Margaery Tyrell's family has offered her up as bride for creepy King Joffrey on HBO's "Game of Thrones," but according to actress Natalie Dormer, she's no pawn of Westeros politics.
Dormer, probably most familiar in the U.S. for her role as Anne Boleyn in Showtime's "The Tudors," said that Margaery is different from the child bride in George R.R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" novels on which the show is based. Under the tutelage of her cunning grandmother Olenna Redwyne, aka the Queen of Thorns (Dame Diana Rigg), Margaery knows exactly what she must do to win over the unpredictable Joffrey (Jack Gleeson).
"She's definitely a player," Dormer told me during a recent phone interview. "The Tyrells are moving into the capital and I think they bring with them a whole new element to the game: Margaery courting public opinion."
"It's an interesting new take on the idea of power and how you assume power," she added, laughing. "It's basically good, old-fashioned PR."
By giving to the poor orphans of King's Landing in Joffrey's name, Margaery has put a much-needed positive spin on the reviled royal family. In private, she's solidifying her place in Joffrey's heart--and on his manipulative mother's (Lena Headey) list of rivals--by stroking the King's ego and playing into his twisted love for death and destruction.
In this Sunday's episode, Margaery takes another bold step by encouraging Joffrey to show himself to the public that has reviled him. "If you give them your love, they will return it a thousand-fold," she tells him. "They adore you."
OK, so that's a lie, but Dormer says Joffrey responds to her attentions. "You can see the beginnings of her changing Joffrey," she said. "Could Joffrey be controlled if he's handled psychologically correctly? The answer to that question is not immediately apparent, but the Tyrells and Margaery are doing the best they can."
Things also are going well for the actress, who has started filming a three-episode arc for "Elementary," CBS' modern take on the Sherlock Holmes' stories. She plays the iconic character Irene Adler, the great detective's only love.
Although Dormer is excited to trade period costumes for something more modern, her thoughts are still with the dangerous road ahead for her "Game of Thrones" character. Margaery and the Tyrells seem to be winning the game so far, but Dormer teased that might not last.
"She's going to get some nasty shocks, isn't she?" she said with a chuckle. "Who'd really want to have Joffrey lying in bed next to them? Let's be honest."
Dormer talked more about Margaery's plans for Joffrey, her probable face-off with his mother and who has the better clothes, Margaery or Anne Bolyen. All after the preview for Episode 4 airing April 22.
Do you feel that Margaery is a player or a pawn in the game?
She's definitely a player. She's under the tutelage of her grandmother, the Queen of Thorns. So she's very much the protege of Olenna [Redwyne]. They're kind of like a tag team. [Laughs.] Diana Riggs' character is trying to sort of cover the top echelons of the Lannisters, Tywin Lannister and Cersei. And Margaery is left more to try and work out and handle Joffrey.
It's been fun developing with the creators this element to Margaery ... She's very PR savvy. She's very aware of public opinion, and this is going to be a better angle for which she's going to try and control things.
She seems to be trying to win him over with kindness.
Yeah. Absolutely. She's trying to, she's quite psychologically savvy, Margaery, which is an interesting thing to play. She's trying to work out Joffrey's psychology and see how she can control him. You can't help but fear for her, because the audience knows how dangerous Joffrey is in a way that perhaps Margaery does not yet realize. [Laughs.] Well she's learning very quickly; put it that way.
Do you think that she's genuinely nice and as sweet as she comes off? Or is she just good at hiding other devious intentions?
I think the ambiguity of the situation is, as an actress, the most interesting thing to play. And, you know, human beings in real life, you and I, we often do things that are motivated subconsciously by stuff or not fully aware of.
I don't think Margaery is heartless in so far as I think she genuinely cares about Sansa. I believe she genuinely cares about poor, poverty-stricken orphans in Kings Landing. Yes, I do believe she has a heart. There is a political advantage to behaving nicely to Sansa and in charitable work. Yes, of course, that's an element of which she is completely aware. But I don't think the two are mutually exclusive. I think you can be a good human being and a good politician as well. Or, you can believe that you are. [Laughs.] Plenty of our baby-kissing politicians in Western society believe that, you know?
Yes I do. Does she feel that she can win over Joffrey to the side of goodness? Do you think that she can change his mind about how he should treat his subjects?
Well, she has to believe that she can do it or else what are they doing. The Tyrells genuinely have to believe that they can't succeed, otherwise they wouldn't be in this snake pit. They're all in, really, to use a poker term. They're completely all in. They're having to be very brave about it. Yeah, she does believe.
Do you find her rather fearless?
No, she's not fearless. She fears. She's scared. Margaery, as in a lot of characters in "Thrones," the interesting concept is not that she is fearless, it is that she is with fear and overcomes it. And whether you're talking about Robb Stark leading his men into battle or whether you're talking about anyone--Tyrion, Cersei or Margaery. Drama is interesting when people fear and they overcome it. Not when they are just completely courageous. It's the journey of overcoming the fear that is the interesting thing.
She seems to be winning the game early on and I'm wondering what kind of challenges she will face in future episodes.
Let's be honest. In this season and in the next, Margaery is definitely going to get a few nasty surprises.
Do you believe she's faking it with him?
Well, she's not in love with Joffrey. But if this is going to be her life, if it's what is wanted by her family and this is the role, the duty she's got to bear for her family, she wants to make it as pleasant and plausible a future as possible. And I'm sure she has every intention of trying to create a healthy, functioning family with Joffrey where she can have a child and put her child on the throne.
She says at one point in the series, "I will have a son. And sons listen to their mothers." As Joffery has listened to Cersei, up until this point. I think that's the interesting dynamic between Cersei and Margaery; in this world, the way women have control and power is to have control and power over their men who sit in the authoritative positions. So that means, whether you are the wife of the king or the mother of a king to be, that is how you have your influence. So the women can't be out there on the battlefield with their swords actually doing it physically. They have to do it with intrigue and psychological power.
That's the interesting thing to watch unfold in the battle between Cersei and Margaery.
At this point Cersei doesn't really trust her does she, or is she just jealous of her?
Does anyone trust anyone in "Thrones"?
Probably not. It looks like it's setting up for another mess. Butting of heads between the two of them.
I think Dan [Weiss] and David [Benioff], the creators, are really aligning everything up so that Lena and I can have some fun in the future definitely.
Has it been so fun so far? Do you like playing somebody who has all these things going on in her head?
Oh, it's very much fun. And the cast is so much fun. We all laugh a lot. You probably can't tell that from watching the show, but Jack who plays Joffrey and Lena who plays Cersei and Diana and Sophie and myself, we all have a good old giggle when we're shooting. So it's a lovely environment to be in between takes.
Where did most of your shooting take place?
Belfast and Croatia, because Dubrovnik doubles as our exteriors for Kings Landing. So I had the pleasure of being in Dubrovnik a lot. And also a little bit in Morocco as well.
I love the scenes with the Queen of Thorns when they're having the luncheon with Sansa, it's so beautiful.
Oh, it's stunning. That's the outskirts of Dubrovnik. Yeah that's the southern tip of Croatia. Stunning place.
What's it like working with Diana Rigg?
As you would imagine. A veteran, a legend, a Tony winning actress, a legend in her own right. A lot of fun.
Have you been sort of amazed by how much fans get worked up over Joffrey? And how much they hate him?
It's pretty amazing. It's warranted, really, I mean he's a nasty piece of work. [Laughs.] He's a very nasty piece of work. I like how brave the writing is. I love how brave in the books George was with him. And how Dan and David have been very brave in translating that. And how Jack is fearless in his performance. To play someone so unsavory who shows such dark sides of human nature is a brave thing to do. And that's what I love about "Thrones." They always up the stakes. They make it serious, which, life and death and sadistic behavior is serious. I love the way that "Thrones" doesn't shy away from the darkness of humanity.
Have you read the books?
Do you want to read them?
I am enjoying where Dan and David are taking it. I like not knowing too much, to be honest. And I also love watching the show as a fan. There's such a wide range of stories. I like watching Dany's story and I like watching what's happening north of the Wall. I like watching the show as a fan because there are so many other fantastic storylines. So maybe I'll read the book retrospectively one day, but I'm just enjoying watching the show as a fan and not knowing what's happening at the moment to be honest.
Is it amazing that you're in this series and there's so many different places they film that you have no idea what's even happening any where else in the shoot?
Yeah. I mean it's great. A lot of us asked for the scripts, all of the scripts. We sit down and read the scripts so that we know what each other are doing. But nothing can replace watching it on screen. It's epic; it's so cinematic. We were watching the premiere at the Chinese Theater in L.A. and it really holds up on that ginormous screen. All those shots of Iceland, of North of the Wall and the amazing shots in Morocco. It's an epic show and I think all of the cast love getting together and sharing our joy and our compliments of each other's work. We're very proud of each other.
I worried about Margaery's intentions toward Sansa (Sophie Turner), but you say she genuinely likes her?
I think Margaery is genuinely sympathetic to Sansa. It's not to Margaery's advantage to the nasty to Sansa. The Tyrells want to win her over. They want to adopt her and look after her so that she can be on their side and be a replacement clan for her. There's kind of a big sisterly thing going on with Sansa--for Margaery down to Sansa.
Margaery's trying to teach Sansa a few things in the way of the world, and again I don't think--yeah it's so she can control her--but I think there is genuine empathy and sympathy there. Sophie and I kind of agreed on this, that if they'd met in another time or place, it's more than plausible that Sansa and Margaery would genuinely be good friends.
It's just a comment on their families and the circumstances they find themselves in when they meet each other that there's an edge to their relationship. That there's a tacit other things afoot. But there is a hope for genuine friendship, as long as it's advantageous I suppose. [Laughs.]
In your mind you have sort of, do you believe Margaery has a sort of theme or a motto she lives by?
She does. Her family sigil, her family words, "growing strong." "Growing strong," we're going to get there. We're going to move in, control the Lannisters, take over the throne and have children that were going to put on the Iron Throne. "Growing strong."
She seems to be on her way. Last question: Does Margaery or does Anne Boleyn have better clothes?
[Laughs.] All I can tell you is that the costume designers on both the shows have won Emmys. So I think those two women, Joan Bergin and Michelle Clapton, are very much sharing their own particular Iron Throne on that front.
Cersei says that Margaery's clothes are slutty...
They're all a bit cold, yeah. [Laughs.] It's funny isn't it?
I think she looks very tasteful.
Oh, thank you. She's not a slut at all. [Laughs.] And thank you for saying that. Fantastic.