The New Look: Maisie Williams interview – on fashion, family and love

hen I arrive at the fashionable Mayfair restaurant where I am due to have lunch with Maisie Williams, I start worrying that she will be instantly recognised: the Twenty Two is filled with the chatter of a chic crowd, and there’s a throng at the entrance, too. Given her status as a global celebrity (thanks to her starring role as Arya Stark in the blockbuster television series Game of Thrones) it seems likely that she’ll attract attention. But Williams slips inside, unnoticed by anyone but me, disguised by a pair of plain, round-rimmed wire spectacles and an anonymous-looking black padded jacket over jeans. It is almost as if she has learnt the art of undercover espionage from the part she has inhabited for a year: Catherine Dior, a heroine of the French Resistance during World War II, portrayed by Williams in the forthcoming 10-part Apple TV+ series The New Look.

AGATA POSPIESZYNSKA

Cotton dress, Dior. Yellow and white gold, diamond, mother-of-pearl and onyx earrings, from a selection; yellow gold, platinum, mother-of-pearl and onyx ear cuff, both Dior Joaillerie

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Williams’ character in the show is based on my book, Miss Dior, which explores the previously unknown story of Christian Dior’s beloved younger sister Catherine, who inspired his most famous perfume and shaped his creative vision in the aftermath of the Nazi occupation of Paris. Until now, Williams and I have never met; yet our shared absorption in this subject gives an unusual emotional intensity to our encounter today. “Thank you so much for doing this,” she says to me, as she sits down at the table. “I’m so excited to finally meet you. When I was filming the show, I listened to your voice every night for a year – reading the audio version of Miss Dior.”

She tells me that my book has been her constant companion – “it’s still beside my bed” – and that she feels as if she accompanied me on my lengthy journeys in search of Catherine Dior, from her childhood home in Normandy to Paris, and onwards to Germany, where she was imprisoned by the Nazis at Ravensbrück concentration camp. “I was seeing through your eyes, and discovering the way that you really had immersed yourself in Catherine’s world. And by reading your book, I cut myself off from the rest of the world.”

AGATA POSPIESZYNSKA

Knit cardigan, matching skirt, silk bandeau top, matching shorts, silk boots, all Dior. Pink gold, diamond and onyx earring, Dior Joaillerie

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She won the role in February 2022 and it was filmed until the end of that year. “It was a long job, and it was amazing; my whole life moved to Paris. It was hard work, but it was such an honour to do this part, and it became all-consuming. This was a role that required an extraordinary amount of research and care – and it really hit me, bringing that wartime period back to the streets of Paris; like I could acknowledge the weight of it in a way that I hadn’t before.”

At 26, Williams is the same age as Catherine Dior when she was arrested and tortured by the Gestapo in July 1944. Catherine had joined the Resistance three years earlier, and risked her life on a daily basis as a key member of a covert network called F2, which gathered intelligence for the Allies. Williams chooses her words with care when she speaks, in a way that I imagine Catherine would have done; and like Catherine, she is thoughtful, giving the impression of being wise for her years. (Nina Gold, the casting director for Game of Thrones, described Williams as an “old soul” at the age of 12, when filming began on the series.) Those who were closest to Catherine recalled her direct, unflinching gaze that reflected her honesty, and told me that her quiet strength and resilience were untainted by vanity or arrogance. Although Williams is not an exact visual match for Catherine (who was her brother’s first model when they were living together in Paris in the 1930s), they share the same unwavering grey eyes, framed by dark brows, suggesting a compelling level of focus.

AGATA POSPIESZYNSKA

Silk dress, knitted silk bra, matching knickers, leather boots, metal earrings, metal and resin necklace, all Dior

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I wonder how she was able to cope with filming the most harrowing scenes in the series, which depict Catherine’s interrogation in Paris, followed by the hellish rail journey in sealed cattle trucks to Germany, and the ensuing savagery of the Ravensbrück concentration camp. “It was very relentless,” she says; “the process of doing take after take, it really breaks down your character in a way. It’s not for everyone, but for me, I like to get lost in a role, and keep on pushing until we complete a scene.”

AGATA POSPIESZYNSKA

Poplin shirt, Dior. Gold, diamond and mother-of-pearl necklace; matching ring, Dior Joaillerie

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Even when Williams is almost wordless on screen – and Catherine’s silence was integral to her courage, given that she refused to give the names of her comrades in the Resistance to the Gestapo, thereby saving their lives – her presence is powerful, and propels the narrative onwards. And the physicality of Williams’ performance is startling: her head was shaved, to mirror Catherine’s brutalising arrival at Ravensbrück, where the women underwent a dehumanising process that turned them into nameless numbers in the Nazi death camps. Williams also lost 12 kilograms, in order to realistically portray Catherine’s emaciated appearance when she returned to Paris at the end of the war, close to death, ravaged by pain and haunted by the suffering of the camps.

This regime was carefully overseen by medical professionals, with regular blood tests and measurements of her heart rate; yet it sounds gruelling. “I was eating very little, meditating all the time, burning candles and incense in my apartment.” Much of the weight loss, she says, came from sweating out fluid just before filming – in the same way that boxers and jockeys reach their target weights for the day of a fight or race. “I had to be up at 4am to start sweating. The night before, at about 7 or 8pm I was allowed to have something salty and dehydrating– some smoked salmon and a tiny glass of wine. Then I had a boiling-hot bath with lots of salts in it. And I sort of levitated to bed and slept for maybe three hours, and woke up and had a handful of nuts. I wouldn’t be able to sleep through the night at this point. I kept waking up and feeling like a marble inside a bottle, rattling around…”

AGATA POSPIESZYNSKA

Silk and wool jacket, poplin shirt, silk skirt, silk heels, all Dior. Yellow and white gold, diamond, mother-of-pearl and onyx earrings, from a selection, Dior Joaillerie

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