Scotland Week: God Help the Girl’s Hannah Murray | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Scotland Week: God Help the Girl’s Hannah Murray

The Game of Thrones and Skins Actress Discusses Her Work With Stuart Murdoch

Sep 03, 2014 Scotland Week Bookmark and Share

We have a special theme on Under the Radar’s website this week which we’re simply calling Scotland Week. All throughout the week we will be posting interviews, reviews, lists, and blog posts relating to Scotland and in particular Scottish music.

Actress Hannah Murray had her breakout role as a teenager, playing Cassie Ainsworth on the British television series Skins. American audiences, however, are more likely to know her from HBO’s Game of Thrones, where she plays Gilly, an escapee from Craster’s camp and love interest to Brother of the Night’s Watch, Sam. (If the series doesn’t end with Sam and Gilly on the Iron Throne, we’re going to riot.)

She plays a much cleaner role—as a sheltered rich girl and aspiring singer—in the new musical, God Help the Girl. It’s the directorial debut from Belle and Sebastian’s Stuart Murdoch. In the movie, budding songwriter Eve (Emily Browning) sneaks out of her mental health facility and connects with musicians James (Olly Alexander) and Cass (Murray). They form a band and make music over the course of a single, magical Glasgow summer.

Hannah Murray chatted with us about her career, God Help the Girl and Game of Thrones in New York City.

Austin Trunick [Under the Radar]: There’s a lot of singing, a lot of dancing in this movie. You can’t tell me this is the first time you’ve done this. What sort of musical background do you have?

Hannah Murray: I did ballet and tap from the age of four to ten. [Laughs] But that was like a Saturday morning thing, you know. I just sang on my own, in my bedroom, really. I had a few singing lessons for a while. I used to think that I wanted to be a Broadway musical person. I really loved musicals, and I wanted to be an actor, so I’d thought that would be the most fun way to be an actor. But now it seems kind of crazy, because I’ve realized I’m not that kind of performer at all. I think I’m much more suited to little indie movies … I’m not that kind of big, out-there person.

I guess my main experience would be watching Moulin Rouge and performing all of the songs in my living room. [Laughs] But this was definitely my first experience with singing or dancing professionally. I think with this kind of movie it was to my benefit not to be a super-slick singer and dancer, because that wasn’t the mood of the film at all. I think it would have been super weird if I was suddenly a super-human dancer. Particularly with the dance stuff; all three of us are not dancers at all. It feels kind of charmingly flawed when we try to do it.

How familiar were you with Belle and Sebastian’s music before doing this film?

I was a big fan. Obviously, they have such a huge back catalogue that I wasn’t familiar with everything, but I was a huge fan of Tigermilk and If You’re Feeling Sinister. Those are two albums that I really had loved for a long time and listened to over and over again. It was quite exciting to get to discover more of their music while working on the film. I got really into The Life Pursuit while we were doing it, and that was sort of the soundtrack to my experience making this movie. When I listen to it now, it makes me so happy to remember that.

I think Stuart is so talented as a songwriter. His songs are so narrative-driven and have really strong characters in them. For that reason, it felt really obvious to me that he would have written an interesting story. This seems to like a really natural progression for him.

I’d read that Stuart sent out lists of films and clips to help actors prepare for their roles.

In the audition process, it was probably the only time ever when I wasn’t just sent a script. I was also sent all the clips for God Help the Girl, and various things [to give us an idea] of what Stuart likes. It was really interesting to audition with a sense of the tone of the piece. When you audition for something you usually have no idea of what the director might want or what the tone of the project might be.

After I got cast, he sent us through quite a long list of his favorite films. I watched as many of those as I could get my hands on, really. I love doing as much preparation as possible, and not many people will give you as much as Stuart does, in terms of what they’re interested in and excited by.

I found it quite tricky for a while to work out the right performance style. My instinct, initially, was that it should be quite naturalistic, but then Stuart said to me, “I want you to be like a cartoon.” But I still knew from everything he was saying in rehearsals that he wanted it to be quite naturalistic. I was like, how can it be both of those things? But from watching some of the movies that he really liked, I realized that there is a way of making something that’s big and almost like a caricature that still feels grounded and really honest.

What were your rehearsals with Stuart like?

They were great. I remember the very first time we had to sing in front of him was really daunting. Me and Emily were both like, we’re going to sing together, we’re not going to sing on our own. We were unwilling to do anything unless it was both of us at the same time. [Laughs] But he eased us into it gradually, which was nice.

The biggest moment, for me… there was a brief moment, maybe in the second week of rehearsals, where I felt like I was struggling. I was really scared that I wasn’t going to be able to do it, or to do it well. Obviously, as soon as you get nervous it’s ten times harder to sing, so the problem was exacerbating itself. So Stuart got me on my own, and he said, “It’s ninety percent about attitude, so just think about that. I don’t care what you sound like, I care about the character and about the story, so just worry about that.” He said, “Why don’t you sing the song to me and just do really exaggerated gestures, just sort of mime out the words to me? Don’t worry about singing.” I did that, and he said “That’s the best you’ve ever sang to me.” Because I wasn’t thinking about it.

How did living together with Emily and Olly during filming help you with your character?

It just meant that we were going through the same experiences [our characters] were. We were having this having this amazing, fun, creative summer where we were getting to know each other. We were really excited about what we were doing, and we got on really well from the get-go.

I actually knew Olly for about five years before this movie. We’d always wanted to work together. We first met when we auditioned to play brother and sister, and we always go out for things to be, like, boyfriend and girlfriend, or best friends. It was always like, “Imagine if you got it, and I got it, and we could work together!” But it never happened. This was the first time we did get to work together, so that was really special. Then we met Emily and got along with her. It was a very immediate connection between the three of us. I think we’re very similar people, in a lot of ways.

When I saw the movie I knew I recognized you, but I couldn’t place from where. Eventually I realized it was from Game of Thrones. It took me a while to recognize you when you weren’t covered in filth.

Yeah. [Laughs]

When you’re doing both TV and film, do you ever have a hard time balancing the two?

I’ve been very lucky, and Game of Thrones has been very good to me. For the last two years I’ve been doing Game of Thrones and independent films at the same time. I was quite surprised by how accommodating they’ve been for these tiny little projects that don’t have the budget and resources that Game of Thrones does, and can’t schedule around every shoot. I was going back and forth to do Game of Thrones and God Help the Girl, and all of the producers were incredibly helpful to us.

I think Game of Thrones is obviously an unusual project, because it’s so vast. There’s more flexibility in the schedule because I’m never going to be in every single scene. For that reason I think Game of Thrones is kind of like the dream TV job, because I like to do these other things and they’re so supportive of me having a career outside of the show.

You did a music video with Stuart – did that come along after doing God Help the Girl?

Yeah! That was about a year after we did God Help the Girl. He e-mailed me and said, “We’re doing this video. I think it’d be fun if you did it. Are you up for it?” Obviously, I was. [Laughs] It was really awkward because, at the end of the video, he’s sort of my husband in it. I just burst out laughing, every single take. I couldn’t take it. He kept improvising and saying things to me, and I told him, “You can’t do that, you can’t talk to me. If you talk to me I won’t be able to do it.” When you know someone in one context, and then you change it … to have to act with Stuart was very different.

I was really, really flattered to be asked to do it, and it was a wonderful experience. I’d love to do more.

Stuart said the film was made so much easier for him as a first-time filmmaker because the cast was so easy to get along with. What was he like, as a director?

He was amazing. I think what was so surprising to me was how relaxed he was. Having worked with so many people, I’ve always had a respect for directors. It’s such a hard, stressful job. There’s so much responsibility, and weight on your shoulders. I really didn’t know how Stuart was going to cope with it – I don’t think I’d cope with it very well! And he was starting at the deep end, but was just so chilled out about everything. I was almost waiting for him to crack. Every day I was like, “How are you? How is it going?” and he was like, “I’m just having the best time.” He was just so grateful to be making this movie that he had been working on for so long, that he just had the best time he possibly could. It was so nice to see that attitude, and of course that spread to everyone.

One thing I think can be great when working with first-time directors, particularly someone like Stuart who is already very established as a creative person, is that they’re coming at it from a different angle and don’t really know what the rules are. We would do stuff that you don’t do! [Laughs] He’d written so much—he’d written this very, very long script. We didn’t have time to shoot everything, but he wanted to shoot everything, so he would sort of sneak scenes. There were scenes that weren’t scheduled and were cut from the script because there wasn’t time for it. But he’d just e-mail us the night before and be like [whispers] “We’re going to shoot this tomorrow, so don’t tell anyone.” And so we’d learn the lines, and then at some point the next day he’d go, “We’re doing this now” and nobody knew what was going on [except us.] They’d be like, we don’t have time, and he’d say, “No, we’ll do it just once.” It would be one shot, one take, and that’d be the scene. That felt so exciting, and so fun.

He was incredibly open. You’d almost have to be careful making jokes around him, because any suggestion you made, he’d go, “Okay, let’s try it. Let’s do it.” I don’t know if many people have spotted it or not, but during “Pretty Eve In The Tub” there’s a line of boys outside her door. I’m in the lineup wearing Stuart’s hat, with a mascara moustache on, because Emily said as a joke, “I think Hannah should be in the lineup of boys.” I’d love it every job was that free, really. Someone who is that open and accepting to just try things out is really special.


God Help the Girl opens theatrically in the U.S. on Friday, September 5th, and is available on demand. For more information about the film, check out its website.


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September 9th 2014

Man there are just incredible women in the The Game of Thrones. Absolutely love that show, I know some guys just watch it for the hot chicks.