We Talked to Natalie Dormer About Horror Movies, Madness, and Being 'Outspoken'

We hung out with the Game of Thrones and Hunger Games star and asked her what it's like to be thought of as an "outspoken woman."

by Hannah Ewens
Mar 2 2016, 3:05pm

Natalie Dormer in Game of Thrones (HBO), The Forest and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay

Natalie Dormer has about 30 fake Instagram accounts and three—three—fuck yeah Tumblrs. Over the last few years, she's blown up globally, mostly as a result of America's weird penchant for very English period dramas. First, she played opposite Heath Ledger in Casanova, then bagged the role of corseted, conniving Anne Boleyn in TV fuckfest The Tudors. She put on yet another intense outfit for the final two Hunger Games installments, and she currently plays the scheming Margaery Tyrell in Game of Thrones.

Her latest project is basically the opposite of what she's done so far. The Forest is a horror film in which Dormer's character Sara goes in search of her twin sister in Japan's Aokigahara Forest—or "Suicide Forest" as it's colloquially known. While praising Dormer's acting, critics attacked the writing for its insincere portrayal of a very real forest and major public health issue in Japan. The criticism is pretty valid—the film is very much scary dead people in trees hurtling toward Dormer's character—but as a horror, it's not that bad. It's jumpy as hell and succeeds in being uncomfortably creepy in between scares.

I met Dormer at a press junket for The Forest in a fancy hotel in Soho, which was odd because a) press junkets are awkward with journalists side-eyeing each other, hoping the person next to them hasn't gotten better quotes, b) there are free cookies, and you want to eat them all without the PR being disgusted, and c) you only get ten minutes with the famous person. But here's how it went.

Your new film scared the shit out of me. I kept screaming and annoying all the serious film journalists.
Oh, it scared you? Didn't you see the trailer?

No, because I'm an idiot.
But that's good you didn't, then you didn't know any of the jumps.

Are you a big horror buff?
Yes. I'm a film snob; I love any genre if it's done well. As Guillermo del Toro said—I like this quotation, I heard him interviewed a few months ago—monsters are living, breathing metaphors for our social and personal issues. I was attracted to The Forest because there's the psychological element of this woman who's basically repressing her inner demons; she's never processed a trauma. We all have shit. We all have baggage we're in denial about. This idea that a place would exist that mirrored your monsters back at you, I found intriguing. The concept seemed like exactly what intelligent horror should be.

This is pretty different to the recent roles that people might know you for.
I'm a member of incredible ensembles in Hunger Games and Game of Thrones, but I didn't want to do something next unless it was a role I could really go to places with. [The role of Sara] was a descent into madness that's catnip to actors.

The Forest explores mental health and suicide, which must need to be handled with incredible sensitivity. Did you feel the burden of that?
No. I don't mean to sound flippant; I'm not flippant about the subject matter at all. But I don't feel it's my responsibility. I just do my job. I feel nothing but empathy for people who feel that they've suffered or experienced something in their life that makes them so unhappy they'd contemplate that as a way out.

I visited the real Aokigahara Forest for an afternoon. Those ropes going off into the forest are real. And I understand that the Japanese don't want to promote or draw attention to it because for them, Mount Fuji is so much more than that. It's hundreds of years of incredible history and heritage and a gateway to the spiritual world and this phenomenon that the film deals with is only something that's happened since the 1950s.

After an emotionally draining role like Sara, then, where do you go next?
I'm about to play Katharine Gun [the former translator who became known for leaking top-secret information to the press regarding illegal activity by the US in the push to invade Iraq], which is a real story of bravery and the amazing decisions that human beings can make for the better or the worse. That's being pitched as a thriller, but really, it's a documentary movie in a fictional landscape. It's a story that needs to be told. I can't wait to do that.

In Darkness, which I'm about to shoot, is a psychological thriller, and I co-wrote it, so maybe I have more of a responsibility to the subject matter. I'm fascinated in what pushes the boundary of human capacity. How far does a person go? How far does Margaery Tyrell go because she wants the throne? How far does Cressida [in The Hunger Games] go to release her homeland from a tyrannical despot?

Your fantasy characters tend to make rash, drastic decisions. Do you feel more responsibility when you're playing a real or historical person?
When I played Anne Boleyn or Seymour Worsley, I felt a responsibility. But it always makes me laugh when people ask actors opinions on things, because our job is exactly the opposite—it's to give the opinion of the writers. I didn't become a politician, and I didn't become a CEO of a charity. I became an actor. I can assume one argument, but if I'd played another character, I could've assumed the other side of the argument. With someone like Anne Boleyn, you just come in and box your corner. I read all the biographies. I read everything I could so that I could be as respectful as I could within my heart, within the parameters of the script, while nodding my head to her.

Katharine Gun's going to be an interesting one because the woman's still alive, and I'm hoping to meet her next month. I'm exhilarated and a little bit scared because I don't want to fuck it up for her. I genuinely want to honor her and the incredibly brave thing that she did.

To me, in terms of the roles you take, you're kind of a British equivalent to Jennifer Lawrence. What do you think?
God, no, babe. That's incredibly complimentary. I do have to have a vague five-year plan. I really want to return to the stage, so I'm meeting producers or theater directors. But mostly, I just take everything on a day-by-day basis.

Is there any other actor whose career you think, yeah, I'd like to go that way?
I respect people who make bold choices, who take themselves out of their comfort zone, who challenge themselves in the roles they choose, whether that's Vivien Leigh or Emily Blunt. I don't have an icon. I'm Natalie Dormer, and I can't have anyone else's career besides Natalie Dormer's. I learned to leave the green-eyed monster behind way back in my 20s because it's destructive. Just do as you mean to be done by, and you can't go too wrong. That might sound a bit wanky and bit romantic, but it's not about being fluffy. I'm a realist.

You're becoming known, in the British press at least, as the person to go to for a blunt or pithy quote. Are you aware of that "outspoken woman" persona?
Yes, because you get burned when the things you say get taken out of context, and I've had a couple of those experiences. I've been vilified for it. We live in a soundbite culture, but you can't live your life in fear, so you just have to accept that haters are gonna hate. That's the way the world works, whatever industry you're in. It's like I was told when I was bullied at school: Whenever people are savage to other people, it's because they're dealing with their own issues.

I'm just trying to do good work and have a positive influence on the next generation, who'll have to come and pick up the baton after me. If you fear speaking, you're dead in the water.

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