First, a story: Picture Ron Howard — director, Oscar winner, Opie. He’s just offered a role in his new movie, Rush, to a young British actress. She’s on the fence. Instead of moving on, finding one of the countless young actresses who would trip over themselves to appear in a Ron Howard movie, Howard flies to London. He sits in the front row of a small play the actress is doing. Then he asks her to reconsider. That actress, as you may have guessed, is Natalie Dormer. Her answer, as you know if you saw Rush in the fall (or just took a stab at it for the sake of helping us through this anecdote), was yes.
Dormer—who appears alongside Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender, and Javier Bardem’s hair in Ridley Scott’s The Counselor (out October 25) — has this effect on people. They’re charmed by her, both onscreen and off. She has a knack for humor — mischief even. In her characters, it’s amplified by a persistent rosebud smirk that twists into a wink with every wry line, as if she’s always stirring something up. You can picture it as, over the phone, she playfully bemoans the usefulness of the word sex: “It’s like Eskimos having however many different words for snow,” she says. “It is so inadequate as a word, really.”
The thirty-one-year-old knows more than a bit about the different meanings of sex and sexiness, having played a clothes-shedding seductress with some frequency. (Her breakout role was as King Henry VIII’s consort on Showtime’s The Tudors.) But recently she’s been pushing for roles with a little more… complexity. And clothing: “I had a little talk with myself,” she says. “I said, ‘I have to stop taking these roles where I am just the chick that is throwing herself at the leading man. No disrespect to that role, but I have kind of done it.” So far, the push is working. Her best-known character, the calculating princess Margaery Tyrell on HBO’s cult-followed Game of Thrones, is nuanced and multidimensional. (Dormer counts Pippa Middleton and Hillary Clinton among her character muses.) And she was just cast in next winter’s YA-juggernaut The Hunger Games: Mockingjay as a documentarian tasked with recording the revolution. “If there’s game in the title,” she says, “I’m there! Ready to play!” Which is exactly the way we feel about her and her movies. Even if she does revert to the nudity.