In Heatstroke — her first film role — Game of Thrones star Maisie Williams plays a thoroughly spoiled modern teen, forced to accompany her dad (played by Stephen Dorff) on his work trip, where he plans to study predators in their natural habitat — in this case, hyenas in the bush. (Not quite Lannisters, but deadlier than lions.) Just like her TV dad before him, Dorff’s good intentions become his downfall, and soon Williams is surrounded by predators both human and animal, fighting the elements and running for her life. (For Game of Thrones fans, it can help sate your need for more Arya during the off-season). Williams, who was studying for her driving test the last time she chatted with Vulture, called us up to talk about befriending hyenas, missing Arya’s direwolf, and why she’s BFFs with the Queen of England now.
Congratulations on passing the written part of your driving test!
Thank you! Yay! Finally! [Laughs.] I’m going to book my actual practical [test] in a few weeks, so I guess that’s when I’ll celebrate. The real celebration will be when I can drive, when I can just drive on the motorway, because you can only drive on the motorway once you pass your test. So I think that’s what my celebration is going to be — I’m going to get in my car, go on the motorway, and drive off somewhere and just turn around and come back again. [Laughs.] That would be cool.
So what was it like for you to switch gears, so to speak, and do an indie film?
It was a completely new experience! The one thing that kind of got me was the intimacy of it all, because I actually met everyone who worked on that film. It was so lovely. On Game of Thrones, the people that I’ve met, of the people behind the scenes, was not even a scratch of the vast crew that actually does work on that show. So that was actually so lovely that I got to meet everybody, and how much more chill it was.
Did you pick up any survival skills on set?
Not really survival skills, but how to handle difficulties, because we were out in the middle of nowhere and there wasn’t much shelter. It wasn’t like we were in a studio or something. Being in South Africa, that messed up my body a little bit. I broke out in spots, and I got really dehydrated, and the water was really different. It was really strange, because you’re on the other side of the planet, and you think, Oh, water is the same everywhere, and it is, but it still felt strange. I had to be really, really careful in the sun, because I am a really pale person naturally, and I burn really easily, so I did struggle a bit. The ozone layer is a lot thinner there than it is in the U.K. And at night, it could get really, really cold. So you could get overheated or really cold. That makes me sound like such a diva! I’m so embarrassed. [Laughs.] But really, the sun was the main struggle for me — it can be really serious. You can get sunstroke. You can get heatstroke! [Laughs.] You hear all these horror stories, and it didn’t really hit home until I actually was somewhere where it was dangerous. It was scary sometimes.
How much interaction did you actually have with the hyenas? Were they trained a bit, or wild?
They definitely weren’t trained. They were still wild animals, but they had a guy, Kevin Richardson, who filmed them, and sort of looked after them, I guess. But they were still wild animals. It wasn’t like he had a command over them, or could put them on a leash, or anything like that. We had to be very careful. He stressed that quite a lot, which made me nervous. At first, I was like, Oh, they’re not going to hurt me! They’re fine! It’ll be like they’re in a cage, and then I had a little brief before my scenes, then I was like, Oh, God. It was a little bit unnerving, but it was such an amazing experience. I’m so glad I did it, because they were beautiful creatures. They came over, and they would bite my laces, sniff all around me — like my dress was all waving from their breath. It’s not every day you get to say that! I mean, how many scenes have you seen with a hyena? It’s not something you see all the time.
Life of Pi? Yeah, not that many. So compared to working with the dogs or wolves on Game of Thrones …
Yeah, those are a bit more domestic — what’s the word? [Laughs.] Domesticated — that’s the word! They were a lot more tame. They were like closer to a pet than the hyenas were. I seem to be landing a lot of roles with animal interactions, which is amazing. Before I was born, my mom and my dad, they used to rescue dogs, so at one point, they had 13 dogs. And they were all from different litters. It wasn’t like they were bred. They were all from different people. And they were all different ages. When I grew up at my dad’s house, I think we had seven at one point. That was the most I ever knew, but we had loads of other animals, too. I used to have a rabbit and a guinea pig when I was little, and a chinchilla, and we had goldfish. We really are animal people. And animals can tell. They can tell if you get nervous, and that makes them nervous. So the fact that I’m more familiar with animals, I guess that really helps when I’m working really closely with them.
There were a lot of people who were hoping for the return of a couple characters in the season finale of Game of Thrones — Nymeria, and who she was supposed to drag out of the river. Even if they’re separated, Arya and Nymeria still have that connection …
Mmm-hmm. Yeah. I read so much about this! I think people think all the cast members know all the ins and outs of the show, but there are so many questions that even I have for the show, like, Hey, why didn’t they do this bit? Why didn’t they do that bit? Really, it’s up to the writers and producers, but I would love to get to work with the wolves again. I really, really miss that. I talk so much to Kit [Harington] about working with Ghost, and how they’re doing it these days, because the dogs are getting so big. So I would love to. It was so much fun. It’s so much more fun when you have a dog on set. And for Arya, she’s not doing so great at the moment, she’s not in a good place. She needs someone to come back who’s not going to betray her, and Nymeria is perfect for that.
Other fans like to theorize that the Hound didn’t die, but becomes the Gravedigger. Or that Syrio Forel didn’t die, but became Jaqen H’ghar.
All theories that I hope for, just like everyone else! I really hope that it’s not the end of the Hound. We haven’t gotten the scripts for next year yet, so I honestly don’t know what’s going to happen, either, but in terms of speculation? If it was up to me, and it’s not up to me, unfortunately, but the Hound would be back in a second. And so would Syrio. They wouldn’t be gone. I would love to work with both of them again, Rory [McCann] and Miltos [Yerolemou]. I think if you haven’t seen the dagger in their back, they could still be alive, so I’m hoping that they’re going to come back. In an ideal world, they’d all come back.
You recently met the Queen of England. What was it like trying to get her to sit on the Iron Throne?
It was kind of crazy! I really didn’t know how to react. But she was really, really lovely, and I liked her, because we’re the same height, and we were looking into each other’s eyes. I liked that, because I don’t get to meet that many people who are my height. So it felt like we had a connection. [Laughs.]