Game of Thrones actress Natalie Dormer – who will star in a new BBC drama about a Georgian sex scandal – likes to play women on top, she tells Olly Grant
Some actors spend a lifetime within their comfort zones, ploughing the field most furrowed. Natalie Dormer isn’t one of them. “You know what?” she asks, as we discuss her latest project. “Sometimes, if something makes you uncomfortable as an actor, it’s interesting. And you have to work out why it’s making you uncomfortable: why do I feel threatened by this scene? Because sometimes it’s the stuff that makes you uncomfortable that is actually the good drama.”
Dormer, 33, has form when it comes to uncompromising parts in envelope-pushing dramas. She first came to wide attention playing a sexed-up Anne Boleyn in chamber-hopping drama The Tudors. She is best known as the queen of Westeros, Margaery Tyrell, in the perpetually controversial Game of Thrones. Now the refreshingly forthright actress is adding another provocative role to her CV.
She plays the title character in the BBC period drama The Scandalous Lady W. The controversies arraigned here – elopement, writs, wife-leasing, voyeurism and a rabid tabloid press – are as outlandish as anything dreamt up in the courts of King’s Landing. Not least because they are true.
The film tells the story of an 18th-century sex scandal involving two Hampshire nobles, the titular Lady Worsley, played by Dormer, and her husband Sir Richard (Endeavour’s Shaun Evans). At the time of their marriage in 1775, the Worsleys were a feted power couple. She had inherited a £50,000 fortune; he was a respected MP and future governor of the Isle of Wight. By 1782, however, the gilded edifice had crashed down in one of the most infamous trials of the Georgian era.
Even today, the twists of the case make for extraordinary reading. When the story first came to her – the script is based on Lady Worsley’s Whim, a bestselling 2008 book by Hallie Rubenhold, who consulted on the adaptation – Dormer was supposed to be avoiding costume dramas. “I’d made a small pledge to myself to keep away from corsets for a bit, because I didn’t want to be pigeonholed,” she says, smiling at the irony. We are meeting on set, in the drawing room of a stately home, where she is layered in 18th-century silks; her hair, a savage tower of curls, glares down at us from the top of her head.