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Natalie Dormer as Margaery.

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Game of Thrones’ Natalie Dormer on Power Plays and the Margaery-Joffrey Dynamic

With the populace of King's Landing screaming for Lady Margaery Tyrell, has a new queen upset the power balance in Westeros? Should Cersei be watching her back? "The Tyrells are a problem," Cersei tells her father. "Margaery has her claws in Joffrey. She knows how to manipulate him." But the path has not been as easy as Margaery makes it look, playing upon Joffrey's sadism, insecurity, and lust all at once, taking him in hand in a way Sansa never could. Natalie Dormer, who plays the widowed bride of Renly and the future bride of Joffrey, called up Vulture before flying out to New York for her guest spot on Elementary to chat about power plays, foreplay with her future mother-in-law, and how to handle a boy with a crossbow.

What's the deal? Every time Margaery gets married, it's to a guy she'll never be able to have sex with ...
[Laughs.] Yeah, I know! To be honest, it's nice to be that chick for a change. I've taken my clothes off enough in my career. I'm kind of enjoying the lack of love scenes at the moment. It is refreshing. Obviously, I had some baptism by fire when I first joined the show [for a threesome involving Renly and Loras] — every single character seems to have to go through that as a rite of passage. But since then, I've been fairly safe, and yet, I would never put anything past [showrunners] David [Benioff] and Dan [Weiss]. They might spring something on me when I least expect it.

That's true. They keep changing things that were in the books, sometimes out of practicality. For instance, instead of offering Margaery's other brother Willas as a potential fiancé to Sansa, it's now Loras. Which of course feeds into Sansa's fairy-tale fantasy, because she is oblivious that he's gay.
Yes, she is, bless her. So it actually enhances the story, the way it works now, because Loras gave Sansa his favor back at the tourney and she's infatuated. That's a good example of how sometimes the slight alterations can enhance and not necessarily detract from the books. So even if you are an acolyte of the books, there's some unpredictability when you watch the show. If you know what's going to happen, you're not sure when it's going to happen. So even those of us on the show who have read the books and think we know the chronology, we don't really know how long we'll be on, and we're always chuffed, we're always happy when we make it through another episode unscathed! But there are just so many characters in the books, and they've got to draw the line somewhere in this ever-expanding cast. They're trying to keep the numbers down! [Laughs.]

The way Margaery handles Joffrey, such as in the crossbow scene in episode two and in the greeting-the-public scene in episode four, you start to get a sense that she knows how to manipulate Joffrey much more than Cersei does.
You have to appreciate how badly that could have gone for her, too! Because Joffrey turned dark on a knife's edge the way he did with Sansa, and Margaery very quickly has to play a game of three-dimensional chess in her head to out-maneuver him and learn what makes him tick. That was the first scene I shot of the third series, Jack [Gleeson]'s and my first scene together. We didn't know each other as actors; we were trying to figure out the dynamic of how these two would interact, figure out each other's rhythms. But you have to marvel at Margaery — she passed the test, as it were. He's a very, very dangerous and tricky human being, and who knows what will happen in the future? Will she be so adept at out-maneuvering or fall foul of it the way Sansa did? 

If she can continue acting like she's of the same opinion as him, she has a chance. She barely flinched at the comment Joffrey made against homosexuality ...
... while we know that she loves her brother and is very accepting of it, absolutely. She's a great actor. Certainly, that was the way I was playing it. Joffrey's unsure if the perversity of what they've been talking about turned her on as well, and in my mind, it absolutely does not. She is playing a role. She is trying to create a persona for herself that she thinks Joffrey will like and will trust and will listen to. And yeah, it's really hard to sit there and listen to him talk about that, with the respect she has for her brother. It's a terrible position to be put in.

Do you think she'll be more involved in the scheming to come? We never really know from the books how involved she is, because she's not a point-of-view character.
I'm really curious what they're going to do. As is their way, they haven't told me, so I don't know how much behind the future plot Margaery will be. I'm watching her unfold every time I get the script myself, which takes the pressure off. David and Dan were the first to admit that they weren't sure at first what to do with Margaery. They genuinely weren't sure, and we've been working it out as we've gone along. Hopefully I've given them something to anchor her to, but I am curious about how dirty her hands will get. It could be played either way, couldn't it?

At least it's getting played with more humor than you might have expected!
There are some nice little jibes, and you just want to punch her! Is she serious? Is she sincere? When does the sincerity stop and the bullshit start? She is fun to play that way. And we just burst into giggles between takes all the time. During the dinner scene, we were laughing and doing funny accents to release the tension, because the friction really does build up when it's all daggers behind smiles. And the dialogue is going to get increasingly cattier and cattier — this is all the foreplay for the fight between Cersei and Margaery, and those who know their Ice and Fire know that it's going to get incredibly serious. This is the preamble.

How much power do you think Margaery wants?
I think she'd be happy to be the power behind the throne, whether that's through controlling Joffrey or having children, but I don't think she necessarily wants to sit on the Iron Throne itself. People who sit on it end up having sticky ends, don't they?

Photo: Damien Elliott/HBO