Hannah Murray for Oyster magazine
From the moment she appeared as the endearing, perpetually whacked-out Cassie Ainsworth on Skins, it was clear Hannah Murray was going to become one of our favourites. When we heard she was going to be on the second season of Game of Thrones, the deal was sealed. Plus, she's not only one of the most promising actors around, she is also someone you'd want to sloth around with in front of the telly.
Emily Royal: Hi Hannah! How are you?
Hannah Murray: I'm really well.
You'll have to excuse me, I've lost my voice. I have a cold.
Oh, that's alright.
So, what are you working on at the moment?
I'm sort of thinking about the third series of Game of Thrones, which will probably start again in the summer.
How long ago did you shoot for season two?
That was last year.
We've been waiting a long time for new episodes. Tell me about your character.
I play Gilly. She lives north of the Wall — she's a wildling. She's basically a young girl in a really, really grim, unpleasant situation. She meets some of the characters from the main cast and hopes that they'll be friends for her.
Had you watched the first season?
Yeah, I watched it when I was offered the part, and was immediately really excited.
Tell me about filming — is it a pretty massive production?
Yeah, it is. It's the biggest-scale thing I've worked on, really. I'm used to TV being the smallest thing, and then I went on to film and that's bigger, and then I went back to TV and it was even bigger than before. The sets are unbelievable. You feel like you're taken into this entirely different world, just by being on set. It's an amazing crew as well; it's like a family. So although it was this huge thing, it felt very welcoming and very friendly and very warm.
Where do you film it?
In Northern Ireland. They're based in Belfast, and film in the surrounding countryside. They also shot quite a lot in Croatia, I think, for the second series, and for the first series in Iceland, but I wasn't lucky enough to film anywhere like that. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for more travel in the next series.
So you're locked in for season three?
I'm not 100 percent locked in, so I can't say for sure, but I'm aware that my character doesn't disappear in the books, so I'm pretty certain I'll be coming back.
Have you read the books?
I haven't, yet. It's on my 'to do' list. I've got them ready. I know the show doesn't adhere 100 percent to the books — they're kind of doing their own thing — but I'd like to get a bit of a sense of what's been written already for [Gilly], so I can work out where she might be going. That's my task at the moment; a very big task.
Do you watch much TV?
Yeah, I watch quite a bit. I was a bit rubbish about watching stuff when I was at university, but recently I moved down to London, and me and my flatmate watch a lot of TV together.
What are your shows at the moment?
I guess it's split between very highbrow and very lowbrow [laughs]. Yeah, I really love Mad Men and The Wire and Six Feet Under, that sort of stuff. And — I've only watched the first couple of episodes of it — but I'm really enjoying Homeland.
Yeah, me too! I just started.
Yeah, I really love watching her.
Yeah. And then — I don't know if you get this over there — my housemate and I are really obsessed with this show called Geordie Shore, which is set in Newcastle.
Is that like Jersey Shore?
Exactly. And also this show called Take Me Out. So, on Saturday evenings we get a little bit obsessed, like "We can't go out, we have to stay home and watch Take Me Out!" So yeah, looking at my Sky Plus box, there's quite a nice balance between complete trash and very high-quality television.
I think it's important to have that balance.
I think so, yes.
Let's talk about Skins. I loved it so much. Does it feel like forever ago?
It was nearly six years ago when I first started — I was 17, and I'm about to be 23 — so it does feel like a really long time ago; especially when I think about everything I've done since then, like all the jobs I've done. And I've done a degree as well, an English degree at Cambridge — I graduated in July last year — so I feel like a very different person from then. I was 18 when I finished the show and still a child, really. But I have very, very fond memories of doing it and I'm still very close to a lot of the people I worked with on it. It's always going to be a part of my life in that sense, you know?
Yeah. And that was your very first acting job, wasn't it?
Very, very first; absolutely. Nothing before that.
The guys who created the show, they're father and son?
Yeah, Bryan was a TV writer and he was coming up with ideas for series and running them past his son Jamie, who was like, "This is rubbish, you should do something about teenagers," so they came up with the show and the characters together. Bryan wrote the majority of the episodes but also had younger writers in, and Jamie wrote an episode [for that first series]. And now the sixth series is on TV at the moment!
What's your favourite moment from your time on the show?
Oh, gosh! I went from never having acted professionally before to being in every day, all day, for several weeks. So, suddenly being immersed in this world and learning how to act in front of the camera — that's a really special thing. There's a sequence in the first series where Cassie attempts suicide; she's wearing a white dress and standing on a bench and dancing and taking pills. We shot it really early in the morning and that was quite special. There was a lot of stuff from the second series with me and Joe — they kind of wrote a lot of scenes about our characters' friendship. And by that time everyone was so close, so we were feeding off a very natural thing.
This interview is for our all-women issue, and lots of people we've spoken to have said that their mum is the woman they admire most. What's your mum like?
We are pretty close — and I'm an only child, so that makes us even closer, I guess. She was really surprised that I got involved in acting, because no one in the family had done it before. She works at Bristol University in the Chemistry department — she's a lab technician — so when I was first auditioning for Skins she was like… Well, she's a slightly pessimistic person. She really didn't want me to get my hopes up or get too excited, and then the further I got, the more scared she got. But I did say that I wanted to be an actor from quite a young age, and she was incredibly supportive. She took me to see loads of plays. We talk pretty often and she sends me lots of emails. She's very good at keeping up on what's going on.
Which actresses do you look up to?
A big one for me has always been Michelle Williams. I think she's incredible … And I think I have a little thing with her 'cause she started out in a teenage drama as well, so I feel a little affinity with her for that … I mean, there's a lot of people my own age who are doing work that I really admire — I think Emma Stone is incredible; I really like Kristen Stewart. There are loads of really great female actors at the moment; it's a really exciting time. But I find it also to be frustrating, 'cause there tends to be not as much work with lots of female characters together — often it's one girl and lots of guys. And obviously there's a lot of great male actors too, but, like, on Game of Thrones I was the only girl in all of my scenes — which is fine, but when there are so many female actors you really admire, you think, "Oh, I'd love to be able to work with her." I think female relationships are under-represented.
Remember when people were making a massive deal about Bridesmaids having an all-female lead cast?
Yeah, I know what you mean, like it's sometimes seen as this special-interest thing. It's like, "Oh, you're making a film about women. How unusual!" And it's like, half the people in the world are women. And also, nobody questions that women will be interested in watching a film about men — no one questions that — but men wouldn't want to watch a film about women? It's just a really unproven idea.
Exactly. Well, thank you so much! Good luck with everything.
And this is somewhat old but I didn't see it posted, so...
Hannah Murray: SKIN YOU ALIVE
HANNAH MURRAY explores greener pastures after portraying Cassie Ainsworth from Skins. From shrooms and weed, she branches out to Westeros and Maine characters—shedding old skin, turning words into flesh, and squeezing a vegetarian diet in between as she breathes life into The Numbers Station and George R. R. Martin and Tim Burton fantasies. Hmm… we smell blood and roses.
STUCK AT HOME SYNDROME
She’s thin. She’s blonde. She says “wow” a lot. It’s been five years since Skins, where Hannah Murray burst onto the scene and into everyone’s wallpapers and Tumblr accounts as pill-popping Cassie. Though playing an anorexic, Hannah embodies the character’s trademark line—“Lovely.” Every Skins fan will probably agree, but if the TV show is a reflection of Bristol’s youth culture and true Brit grit, Hannah is all that and more.
While busy with a flurry of work after Skins (Hannah revealed her acting chops in That Face, Womb, and Chatroom), she was studying English at Cambridge University. Hannah also got a role in HBO’s Game of Thrones as Gilly, the pregnant daughter of Craster. “Nina Gold, Game of Thrones casting director, had cast me in Chatroom so she knew about me,” Hannah recounts. “I just went to audition. I met her and [series creators] David Benioff and Dan Weiss. I read one scene once, and they were like, ‘Okay.’ I left the room not knowing if it had gone really terribly or really well.” Obviously, it’s the latter because David mentioned how Hannah brought a “wonderfully damaged quality” to Gilly—a trait that might just be similar to Cassie’s and her role as a hippie in Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows. “Tim just made everything very easy,” Hannah says. “He was really encouraging, kind, and gentle. I thought he was enjoying what everyone on set was doing.” Having finished school and being cast for more roles, she officially moved to London to focus on acting.
Noon rises as Hannah preps for our interview in London. I panic on the phone with a friend who’s arriving late to pick her up for the shoot. I imagine Hannah cussing as she waits, instead she greets the team without any pretense—in her shirt, jeans, and tousled hair.
Hannah arrives at the city’s ghetto end, downs a bite of vegetarian pizza, and shares her recent dinner with a bunch of the Skins cast. “We’re all really close. I just love it,” she says. “They’re really special friends. I think, ‘coz we went through that experience together and for most of us, it’s our first job, it will always feel like they’re the people who properly understand what it’s like to have the same memories.”
You could say Hannah’s becoming known for landing on a string of disturbed characters, but that’s what makes her special. “I do not know if I draw the line when it comes to choosing roles. I think I draw the line in terms of what I’d let my parents watch,” Hannah laughs, remembering her intimate scenes in Skins. “I’ve read scripts that have full nudity, loads of violence, full of everything. But when it’s written in a clever way, it really works. So I don’t have a set idea of things I would never do and things I would do,” she says. Hannah believes it’s about trusting the people you work with.
“I still feel a bit awkward watching myself on TV,” she snickers then tells me repeatedly how she used to hate it. “On the second season of Skins, Chris Martin, who directed my episode, was like, ‘You’re being ridiculous. You need to learn how to watch yourself ‘coz it’s really useful for an actor to look at what you’ve done and be able to correct it.’ He would try to show me scenes, and I would run into a corner to hide. I’ve tried to get a bit better at watching myself, and I think of it more as a tool to see what I’ve done… I try to be a little less emotional and neurotic about it.”
Hannah could avoid watching herself as much as she wants, but she can’t really do much about the world watching her. “Oh, God,” Hannah laughs. “When I was doing That Face, a guy was waiting for me outside the exit. He was very sweet. He’d drawn a portrait of me, framed it, and he gave it to me. He put so much effort into it, and it was a very technically good drawing… but it didn’t look very much like me. I took it backstage and showed it to the rest of the cast, and they were all like, ‘This really doesn’t look like you’ or ‘I don’t recognize one feature.’ So I felt bad ‘coz the guy tried really hard, and he was a good artist.”
When it comes to image—drawn, photographed or sculpted—Hollywood worships divas who are as fake as their racks, but Hannah keeps it real and keeps everything intensely private (Note: She doesn’t have Twitter. Believe me, I’ve tried stalking. She just doesn’t see why people would want to know her every move). “I always felt a bit weird about having to go to events for a screening of a film or something,” she says. “I’m not very good at the whole dressing up and being glamorous. I get quite nervous in interviews. And when some are very swanky and very sophisticated,” she starts waving her hand like she’s at a red carpet. “I tend to feel a little bit like an outsider.”
Despite her inhibitions, Hannah admits her acting projects incited her interest in people. “Before I started out, I thought I was very much a loner. But when you’re on set or doing a play, you’re around people constantly. You have to think about people all the time. I realized that I love that—being on set, and being in a busy, social environment.”
As for future plans, Hannah is all pajama-ready to read the rest of Game of Thrones while she waits for The Numbers Station, her upcoming movie with John Cusack and Malin Akerman. I ask about a Skins movie. “I think the idea is a seventh season,” she says. The seventh season is a reunion with recurring characters from the past five years. But will Hannah reprise her role as Cassie? She should, unless E4 fancies a riot of fans outside the office building. “One thing I think I’d like to do,” Hannah continues, “Well, I really like singing, but I only ever sing in the privacy of my own bedroom. I don’t ever do it in front of people,” she laughs. “But I really enjoy it; it makes me feel very happy. Maybe if I was forced to do it, I’d be quite interested.” I’m about to force her to sing for the record, but the cab arrives to bring her home.
The sun sets as Hannah leaves Roehampton, but London after dark is still quite bright with young, shiny things—that includes strobe lights, glittery ticker tapes, and Hannah Murray—obviously.
UM, THAT LOOKS MORE LIKE THOMAS THAN POSH KENNETH
Hey, Hannah. You graduated last year. Congrats!
So what are your plans now? Are you focusing on your acting career or do you have other options in mind?
I’m basically focusing on acting now. I moved down to London in October which makes it a lot easier really, ‘coz I was always traveling back and forth when I was in Cambridge. It’s really nice to be able to think about acting and just try to do as much as I can.
Do you read the Game of Thrones books?
Yeah. I’ve read the first two books. I don’t wanna get too far ahead of myself and read all of them in one go. So I’m gonna start reading the next one soon.
Which house do you prefer to be in?
I quite like wolves. I think the Starks are cool for that reason, but then it’s a bit cold in the North so maybe not. I think the Targaryens are pretty cool as well—the whole dragon thing, and having silver hair. I think I could be one of them.
You think you’d make a good Khaleesi?
[laughs] Probably not. I’m too much of a wimp.
In Game of Thrones, you have a relationship with Samwell. What’s your ideal relationship in real life? I bet the guys would wanna know.
I don’t think you can ever plan those kind of things. You know, when you’re with someone, when it’s just so easy to talk to him, you feel like you can talk to this person for the rest of your life. That’s the kind of thing I look for…when things just feel simple and easy.
What’s a typical day when you’re not auditioning or shooting?
If I don’t have anything on work-wise, I go to the gym in the morning, I go swimming. Well recently, ‘coz that’s one of my New Year’s resolution, so I’ve been doing that since January [laughs]. I read a lot of novels, plays. I try to watch as many films as possible. I go to the cinema quite a few times a week. I try to go and see a lot of plays when I’m living in London. I hang out with my flatmates and watch rubbish TV as well. I like going out for dinner a lot with friends.
If you could have 5 people in a party like Skins, who would you wanna bring?
I’ll go with Ernest Hemingway, Andy Warhol, Leonora Carrington, a surrealist artist. I don’t know if you get this show called Geordie Shore—not Jersey Shore. It’s set in Newcastle. There’s 2 girls from that show…Vicky and Charlotte. I think they’re amazing and would be wonderful at a party. I’d definitely have them.
5 tips on being healthy.
*I’m a vegetarian. As a vegetarian, I think a lot more about my diet. My flatmates eat meat. They eat chicken and pasta every meal. I eat loads of vegetables among other different things.
*Swimming is a really good thing to do.
*I think that walking rather than taking public transport is good. It’s not only ‘coz it’s healthy but you see more of the city and you save money.
*I think that sleeping enough is good. I really recommend that. I like sleeping a lot.
*Eat pineapple. It’s a great fruit, and it’s very good for you. The main thing I hate about moving out of my parents’ house is my mom always makes massive fruit salad every morning. I eat loads of the fruit. Eat fruits—especially in the morning.