HANNAH MURRAY explores greener pastures after portraying Cassie Ainsworth from Skins. From shrooms and weed, she branches out to Westeros and Maine characters—shedding old skin, turning words into flesh, and squeezing a vegetarian diet in between as she breathes life into The Numbers Station and George R. R. Martin and Tim Burton fantasies. Hmm… we smell blood and roses.
STUCK AT HOME SYNDROME
She’s thin. She’s blonde. She says “wow” a lot. It’s been five years since Skins, where Hannah Murray burst onto the scene and into everyone’s wallpapers and Tumblr accounts as pill-popping Cassie. Though playing an anorexic, Hannah embodies the character’s trademark line—“Lovely.” Every Skins fan will probably agree, but if the TV show is a reflection of Bristol’s youth culture and true Brit grit, Hannah is all that and more.
While busy with a flurry of work after Skins (Hannah revealed her acting chops in That Face, Womb, and Chatroom), she was studying English at Cambridge University. Hannah also got a role in HBO’s Game of Thrones as Gilly, the pregnant daughter of Craster. “Nina Gold, Game of Thrones casting director, had cast me in Chatroom so she knew about me,” Hannah recounts. “I just went to audition. I met her and [series creators] David Benioff and Dan Weiss. I read one scene once, and they were like, ‘Okay.’ I left the room not knowing if it had gone really terribly or really well.” Obviously, it’s the latter because David mentioned how Hannah brought a “wonderfully damaged quality” to Gilly—a trait that might just be similar to Cassie’s and her role as a hippie in Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows. “Tim just made everything very easy,” Hannah says. “He was really encouraging, kind, and gentle. I thought he was enjoying what everyone on set was doing.” Having finished school and being cast for more roles, she officially moved to London to focus on acting.
“I’ve read scripts that have full nudity, loads of violence, full of everything. But when it’s written in a clever way, it really works.”
Noon rises as Hannah preps for our interview in London. I panic on the phone with a friend who’s arriving late to pick her up for the shoot. I imagine Hannah cussing as she waits, instead she greets the team without any pretense—in her shirt, jeans, and tousled hair.
Hannah arrives at the city’s ghetto end, downs a bite of vegetarian pizza, and shares her recent dinner with a bunch of the Skins cast. “We’re all really close. I just love it,” she says. “They’re really special friends. I think, ‘coz we went through that experience together and for most of us, it’s our first job, it will always feel like they’re the people who properly understand what it’s like to have the same memories.”
You could say Hannah’s becoming known for landing on a string of disturbed characters, but that’s what makes her special. “I do not know if I draw the line when it comes to choosing roles. I think I draw the line in terms of what I’d let my parents watch,” Hannah laughs, remembering her intimate scenes in Skins. “I’ve read scripts that have full nudity, loads of violence, full of everything. But when it’s written in a clever way, it really works. So I don’t have a set idea of things I would never do and things I would do,” she says. Hannah believes it’s about trusting the people you work with.
“I still feel a bit awkward watching myself on TV,” she snickers then tells me repeatedly how she used to hate it. “On the second season of Skins, Chris Martin, who directed my episode, was like, ‘You’re being ridiculous. You need to learn how to watch yourself ‘coz it’s really useful for an actor to look at what you’ve done and be able to correct it.’ He would try to show me scenes, and I would run into a corner to hide. I’ve tried to get a bit better at watching myself, and I think of it more as a tool to see what I’ve done… I try to be a little less emotional and neurotic about it.”
Hannah could avoid watching herself as much as she wants, but she can’t really do much about the world watching her. “Oh, God,” Hannah laughs. “When I was doing That Face, a guy was waiting for me outside the exit. He was very sweet. He’d drawn a portrait of me, framed it, and he gave it to me. He put so much effort into it, and it was a very technically good drawing… bBut it didn’t look very much like me. I took it backstage and showed it to the rest of the cast, and they were all like, ‘This really doesn’t look like you’ or ‘I don’t recognize one feature.’ So I felt bad ‘coz the guy tried really hard, and he was a good artist.”
“I try to be a little less emotional and neurotic about watching myself.”
When it comes to image—drawn, photographed or sculpted—Hollywood worships divas who are as fake as their racks, but Hannah keeps it real and keeps everything intensely private (Note: She doesn’t have Twitter. Believe me, I’ve tried stalking. She just doesn’t see why people would want to know her every move). “I always felt a bit weird about having to go to events for a screening of a film or something,” she says. “I’m not very good at the whole dressing up and being glamorous. I get quite nervous in interviews. And when some are very swanky and very sophisticated,” she starts waving her hand like she’s at a red carpet. “I tend to feel a little bit like an outsider.”
Despite her inhibitions, Hannah admits her acting projects incited her interest in people. “Before I started out, I thought I was very much a loner. But when you’re on set or doing a play, you’re around people constantly. You have to think about people all the time. I realized that I love that—being on set, and being in a busy, social environment.”
As for future plans, Hannah is all pajama-ready to read the rest of Game of Thrones while she waits for The Numbers Station, her upcoming movie with John Cusack and Malin Akerman. I ask about a Skins movie. “I think the idea is a seventh season,” she says. The seventh season is a reunion with recurring characters from the past five years. But will Hannah reprise her role as Cassie? She should, unless E4 fancies a riot of fans outside the office building. “One thing I think I’d like to do,” Hannah continues, “Well, I really like singing, but I only ever sing in the privacy of my own bedroom. I don’t ever do it in front of people,” she laughs. “But I really enjoy it; it makes me feel very happy. Maybe if I was forced to do it, I’d be quite interested.” I’m about to force her to sing for the record, but the cab arrives to bring her home.
The sun sets as Hannah leaves Roehampton, but London after dark is still quite bright with young, shiny things—that includes strobe lights, glittery ticker tapes, and Hannah Murray—obviously.
Story by Reena Mesias
Photographed by David Sheldrick
Styled by Chad Burton
Makeup by Chloe Han
Hey, Hannah. You graduated last year. Congrats!
So what are your plans now? Are you focusing on your acting career or do you have other options in mind?
I’m basically focusing on acting now. I moved down to London in October which makes it a lot easier really, ‘coz I was always traveling back and forth when I was in Cambridge. It’s really nice to be able to think about acting and just try to do as much as I can.
Do you read the Game of Throne books?
Yeah. I’ve read the first two books. I don’t wanna get too far ahead of myself and read all of them in one go. So I’m gonna start reading the next one soon.
Which house do you prefer to be in?
I quite like wolves. I think the Starks are cool for that reason, but then it’s a bit cold in the North so maybe not. I think the Targaryens are pretty cool as well—the whole dragon thing, and having silver hair. I think I could be one of them.
You think you’d make a good Khaleesi?
[laughs] Probably not. I’m too much of a wimp.
In Game of Thrones, you have a relationship with Samwell. What’s your ideal relationship in real life? I bet the guys would wanna know.
I don’t think you can ever plan those kind of things. You know, when you’re with someone, when it’s just so easy to talk to him, you feel like you can talk to this person for the rest of your life. That’s the kind of thing I look for…when things just feel simple and easy.
What’s a typical day when you’re not auditioning or shooting?
If I don’t have anything on work-wise, I go to the gym in the morning, I go swimming. Well recently, ‘coz that’s one of my New Year’s resolution, so I’ve been doing that since January [laughs]. I read a lot of novels, plays. I try to watch as many films as possible. I go to the cinema quite a few times a week. I try to go and see a lot of plays when I’m living in London. I hang out with my flatmates and watch rubbish TV as well. I like going out for dinner a lot with friends.
If you could have 5 people in a party like Skins, who would you wanna bring?
I’ll go with Ernest Hemingway, Andy Warhol, Leonora Carrington, a surrealist artist. I don’t know if you get this show called Geordie Shore—not Jersey Shore. It’s set in Newcastle. There’s 2 girls from that show…Vicky and Charlotte. I think they’re amazing and would be wonderful at a party. I’d definitely have them.
5 tips on being healthy.
*I’m a vegetarian. As a vegetarian, I think a lot more about my diet. My flatmates eat meat. They eat chicken and pasta every meal. I eat loads of vegetables among other different things.
*Swimming is a really good thing to do.
*I think that walking rather than taking public transport is good. It’s not only ‘coz it’s healthy but you see more of the city and you save money.
*I think that sleeping enough is good. I really recommend that. I like sleeping a lot.
*Eat pineapple. It’s a great fruit, and it’s very good for you. The main thing I hate about moving out of my parents’ house is my mom always makes massive fruit salad every morning. I eat loads of the fruit. Eat fruits—especially in the morning.