Nell Williams on becoming Cersei in the Game of Thrones premiere

Nell Williams

After making a strong impression in Sunday’s season premiere of Game of Thrones, actress Nell Williams is talking to MTV about becoming Cersei Lannister and the behind-the-scenes filming process.

The young actress tells MTV, “I told a few of my friends who have been sworn to secrecy,” about her casting on the show. “I think people at school are going to get a bit of a shock tonight. It’s really, really hush-hush… I had to sign a contract that signed away my rights to the universe about putting any pictures on social media of any costumes, or hair, or literally anything. I couldn’t put it anywhere until tonight.”

Despite the secrecy, Williams’ casting leaked on the internet before the airing of the episode. Back in January, we confirmed her casting as young Cersei based on her agency resume, after her name popped up on IMDB listed in the role. Until her casting in the part, Williams had never seen Game of Thrones, according to her MTV interview.  To prepare for the audition and role, she studied Lena Headey’s portrayal of Cersei and mastered her accent.

“I got the accent quite quickly, but what was quite difficult was finding out what made her her,” Williams tells MTV. “She’s obviously very nasty; extremely nasty. Because I was playing her when she was younger — she couldn’t always be horrible. She could be a bit stuck up when she’s younger, but I think the importance of this scene is making sure the audience knows how she became the person she is. And that was really interesting to do. So I just had to find out as much as I possibly could about her.”

Williams also offers a peek at the process involved in the creating the flashback that opened up season 5. The costume was heavy and not easy to maneuver in. As for the scene’s setting, she says, “There were all these massive lights on because they had to get the lighting right, and there was also a fire in the hut. With all of that and like 30 people in one room trying to film, it got really hot so quickly. So it was boiling, and also really difficult to go to the loo[…]. But it was definitely worth it.”

I’d say it was. Williams was a dead-on little Cersei and with admirable dedication to detail, she has a bright future.

Check out the complete interview at MTV.com.

54 responses

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    1. Oh yes, wonderful acting… I don’t even think she particularly looked the part, but she nailed it… bravo!

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    2. I also thought she nailed the part of Cersei. Her mannerisms and ‘tude were spot-on. It was so good it made me wish for more flashbacks.

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    3. Yes, she truly was excellent. I wouldn’t be against further flashbacks with her as she was really good in the role.

      Must be really exciting (albeit daunting) for a young actress to take on such a role in a series as massive as Game of Thrones, especially when the role is that of a younger version of a character played by the excellent Lena Headey.

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    4. Nell did a really good job in such a brief scene. She not only reminded me of Headey’s Cersei but also Jack Gleeson’s Joffrey (the way young Cersei states “You’re boring” to Maggy and how she’ll have Maggy’s eyes gouged out sounds just like him). Now we know where Joffrey’s personality came from and why he was Cersei’s favorite child.

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    5. She was great! I’d love to hear Lena Headey’s thoughts on it too. Must be surreal seeing another actor playing a younger version of your character. And to have done it so well.

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    6. I disagree with Nell’s take on the scene, because to me, it served as strong evidence that Cersei has indeed ALWAYS been horrible. “Tell me my fortune or my daddy’s men will gouge out your eyes and kick you off the land.” We didn’t see how she became that way; she just WAS that way. It must kill the Cersei apologists, too, who defend her on the basis that she’s been shaped into what she is by a patriarchal society. I mean, unless all that shaping was done by the time she was a tween.

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    7. People discussing Cersei’s shaping via a patriarchal society aren’t inherently “apologists.” Some people may be apologists, but examining society’s effects doesn’t automatically make someone one. Westeros is a patriarchal society,is that even up for debate? I think the style of society is a factor in everyone’s upraising. We’re not raised in vacuums.
      For someone like Cersei who craves power but is told she can’t have it on her own terms because she’s a woman, and has to has to have it through a husband or a son- or her father, that would be extra frustrating. And it having been an issue when she was about twelve doesn’t really change that. This doesn’t prove that Cersei was always some kind of bad seed- it just shows that Cersei has always had to strike via her father, because she didn’t have any power of her own.
      That’s how I see it anyway. That’s a fair bit of extrapolating from a very brief scene.

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    8. Vin Sidious,

      Cersei was a mean, awful child. Do you remember Oberyn’s tale to Tyrion of what she did to him as a baby? How old was she at that time, 5 or 6? Mean, spoilt, awful little girl.

      And, YES. Nell Williams did an outstanding job. You do know that her “take” on the scene was what she was directed to do, don’t you? D&D are not in the habit of letting their talent adlib.

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    9. When I first read she was playing lil cersei it said she was casted for three episodes . Could possibly the other flashback be after she meets the sparrow than the valoquer one when she’s in the cell?

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    10. Vin Sidious,

      Wimsey,

      Darkstar,

      Yep. 0-5 is all you get as a parent. Hence the term “formative years.” But Sue is right as well. As a spoiled, entitled, haughty, cruel child growing up in that society, she would have gotten feedback from the world around her for those traits, which would inform the way she dealt with her position in it.

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    11. Normally it’s very jarring when they cast a “younger so-and-so,” but it seemed like the most natural thing in the world, like we were watching an old VHS home movie.

      Well done 🙂

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    12. Sue the Fury,

      I think the bigger thing to take from it ( besides a feminist/anti-feminist argument that always seem to rear it’s head whatever the subject nowadays!) is her abuse of power even at such an early age. Don’t think her gender makes much difference in this regard. She has that arrogance that nearly all the highborns in the GoT universe have but there’s also a seed of malevolence there which we’re now seeing the in full bloom…and soon wilting.

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    13. Sue the Fury:
      People discussing Cersei’s shaping via a patriarchal society aren’t inherently “apologists.” Some people may be apologists, but examining society’s effects doesn’t automatically make someone one. Westeros is a patriarchal society,is that even up for debate? I think the style of society is a factor in everyone’s upraising. We’re not raised in vacuums.
      For someone like Cersei who craves power but is told she can’t have it on her own terms because she’s a woman, and has to has to have it through a husband or a son- or her father, that would be extra frustrating. And it having been an issue when she was about twelve doesn’t really change that. This doesn’t prove that Cersei was always some kind of bad seed- it just shows that Cersei has always had to strike via her father, because she didn’t have any power of her own.
      That’s how I see it anyway.That’s a fair bit of extrapolating from a very brief scene.

      Also, Arya said in Season 1 that if the guards laid a hand on her Ned would have their heads on spikes. So if Cersei’s a bad seed for issuing that sort of threat, then so is Arya.

      Nell Williams nailed Cersei, in all her awfulness. The mannerisms and voice were dead on.

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    14. She was totally Cersei. I used to think it was all those years married to Robert that made her bitter, but she was always a nasty piece of work. Nell did a great job, and that scene was one of the best of the first episode.

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    15. Sue the Fury,

      Sue,

      I cede your point; one can certainly examine the affect of society on development without being an apologist for bad behavior, and I didn’t intend to suggest that.

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    16. Cersei has always been a hateful, malicious, mean spirited, sadistic little bitch. She was born that way. STOP trying to make excuses for her vileness.

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    17. Darkstar,

      I’d considered the tale of what she did to Tyrion as one other example of her being horrid as a youngster, but I’d almost give her a pass on that one because, in her mind, Tyrion killed their mother.

      When I say her “take” on the scene, I meant the way she explained it, NOT her performance. I thought she did a great job playing a younger version of the character Lean Headey plays. She nailed that part of it. But what she said about Cersei not always being horrible, and for that scene to show the audience how she became the way she was, that’s what I disagree with; I got the opposite vibe from the scene. It would have been more interesting to me if they had written Cersei as “nicer” in that scene, to be honest, to suggest that she wasn’t so terrible at such a young age. Then we could put more stock in what a forced marriage and 15 years of Robert Baratheon had done to her.

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    18. If they had continued the flashback for another minute or so, we would have seen Cersei push Melara into a deep well, since she didn’t need anyone blabbing about that prophecy. It was her little secret….

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    19. Being a horrible youngster doesn’t mean you are a horrible adult. Think back at how the stereotypical cheerleader or jock from high school. Entitled. That doesn’t necessarily translate to adulthood.

      High School can be a cruel place.

      Likewise good children in high school can become monsters.

      One event rarely defines who we become. Cersei has a long list of reasons why she is who she is now.

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    20. Vin Sidious:
      I disagree with Nell’s take on the scene, because to me, it served as strong evidence that Cersei has indeed ALWAYS been horrible.

      I think it’s important that young Cersei be portrayed this way. It serves as a crucial distinction between her and the other Lannisters, particularly Jaime.

      Now the audience can see that, whilst Jaime’s morality is complex and transformative, Cersei is innately cruel and psychopathic. Far closer to what we’d call evil.

      It also explains where much of Joffrey’s “Joffreyness” really came from.

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    21. Does anyone think we will get Cersei flashback part two before the seasons out?

      I think its a strong possibility, after all Maggy explicitly grants Cersei three questions. In the flashback at the start of Season 5 Young Cersei only gets to ask two questions (Will I marry the price, and will we have children). The girl playing Melara, dies shortly after Maggy tells her she has ‘no future’ in the book. I think the ‘volonquar’ and melaras death may play out later in the season, to reinforce the prophesie perhaps?

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    22. Drew,

      At first I thought they’d reduced it and that was that (and I was upset lol), but the more I think about it, the more certain I am that they’re going to do at least one more Cersei flashback. Hell, two more in fact, for dramatic effect.

      First and foremost, the flashback is just so good at explaining her character I can’t imagine they’d not want to use it some more. And also, it’s exactly like that in the books too; the readers seeing her thinking about it again and again, gradually picking up new facets of information about what transpired that day.

      And it’ll be good because going back to it multiple times shows how it’s really starting to consume her mind.

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    23. Drew,

      She had three questions: 1) Will I marry the prince? 2) But I will be Queen? and 3) Will we have children?

      I think that’s it for the fortune telling, I don’t think they wanted to give away the valonqar stuff as it might tip their hand too much… or actually it might not even happen that way in the show.

      I thought it was a strong scene, probably the best of the episode.

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    24. The actress did great ……… she kind of reminded me of Regina George in “Mean Girls” –
      also liked the way Maggy snarled right back at her and told her all the “good news” 🙂

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    25. Drew,

      Skipjack,

      Like Shipjack said, she did in fact ask three questions.

      I also think it is stylistically difficult for them to do a flashback at any other point but the beginning of the season. The show jumps around a lot geographically, to jump around in time on top of that would be incredibly confusing. I suppose the very beginning of an episode is possible, but even that is rather weird to me, given the cliffhanger nature of the show, to have a flashback occur in the middle of the season.

      So yeah, don’t think it’s happening.

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    26. Beacon:
      Cersei has always been a hateful, malicious, mean spirited, sadistic little bitch. She was born that way. STOP trying to make excuses for her vileness.

      She blames Tyrion for their mother’s death. She wants him dead.

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    27. Does anyone know if we’ll get more of this flashback in episode 2 or beyond? Because even though I’m not up to it in AFFC, I know that Maggy the Frog prophesied more than just what she said in the show. She talked about the Valonqar etc. It may not be needed for the show and I doubt they’ll put it in but still… it’d be cool.

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    28. James: I think it’s important that young Cersei be portrayed this way. It serves as a crucial distinction between her and the other Lannisters, particularly Jaime.

      Now the audience can see that, whilst Jaime’s morality is complex and transformative, Cersei is innately cruel and psychopathic. Far closer to what we’d call evil.

      It also explains where much of Joffrey’s “Joffreyness” really came from.

      This touches on my point on Cersei’s “apologists” (which I suppose is a loaded word that tends to sidetrack productive discussion). I dislike Cersei and find her vile, unscrupulous and immoral, so I’m fine with the notion that she’s just innately that way. (Though I think its more interesting if she *weren’t*.)

      But if I did have any liking for her character and I wanted to believe that she was a decent human being once, who developed into what she is because of shitty societal influences, patriarchal or otherwise, this Maggy flashback would have rained on my parade.

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    29. Nell was so great in that, portraying a teenage Cersei eerily similar to Ms Headey, that I would love to see D&D create one or two scenes for next season with her and a young teenage Jaime, perhaps their first tryst in the hay loft or even a scene with Charles Dance. This way we can see Casterly Rock in all it’s pre-bankruptcy glory.

      So can someone here who has scene all four, rank them in order, from what I hear on the intervine, four is tops, but some place three at the top because four has so many high events it’s exhausting for viewers.

      Does anyone think someone at the other GoT fansite leaked the episodes out of spite? After all HBO announced it was from a group of reviewers who received the DVD screeners.

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    30. I continue to be amazed by the young people who are picked for these roles. They seem mature beyond their years, and level headed., besides the fact that they are very talented. I wish her luck and hope to see her more often this season.

      Re ‘nature or nurture’ – I have worked with very young children for a few decades; I have long believed that we carry in us certain genetic tendencies and that the enviornment then acts to either encourage or discourage them to come out. Ive seen kids who were hell on wheels who turned out splendid, and others not so much. It would be interesting to see an even younger Cersei, to see how she was and how the trauma around her molded her.

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    31. ash,

      I have long believed that we carry in us certain genetic tendencies and that the enviornment then acts to either encourage or discourage them to come out.

      According to modern psychology books that’s exactly what happens.

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    32. If there’s something GOT has proved to be consistent with, it’s the younger element of the cast. Who hasn’t shone when they’ve had chance to?
      This young lady absolutely got Cersei. The talk and mannerisms. That tilt of her head early on. How she demanded to know her future, with real threat too.
      Cue applause for all concerned here. Great casting rewarded with a performance.

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    33. I loved that scene. She totally nailed the character. I agree with the person who said they’d like to hear what Lena thought of Nell’s Cersei. An interview with them together would be great! Also I definitely thought there was some Joffrey similarities too.

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    34. Actress did a fantastic job, there’s some obvious dialogue differences, but she did great with the “you’re not terrifying” and she obviously seems to be staring Maegi the Frog down after the “Gold will be their shrouds” Witch laugh

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    35. Nell was so great in that, portraying a teenage Cersei eerily similar to Ms Headey, that I would love to see D&D create one or two scenes for next season with her and a young teenage Jaime, perhaps their first tryst in the hay loft or even a scene with Charles Dance.

      Maisie Williams turned 18 yesterday, so we will indeed need to look elsewhere now in our quest for jailbait nude scenes.

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    36. I just think people are being too manichaeistic when they talk about Cersei. OK, she was a spoilt brat. But threatening someone with violence is in no way out of the norm in that society. As someone said, Arya did the same with two of her father’s guards.
      It doesn’t prove she was always a terrible person. Even if people do think she’s a psychopath, most psychologists agree that that’s the result of nature and nurture combined, so the debate about how society influenced her, Tywin raised her and Robert raped her is not trying to find excuses, just get a full picture.

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    37. Julia,

      But threatening someone with violence is in no way out of the norm in that society. As someone said, Arya did the same with two of her father’s guards.

      Heh. While I see your point, of course, I find it kind of funny that you use Arya as your model of “non-psychopathic child.” Arya. That…would be the same kid whose entire shtick is wanting to learn how to kill people, right?

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    38. Oh dear god this isn’t a debate. Nell did a bang up job as a young Cersei. Clearly a spoiled petulant child. This is common amongst many people I knew who grew up wealthy regardless of gender.

      What she became later is definitely interesting but it’s clear she was raised poorly from the get go. Compare this to the humbleness of the stark children. They may use their privilege but Ned kept them somewhat humble. Jaime was innately more compassionate but he was still a pompous dick until he lost his hand.

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    39. Sue the Fury:
      People discussing Cersei’s shaping via a patriarchal society aren’t inherently “apologists.” Some people may be apologists, but examining society’s effects doesn’t automatically make someone one. Westeros is a patriarchal society,is that even up for debate? I think the style of society is a factor in everyone’s upraising. We’re not raised in vacuums.
      For someone like Cersei who craves power but is told she can’t have it on her own terms because she’s a woman, and has to has to have it through a husband or a son- or her father, that would be extra frustrating. And it having been an issue when she was about twelve doesn’t really change that. This doesn’t prove that Cersei was always some kind of bad seed- it just shows that Cersei has always had to strike via her father, because she didn’t have any power of her own.
      That’s how I see it anyway.That’s a fair bit of extrapolating from a very brief scene.

      Cersei is one of my favourite characters, but I’d suggest it’s reductive to posit that ‘society made her that way’. It’s almost Freudian to suggest her personality had been shaped by the time she was 12.

      No, the people surrounding her made her that way, as well as her nature. Primary and secondary socialisation, I’d blame, along with her natural lack of empathy.

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    40. afartherroom:
      Julia,

      Heh. While I see your point, of course, I find it kind of funny that you use Arya as your model of “non-psychopathic child.”Arya. That…would be the same kid whose entire shtick is wanting to learn how to kill people, right?

      Might be worth keeping in mind that a traumatised child soldier is not the same thing as psychopath.

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