In “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1,” actress Natalie Dormer (TV’s “Game of Thrones”) plays Cressida, a film director who, along with her production crew, is asked to create propaganda material using Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) as the leader of the rebellion against the Capitol. Through these films known as “propos,” Cressida and the rest of the rebels hope to encourage more people to join the fight against tyrannical President Snow (Donald Sutherland).
During my interview with Dormer, 32, we talked about how different a character like Cressida is to her role in “Game of Thrones” and why she feels it’s important to challenge herself throughout her career. She also explains the smart strategy she would follow if she ever found herself thrown into a brutal competition like the Hunger Games.
Other than this franchise being such a pop cultural phenomenon, what attracted to a film like “Mockingjay?”
Yeah, it’s this blockbuster saga, but the writing is so well done, too. It’s done at such a high level. It’s rare that you find such compelling material next to such commercial viability. I was a huge fan of the first movie. An extraordinary cast had been gathered for the previous movies and extended even more with “Mockingjay.” It was an honor and a privilege to be a part of that.
What did you like about your character Cressida and what she brings to a story like this?
She is a tough girl. She’s pretty far away from the long skirts and the long brown hair of Margaery Tyrell (her character in “Game of Thrones”), who I’ve been playing for the last few years. I wanted to shake it up a bit. I wanted to shake up people’s perception of me and my perception of myself. (Laughing) Shaving half your head and running around with a gun for nine months is a good way to do that.
Were you ready for the more physical aspects of your character, especially since you’re so proper in your role in “Game of Thrones?”
Yeah, it was a long time coming. I’m quite a physical human being. Don’t get me wrong, I love playing Margaery Tyrell, but to have the opportunity to get out there and get physical was great. We’ll see a lot more of that in “Mockingjay – Part 2” to be quite honest, but to play Cressida was very interesting.
Yeah, you’re playing someone who is sort of making a movie inside a movie.
Yeah, as an actor you spend so much time working with directors, people who cut and edit and manipulate material. So, it was intriguing to me to play someone who works on the other side of the camera as well.
You said you were a fan of the first film. Were you a fan of Suzanne Collins’ books as well or did those not come onto your radar until the movies started?
I didn’t read the books until I attained the role of Cressida. But upon reading them, I was so impressed with them. I think the secret to Suzanne Collins’ success with “The Hunger Games” is that she doesn’t talk down to the younger members of her audience. She appreciates that they are fully capable of grappling with the big social and political themes that are present.
Do you think if you were forced into a competition like the Hunger Games in real life you would survive?
(Laughs) I’d like to think so. Dormer by name, Dormier by nature. I’d probably find a nice corner and sleep through it all. It’s a skill you learn as an actor when you have 5 a.m. pickup calls to sleep pretty much anywhere during the day. I’m a great napper. So, you’d probably find me somewhere in the arena sleeping away until the last canon went off.
You mentioned how you want to shake things up and do something different. Is that important for you as an actress right now – to challenge yourself and not get too comfortable with the roles you’re taking on?
Yeah, I think it’s really important to challenge myself. I’ve been very lucky in my career. I’ve managed to parallel run different mediums. I’ve done theater work and then also film and television and have been able to keep all three going. I’m very grateful that I’ve had all those opportunities. It would be great if I could keep my hand in all three mediums going into the future.
What are you looking for when you decide on your next project, whether it’s on the stage or screen?
I look at the script and the quality and arch of the journey. I look at the character. Sometimes something that scares you a little bit or something that will challenge you or something you’re not sure you can do convincingly is a good sign that you should probably do it. The only way to grow is to be a little scared of something and overcoming it. I’m looking forward to doing my next films “Patient Zero” and “The Forest.” I’ve got some interesting roles coming up in the immediate future.
What do you think it is about these sort of fantasy-based films like “The Hunger Games” that attract audiences?
Fantasy and science fiction, which I’m a massive fan of, allow you to analyze and explore the deepest, darkest parts of human nature and political and social structure from a safe distance. You don’t have to actually carry that baggage of that world. That’s what interests me the most about the genre.