Maisie Williams is in high demand at San Diego Comic-Con. The 18-year-old Game of Thrones actress, who has traded in Arya Stark’s brown slip for flower-shaped sunglasses and a nose ring for the convention, is not only a fan favorite but a potential source of information about the show’s future. (Spoiler: she doesn’t think Jon Snow’s coming back.)
But Williams is attempting to branch out from her Game of Thrones persona. She recently debuted an independent British film called The Falling (in select U.S. theaters August 7th) in which her character, a British schoolgirl in 1969, must cope with the death of a friend while grappling with her own personal struggles—from dealing with raging hormones to trying to coax her father’s identity from her mother. TIME spoke to Williams about her first sex scene, what it would take to get her into a superhero movie and the treatment of women on Game of Thrones.
TIME: In The Falling, your character Lydia and the other girls at this boarding school start rebelling against the adults in their lives. They all begin experiencing these fainting spells. Act of rebellion or actual illness?
Williams: I feel like it was massively influenced by Lydia. It was all in her head, but then it influenced other people. She wanted something to be wrong, but there wasn’t anything wrong. Obviously, throughout the film I played it as though there was something completely wrong with me and that the school was conspiring against me. But I think Maisie’s sensible brain knows that Lydia was a bit of a bad egg.
Lydia did sleep with her brother. That’s pretty bad egg. What did you think when you first read that in the script?
The way it went down in the script was a lot different. There were a lot of scenes before that scene where Lydia is experimenting with the girls at school and with boys that she meets. There were a lot of scenes that were deleted in the final edit for one reason or another, so you see her trying to find ways to escape from her mundane life far more in the script than you did in the film. Which is fine, that’s how it goes. But it does mean that it was a bit more out of the blue—why is she having sex with her brother?
I feel like I’ve been approached with a lot of different scripts that have nude scenes and sex scenes, and they’re all just unnecessary and kind of creepy—just written by someone who has got a little bit of a fancy for young kids having sex with each other. But I felt that for this movie it was really important that they were exploring their sexuality. It was an honest representation of how crazy it is in your brain when your hormones are everywhere.
How did filming that compare to the graphic things you’ve been asked to do as Arya as Game of Thrones?
Like the killing?
Yeah. The super graphic eye stabbing.
I feel like nude or sex scenes are more awkward—for anyone. That kind of tops it for the most weird days on set that I’ve had. And [her partner in the scene, Joe Cole] has had a little more experience with that, and I’d never done a scene like this. It was quite a big deal because I was 16 when we shot it. It was also the first film I shot on my own, without my mum. But it was a necessary scene. And now I’ve done it and it’s never going to be as scary again.
How did filming an indie compare to being part of this sprawling, big budget story?
It’s a really different experience being a big character in a smaller project than being a small character in a bigger project. Being the lead character I had to carry this movie. The director can tell you every day that they believe in you, but it was still quite nerve-racking. It’s such a powerful story too, not just like an easy rom com. But with indie films, there’s a lot more time for rehearsals and to talk about those issues. On Game of Thrones, we get to set and we shoot, that’s it. There’s no time to like question anything.
Having had both experiences now, and given that we are at Comic-Con, would you want to do a big-budget fantasy or superhero film?
I would love to do a massive studio film. That would be amazing. But so often people walk out of the cinema of a movie that cost millions to make and just go, “That was all right.” What? That’s insane. I don’t want that. If I ever did do a big studio film, I’d have to be so convinced by the story and not let the paycheck decide what I want to do.
Particularly in studio films women aren’t written as well a lot of the time, so I’d have to be a character that I’m 100% convinced by.
It seems like Hollywood has yet to get the female superhero right.
Exactly. There’s still a little bit of work to be done there, but one day I hope I could do something like that that I would be proud of.
What would you look for in a female character to make sure she’s not just the pretty face on the poster?
Not just the girlfriend—yeah. I just think someone who is complex and introduced in the script not just as: “Sally. 30. Hot.” Like it’s so frustrating to read that in a script and then next to it you have the male lead: “Jason. 30. Kind face, kindhearted person, good with his son,” you know all these things about who you are rather than what you look like. When you find something that actually goes in depth about who the female character is, what drives her, not just her hair color, that’s better.
But also I just want to play someone I can actually relate to and isn’t just like a dolly, like a poster girl. I don’t know if I’ve read exactly what I’m looking for yet, but I think it will come one day.
Given how much consideration you put into how women are portrayed in a project, how do you feel about the fans who complained about Game of Thrones’ treatment of women this season?
I feel like people are treated badly on it all the time—men, women, girls, boys…animals. It’s set in a time where women didn’t have it easy. Women haven’t had it good over history, like it’s been a pretty s*** time for us. And like a lot of other fantasy, the show takes on controversial topics.
It wasn’t easy to watch, but the showrunners have made the decisions that they’ve made and more importantly the actresses have made the decisions that they’ve made. At the end of the day, there was a lot of problematic scenes in the show for everyone, not just Sansa and Cersei. I think people should look at the bigger picture.
Do you worry that fans who look up to you—especially given your work as this strong, female role model in the #LikeAGirl campaign—will say, I can’t watch this show you’re on because I don’t want to see women repeatedly being assaulted?
That’s understandable. I feel like my decisions as an actress stem from what I want to do and what I want to portray. Obviously, I do always think about how other people are going to react and how this is going to be seen by younger girls or my fanbase in general. But at the end of the day, I have to make decisions for myself and what I want to do as an actress. And I want to be a part of moving scenes, and not scenes that are mundane or pointless. Like I’d rather be in these hard scenes on Game of Thrones playing this character who is real dealing with real problems than be in boring scenes as a two-dimensional character.
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