“You never know what’s around the corner. I feel like you’ve got to live life on the edge a little bit and take risks because we only get one chance to do this, to live your life and to do what you want to do and as selfish as it sounds, I’m going to do it all for me.”
For someone who’s had to spend most of her teenage years insisting on the differences between herself and her on-screen counterpart, there are times when Maisie Williams just can’t help but sound like Arya Stark. As any fan of HBO’s fantasy drama Game of Thrones can testify, however, rarely is this a bad sign of character.
In the landmark television series, Arya is the feisty youngest daughter of nobleman Ned Stark, who is played by Belsize Park resident Sean Bean.
Uncompromising, wise beyond her years and with an unclouded sense of her place in the world – well, it is easy to see why some can’t separate life from fantasy.
Here in the rolling hills of north London, however, Williams is currently justifying one life-changing choice that Arya never had to make. When the burgeoning performer landed her first acting role in Game of Thrones three years ago, she made the decision to leave her Somerset secondary school at the age of just 14, before sitting her GCSEs.
The youngest of four children, it wasn’t a verdict her family took lightly, but the gamble nonetheless attracted its fair share of controversy.
“That’s fair enough,” says the Bristolian, “because I understand everyone has their own rules, but I’m a firm believer in that if you make a decision with your life, it should be 100 per cent what you want to do and you shouldn’t be persuaded by other people’s opinions.
“I spent a lot of time thinking about it, I spoke to my agent about it, other actors about it before I ‘left school’. You get given these opportunities and not everybody gets them and there could be someone who’s gone to drama school and trained for years, come out the other end and there’s nothing there."
“I think for me not to take my opportunities is really selfish because I know there’s many people out there that have ambitions but aren’t in a position, like me, where I get these fantastic opportunities all the time.”
The move ultimately paid off. Sitting down in the main room of Hampstead’s Zebra One Gallery, the now 17-year-old is facing a series of colourful celebrity portraits; shots of musician Miles Kane, Olympic rower Pete Reed, Spandau Ballet’s Martin Kemp and, indeed, herself.
Immediately noticeable is how, on a purely visual basis, the pictures taken of the actress couldn’t look further away from the sooty and tomboyish Arya. Dressed in flowery, bright and stylish shawls and dresses, these shots show a pretty, confident young woman, so it is slightly strange to hear her say she could never be a “classically beautiful Cinderella”.
“That’s not me, and I’m never going to be like that. But Arya stands for the underdog and the outcast and I’m completely cool with that. When I was younger, I was Arya – we were exactly the same and I always had holes in my trousers.
“I guess that’s why it all happened. But I’m not worried about being typecast, there’s enough stuff out there of me just being me.”
Indeed, as an example of the generation of interactive, accessible celebrities, there are few better than Williams. By her own account, she tries to be “on social media a lot. I Instagram, I go on Vine; it’s me just dicking around and being stupid, you as who you are.”
Few adults would begrudge a teenager the chance to be a teenager, especially when presented with one who seems so self-assured. Yet in an age where cyber-bullying is becoming an ever more immediate danger, the issues she faces as a well-known personality can often exacerbate the normal problems that come with a life online.
“I first got Twitter when I’d just done the pilot and Game of Thrones hadn’t even been released, but I had so many followers from the readers of the books who knew the series was coming and saw my thumbnail on the internet. I thought it was so cool that they were there from day one, but, at the time, they were strangers so I got a little bit confused."
“I was a bit in shock at it all. Fans are really lovely but I always get strange messages asking me to marry them, and I say ‘I don’t even know you! You’re going to regret that as soon as you meet me’, I’ll just turn up in a wedding dress and say, ‘OK sure’."
So how does she maintain some perspective, especially when the comments are as critical as they are fanatical? “People on Twitter who I haven’t met, I don’t respect them. I don’t disrespect them either, but I don’t know these people, therefore they have no right to have an opinion on me."
“It’s all very well when people say they’re only saying nasty things because they don’t know you, but they’re only saying good things because they don’t know me. You have to listen to people you know and take advice from people you respect and take criticism from people you respect and I think that’s the way I stay level-headed.”
With such a mature outlook, further success seems inevitable for Willams, but for some of her other co-stars, the red carpet hasn’t always appealed. Jack Gleeson, 22, who plays Joffrey Lanister(????) in the series, has notably taken a hiatus from acting to pursue other ambitions.
His on-screen nemesis says she is “thrilled” he has the confidence to chase his dreams, yet in the same way she is no different; simply another young star who knows exactly what she wants to be.
“I’m not going to be Arya Stark forever and I hope this career continues. I’m not shunning Game of Thrones because it’s been the biggest platform for me, but I’m desperate to show people I’m a normal person too.
“People put you on a pedestal saying, ‘oh, you’re so perfect, you’re amazing’, because they’re used to seeing us on the red carpet where, of course, we dress to look our best. So I like to try and get people to realise this whole fame and celebrity thing is complete rubbish. We are all just normal people.”
Double Exposure Portraits will go on public display from June 7-22 at the Zebra One Gallery. Visit zebraonegallery.com.
tell 'em gurl