'Game of Thrones' Q&A: Natalie Dormer on Playing 'the Kate Middleton of Westeros'

Baby-kissing, bodice-wearing Lady Margaery dishes on medieval politics and PR

natalie dormer Margaery Tyrell game of thrones
Helen Sloan
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell with Jack Gleeson in 'Game of Thrones'
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Step aside, Lannisters: There's a new player in town. Last night's season premiere made it clear that Lady Margaery Tyrell, the gorgeous new fiancée of King Joffrey (and the widow of his closeted rebel uncle, Renly), is going to be a major force in Game of Thrones' machinations. But she made her presence felt not with swords or seduction, but by good old-fashioned politicking – seeing and being seen with war orphans, for example. It left Joffrey cowering, Cersei fuming, and the political scene in King's Landing changed for good. And Natalie Dormer, the Tudors veteran who originated the role last season, has clearly put at least as much thought into her scene-stealing role as the shrewd Lady Margaery herself has into winning the Iron Throne.

Last season, the premiere involved children being stabbed to death, not handed toys by the future queen, so I wanted thank you for bringing a kinder, gentler side of Game of Thrones to the fore.
Yeah, she's bringing a whole new angle to the game, isn't she? We're more used to seeing politicians kissing babies. Margaery and the Tyrells add this whole new angle about politics. It's PR, basically. Quite a modern concept.

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It doesn't mean she's insincere. People can be quite cruel, I find, about Margaery: "Oh, she's another malicious, calculating character who's after the Throne." But I don't think in regards with her attitude to the public and her attitude to Sansa – she's not disingenuous. I don't see the two as mutually exclusive, as modern politicians themselves would say. I think she has a heart. I think she can be very sincere. I just think she's a pragmatist. She's been brought up by the Queen of Thorns, Lady Olenna, being played by Diana Rigg [stay tuned!], to be a shrewd politician – to be the ideal First Lady, as it were.

Cersei and Joffrey are really outclassed by Margaery in this particular area.
I hope so. It would be nice and it would be interesting if David [Benioff] and Dan [Weiss, the showrunners] would run more with this theme as well. I agree with you. It brings a whole new angle that we haven't seen yet to power play. Because you're basically talking about popularity, aren't you? And her understanding and comprehension of that. It is in the books that Margaery is like that. There is an awareness in her, other than just beating and repressing the people down. She is sort of courting popularity, public popularity. She's the Kate Middleton of Westeros. [Laughs]

In the books, we only ever see Margaery through the eyes of others. In addition to the other changes to her character the show has made, in terms of her age and experience, we also get more of a glimpse behind the curtain at what she's thinking. It must be compelling as an actor to help create that from the ground up.
I've been trying to help Dan and David out, you know. When I took the role on they said, "Look, we're gonna flesh her out." They're very talented guys, but they needed some help with what to do with her, I think because, as you say, she's not a POV character. I mean, she's not the only one that's not a POV character – but for the characters that aren't, Dan and David have been very creative in assigning personality and creating angles from which we as actors can come at it. We want to play humans, we want to play three-dimensional people. It's been a triumvirate of Dan, David and myself trying to give Margaery a real personality. There's no time for George [R.R. Martin] to flesh every single character out in the book. They'd be much longer than they are now! [Laughs] It's an interesting journey that I'm on.

A lot of the characters have been aged up, slightly, anyway. So when people ask me that particular question, I just sort of shrug my shoulders and say, "I can't help you there, guys. I didn't cast myself. You'd have to agree that I'd have been crazy to turn the role down." I just thanked my lucky stars and trusted that David and Dan knew what they were doing. I'm just trying to keep up with the standard of the rest of the show, to be honest.

The thing about Margaery is that she's a funny character. I don't think that the show gets enough credit for the sense humor that it has about itself, but it comes through very strongly in Margaery. Her whole "My Dinner with Joffrey" scene was a scream.
She makes you want to cringe, doesn't she, a bit? She's so much fun to play. I've never played a character like this. It's like, she's so close to the line. "Is she serious? Is she joking? Is she sincere in what she's saying, or is she just a playa?" [Laughs] That's what's fun to play – the ambiguity. We have such talented editors as well. The takes they shoot, and the way they cut it together, just heighten my performance in that regard.

You really just can't quite put your finger on it.  She's the kind of person that you imagine people gossiping about, you know? "She's a bitch. I hate her." But you can't say anything, because she doesn't give you any dirt to talk on her. She walks a terrific line. It's fun to play a very smiley person, and people can't quite read if she's sincere or not. What's been the question for me is, Is she herself sincere? Does she herself know where the line of calculation or maneuvering begins and where the sincerity ends?

The most interesting characters in Thrones, you know, you love to hate them, or you hate to love them. Whether it's Littlefinger – Aiden Gillen – or Tywin Lanniser – Charles Dance – there's quite a lot of characters where you can't quite put your finger on how you feel about them. That's one of the strengths of the show, and I'm trying to put Margaery in that same category.

Margaery also appears to have a great deal more autonomy than, say, Cersei, who's constantly had to butt heads with her husband, her father, her brother, and now her son. You get a freedom that's rare for women in this society.
I think that comes from the Tyrell family, which is a family of strong women.  The Tyrell family is run by a matriarch, the Queen of Thorns. The women are prevalent in the Tyrell family, so Margaery is very much the protégé of Olenna. She's following in her grandmother's footsteps. And I think women are given a credibility within the family, in the Tyrells, that they aren't in the Lannisters. The Lannister family is very much a patriarchal one: It's Tywin Lannister down, and Jaime Lannister being very much a male. You've always got to be very careful not to read too much into these things, but it is a matriarchal family versus a patriarchal family, and I'm sure that Margaery therefore has more liberation than Cersei experienced at the same age because she had Olenna, where Cersei was motherless. Absolutely, that's an interesting point to make.

Now she's in a real snake pit of characters who are much more overtly dangerous. That's a big change from last season, hanging out in the camp with Renly and Loras.
Margaery really doesn't know what she's getting herself in for. Yeah, she's more practical, and she's more restrained and prepared for court politics and machination. She's more informed and prepared than Sansa was, fivefold. But she's still no idea. When she first arrived in court, she found a very steep learning curve as to exactly the situation she's been put in with Cersei and Joffrey. The Tyrells have genuinely underestimated the situation and thought that they could control the Lannisters, and they're going to get a really nasty shock. Even though they are great politicians, they don't quite appear to have the menace in their blood or the venom in their blood that the Lannisters do – that cold steel and dark ruthlessness that the Lannisters have.

Or do they? That's therefore a real question about what they'll become. The Tyrells are going to have to up their game if they stand a chance competing.

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