The actor Natalie Dormer came to speak to the Hist today for a refreshing talk about the importance of the arts, female roles in the cinematic industry and the role storytelling plays in the complex human experience. The actor was awarded the Burke Medal for outstanding contribution to the Arts.
Dormer made her stage debut in 2010 in the play Sweet Nothings, as Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, and quickly became a renowned actress. She is well known to the public eye due to her brilliant performances in various successful cinematic productions. Notably, she played Anne Boleyn in the series The Tudors, she appeared in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Captain America: The First Avenger and then in Game of Thrones. Her popularity was clear as the room was packed with enthusiast attendees that could not take their eyes off Dormer as she spoke with a lively smile, enchanting the whole GMB with her voice and sense of humour.
The event started with a speech by Hist Auditor Catherine Kelly, who talked about the society’s history and notable alumni, emphasizing its never-ending dedication and interest in contributing to political discourse. Following this, Dormer gave a speech which took the form of an effective ode to the arts and their importance and significance in technological modern times.
“I love this phrase, contribution to public discourse through the arts”, she recalled in her childhood “submerging herself with stories…I often found myself moved to tears, and adults telling me to stop being silly because the actors were only pretending”. She added that she always felt behind the pretending there was a deep truth to the emotions being represented. “They were authentic, and therefore cathartic.”
Throughout her speech, Dormer kept returning to the concept of arts being “cathartic” and discussed how they can “purify” the individual submerged in the artistic experience. She emphasized how stories are not simply fictional fantasies and how they are still extremely valuable in the increasingly technological modern world: “To be immersed in stories is a coping mechanism, humankind has always told stories. It’s the very heart of our humanities, back to Ancient Greeks and primitive caves around a fire.”
In this context, she quoted Dr Joseph Campbell, who demonstrated how “myth is a manifestation in symbolic images, metaphorical images of the energies within us that are in conflict with each other”. In saying this, Dormer emphasised the need to tell stories as they allow humans to be helpful and sympathetic towards fellow human beings. Turning to the audience to asserted her point “Indeed, the members of the Hist understand the power of stories”. She added how “drama and history are a study of motivation, of causes and consequences…acting is reacting” and history itself is a form of narrative. As a consequence, symbols and “metaphors are a way of surviving”.
She concluded her speech with a plea addressed to all present, encouraging them to “explore the anxieties, the fear, stories in the technological era, explore the biggest things of our days…but you all here accompany me in the privilege of exploring human existence” especially as “the world is dark now and we don’t know how this act ends”. She seemed to be stressing the role young people can play in changing the world for the better simply through the power of arts and written word. She commented on the issues faced with written word: “we live in era of oversimplification, the form of representation is often a tweet, it is reductive about the complexities of the 21st century…the answer is never truly binary”.
A Q&A session followed, with the actress shifting the topic of the discussion to her personal experience in the film industry. However, she came back to the concept of how “exploring complicated ethical ideas is a vent, it is a responsibility of art in all its forms to do that, and people often partake in that without realizing what they are doing, humanity survives this way”. She related this to her acting experiences and how she had the chance to play strong female characters who challenged social conventions and overcame narrowing stereotypes labelling them.
On the matter, she showed a positive attitude and a hope for a brighter future in which unrepresented demographics will have a voice and representation. Furthermore, she remarked how, in relation to female roles, there is not a polarization anymore of either “hoes or good girls” and that they are starting to be finally portrayed as tri-dimensional characters, equally to their male counterparts. Following from this, she talked about how storytelling can be at the service of political causes, and how “when you have a profile, you have the ability to add it to causes and campaigns you believe in, for me it has been children and women’s issues. I believe children are our future and need all the support they can, I believe in education for girls internationally.”
On Game of Thrones, she spoke of who she is rooting for on the Iron throne: “I am pro-survival of humanity and dragons.” She describes her character Margaery Tyrell as “interesting, because in a lot of interviews journalists would define her as a manipulative cow, I believe instead that she is a good person but is shrewd. She is a politician, machiavellic about it but not like the Medici, Borgia, or Cersei…she was a good human being, with political acne.” She summarized her experience at the Hist by quoting the societies founder, Edmund Burke, in his “search for the beautiful and sublime and redemption” by saying that her redemption was in today’s wonderful experience.