen. [Laughs.] But Loras, the Knight of Flowers, my brother, is meant to be the greatest night throughout the Seven Kingdoms, so maybe she picked up a little bit, who knows? [Laughs.] We’ll have to wait and see, won't we?
Give us a tease, a non-spoilery tease about Season 2, even if it’s just from your experience and what you saw.
Oh, a tease. [Laughs.] It’s war. It’s war and it’s serious. It’s the same with “The Fades,” the battle is on, life and death. The battle is coming, so it’s serious now. [Laughs.]
And you’re looking forward to more seasons, right?
Absolutely. Absolutely. Margaery really comes into her own in series [seasons] 3 and 4.
All right. Finally I wanted to ask you about “W.E.” You play the queen mum when she was young, right? How was that experience?
Yeah, that's right. It was a really interesting experience. I just think in all stories there are two sides to every story and the Wallis Simpson story needed to be done and it was kind of fitting that a woman as strong and passionate as Madonna should do it. It was kind of fascinating to look at another part of our native history. I don't know if it’s because of the Kate and Will’s marriage last year, but as you were saying you guys stateside [watched] as we did here there seems to be like this renaissance of interest in our royal family again. So it’s kind of interesting looking back a couple of generations and revisiting some of their stories. Yeah, interesting project.
Do you ever get a little nervous playing someone so revered who was real in history?
Definitely. But it was the same with the Queen Mother, it was the same with Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon as it was with Anne Boleyn, I read a stack of books. In the case of “W.E.,” Madonna actually pushed three biographies of Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon over the table and said, “Read.”
She did that with Andrea Riseborough and with James D’Arcy, all of us were told to read, because she knew everything. She’d read every book for the last decade or whatever, because she’d been so fascinated by the story, hence her obsession.
I studied Anne Boleyn myself for “The Tudors,” which I did myself under my own steam because I think it’s important as an actor to know what really did happen so that you can sort of be informed about the choices you make. Even if the text steers away from the reality because there will always be artistic interpretation, of course, you know what really did happen.
It’s always good to be informed. Although and you could argue similarly with “Game of Thrones,” it’s like to read the books and even though the scripts may diverge away from the books and as a series continues, how true is the series going to be to the books and everything. I think it’s always good for an actor to be as informed as they possibly can be about where their texts come from.
How was it working with Madonna?
Oh, man, she’s a workhorse. She is. That woman obviously doesn't need to sleep. She’s kind of inspiring in that way. She’s one of those people who doesn't believe in saying it’s not possible. She kind of reaffirms your kind of like possible mental attitude in life. It’s just like get it done, work hard.
And that was probably a good mindset to be in. I’m about to start a play. But I’m about to go into a grueling rehearsal period, every evening, doing a play. [Laughs.] The whole workhorse mentality is a good thing for me to be thinking at the moment. [Dormer is starring title role of the Young Vic Theatre's revival of Patrick Marber's "After Miss Julie."]