Maisie Williams Talks Playing a Punk Icon in ‘Pistol’ and Why She’s Eager to Grow Beyond Arya Stark

·10 min read

When Maisie Williams was first offered “Pistol” — the FX limited series created by Craig Pearce and directed by Danny Boyle, about punk rock band the Sex Pistols for FX — she knew little about the band or the world of 1970s counterculture London that surrounded them. But the “Game of Thrones” star was instantly drawn to the role of Jordan (aka Pamela Rooke), whose provocative makeup and fashion made her a model and muse for Vivienne Westwood — and helped to catalyze the punk movement. “Pistol” premieres May 31 on Hulu.

“She still had a very striking image,” Williams says. “I was quite intimidated, really. But I don’t think that that’s anything new to her. But I think that she’s just undeniably herself. When you are in the presence of someone who is so confident and calm it’s rare. And that can be can be overwhelming.”

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Williams talked with Variety about bringing Jordan to life, her thoughts on the upcoming “Game of Thrones” prequel series “House of the Dragon,” shooting the Apple TV+ series “The New Look” as Christian Dior’s sister Catherine, and why she’s eager to step far beyond the world of Arya Stark.

What would you talk about with Jordan? What was your focus of your time that you spent together?

On her childhood mostly, actually. She studied as a dancer, and she was running a shop in Seaford, before moving up to London. She was creating this brand for herself prior to being involved in this punk scene. But I think that she was always very different from the people around her, and I think that she never felt lonely in that. She felt very proud, and I always found that very interesting.

Did she tell you how she got her hair to do the things that it does?

Well, the bleach helps a lot. She would use Elnett [hairspray]. She would just brush it upside down with Elnett, and then stand back up again.

Was that your actual hair in the show?

It was some of my hair. Most of the gravity defying strands were a wig, and then my hair kind of blended at the sides.

. - Credit: Miya Mizuno / Courtesy of FX
. - Credit: Miya Mizuno / Courtesy of FX

Miya Mizuno / Courtesy of FX

In your first scene, you’re wearing a transparent PVC top on the train to London. Did you talk with Jordan about what that experience was like for her?

Yeah. People were really hostile to her when she wore these outfits on the train. She would in fact get taken into First Class, mostly because they wanted to protect her from disgruntled people. I think people didn’t really understand her expression as as a work of art. They felt it was inappropriate, because it was linked with some kind of fetish or sex work, and for that reason, people were really awful to her. But she wasn’t a confrontational person, at all. It was kind of just a storm around her, almost.

It did seem like she intended to provoke a reaction, forcing people to confront their own ideas about how a woman is supposed to dress.

There is an element of her style that was provocative, but it was never with the intention to harm. It was more the intention to express herself and poke fun at the contradictions of the world that she lived in.

You’re 25 now. Given that you’ve been famous for almost half your life, was it easier for you to connect to a person who had weaponized how people look at her?

Oh, yeah. There was a lot of liberation in making people avert their attention. For most of my life, all I’ve done is sit on trains and have people take pictures and videos of me. It was kind of nice to have the opposite effect in this Jordan get-up.

Sophie Turner recently talked about how working on certain scenes on “Game of Thrones” was traumatic for her in ways that she’s still trying to comprehend today. Your roles were quite different, but how does that compare to your experience on the show and how you look back on it now?

I didn’t find the the scenes that I shot on “Game of Thrones,” and the nature of the violence and the descent into obsession over this list of names that she wants to kill — I didn’t necessarily find that traumatic to do. I think I just found, you know, growing — well, I’m not even gonna say that. I didn’t find those scenes traumatic to do.

Who from “Game of Thrones” are you still in touch with today?

Everyone. We’re all on a group chat, which is lovely. (Pause) Everyone’s doing really well. And I think that it’s nice to keep up with people enjoying their lives, which had been dominated by the show for so long.

Do you expect you’ll watch “House of the Dragon”?

Yes. I’m really looking forward to it, actually. My friend Olivia [Cooke] is in it, and it’s been really interesting just chatting to her about the experience. I think it’s actually a lot more pressure. All of the hung-over concerns of our show are now just being piled onto this new cast of people who had nothing to do with it. I want to be as supportive as possible to her as an actress, but also, I’m just really curious. I’m kind of looking forward to watching “Game of Thrones” — even though it’s not “Game of Thrones” — and experiencing it as a person that’s not on it. ‘Cause all I’ve done is meet people who have done just that, and I never really was able to relate to it.

How do you think about the roles you want to play now?

I’ve been keen to do roles where I have some kind of physical transformation, and that explore parts of womanhood that I’ve never been able to through playing Arya. I have a more rational understanding of people and the world around me; Arya was very hot or cold, no in-between. That’s just not the way the world works! It’s quite nice now to read projects and to understand these women in a new way. Because there’s so much more that I have to give, and I could never have done with Arya.

. - Credit: HELEN SLOAN
. - Credit: HELEN SLOAN

HELEN SLOAN

You’re in France shooting “The New Look” as Catherine Dior right now. She lived quite a full life from WWII until her death in 2008, well after her brother, designer Christian Dior, died in 1955. How much of her life is the show covering?

Well, there are 10 episodes, and we are currently shooting the first two episodes. And that covers, uh — I don’t think I’m allowed to say any of this. It covers a long time. That’s good, right? A long time is so relative. I’m 25 years old. How long do you think a long time is?

She spent nearly a year in a Nazi concentration camp for fighting in the French Resistance during WWII, and then after the war was suddenly swept up into the world of French fashion. That’s quite a contrast!

I think finding strength and liberation in a woman’s life in the 1940s and ’50s has been so interesting. There’s something about playing her that’s really healing some of my feminine energy, I think. I’m enjoying it.

You implied in recent interview that you would consider returning to playing Arya someday, and that made a lot of news — including in my publication. Did that surprise you?

No. Are you kidding?! I haven’t given anyone anything else to talk about yet. Of course that’s what they’re gonna pick up on. That’s what everyone wants from me. (Starts singing) But they’re not going to get it until it’s the right time! It’s nice to know what people want from you, even if it’s not what you’re ready to give.

I’ve noticed that you’re very careful with your words anytime “Game of Thrones” has come up in this interview.

Right!

What is your biggest concern with that? It seems like perhaps you don’t want to be the center of a negative story about show, given how the way that the people talked about it at the very end.

No, I don’t want to defend the show for that reason. I don’t really — I don’t really mind that it ended that way. We were so disconnected from — I felt like my life and how it changed was so disconnected from the actual storyline of the show. It just was getting bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger, and you couldn’t go to more places and you couldn’t, you know, sleep on an airplane or whatever. And then it ended, and it was (exhales) — we can breathe. And when everyone was like, “But we hate the ending!” It was just kind of like, “Well, it’s nice for it to be done and to actually find some kind of normal life.” I feel like I would have felt like that even if it had an amazing ending, you know?

That makes sense.

(Grimaces) I don’t know how that’s going to sound!

. - Credit: Miya Mizuno / Courtesy of FX
. - Credit: Miya Mizuno / Courtesy of FX

Miya Mizuno / Courtesy of FX

Going back to “Pistol,” did you see a connection between Jordan’s singular fuck-you perspective on the world and Arya’s perspective on the world?

Yeah, in a way. They’re both like pretty unmoving in their vision and their approach to life. And maybe, you know, I’m finally learning something about myself.

There are so many scenes in “Pistol” in which Jordan is in the thick of a violent mosh pit while the band is playing. Was that a stunt performer or was that you?

It was me. I did not have a stunt double.

Was that like for you to be thrashed around or thrash yourself around in that way?

It was very fun. I guess the only thing is, I’m very grateful that we have a smoking ban inside public spaces, because jumping around with lit cigarettes is really dangerous. And also wearing high heels and fishnets. I definitely got a stiletto or two on the foot and a cigarette burn or two on myself, but also on people around me. It was not cute. I think I burned Iris [Law’s] arm quite badly. She’s still got the scar now. I felt awful. But other than that, I mean, just exhilarating! It was nice to lose yourself a bit, you know?

There’s a scene about midway through the show, when two teenage girls take the train into London, talk their way into Vivienne Westwood’s SEX shop, and spend a night modeling her punk clothing at a party. That night, Jordan demands the girls return the clothes and then sends them back home, telling them to go live a life and find something to say — and they spit back that Jordan is “old.” What was that like for you to play?

I think that I’ve always been on the receiving side of that, in scenes and in life. But I actually kind of felt like it was more natural. I felt like I was being more honest by being on the old side. I don’t know. I feel like maybe I’ve been on this planet many times before. But in this existence, I look like a very young and naive girl, at times. So being in that position where I could come off as the wise mother hen — quite nice, really. It’s not a position that people have seen me in often. But I do feel like that’s how I am more in my my personal life with my friends.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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