Maisie Williams is Arya Stark.
And at the risk of sounding trite, that makes her the absolute coolest.
As “Game of Thrones’” sword-wielding tomboy, the 17-year-old Brit has amassed a fan following that grows with each passing season of the hit HBO series. Williams’ popularity hit an all-time high with last month’s season four finale, in which an ever-hardening Arya (accompanied by The Hound) completed her walking tour of Westeros and set off to carve her own path through the Seven Kingdoms.
With “Thrones” on hiatus, Williams is likewise carving her own path on the big screen with the new film “Heatstroke,” which is now open in select theaters and available to rent with XFINITY On Demand.
The film stars Stephen Dorff as a research scientist who invites his angsty teen daughter (Williams) and new girlfriend (Svetlana Metkina) to study hyenas on a work trip to Africa. When tragedy strikes their camp, the women are left fighting for their lives as they flee ruthless arms dealers across Africa’s unforgiving savannas.
I recently caught up with Williams to talk about her “Game of Thrones” success, her face-off with wild hyenas in “Heatstroke” and the difficulties of being a pale English girl in Africa.
David Onda: Have you gotten used to being so recognizable, particularly since the Arya Stark character has become so popular?
Maisie Williams: Yeah. I mean, it happened kind of gradually. It wasn’t like, one day, I woke up and people were pointing at me in the street. It did happen slowly. I’m thrilled, and my life has completely changed, but in a really good way.
Onda: When people do recognize you on the street, what’s the line the yell at you the most?
Williams: They either shout “Arya!” or “Game of Thrones!” or “Stick ’em with the pointy end!” But I find that kind of obnoxious and annoying, so when people shout that, I don’t really look over. I think that’s rude sometimes. I wouldn’t just shout, “You!” I think people, because they watch you on TV, they think they know you, which is cool, but it’s rude to just shout at someone! And it’s embarrassing. If people are kind of goofy about it and a bit annoying, I tend not to look around. I don’t mean to treat people like that, but if you want to speak to me, you can come and say hi.
Onda: Does “Game of Thrones” let you take Needle home with you?
Williams: Not yet. I’m really hoping they will though, one day.
Onda: Can you tell me how you came to be involved with the movie “Heatstroke”?
Williams: Basically, it was just after [“Thrones”] season one had been aired and there was a lot of buzz about us. So we got the script and I read it and really, really liked it. And after the show was aired, we decided to go overt to L.A. and have a few meetings, because there was a couple other things that came up, and we just thought it would be a good idea to go over and meet people in person. And then we were over there, we went into Bold Films and met the director and the casting director and they were really, really lovely. And turns out they were seriously thinking about me for the role, which was really flattering and lovely. And then a few months later, I was in South Africa. It wasn’t a big process. It was a big deal at the time because I had never been offered a role like that.
Onda: And this was the first time you had ever done an American accent for a project. Was there anyone you modeled your accent after?
Williams: Not really. In the U.K., we’re surrounded by the American accent anyway. Everything we watch on TV, all of our adverts and all of our shows have American accents. Every half hour there’s a “Simpsons” episode or “How I Met Your Mother” or a “Big Bang Theory.” They’re constantly on here. It’s not an accent we’re completely alien to, so I kind of had a rough idea of how it went anyway. And going out to America was really helpful, because until that point, I had never actually been in America and been surrounded by that. I also had a dialogue coach who helped me a lot when I was in South Africa.
Onda: Did it occur to you that you just spent the last season of “Game of Thrones” wandering Westeros on foot, and now, in “Heatstroke,” you spend most of the film wandering Africa on foot?
Williams: I know! The way it turned out is so strange. When I got “Heatstroke” and started shooting, it was years before I even thought I’d be on the run with The Hound, that Arya would be on the run with The Hound. The way it kind of turned out is really, really funny, but I never intended for this to happen the way it has. But, yeah, it’s good. I guess it’s fresh in people’s minds – seeing my face wandering through rough terrain.
Onda: Poor Maisie – always walking, all the time!
Williams: [laughs] I’ve got good calf muscles, I guess!
Onda: Who’s better company, Svetlana Metkina or Rory McCann (The Hound)?
Williams: Both for very different reasons. Rory was a great laugh and someone I could goof around with more, but Svetlana was a lot more mothering. She has a daughter that was my age, so it was a really different kind of a relationship, more a maternal kind of relationship. With me and Rory, although we’re completely different ages, it felt like he was my brother and we’d just mess around.
Onda: What were some of the unique difficulties of filming “Heatstroke”?
Williams: For me, being in South Africa… and me being from the U.K., I’m not in the sun very much anyway. I don’t really cope well with the heat, so that was one of the biggest struggles – making sure I stay hydrated. It sounds really, really bad, but I’m a really, really pale person and I do need a lot of sunscreen and it is quite dangerous. You’d think one of the coolest parts about being in South Africa is the sun, but actually, for me, it was kind of dangerous. That was the biggest difficulty. I got tired quite a lot. And you’re constantly frowning because your eyes are trying to shield the sun, and I got really bad headaches. That sounds really ungrateful, but being a little English girl, it wasn’t amazing.
Onda: Did you work with real hyenas on this movie?
Williams: I did. We were actually in the same room together. I don’t mean to sound really stupid, but it was actually dangerous, which I found really, really cool. I was actually in a room with a wild hyena. I’m so proud of myself for that, which is really embarrassing. You probably shouldn’t say that out loud, but I did, so whatever. [laughs] But they were real hyenas. People ask me, “Were they domesticated?” They had [a trainer] who kind of looked after them, but when they weren’t filming, they really did live in the wild. They weren’t tame by any means. It wasn’t like we just picked a hyena out of the wild. It had been around humans before. It was the weirdest experience ever. They were awesome and so beautiful. When was the last time you saw a hyena in a movie?
Onda: Probably “The Lion King.”
Williams: Exactly! I don’t even see hyenas in cartoons, so when it’s right there in front of you, it’s like, “Oh my god, this is actually happening.”
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The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.