Updated: 20th April 2018

Game of Thrones’ Maisie Williams: ‘It’s not all fun and games’

All Maisie Williams wanted out of Game of Thrones was enough money to get a new laptop. Seven years on, shes a fixture on the worlds biggest TV show but its far from being her dream job

I know my looks are kind of weird compared to other actors my age but they work for me. Game of Throness Maisie Williams furrows her Brooke Shields eyebrows. Somehow weve landed on her appearance those pale, pointed features, those large grey eyes. I might not be a classically beautiful leading lady, she says, but that means Ill play a different sort of leading lady. Does it get to me? Sometimes, but honestly Im very confident about the future.

Williams was just 12 when she shot to fame in the fantasy behemoth playing tom boy turned teen assassin Arya Stark. She is now 19 and Game of Thrones is probably the biggest drama on TV, with an army of devoted fans who think nothing of waking in the early hours to catch up on the latest backstabbings and betrayals in the war-torn kingdom of Westeros. Over five seasons, Arya has lost most of her family, pretended to be a boy to survive, taken to reciting the list of people she wishes to revenge-kill as a bedtime prayer and been blinded by her assassin mentor, the mysterious Jaqen Hghar. Both the actor and the character have had to grow up fast.

She is still over-excited about the programme that made her name. I go round to my mums to watch the episodes with her, you know, catch up, hang out, she says. Im such a huge fan despite the fact its a show Im in. Its ridiculous. Conversely, her portrayal of Arya, a kick-ass character as endearing as she is fierce, made her a firm fan favourite from the start, with Williams singled out for the way she held her own with more experienced actors such as Charles Dance and Sean Bean.

Fierce Maisie Williams as Arya Stark. Photograph: AP

She readily admits, though, that she found the shows success initially hard to grasp. The thing I was really obsessed about was whether I would earn enough money to buy myself a laptop. My step-dad Gary just looked at me and said: I think therell be enough for a couple of laptops Maisie She laughs. Suddenly I could pay for my own dancing lessons and school trips, all those things my mum had always paid for. I was able to help out.

She grew up in Bristol, the youngest of four. Her mother, Hilary, was a university course administrator who gave up her job to support her daughter on set. She has been outspoken about being bullied online when she was 13. But what really angered her were the newspaper articles attacking her family for letting her drop out of school ahead of her GCSEs to focus on the show, which has a famously punishing set schedule lasting nine months of the year.

She has yet to sit any exams, though she has spent time studying dance at a performing arts college in Bath. You can say what you want about me but I never got into this career for people to be nasty about my family, she says. I can have this crazy lifestyle, not going to school, being on set all the time but thats my choice. When I came into this industry I was just a regular girl, now I know people can twist what you say. Thats really tough.

She was similarly irritated when people criticised her clothes or commented on her nose ring or photographs of her puffing on cigarettes during film breaks, although she admits its not something that really bothers me now. It did though? Oh yeah, for a long time, particularly when I was 16 and people online were saying you cant dress like that, youre 12 it was frustrating. She pauses, then adds. Look, any teenager is totally lost at some point. Its a really mental time. So to have that and then everything else from being on the show was mind-blowing.

Beyond Westeros Williams as immortal Viking Ashildir in Doctor Who. Photograph: BBC

Williams, much like her character, is not one to be cowed though. She maintains a vigorous presence online with 323,000 followers on Vine, 1.16 million on Twitter and two million on Instagram. Her feed is a mix of stylish red carpet shots, goofy pics of her hanging out with her family or clubbing with her mates, and lots of snaps of her dog Sonny, a white bundle of fluff she adopted from Bristol Cat and Dogs Home just after Christmas this year.

People just really love seeing Sonny, she says. It doesnt affect me using social media. Thats my generation; its what we do. People who slate it are scared of it, which is understandable because its mad the power of the internet. Im not trying to pretend everythings fun and games, but I do love that I feel so happy online, that Im part of a whole new generation of kids that get it.

Beyond Westeros, Willliams has won plaudits as a spiky schoolgirl in Carol Morleys haunting tale of female hysteria, The Falling. She also popped up in Doctor Who playing immortal Viking Ashildir, and there were rumours she might return as the Doctors newest assistant, though she is quick to quash that: Im not returning. I can say that. Its not a secret.

If Game of Thrones hadnt come along shed probably be living in London in someones spare bedroom trying to be a dancer and getting by on nothing. Theres a pause, then she adds quietly: If I could have had a career in dancing I would have left acting in a second. Like that.

Game of Thrones returns to Sky Atlantic at 2am on 25 April and is repeated at 9pm that evening.

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/us