We talked to Natalie Dormer about 'Mockingjay — Part 2,' doing her own stunts and which of her characters would actually win a Hunger Games
Natalie Dormer said my name. Several times.
I’m not saying this as a fangirl brag (although, there’s that, too, I suppose — who wouldn’t fangirl a little over Natalie Dormer addressing them by name?), but to highlight a point about Dormer herself. I spoke with her on the phone, during a round of promotion for her latest project, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2. Normally, these kinds of interviews are a whirlwind for the people doing them, and I’m sure it was no different for Dormer. Oftentimes, celebrities aren’t necessarily even sure who they’re talking to — it’s no fault of their own; these are hectic days spent on the phone with dozens of journalists in 10-minute increments. I wasn’t just flattered that Dormer knew my name, and repeated it throughout the interview, I was surprised. This, I thought, is a woman who really cares.
And that quality came across over and over again, in many different ways, throughout our brief chat. Dormer does care. She cares about how audiences react to her work, and what that means. She cares about the opportunities she gets on set and about the roles she accepts and the characters she plays. She cares about what those characters are doing when they aren’t speaking, when they aren’t the focal point in the frame. She cares about working with good scripts and good people. She just cares. At the end of our interview, I asked her an admittedly weird, silly question about a hypothetical crossover involving Cressida, her Mockingjay character and Margaery Tyrell, her Game of Thrones alter ego. The question was inherently silly, but Dormer took it seriously. She didn’t blow it off because, presumably, she cared about her answer to my very silly question.
Caring is sometimes given a bad rap, conflated with caring too much or trying too hard (whatever those things even mean), but I, for one, appreciate caring. Is there something alluring about effortlessness? Sure, of course there is. But there’s also something about caring, and not being afraid to let that show, that commands respect. I don’t claim to know Natalie Dormer, after all, we spent a brief ten minutes on the phone together, sandwiched in between the dozens of other ten-minute chats she was having, all about Mockingjay. But, for Dormer, ten minutes was plenty of time to make an impression. She’s thoughtful — she doesn’t phone in her answers. She’s direct — and being direct makes the thoughtfulness look effortless. She cares — and that’s a really great thing.
Below is my conversation with Natalie Dormer. Warning: Some The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2 spoilers ahead.
Natalie Dormer: Hi, Kayleigh!
HelloGiggles: Hi Natalie! How are you?
ND: I’m well, Darling. How are you?
HG: I’m great. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me today. I really appreciate it.
ND: Not a problem.
HG: Great. I’ll jump right in with some questions about Mockingjay — Part 2. I saw it last night. I loved it and something that jumped out to me, about the the film and about your performance in particular, is it’s obviously a very emotional, very serious and dramatic film, but the one moment when my entire theater had a moment of levity and were laughing and the tension broke, was actually a line of yours. It’s when Katniss is confessing, “Oh I made it up. I wasn’t really assigned to assassinate Snow.” And Cressida is just like, “Yeah, we know. We’ve always known.” And that was just a moment where I felt like the tension in our theater really broke.
ND: What? Did people laugh at that line? People giggled or something? They responded?
HG: Yeah, there was just this wave of like, a relieved giggle that kind of went through the theater at that moment.
ND: That’s fascinating.
HG: And that was the one moment where that happened because obviously the film’s not a comedy and it’s not intended to be. Did you read that line and think, “Oh, here’s a moment where we could lighten the mood” in an otherwise very serious film?
ND: That’s extraordinary because I’ve sat with audiences watching this film about three times now and no other audience has done that in that place. This is something I learned really early when I was a stage actress taking stuff on tour. I’d do like a European tour with a stage show and like, what a German audience will laugh at, a French audience won’t laugh at. And what an American audience will laugh at, is not what a British audience will laugh at. It’s really, really…I find it fascinating, audiences as mass bodies. And then also, last night you were obviously seeing the screener with a lot of like, intelligent, well, like, journalists. So it’s a particular mindset. It’s a kind of like analytical, educated, like, probably liberal leaning audience. You have a very specific demographic. So if that happened, that’s extraordinary. That’s what I love about good writing: You never quite know how an audience is going to respond to it in different places. It’s a sign of good writing.
HG: Definitely. Another really interesting thing about your character is that Cressida is a director and, within the world of The Hunger Games, she’s on the opposite side of the camera that you’re used to being in your job as an actress. And I love that Cressida has this recurring series of mannerisms and physical ways of directing her cameramen around. Particularly, she frames scene with her hands and then almost does like a militant go, go, go signal to her cameraman. How did you go about building some of the more silent aspects of Cressida’s performance?
ND: By watching directors for eleven years [Dormer laughs]. This is what the audiences don’t see. I mean directors make these hand movements. This is how they talk to you on camera sometimes. And I’m with a director, so I’ve spent a lot of my life on sets, be they mine or someone else’s. So she’s just kind of a hybrid of different people that I’ve worked with at different times. She’s just really good at her job. And hand gesticulating is something that some directors do and I just thought it would work for her because then you would be able to, as you said, see her actively doing her job as if she was concentrating and in the moment and actively working.
HG: Are there any directors you’ve worked with who particularly inspired how Cressida directs?
ND: No, no, she’s just my mishmash, my mosaic kind of homage to different people that I’ve worked with, and just out of love for people on the other side of the camera. She’s a hybrid.
HG: That’s very cool. Another thing about Mockingjay that stands out for me among the roles that I’ve seen you in, is that it’s a really action-packed movie with a lot of action sequences that you get to be a part of. Were you able to do any of your own stunts? Were there any you wanted to do, but weren’t able to?
ND: Yeah, we did a lot of action. I loved it. I’m a very physical person. You know we ran around for the better part of six months doing the second movie. I mean we shot both movies together, but the physical stuff, being in army fatigues. There’s a lot of physical stuff we did as well that didn’t make it into the movie because you’ve got to cut something at some point. So, because I’m such a physical person and I’ve always been such a physical person, for me it was long overdue to have an opportunity to do some action.
And that sewer sequence was incredible. We spent three weeks shooting that sewer sequence. You know jumping down off those platforms with those heavy guns and our costumes, our army fatigues having to go through all that water and shooting off those semi-automatics. We had some gun training. I mean, we did a lot of our own stuff, all of us. We spent a lot of time running and, you know, jumping. And so, I loved it. I’d love to do more of it in the future, in other projects. It really felt more like me, to be perfectly honest.
HG: Of those moments of action that were filmed that had to be cut, are there any really memorable ones you wish could have made it into the final cut?
ND: Well, you know, not whole scenes, but like shots. Especially that sewer sequence, I mean Lawrence, the director, really tailored it down. It’s such an epic sequence that obviously finishes with Finnick’s incredible fight, but you know we shot so much of that sequence, all of us, doing different stuff and we were three weeks shooting that stuff. So, you know, there was a lot. But, no I mean I’m very happy with what you do see. You know, to have the opportunity to fire off the ground and those stuntmen who were playing the mutts — we had stuntmen playing the mutts, the lizard mutts — running around and fighting us. And being in all that water, you know water’s very heavy, you start absorbing it in your clothes and climbing that ladder was very exhausting at the end of a long day when you have to do it like five, six, seven, ten times. So it was just, you know, the whole sequence as a whole was a pretty epic journey for all of us, being in the dark, in the wet, in the cold water/humid air because they were trying to heat the water. And we all got a bit claustrophobic and it was trying for us, but Francis Lawrence is a really great morale leader and he helped sort out. And I was probably the fittest, the most cardiovascular because I was training for the London Marathon at the same time so I was probably the most cardiovascular fit I’ve ever been in my whole life doing that movie.
HG: That’s great. You said you’d like to do more action in future roles. Is that something you’d like to see Margaery do on Game of Thrones, like get to do some swordplay or something?
ND: Oh, I don’t think Margaery’s going to be lifting up a sword any time soon. I don’t think that’s in her future, unfortunately. But yeah, I will always go, Kayleigh, where the good scripts are. I won’t take a job just because, you know, I want to do a concept. I need really three-dimensional, well-written characters and stories as well. I’ve just done a horror movie, that was a really rather intelligent, psychological horror movie that also was very physical as well for me. Again, a lot of running around and falling in holes and I really do love a physical challenge, but I won’t do it for the sake of it. It has to come from the script as well, you know?
HG: Absolutely. Another thing that’s interesting about your role in The Hunger Games is that you joined the cast kind of halfway through the story. What’s it like coming into a really established franchise midway like that?
ND: Well life mirrored art in so far as my camera crew and I showed up as if we’re a group that had turned up from the Capitol, joining the main characters, and we were embraced. We were embraced — life mirrored art there with us showing up a little bit later than everyone else, but being assimilated straight in. And it was a very warm family that just kind of embraced us straight away and that was fantastic. They’re all so generous and great fun, the family of The Hunger Games, and I had experience with that before because, you know, Game of Thrones. I watched the first season of Game of Thrones just as a fan, the way I watched the first movie of The Hunger Games just as a fan. So I kind of had a previous experience of coming to a huge franchise that’s already in its stride. And I found both experiences to be the same, where I was just absorbed into the bosom of the family, so to speak. So, I only have positive things to say about the transition of both experiences.
HG: I know this is a kind of silly question, but I just have to know: If all of the characters you’ve ever played were put into a Hunger Games together, who would come out on top?
ND: Oh well that’s a really interesting question, because I’ve played some really clever, determined women [laughs].
HG: Yes, you have.
ND: I don’t really know. Out of all of them I’ve played, I think probably Moriarty because I think Moriarty is psychopathic [laughs]. So she’d probably find it the easiest to be violent and physically hurt all the rest of them. I think Moriarty is definitely on the sociopath scale so it would probably be her.
HG: That’s a really good answer. I think she could also definitely play some like psychological warfare in the games, too.
ND: Yeah, and also like picking up a gun and f***ing hurting people, excuse my French. I think Moriarty definitely falls somewhere on the psychopathic spectrum, whereas the other women might be determined and manipulative and clever, but, um, I think they’re all fundamentally good people [laughs] in their hearts.
HG: Awesome. And another big part of Cressida’s role is to act as kind of public relations, not directly of course, but through the propos.
ND: Yeah, I understand what you mean. It’s kind of PR manipulation.
HG: Exactly. And so how do you think Cressida would approach trying to help Margaery Tyrell fix her current public image problem?
ND: We’ll they’d obviously completely take over Westeros if they had — this is the problem with having a quasi-medieval world, right? There are no TV screens.
HG: Definitely. Totally different world.
ND: You’d have to invent electricity and the ability to mass-publicize over TV before Cressida could… I don’t know how Cressida would canvass in a medieval world. That would be an interesting thing to watch.
HG: It really would. Thank you again so much for taking the time to talk to me.
ND: Thank you, Kayleigh, and have a lovely rest of your day.
(Image via Lionsgate.)