Maisie Williams was only 12 years old when she landed the role of Arya Stark on HBO’s Game of Thrones. It was her first ever acting gig, a thing the actress once admitted to Evening Standard that she never fully expected to pan out. "I was constantly thinking, ‘One day this is gonna end, you know, just make the most of it,’" she told the publication in 2015. Eight years after the series first premiered, Williams has said goodbye to the character she grew up with, as filming wrapped in September 2018, but not without first having racked up a slew of award wins and nominations for her role.
For nearly a decade, we’ve watched Williams literally grow up in front of our eyes on the hit show. Today, she’s a strong, fearless feminist with an established acting career and a future in internet entrepreneurship. As famous as she is, though, she hasn’t completely let go of her "fairly ordinary" upbringing. And there’s plenty Williams is interested in doing outside of network TV. This is the stunning transformation of Maisie Williams.
Maisie Williams had a cartoonish origin
Maisie Williams grew up the youngest of four children in Bristol, UK. Born Margaret Williams, the then-future actress got the nickname Maisie when she was a child, taking the name from the little girl in The Perishers, a British comic strip. In 2015, she told Evening Standard that while she and her older siblings have always been close — "best friends," even — there has still always existed a sense of competition amongst them, and she noted that she may have followed the "mantra of ‘it’s the taking part that counts.’" However, she added, "We should still want to do the best that we can, even if that isn’t great."
Growing up, her family wasn’t especially wealthy — as Williams told Evening Standard that there weren’t "bags of money to go around." That meant acting lessons were a no-go for young Williams as well. But she had a certain knack for performing, especially around her family. "I loved to do funny accents and make my mum, my stepdad and brothers and sisters laugh," she told the publication. "It’s just something that I really enjoyed."
Maisie Williams came under fire for a lack of education
Maisie Williams’ difficult work schedule kept her out of school (or, more accurately, barely in school) for much of her teenage years. When she decided against taking her GCSE exams — academic assessments in the UK — she and her mother were met with backlash. According to Evening Standard, Williams’ mother said at the time, "Maisie was given a lot of opportunities that we didn’t feel we could turn down to concentrate on education." She was unapologetic, explaining, "I know a lot of people would disagree with that, but that’s what we decided to do."
Williams, too, refused to let the press dictate how she chose to live her life. She told The Irish Times that acting has been a huge opportunity, one that she would not have had she chosen to remain in school. "I’m not sorry," she said. "I realized leaving school that I was leaving behind a lot of people who wanted to see me fall."
One things has always remained the same for Maisie Williams: her love of dance
For Williams, acting was a sort of secondary pursuit. Her first love had been — and always will be — dance. Prior to auditioning for Game of Thrones, the actress had taken a few local dance classes and had later enrolled at Bath Dance College, a performing arts school devoted to offering affordable training in the south west of England. According to Vanity Fair, the training she’s received at BDC has helped her in terms of the stunt work she does on the series.
Williams also insists that, had it not been for Game of Thrones‘ success, she would have pursued dancing full time. In a 2016 interview with The Guardian, she said she’d "probably be living in London in someone’s spare bedroom trying to be a dancer and getting by on nothing." Even being years into one of the biggest shows of all time, Williams would have still given up on acting, should dance have been an option for her. "If I could have had a career in dancing, I would have left acting in a second. Like that," she said.
Maisie Williams had some difficult teen years
Growing up in front of the camera hasn’t been as easy as Williams has made it look, particularly when it comes to living out her teenage years for the world to see and scrutinize. "Going through that and trying to juggle other people’s opinions on who you are and how you should act, that’s difficult, just because you’re desperately trying to find your own identity," she said in an interview with The Guardian.
Williams has a strong online presence. At the time of publication, the actress had 9.6 million followers on Instagram and 2.44 million on Twitter. But she told The Guardian that the feelings attached to being cyberbullied are the same for anyone, regardless of how popular they happen to be on the internet. She said, "The comments still hurt just as much, whether it’s one person, whether it’s everyone in your school, whether it’s everyone in the London area."
She has managed to move beyond hurt feelings, however, and has used the experience in her favor. In 2015, she starred as Casey, a teen tormented by an online hacker in the TV movie Cyberbully.
Maisie Williams embraces millennial culture
As Williams has gotten older, maturing from a pre-teen into a young adult, she’s developed a fiercely defensive attitude regarding teenagers. In speaking with Elle in 2018, Williams said, "We are the future, with our vlogging and phones and all that." She lives for social media, specifically YouTube. Her favorite YouTuber? Jenna Marbles. "Jenna Marbles making a soap bed for her dog, that’s what I want to watch," she told the magazine.
For her part, Williams believes the world doesn’t give teenagers enough credit. In her interview with Evening Standard, she elaborated on the treatment of teens in society, saying that "the stigma that we can’t do it, before you’ve even given teenagers a chance. … So many of my friends are so passionate and so willing, and want to work in this world and do great things with their lives." From her perspective, the way teenagers are judged as a whole based on a few bad examples is biased and unfair and completely inaccurate when it comes to Generation Z.
Maisie Williams started off her career with a failed audition
Playing Arya Stark on Game of Thrones wasn’t exactly at the top of Maisie Williams’ list when she first got into acting. In fact, during a 2011 interview with Winter Is Coming, the actress explained that she wouldn’t have even auditioned if it weren’t for her dance school teacher, Sue. "After I had been there a while Sue suggested I attend a talent show in Paris," she said. "I came away from this with an agent and an audition with Pippa Hall, a children’s casting director, for Nanny McPhee 2."
She didn’t land the role, but Williams walked away from that audition with another chance, this time at playing Arya. Still, the actress said, she wasn’t particularly interested in the role at first. It took the actual audition process to change her mind. "I was still thinking about Nanny McPhee 2. But all auditions are good experience so I went along and after the first audition in London I knew I wanted to be Arya!"
Overnight success didn’t go to Maisie Williams’ head — she was always dedicated to her role
Maisie Williams has been a fan favorite as Arya Stark since HBO’s Game of Thrones first premiered in 2011. Part of the reason, aside from her natural charm, has to do with her complete dedication to the role. In her interview with Winter is Coming, Williams talked about learning to use a sword with her left hand in order to stay true to her character. With a little help from her parents, she eventually mastered the task — for the most part. "I wanted to get it right but was not able to use my left hand all of the time because of camera angles so Arya is now a little ambidextrous!"
In 2015, Williams won a Saturn award for her work on GoT. The following year, she was nominated for her first Emmy. While the legal drinking age in the UK is 18, Williams happened to be in the States at the time, so she posted a celebratory, water bottle-heavy photo on her Instagram with the caption, "Celebrating the way any 19 y/o, emmy nominated actress would… in the state of california."
Maisie Williams set boundaries around that one Game of Thrones scene
Having watched Williams grow up on screen over the course of Game of Thrones‘ eight seasons, fans may sometimes find it strange to think of the actress as a full-fledged adult. But an adult she certainly is, something the show made very clear during its 2019 episode "A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms." While that Arya love scene may have been a shock to fans of the show, it was even more surprising for Williams herself.
Speaking with Entertainment Weekly, Williams explained how she initially thought it was a joke. "At first, I thought it was a prank," she said. "I was like, ‘Yo, good one.’ And [the showrunners were] like, ‘No, we haven’t done that this year.’ Oh f**k!"
Still, there was the whole nudity thing to deal with. According to Williams, the showrunners gave her complete control over how much (or how little) she wanted to reveal on camera. In the end, she decided that less was more. "I don’t think it’s important for Arya to flash," she said. "This beat isn’t really about that. And everybody else has already done it on the show, so…"
A lifelong friendship for Maisie Williams and Sophie Turner
Her experience on Game of Thrones allowed Maisie Williams to form some pretty tight bonds with her fellow cast and crew members, but none have been as strong as the friendship she’s forged with Sophie Turner, who plays her character’s older sister, Sansa. Williams described Turner as "a great friend" to Winter is Coming when the series first premiered in 2011. Eight years later, Williams is poised to play maid of honor for Turner, who’s been engaged to Joe Jonas since 2017.
Williams told Radio Times in 2018 that she had already been chosen to be one of Sophie Turner’s bridesmaids. But at the Season 8 Game of Thrones premiere, Turner revealed the maid-of-honor news to Entertainment Tonight. When she was told that Williams had been thinking about what she was going to wear to the wedding, Turner said, "I don’t know why she’s thinking of it. I’m giving her the bridesmaid dress." Turner added, "She’s my maid of honor! One of two."
The relationship Maisie Williams kept under wraps
Living in the spotlight generally comes at the price of having the entire world know the ins and outs of every relationship you’ve ever been in. Some stars like Sophie Turner and Joe Jonas have embraced the public and allowed them into their personal lives via social media. Williams, however, has preferred to keep her personal life, well, personal. In 2016, she spoke with InStyle UK about her boyfriend, but she kept the details to a minimum. As reported by Refinery29, she said, "We’ve been together for over a year," adding, "I guess you could say things are getting pretty serious."
It wasn’t until mid-2017 when she finally revealed his identity. InStyle reported on the actress’ first red carpet appearance with Ollie Jackson. The 100 Tons of Plastic co-founder posted a photo of himself with Williams with the caption, "What can I say. I like the way you’re put together."
By April 2019, the status of their relationship was up in the air, as neither has appeared on each other’s social media profiles since 2018.
Does Maisie Williams have a future on stage?
With Game of Thrones wrapped, Maisie Williams has decided to focus on various other pursuits. Among them is her stage debut, which she did in October 2018 at Hampstead Theatre, playing Caroline in Lauren Gunderson’s I and You. Williams told The Guardian that what appealed to her most about the role was that it was so similar to her own life. "Reading the script was like reading texts on my phone from when I was at school," she said. "What’s exciting about it is how much it resonated with me as a young human in the world today."
Williams has had the opportunity to act on stage before, but she had always turned it down. She told The Guardian, "It would have been too much, moving to a new city like that, to a new country. And then to be doing eight shows a week on Broadway when I’ve never been on stage before — it just wasn’t right." These days, however, things are different. Who knows where Williams will wind up next!
Maisie Williams’ transition from sassy Arya to Internet entrepreneur
In 2018, Maisie Williams teamed up with entrepreneur Dom Santry to create Daisie, a platform for creators to network and collaborate within a social media setting. In a statement about the app’s development, Williams described her goal of creating an environment where young creatives — particularly women — will have a real opportunity to find employment. According to TechCrunch, Williams said, "Daisie will break down the archaic gap between youth and creative jobs; offering new opportunities for individuals to collaborate, learn and create."
Williams appeared on The Tonight Show in April 2019 to talk about the launch of the company’s web app and described how Daisie allows those who are just starting out to find other creatives interested in working together on projects. She said, "You can find someone, if you want to do a music video, you’ll be able to find people who shoot music videos, or someone who has a concept, or maybe a piece of art that you want to create an idea around." Her hope is to give others the chance to find success.
Maisie Williams is a champion for feminism both on and off screen
Perhaps it’s her outspoken attitude that has put Williams in a position to be a new feminist icon. Maybe it’s the fact that she’s so closely associated with her character on Game of Thrones, a young woman who’s taken it upon herself to fight back against the misogyny of Westeros, one man at a time. Or maybe it has to do with the fact that, in her 20s, Williams is seeing first-hand how differently women are being treated.
Describing show business as "a very shallow industry" to The Irish Times, Williams said, "It’s only now I’m starting to realize the characters that are available to me because of the way I look and the characters that aren’t available to me." In speaking with Evening Standard, she expressed her hope that one day women won’t have to worry about being cast in roles based on their appearance alone.
But she realizes that the issue is bigger than Hollywood. She told The Guardian, "I know things aren’t perfect for women in the UK and in America, but there are women in the rest of the world who have it far worse."
Saving the dolphins is one of Maisie Williams’ missions
Williams hasn’t limited her activism to just women’s causes. She’s a huge supporter of animal rights as well. As a global ambassador for Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project, a non-profit dedicated to ending "dolphin exploitation and slaughter," Williams has been outspoken regarding the treatment of dolphins worldwide.
She told The Hollywood Reporter, "These animals travel the ocean. That’s what they explore daily. No tank will be big enough. No tank will ever be deep enough, ever be exciting enough." Dolphins are routinely hunted in Taiji, Japan, which was documented in the 2009 film The Cove. Those that aren’t good looking enough to sell to aquariums and shows are sold for meat.
Williams thinks it’s important to speak up about issues that one feels strongly about. Regarding the Dolphin Project, she said, "It was something that just struck a chord in my heart. And I’m a firm believer that, if there is something that you really want to stand up and fight for, then you should." She firmly believes that if everyone does their part, we can actually change the world.