There was a subtle power shift last season on Game of Thrones when Margaery Tyrell—the cunning noblewoman played by Natalie Dormer—toyed with King Joffrey’s crossbow inside his bedchamber. Viewers had previously seen the ambitious beauty vow to become queen, relocate to the capital, King’s Landing, and win the hearts of its masses. Now that she was wedding their ruler, the future queen caressed Joffrey’s favorite weapon, making it clear that she would not be intimidated by him or his boyish sadism, and effectively checking her (future) mate.
When not finessing television’s most merciless monarch, Dormer has been busy lately. After outsmarting Sherlock Holmes himself on ABC’s Elementary as Moriarty last May, the British actress seduces both Chris Hemsworth, in Ron Howard’s Rush this month, and Brad Pitt, in Ridley Scott’s The Counselor. But as Dormer told us when we spoke last month—shortly before it was announced that she had been cast in The Hunger Games’ final two installments as Cressida—she’s keen to leave behind the clever-love-interest roles and emulate her favorite movie stars of the 40s. To coincide with our Spotlight of Dormer in V.F.’s November issue, we’ve transcribed our full Q&A with the Hunger Games—Mockingjay co-star, below. (At the very end, Game of Thrones fans, note a semi-significant Season Four spoiler about Margaery and Joffrey.)
Julie Miller: Margaery feels like a very contemporary character. When you were brought onto Game of Thrones, did you look to any modern politicians or politicians’ wives for inspiration?
Natalie Dormer: Margaery brings this whole new dimension, a very modern P.R. savvy, to the power play in Game of Thrones. You see all of these different tactics on the show, be it brute force with a sword or terrorism, all the way down to the subtleties of politics in court. Margaery is more hoping to win over the populace, the hearts and the minds. I think she is more of a hybrid of our royal family—if you want to nod back to Lady Di or the modern-day version, Kate Middleton—and a First Lady in that she is more the power behind the man. Do you think she is sincere?
I do! I always tell people this: to be a savvy politician or a good head of state and to be charitable are not mutually exclusive things. I believe that she is very concerned in the welfare of the orphans and the populace. And it’s more interesting to play if she is sincere, to be honest.
What do you think makes her able to understand and influence Joffrey, this past season at least, when he listens to so few other characters?
I think it’s because Margaery is very good at psychological analysis and figuring out what makes people tick. Sometimes it takes her awhile—you saw her struggling at first to figure it out with Joffrey. Whether it’s Joffrey or Sansa or her brother, she knows how to handle people. She would probably make a very good therapist! [Laughs.] Also, when she talks to someone, she works out what that person wants. With Sansa, it’s a family and to feel that sense of belonging again. Or with Joffrey, he wants violence and excitement. Margaery figures out what people want and is able to figure out a way to combine their interests with her interests, which is a very modern politician’s perspective. Have you gotten any feedback from modern politicians who respect your game play?
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and myself went to the White House Correspondents’ Dinner in D.C., and we were just overwhelmed by the response of the D.C. community who loved the show. [Laughs] We were really made to feel special that evening. People wanted to come and say hi. Maybe the machinations and politics and wrangling and negotiation and power play went down very well on Capitol Hill.
That’s so funny. Did you have any memorable exchanges that night?
Oh you know, everyone just kind of came up to say, “We love the show. It is so amazing.” It is kind of a metaphorical embodiment of what really goes down [in Washington]. The bloodletting! I’m sure that in some partisan forums they would really like to draw the swords at each other occasionally. I think it’s just the psychology and power plays of the show. And there are so many storylines that I think no matter what you do, you can kind of find “your” character that you want to cheer on. Their personality, their storyline that speaks to you as well. I think that is a beauty of the show. Between Margaery, Anne of Boleyn on The Tudors, and Queen Elizabeth in W.E., you’ve played your fair share of royal characters. Are you surprised that casting directors continue to see you as this regal “type”? Well, I don’t really know what that’s about. [Laughs.] You’d have to ask casting directors. My career has been so much more diverse than that, considering the stage work I’ve done and the TV shows I’ve done. It just so happens that the two roles I am best known for in the States, Tudors and Game of Thrones, have a royal association. What I’m really enjoying at the moment is that I am getting opportunities and I am about to start a job that I cannot tell you about, but it is really giving me the chance to turn away from that and challenge people’s perceptions of me as an actress. Whatever makes me seem innately royal, hopefully that will be challenged in the next few years—for the audience and for myself.
You stepped away from the royal arena with Elementary, where you had the amazing task of—spoiler!—playing the one person able to outsmart Sherlock Holmes, Moriarty. And because of your aliases, you had to ostensibly play three different characters.
Wasn’t that awesome? That was, like, the best gig ever.
Three characters at once. With different accents, we should mention. How was that experience?
Network shows shoot so fast, so you kind of have to just go with your instinct. Robert Doherty, the creator of the show, has such a strong vision of what makes that show unique and special. He has reinvented the mythology of Sherlock with these characters that have been done so many times. The success comes from his vision being so strong, so I kind of just followed his lead. I talked to Rob and worked with Johnny [Lee Miller] on our characters’ relationship. It was really fun to work with such a strong actor who was confident in his characterization, because I knew exactly where I had to be to be his rival.
I love the twist that Moriarty, in this modern adaptation, is a female and a former love interest.
It’s actually genius, because the whole concept of the nemesis being kind of your raison d’être kind of parallels that of your true love. Moriarty has been done so many different ways, but it really is a twist of genius to make [Sherlock and Moriarty] ex-lovers and soul mates. The psychology—the closest you can get to another human being is being in love with them. And then to turn that on its head, that is so exciting. And who knows that the future holds for Moriarty [on the show]. I don’t think she has completely disappeared . . . Moriarty and
Margaery are both so clever and so many steps ahead of everyone around them. Do you find it easy to convey that type of cunning?
That’s just me as an actress following my script. [Laughs.] I wish I was as intelligent psychologically as those women. If only.
Do you remember the moment you wanted to be an actress, as a career?
My first main job was [Lasse Hallström’s 2007 drama] Casanova, and I remember being in one of the taxi speedboats from Venice Airport flying over across the lagoon to be taken to the hotel to start production. And I was looking at Venice while riding out over the water and pinching myself, thinking, “Oh my god, I am actually being paid to be in this incredible city to act.” After three years of classical training, where we are told, in British drama schools at least, that we are going to sit in sawdust for years and years and years and see so much unemployment and we should prepare ourselves for the worst. The magic of Venice appearing out of the lagoon and me realizing, “I can actually do this as a job.” You just never take it for granted.
You have some exciting movies coming out. Can you talk about the character you play, Gemma, in Rush?
James Hunt [the 70s Formula One driver, played by Chris Hemsworth in the film] was just such a charismatic, radical, intoxicating sportsman and personality. I play one of his early flings, which I suppose serves as some sort of device to explain to the audience the charisma and magnetism that came from this man. I met Ron Howard for the other role, to play the role of Hunt’s wife [which Olivia Wilde ended up getting]. Ron got back to me and said, “We’re sorry, we’re going to go in this direction. But we’d love for you to play Gemma.” I try to stay consciously away from the roles of the girl who throws herself at the leading man, because I’ve done it a lot and I want to move on. I ticked that box.
But I had a conversation with my agents, and they said, “It’s Ron Howard, an Oscar- winning director.” And the man very nicely came to see me onstage when I did Miss Julie in Patrick Marber’s After Miss Julie. So I thought, “You know what, it’s Ron Howard. I’ll play one of those roles one last time for him.” Then I found myself in a similar situation with The Counselor and Ridley Scott. And I thought, “O.K., this really is the last time!”
What can you say about your role there? Your character’s name, mysteriously, is “The Blonde.”
I can’t say much! I am not allowed, I am afraid.
Whom did you film with?
I shot with Brad Pitt. And Cameron Diaz. Out of that stellar cast, you can’t really draw the short straw.
Which actresses do you admire most?
I love watching the old movies. I love Katharine Hepburn. I just adore her and everything that she stood for. I find it interesting watching the likes of Gene Tierney and those classic movies of the 40s. They were really magnetic, compelling women and there was just something almost esoteric about them. As an actress, I think it’s important to look back and realize that we aren’t always quite as original as we think we are. There’s this grand, textured history for us over the last 100 years of incredible writers, directors, and performers.
Circling back to Game of Thrones for one final question: your character gets some of the best—and raciest—gowns on G.O.T. Do you ever get sick of them?
Oh god. I know Margaery’s costumes look like there is not a lot there, but there is an awful lot of infrastructure in those gowns. They get a bit tight after lunch, definitely. I mean, [costume designer] Michele Clapton just did an incredible job. She continues to impress. Fans of the show will know that there is a particularly big event in the fourth season that definitely requires Margaery to have a new kind of dress. The results were just stunning. The creation of my wedding dress was like something out of haute couture. It was just incredible. I don’t think any of the fans or the Vanity Fair readers will be disappointed.
What are you most looking forward to in Season Four?
Living! That’s an occupational hazard when you are part of this show, you know? [Laughs.]