Maisie Williams is taking the world by storm, one kingdom at a time.
The 18-year-old actress is best known for her role as budding assassin Arya Stark on Game of Thrones over the past six years. It’s a character that could’ve potentially been one-dimensional in the wrong hands, but Williams portrays her with subtlety, showing just how damaged Arya is—even while she’s on a murderous rampage in Braavos. She’s ruthless and vulnerable, and she’s complex—one aspect that comes with dire consequences, as we saw in the dramatic conclusion to last season.
But outside of Game of Thrones, which will be on the air for at least three more seasons, it’s Williams’s determined nature (something she shares with Arya’s character) that will help her become one of the voices of Hollywood’s next generation. And people should be listening.
Williams works in an industry where women are only now beginning to openly speak out about the widespread sexism in Hollywood, both in front of and behind the camera. She may be fairly early into her career, but Williams, who identifies as a feminist—and one who wants to focus on worldwide gender inequality, not just in the U.S. and the U.K.—has already begun to speak out about it.
She’s been fairly lucky so far. She played a teenage girl antagonized and threatened by hackers in the British Channel 4 film Cyberbully, where she brought her own experiences with cyberbullying to the role. In The Falling, she portrays a girl who’s caught in the middle of a fainting epidemic at a British girls’ boarding school in the late 1960s. She most recently appeared in a much beloved recurring guest spot on Doctor Who as Ashildr (later called Me), a Viking girl who’s lived more than 1,000 years after the Doctor made her immortal. Soon she’ll be starring in a film adaptation of the zombie film The Forest of Hands and Teeth.
Outside of Game of Thrones, it’s Williams’s determined nature (something she shares with Arya’s character) that will help her become one of the voices of Hollywood’s next generation.
But even with her high profile, it can be difficult landing more progressive roles. It’s hard to find a character who isn’t just “the girlfriend,” according to Williams, who hopes that if actresses refuse to play those characters, they’ll stop being written that way.
“You can’t pick and choose everything, but I hope to never have to play a character that is only there to benefit a male lead,” she told Radio Timesback in October.
She has an active and savvy presence on social media, where she shares a mix of promotion for her latest projects, Instagram photos with her friends (including Game of Thrones co-star and real-life friend Sophie Turner), and even some politics—particularly when it comes to gender issues.
Always studies show that 72% of girls feel boxed in by society, dictating what they should or shouldn't do- It's time for this to change.— Maisie Williams (@Maisie_Williams) July 7, 2015
Williams turned 18 on April 15, which meant that she was old enough to vote in the 2015 U.K. general election. Instead of endorsing a particular party, she took the opportunity to lash out at adults and government alike for their underestimatation and disregard for young voters in a video for Dazed.
“People think we’re fucking stupid and we don’t know anything about anything,” she told Dazed. “It’s really degrading. I get a lot of adults who are like, ‘You don’t know shit,’ and it’s like, ‘You don’t know shit. You have no idea what it’s like to be 17 years old.’”
Williams—who was at one point the Queen of Vine—is branching out to YouTube as well. She recently started her own channel, which she promised her fans she’d do once she reached 1 million Twitter followers.
So far she only has one video to date, but in it she demonstrates just why she fits right in with the YouTube community: She’s doing it not because she’s trying to sell something, but because she enjoys it.
One day, she’ll take over the world. But first, she’ll conquer the Internet.
Illustration by Tiffany Pai