Natalie Dormer: “The British get very kinky under the collar’

If the acting thing hadn’t worked for Natalie Dormer, she may have wanted to consider a coaching career politicians in the media and people skills. From the moment we meet, in a comfortable hotel in the centre of London, it has charm: warm, welcoming, the creation of a effort sense of camaraderie. My name is strewn all over. She asked me questions about myself (which is rare for an interview) and does a convincing job of appearing interested in the answers. It is persuasive and eloquent on everything that she’s addressing.

Today, she is focusing her attention on Venus in Fur, David Ives’s dark comedy about sadomasochism, which will premiere in the West End later this month with her in the lead role. It makes a hell of a case for it. “You’ll either go home and have sex, or you may break up with your partner… He has this wacky, dark surrealism, but at the same time, manages to be incredibly sexy and funny… He was Freudian, erudite arguments, so if you have activated it by having your brain tickled, you’re going to get turned on. But if you have turned in the most basic, physical way, it is there too.”

After more than a decade in the public eye – 12 years after his film debut in Casanova and 10 of his escape role as Anne Boleyn in The Tudors – it is one of the most recognizable faces on the screen, with roles in both Game of Thrones and The Hunger Games. She is known for portraying compelling, dangerously glamorous roles, and I half expect her to turn into pearls, and a power blow dry; instead, it is in a grey top and high-waisted trousers, her blonde waves in a scientist messy bun. It has just been for a swim at the hotel pool and is about to head to rehearsals.

“Obviously, the intellectual and the physical are not mutually exclusive: all of us are the two things, as human beings,” she continues, on the eggs benedict and the coffee. “We want to be thoughtful, effective, creative people with empirical minds, but we also want to throw away all our clothes, drink some wine, jump in the water with friends and having a fucking great time. And that the two coexist, it is the joy of being human, no?”

You have to defend the policy of gender equality, you need to defend the democracy. This is not a done deal

To give a bit of context: the Venus in Fur is a play-within-a-play about sex, power and reversal of roles, based on the 1870 novel Venus in Furs by Austrian writer Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, whose name inspired the word masochism. It is an intense two-hands: the Dormer stars as a mysterious actor who is late to an audition with a writer-director, played by David Oakes. Patrick Marber, or simply “Marber”, as the Dormer refers to him – directs; they have worked together in the Young Vic’s 2012 production of her play After Miss Julie (“If someone can handle the sexual power play and gender politics, it would be the author more closely,” she said).

How does she think that the British public will react to the more daring items? “Oh, they love it!” she laughs, without hesitation. “We pretend that we are all buttoned up and straitlaced, but you only need to look at the Victorians, namely, the British become very kinky under the collar.” There are also elements of an Agatha Christie whodunnit, ” she said, mixed with Derren Brown shows: indices, triggers, leading to a grand finale. “The last 20 minutes are crazy. It is very physical. If we do it well, it’s going to be the seat-of-the-pants stuff.”

She has done a lot of research into the world of S&M for the role? She throws her head back and cackles. “No!” she exclaims, feigning shock. “Well, walking through Soho for the last 15 years of my life.”

Natalie Dormer and David Oakes in a publicity shoot for Venus in Fur.

I wanted to say (obviously), reading about it…

“We’ve all read the Von Sacher-Masoch’s book, and it made me uncomfortable in some places. In the modern world, we like to think that we have with certain ideas, but they have spoken to a lot of these things two or three hundred years, human nature has not really changed.”

The sexism, for example: with the book of the 19th century, the policy of gender equality, transposed to a modern-day setting, Dormer’s character pulls of the director on the book from the perspective of women. “And so it bloody should, because he does not see it, and this is where it is probably incredibly relevant” – here she adds a long, not-all men of caution, stressing that it is just this person in particular – the young, the liberal New York of the author is subconsciously rather sexist. Full-on sexist, insulting then, without realizing it.”

Similarly, in recent years, the actors have become more and more the attention on the bias in the film industry, Geena Davis, with the campaign for women in media at #OscarsSoWhite of films about the trans community. “We are in the middle of a wave, a revolution, a” Dormer said, “to recognize our weaknesses, and vocalize the wrongs of the past.” It shows Ed Skrein, his co-star in the next thriller In the Darkness, who back in August made headlines by turning a role in a reboot of Hellboy after learning of its character of money laundering.

She links this back to the time, Venus in Furs was written. “At the end of the 1800s, Europe is in turmoil. All the different countries have had industrial revolutions – all these things that you and I” (she uses the phrase “you and me”, a number of times, instead of charm this implies that she, the world famous actor and ex-queen of Westeros, and I, a journalist, have loads in common), ‘ learned in history at school. The old world felt like it was dripping through their fingers: the new world of steam trains and faster printing presses and electricity – it was terrifying, and I think it made them self-analyze.”

The modern parallels are clear, it says: we are in the next technological revolution. “I feel like in a decade’s time, we’ll look back and go: “Holy fuck, the tectonic plates of the society, all the things we have taken for granted for the past 100 years – liberal, Whiggish evolution, that everything is slowly going to get better – have been blown out of the water.’” Of the skylight, that before taking action has been the planning for the study of history at the university of Cambridge, is heated, talking to my voice Recorder with a sense of purpose.

“We must be diligent: this is not a done deal. You have to defend the policy of gender equality, you need to defend the democracy, my God.” It angry spears a slice of muffin. “If you look at the history, nothing happens in an arbitrary manner. Trump and brexit are a reaction to a handful of people to genuine fears and concerns. I think people are incredibly anxious. We live in a time of anguish. Because we are still attached to these things now” – she jabs an accusing finger on my smartphone, segueing to a discussion of anxiety in the children, the people of the obsession of the profile, the continuous bombardment of bad news.

Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell with Jack Gleeson as Joffrey Baratheon in Game of Thrones. Photo: HBO/Everett/Rex

“People try and look for a panacea, and if they see something they think will fix everything” – she snaps her fingers – “they cling to. The truth is that the problems are much more complex than that.” It uses health as an analogy: you have to be wary of, if people say that a pill is going to make you healthy. It is about how you eat, how much exercise you get, giving you a moment of calm. “But in this modern world, we are looking for the pill.”

Dormer doesn’t regret not studying history at university (“I would 100% still have come to this”); she loves bringing the subject to viewers in a dramatic form. Both The Hunger Games and Game of Thrones, if the fantasy have some basis in the modern world – the violence, the prejudice, the tyranny, the power struggles – providing the escape from reality that is rooted in reality. “It’s just a good story: this is my way of dealing with what is happening in the world.” Game of Thrones, in particular, is much loved by politicians: the Skylight once went to a dinner in Washington, DC, and was surprised to find how many there watched the show. Skylight met David Cameron at an event when he was in power and it was the first thing he said to him. Another famous fan is Stormzy, who approached her at last month’s GQ award: “I was like, my God, this is so crazy, that Stormzy is to come and ask me for the selfie – so this is in the wrong direction,” she beams.

After five seasons on the show, she returned to the sofa to watch it as a fan again. “It is a cathartic escape for all of us, isn’t it, good old GoT? It goes back to what you and I have said to you about what is happening in the world. The unpredictability of Game of Thrones is certainly the reflection of the last handful of years.” On that note, as someone who has played the partner of several powerful, slightly unbalanced men – Henry VIII, the tyrannical king Joffrey – how does she think Melania Trump is doing as first lady? She smiled, the sphinx, and cocks his head to one side. “Oh, I’m not going to comment on that, Kathryn,” she said quietly. I tried again – not Joffrey remind him of all the politicians? – but it is much too smart to fall for it.

I change course and go for something that is expected to be less inflammatory: his haircut in The Hunger Games, where she has shaved one side of his head for his role as rebel warrior Cressida. She speaks of the way it was liberating as an actor to take on new identities, even if she was not treated differently in the street. She starts to say “For me, feminism…”, but the word made her pause, inciting another train of thought. “To be an equalist, or an egalitarian, regardless of the semantics you want to get into… I was in Tanzania a few weeks ago with the Plan International, which are the support of an advocacy group for the prohibition of child marriages, and I think that sometimes western women take certain things for granted. Sitting next to little girls in Africa, who literally belong to their father or to their husband, really made me realize there are so many places where the basics are still not won.”

Natalier Dormer, left, as Cressida with Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss in Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2. Photo: Allstar/Lionsgate

It refers to the question. “We are too aesthetically obsessed, to define people by their appearance, or the choices they have made.” Suddenly, she looks exhausted. “We should all support each other more often, and stop watching ” Where did you go to university?’, How many children do you have?’, “How are your heels?’, “Are you on social media?’” She takes a deep breath. “It took us a bloody long time to get there, so can we get our priorities in order? Sorry, you’re there, if you wanted a feminist rant, it was there.” This is not finished. “And kissing men. We need to support our men and feminists, support, not to take them. We will all start looking after each other.”

A path to the top is by fighting for the equality of the sexes is by the research and the creation of interesting, fully-rounded female characters. Since 2009, she has been co-written thriller In the Dark with her fiancé, director Anthony Byrne. “It was before the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, pre-Black Swan, before this wonderful revolution we had with the women antiheroes,” she said. The release is scheduled for next year, it is inspired by Hitchcock and Scandi drama, and centered on a blind musician who thinks she hears a murder in the apartment above. Initially, the top of the profile was not big enough to play the lead role, but after the Thrones and the Games, it has become financially viable. “I was ready to hand in the course of the research” – she mimes a folder at least three inches thick – “of the actress and say “It is yours now”. Wonderfully, I have not had to do that.”

How the process of writing a scenario with his partner? She half-smiles. “I wouldn’t advise it if you are experiencing a difficult period in your relationship.” Once on the plateau, when they could resume their roles of director and actor, the things were very good, she said, but “the writing room has been more difficult, because we are 50/50, fixed partners, and yes, it was tense, I don’t think any of us…” She laughs nervously and runs. “It got to the point where I had to step back, to give him autonomy in the shot and the cut, because it is what it is to be a director. So I had to respect it, which was a good character experience for me.”

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Watch behind-the-scenes video from the Venus in Fur.

After Venus in Fur, she’s going to be contained in the “dark, funny, surreal” Amazon mini-series ” Picnic at Hanging Rock, the pandemic drama “Patient Zero” in the face of Matt Smith, and the Professor and the Madman, a film about the making of the Oxford English Dictionary, featuring Mel Gibson and Sean Penn. What was it like filming with those two? “Oh, man – that’s a whole other interview.”

When she is not starring in or writing the great roles on the screen, she likes to run – she’s done the London marathon twice – to help it scrutinise the thoughts (while listening to Stormzy or Rihanna or Queens of the Stone Age), or yoga classes, to erase from his mind. “I find both very therapeutic for my mind as much as my body. They are different types of meditation.” At 35 years, she has found a greater tolerance and love of self that in his 20s. “The anxiety is not so powerful, because you realize that you can’t be superhuman, and try not to make you miserable. Enjoy to be more to take care of yourself: better to accept your shortcomings, and quietly, consistently, constructively and try and work on them.

“For me, in my mid-30’s was a calming experience. I felt a bit of a break, so to catch my breath, and saying, “Oh, OK, all these things that the wrath, of renegades, of hope, of self-rebuke for 18-year-old has wanted to achieve – we arrived at a good place.”

Venus in Fur is at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, London SW1, 6 October-9 December