Maisie Williams on ‘The New Look’ & Returning to ‘Game of Thrones’

There are a few moments in Apple TV+’s new mini-series about the rise of Christian Dior, The New Look, when Maisie Williams commands the screen without so much as uttering a word. As Dior’s sister, Catherine, Williams allows the seasoned actors around her to make their way through their respective dialogue while she simply reacts, with subtle tilts of the head and squints of those large, expressive eyes, maintaining a presence and adding to the story’s momentum in silence.

“I just got to sort of sit back and watch,” the 26-year-old actress tells W, specifically referring to one scene in the show’s ninth episode—a family dinner filled with all the toxicity often associated with a dysfunctional clan. As her fictional brothers exchange jabs across dinner, Williams sits, taking it all in, saying nothing, aloud at least. But Williams is being humble, underplaying her role in the particular moment. Despite her lack of dialogue, Williams’s Catherine acts as the emotional center of the story that expertly walks the line between the frivolity of fashion and the importance of art in dark times.

The New Look follows Dior and Coco Chanel as they navigate the world of couture in Nazi-occupied Paris and the years succeeding liberation. Williams plays Catherine Dior, Christian’s younger sister, champion, and the inspiration behind the still-popular Miss Dior fragrance. Catherine was a member of the French Resistance during the war, and was eventually caught by the Nazis and sent to the Ravensbrück concentration camp. Throughout the show’s ten episodes, Williams stands strong among an all-star cast that boasts Ben Mendelsohn, Juliette Binoche, Glenn Close, and John Malkovich, among others.

Williams as Catherine Dior in The New Look.

Courtesy of Apple TV+

To prepare for such an intense role, Williams first had to take a step back from Maisie. “I had to quiet down my own voice and life,” the actress says. She gave her friends and family a heads up that they likely wouldn’t hear from her for a bit, and moved to Paris where she lived a fairly solitary life for close to a year. “I spent a lot of time alone in my apartment, just exercising, researching, and meditating,” she says. “I really felt like, in order to get closer to the character, I had to get further and further away from myself.”

While readying herself mentally for the role was no easy feat, the physical preparation was even more severe. In order to portray a survivor of a concentration camp, Williams had to lose 25 pounds, and she worked with medical professionals to do so in a healthy manner. “So much of Paris is late nights and long dinners, but I was going to bed very early, and had a strict home-cooked food regime,” she says. “It was definitely the most extreme thing that I’ve done.” Williams wasn’t concerned about the sacrifice, however—there would be other Parisian nights and wine-fueled dinners. “I really wanted to do Catherine justice, and it felt like throwing myself in and being all-consumed by her life was the best way to do that.”

Before landing the role, Williams didn’t know much about Catherine Dior. In fact, not many people do. The New Look, as well as Justine Picardie’s recently-published biography, Miss Dior (which Williams devoured as research), introduces the impressive woman to the modern world for the first time. “There are so many women who are easily forgotten about in history, and for Catherine’s role to be so integral to this telling of Christian’s story is so important,” she says.

Williams with Hugo Becker in The New Look.

Courtesy of Apple TV+

The show is called The New Look in reference to the cinched waist, full skirt silhouette Dior introduced with his first collection in 1947. The designer, played by Mendelsohn, lives as the center of the series, as does Juliette Binoche’s Chanel, but The New Look places Catherine right alongside the fashion icons. The dynamic between Williams and Mendelsohn is ever-evolving throughout the episodes, as the siblings struggle through the hardships of war and its aftermath. Catherine acts as Christian’s strength in many ways, and her presence is felt throughout the show, even when she’s not there. “Christian and Catherine’s relationship was so special,” Williams says. “I think Catherine was really one of the only people in Christian’s life—or at least in his family—who really saw him and understood him for who he was.”

It was important for Williams to connect with Mendelsohn in a meaningful way ahead of filming, in order to portray an authentic sibling relationship when the cameras started rolling. “It’s a fun dynamic to find with another actor, because it’s different than feigning love or friendship,” Williams says. “Those relationships are formed with someone who at one point was a stranger to you, but that’s not the case with family, where you’ve known each other forever.” The actors immediately bonded over their pasts and were quickly able to find a familiarity that would translate to the screen. “I feel like we had an immediate openness about our lives and personal family dynamics,” Williams says.

Of course, Williams is used to acting alongside faux siblings, after portraying one of the six Starks for eight seasons on HBO’s mega-hit, Game of Thrones. Fans of Williams’s Arya Stark may see some similarities between the young adventurer and Catherine. On a superficial level, they’re the youngest daughter of big families. The two characters are also unequivocally brave, unwilling to let fear, the status quo, or their past adversities stop them. But while there’s an innate anger within Arya, in Catherine, that’s replaced by a certain melancholy.

“I do think there’s a clear draw between them,” Williams says. She prefers to portray characters who are emotionally driven, a trait shared by both Arya and Catherine. And while Williams admits both roles were challenging in their own ways, she says Catherine was much harder in the end, if only because she was a real person. When Williams was shooting Catherine’s most difficult scenes—getting tortured at the hands of the Nazis, having her head shaved upon arrival to Ravensbrück—in the back of her mind, she knew this actually happened to Catherine, and so many others.

Williams as Catherine Dior.

Courtesy of Apple TV+

Playing Arya for close to a decade also meant the role became “quite habitual,” as Williams describes it. “With Arya, there was a sense of muscle memory,” she says. “But with Catherine, I was able to move into someone brand new and I think I worked with far more focus and committed in ways like never before.” That being said, Williams isn’t against returning to the iconic character in the future.

“I would love to play Arya again at some point,” she says. “I have a real fondness for my time on the show. People wait their whole careers to play a character like Arya, and to be part of something that’s just so widely known and loved. I’m very proud of the work I did on Game of Thrones.

For now, though, Williams is happily entrenched in the world of Dior, as made evident by her ensembles for the series’ recent press events. The actress has embraced the show’s theme, wearing outfits that reference Dior’s signature New Look silhouette. Because while this job meant getting to tell the story of a forgotten woman in history, it also meant diving into the world of great fashion. Those who follow Williams on social media know she takes clothes seriously, meaning she was more than pleased to take a pre-production trip to the Dior archive in preparation for the show. “This is such a dream job for me,” Williams says, reminiscing on her tour of the designer’s original salon.

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It’s a word Williams can’t stop using while discussing The New Look: “dream.” She evokes it when she talks about sharing the screen with Glenn Close, as well as getting the opportunity to bring Catherine’s story to the world. She recognizes it’s a fruitful character for an actor to take on, one that allowed her to show off her acting skills in the most poignant of scenes. “This role felt like an opportunity to really use all of the tools in the toolbox,” she says. And yes, those emotive eyes are most definitely part of that arsenal.

The first three episodes of The New Look premiere on Apple TV+ on February 14th, followed by a new episode every Wednesday.

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