The accidental kiss between The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2 co-stars Jennifer Lawrence and Natalie Dormer on the red carpet before the movie’s world premiere in Berlin earlier this month may have lasted less than a second, but that was long enough to send the internet into overdrive.
Dozens of articles were written about it, BuzzFeed’s Vine of the inadvertent peck has been viewed more than 2 million times, and the collective power of the public’s appetite to relive the moment made it the top Facebook trending story for nearly 24 hours.
It’s a degree of scrutiny that Lawrence has become all too familiar with since she was cast as Katniss Everdeen, but one that rarely invades Dormer’s world, despite the fact she stars in The Hunger Games, one of film’s hottest franchises, and on Game of Thrones, one of television’s most popular shows.
“I find it so curious,” Dormer told BuzzFeed News of the attention lavished on the lip-to-lip exchange. “As an actor, someone who has kind of a surreal, morbid curiosity about human nature, I find it fascinating. We did so much press that week and that was the thing? But you know what? The world is a tough, scary place and if people find a bit of popcorn to latch onto, good.”
Dormer — who plays Cressida, a documentarian filming propaganda pieces to support Katniss's rebellion who first appeared in Mockingjay — Part 1 — is hoping that the hotly anticipated final film in the franchise does a bit more than provide audiences with escapism. Because beneath Mockingjay — Part 2’s fantastical costumes, awe-inspiring set pieces, and star-making performances, she said, lies a much deeper message that has never been more timely.
“To cathartically process the themes of our modern world, that's why I love Mockingjay,” Dormer said, three days after the deadly terrorist attacks in Paris that left at least 129 people dead and led Lionsgate to cancel all red carpet interviews at the movie’s Los Angeles premiere. “The consequences of war, repression, and terrorism in societies… I mean, how apt is that this week?”
She continued, “We don't want to condescend to or patronize this younger generation. They need to know the realities of power play in modern society because this is the world they're faced with. … This journalist asked me if the movies were trying to instill revolution and I was like, ‘Honey, 13-year-olds are going to have the right to vote in a few years. It's not about marching big anti-government protests — people fought long and hard to give others the right to vote — it's about exercising democracy.’ That's what we're trying to say to young people: 'Katniss Everdeen is a voice. You have been given a voice. Use it wisely. Yeah, have fun on YouTube and Facebook and Twitter and Instagram. Look at the kittens, laugh at Jen and me kissing on the red carpet, have fun in your life. But also know that with it comes power and responsibility for your voice as well.' It's just about getting the balance right.”
For Dormer, who swapped a traditional university education to study at the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art in London, the need to maintain balance has long been paramount. Exhibit A: The fact she, unlike her contemporaries, has absolutely no social media footprint. No cheeky Twitter feed, no aspirational Instagram account, not even a
perfunctory Facebook page maintained by a team of hired moderators.
“[I’m] of this generation that just missed this social media profiling,” the 33-year-old actor said over tea at The London Hotel in West Hollywood. “It wasn't a part of our social grammar in the same way it is now, so that's why I didn't do it to begin with. Then I got to a philosophical place a few years later where, to me, an actor should have a certain bit of anonymity so people don't know everything about you. Because if they do, how will they engage with you trying to be somebody else? But that's kind of ebbed away because now everybody does it. That's not really an argument that stands anymore.
"So it comes down to time. I don't have time to live my life naturally. Like, I don't have time to be fiancé, sister, daughter, godmother, actress, press junket phenomenon; I don't have enough time for my life as it is already and I'm kind of an overachiever. If I was going to do something, I would have to do it properly. I just feel like, ‘Guys, I've got so much going on I don't have time to be amazing on Instagram,'" she concluded, projecting the first of many infectious full-body laughs, unconsciously designed to defuse any notion she takes herself too seriously.
Despite the fact Dormer eschews all forms of social media, currently perceived to be the most valuable tool in a celebrity’s promotional arsenal, she has accrued the kind of passionate fanbase most aspiring actors dream of and the kind of career she always hoped to have.
Following her breakout role in Showtime’s period drama The Tudors, where she brought a hypnotic energy to the doomed Anne Boleyn, Dormer starred in two more British TV dramas (2009’s Marple and 2011’s Silk) that failed to make an impact in America, and a pair of films in 2011 (Madonna’s W.E. and Marvel’s Captain America: The First Avenger) before landing her biggest role to date: Margaery Tyrell on HBO’s cultural behemoth Game of Thrones, a scheming queen determined to maintain the crown, no matter the cost.
“I like playing her so much,” Dormer said of the character she’s played since Season 2. “She's ambivalent. She's contradictory. Like, she'll directly contradict herself so you're never quite sure where she is: Does she like Sansa? Does she not like Sansa? Is she sincere? I learned quite early on that the way to play her is just to play her straight and sincere in any given moment. If you play it like she completely believes what she says when she's saying it, when the contradictions happen, it automatically gives her this really complex psychology that I had nothing to do with.”
While gaining the kind of attention that Margaery brought in 2012, Dormer took a step back to look at her career from a business perspective, a vantage she was able to assume thanks to her fiancé, director Anthony Byrne. “Being with a director has been one of the biggest gifts I could ever have as an actor,” she said, pressing her hands against her heart. “It’s been nine years of hearing the phone calls between him and producers, or him and writers that he's developing stuff with, or location managers or casting directors. Like, I hear all those backroom conversations an actor doesn't normally hear. It's been incredibly informative and helped me step back and look at the industry as a whole and as a business.”
And with that inside look, Dormer realized she was painting herself into a corner by playing sultry female character after sultry female character. “People always ask, ‘Why did you take this role?’ and sometimes it's like, ‘Honey, I was five years into my career. I needed to pay my bills,’” she said. “But one day, I phoned my team and said I had to stop playing the sexy minx, the honey trap, the femme fatale.”
While Dormer’s team was 100% on board with her plan, there was one last “sexy minx” she couldn’t refuse. “Two weeks later, they went, ‘Uh, Ridley Scott wants to use you in The Counselor, but it's the honey trap, femme fatale for two scenes.’ I said, ‘OK, OK, for Ridley, yes,’” Dormer recalled, her laugh bouncing off the walls of the hotel restaurant. “That was the last hurrah. I made a concerted effort after that. Whatever job you're in, you start by making the tea and then make your way up the ladder. I think I’ve paid my dues in certain ways, so now I very much look for three-dimensional roles.”
Almost immediately, two opportunities came Dormer’s way that perfectly fit her new professional edict. The first was on CBS’s Elementary, where she played Irene Adler, Sherlock Holmes’ presumed dead love, until it was quickly revealed that the character was secretly Jamie Moriarty, Sherlock’s most deadly foe. That was followed by Cressida in Mockingjay — Part 1, a supporting but significant player in the book who was beefed up for the film, particularly in the sequel, which gives Dormer the opportunity to wield a machine gun and mow down some venomous mutated humans in its most spectacular sequence.
“One of the premises behind District 13 is, because it is a rebellion society, they've been gearing up for war so every single resident gets basic training,” she said. “Francis [Lawrence, the film’s director] was like, ‘If you're going to be part of the Star Squad, then I want you all to be fighting, irrelevant of gender, irrelevant of profession,’ which you'd like to think is how a rebellion would generally go. If you were really fighting for freedom and a cause, the women would just pick up guns and stand next to their men.”
And of all the things the Hunger Games franchise has been praised for, Dormer is most proud that it represents a world in which human beings are valued for their contributions and nothing more. “This is the genius of Suzanne Collins,” she said of the Hunger Games novelist. “I mean, I don't even know why we have to call it ‘genius’ because it's just a really basic principle, but all her characters are written as three-dimensional, fleshed-out personalities who are defined by their passions and their loves and their professions. No one is defined, per se, by their gender or their skin color.”
Of course, that ideology is hardly the prevailing one in Hollywood. But where others see problems, Dormer sees evolution at work. “I do genuinely think it's changing and you have to be realistic in so far as cinema is only 100 years old,” she said as she dipped a honey-covered spoon into her tea. “It's slower than it should be, but it is evolving. I think telly has taught cinema a lot of lessons in the last handful of years — big cable shows with fleshed out writing that talks about sexuality, gender, race, which is how real life is. That all comes from writing. We need more female writers. We need more gay writers. We need more African-American writers. We need more writers who write about their experiences because it all comes from the writing.”
Dormer has taken that responsibility upon herself after being continually disappointed by the roles that came her way: She and Byrne have spent the last five years writing a movie she's set to star in called In Darkness. “In the five years since I started writing this script with Anthony, the female roles are burgeoning more where it was a complete barren desert five, six years ago when we started writing it,” she said. “Where I thought, If I want to be number-one on the call sheet, I think I’ll have to write it.”
Cut to today where Dormer has climbed the Hollywood ladder with projects she’s proud to attach her name to — like The Forest, a horror movie coming out in January. Still, nothing is forever and she’s not at all sure what happens next. Sure, she’s scared, but that’s what drives Dormer.
“You're talking to someone who has been spoiled for the last four years,” she said. “It's not like I [was] disregarding scripts for the last four years because I've been up to my tits with Game of Thrones, The Hunger Games, Elementary, and writing my own script. I haven't had the luxury — or the opposite of luxury — of seeing what's out there, per se. Game of Thrones hasn't finished yet, but there's a light at the end of the tunnel. So in 2016 and beyond, I'm about to start a new adventure and new chapter in my career where I haven't gotten the safety net of the franchises anymore, which can be scary, but if something's not scary, it's not worth doing. You've got to feel a bit scared. That's how you know you're on the right path: There's trepidation, but there's also excitement.”