Oyster #99: Hannah Murray
"It's like, 'Oh, you're making a film about women. How unusual!"
From the moment she appeared as the endearing, perpetually whacked-out Cassie Ainsworth on Skins, it was clear Hannah Murray was going to become one of our favourites. When we heard she was going to be on the second season of Game of Thrones, the deal was sealed. Plus, she's not only one of the most promising actors around, she is also someone you'd want to sloth around with in front of the telly.
Emily Royal: Hi Hannah! How are you?
Hannah Murray: I'm really well.
You'll have to excuse me, I've lost my voice. I have a cold.
Oh, that's alright.
So, what are you working on at the moment?
I'm sort of thinking about the third series of Game of Thrones, which will probably start again in the summer.
How long ago did you shoot for season two?
That was last year.
We've been waiting a long time for new episodes. Tell me about your character.
I play Gilly. She lives north of the Wall — she's a wildling. She's basically a young girl in a really, really grim, unpleasant situation. She meets some of the characters from the main cast and hopes that they'll be friends for her.
Had you watched the first season?
Yeah, I watched it when I was offered the part, and was immediately really excited.
Tell me about filming — is it a pretty massive production?
Yeah, it is. It's the biggest-scale thing I've worked on, really. I'm used to TV being the smallest thing, and then I went on to film and that's bigger, and then I went back to TV and it was even bigger than before. The sets are unbelievable. You feel like you're taken into this entirely different world, just by being on set. It's an amazing crew as well; it's like a family. So although it was this huge thing, it felt very welcoming and very friendly and very warm.
Where do you film it?
In Northern Ireland. They're based in Belfast, and film in the surrounding countryside. They also shot quite a lot in Croatia, I think, for the second series, and for the first series in Iceland, but I wasn't lucky enough to film anywhere like that. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for more travel in the next series.
So you're locked in for season three?
I'm not 100 percent locked in, so I can't say for sure, but I'm aware that my character doesn't disappear in the books, so I'm pretty certain I'll be coming back.
Have you read the books?
I haven't, yet. It's on my 'to do' list. I've got them ready. I know the show doesn't adhere 100 percent to the books — they're kind of doing their own thing — but I'd like to get a bit of a sense of what's been written already for [Gilly], so I can work out where she might be going. That's my task at the moment; a very big task.
Do you watch much TV?
Yeah, I watch quite a bit. I was a bit rubbish about watching stuff when I was at university, but recently I moved down to London, and me and my flatmate watch a lot of TV together.
What are your shows at the moment?
I guess it's split between very highbrow and very lowbrow [laughs]. Yeah, I really love Mad Men and The Wire and Six Feet Under, that sort of stuff. And — I've only watched the first couple of episodes of it — but I'm really enjoying Homeland.
Yeah, me too! I just started.
Yeah, I really love watching her.
Yeah. And then — I don't know if you get this over there — my housemate and I are really obsessed with this show called Geordie Shore, which is set in Newcastle.
Is that like Jersey Shore?
Exactly. And also this show called Take Me Out. So, on Saturday evenings we get a little bit obsessed, like "We can't go out, we have to stay home and watch Take Me Out!" So yeah, looking at my Sky Plus box, there's quite a nice balance between complete trash and very high-quality television.
I think it's important to have that balance.
I think so, yes.
Let's talk about Skins. I loved it so much. Does it feel like forever ago?
It was nearly six years ago when I first started — I was 17, and I'm about to be 23 — so it does feel like a really long time ago; especially when I think about everything I've done since then, like all the jobs I've done. And I've done a degree as well, an English degree at Cambridge — I graduated in July last year — so I feel like a very different person from then. I was 18 when I finished the show and still a child, really. But I have very, very fond memories of doing it and I'm still very close to a lot of the people I worked with on it. It's always going to be a part of my life in that sense, you know?
Yeah. And that was your very first acting job, wasn't it?
Very, very first; absolutely. Nothing before that.
The guys who created the show, they're father and son?
Yeah, Bryan was a TV writer and he was coming up with ideas for series and running them past his son Jamie, who was like, "This is rubbish, you should do something about teenagers," so they came up with the show and the characters together. Bryan wrote the majority of the episodes but also had younger writers in, and Jamie wrote an episode [for that first series]. And now the sixth series is on TV at the moment!
What's your favourite moment from your time on the show?
Oh, gosh! I went from never having acted professionally before to being in every day, all day, for several weeks. So, suddenly being immersed in this world and learning how to act in front of the camera — that's a really special thing. There's a sequence in the first series where Cassie attempts suicide; she's wearing a white dress and standing on a bench and dancing and taking pills. We shot it really early in the morning and that was quite special. There was a lot of stuff from the second series with me and Joe — they kind of wrote a lot of scenes about our characters' friendship. And by that time everyone was so close, so we were feeding off a very natural thing.
This interview is for our all-women issue, and lots of people we've spoken to have said that their mum is the woman they admire most. What's your mum like?
We are pretty close — and I'm an only child, so that makes us even closer, I guess. She was really surprised that I got involved in acting, because no one in the family had done it before. She works at Bristol University in the Chemistry department — she's a lab technician — so when I was first auditioning for Skins she was like… Well, she's a slightly pessimistic person. She really didn't want me to get my hopes up or get too excited, and then the further I got, the more scared she got. But I did say that I wanted to be an actor from quite a young age, and she was incredibly supportive. She took me to see loads of plays. We talk pretty often and she sends me lots of emails. She's very good at keeping up on what's going on.
Which actresses do you look up to?
A big one for me has always been Michelle Williams. I think she's incredible … And I think I have a little thing with her 'cause she started out in a teenage drama as well, so I feel a little affinity with her for that … I mean, there's a lot of people my own age who are doing work that I really admire — I think Emma Stone is incredible; I really like Kristen Stewart. There are loads of really great female actors at the moment; it's a really exciting time. But I find it also to be frustrating, 'cause there tends to be not as much work with lots of female characters together — often it's one girl and lots of guys. And obviously there's a lot of great male actors too, but, like, on Game of Thrones I was the only girl in all of my scenes — which is fine, but when there are so many female actors you really admire, you think, "Oh, I'd love to be able to work with her." I think female relationships are under-represented.
Remember when people were making a massive deal about Bridesmaids having an all-female lead cast?
Yeah, I know what you mean, like it's sometimes seen as this special-interest thing. It's like, "Oh, you're making a film about women. How unusual!" And it's like, half the people in the world are women. And also, nobody questions that women will be interested in watching a film about men — no one questions that — but men wouldn't want to watch a film about women? It's just a really unproven idea.
Exactly. Well, thank you so much! Good luck with everything.
Photography: Bella Howard
Make-up: Clare Read