Arts

Natalie Dormer on In Darkness: 'The only way you learn is by making mistakes'

Game Of Thrones star Natalie Dormer turns her hand to writing for In Darkness – and also stars as a blind woman who gets caught up in a mysterious death. She tells Georgia Humphreys why more actresses should create their own parts

Natalie Dormer as Sofia in the new film In Darkness which she co-wrote with her Irish fiance Anthony Byrne

NATALIE Dormer knew she'd never feel fully ready for her screenwriting debut but she took the plunge. The result is the thriller In Darkness, about a blind woman who gets caught up in a mysterious death, which she penned and co-produced with her fiance, Irish director Anthony Byrne.

The 36-year-old English star has some advice for other actress who want to follow suit.

"And the answer is, jump in with both feet," says the Game Of Thrones star, who also plays the lead role in the thriller. "What's the worst that is actually going to happen? You're going to embarrass yourself slightly? I mean, there's worse things. And the only way you learn is by making mistakes."

Dormer tried writing before, as a student. "When I was in drama school I wrote a play that I sent off, and got rejected from everywhere I sent it to, which is obviously par for the course," she says. Oh, and there was "some angsty poetry" from the first time she was in love as a teenager.

But she knew she wanted to explore storytelling more, and was spurred on to write In Darkness by Byrne, whose directing credits include TV series Ripper Street, Silent Witness and The Last Kingdom and to whom she has been engaged since 2011.

"It was him turning round to me saying, 'You write this with me. I believe you and I can write this together', and I was like, 'OK!'"

The story follows blind pianist Sofia (Dormer), who overhears a struggle which results in the death of her neighbour, Veronique (played by Gone Girl star Emily Ratajkowski).

When Sofia then meets Veronique's father, a Serbian businessman accused of war crimes, she finds herself drawn into a dangerous world of corruption, while viewers also learn more about her own hidden past.

Dormer is honest about what it was like co-writing the script with 42-year-old Byrne, who she met while they were both working on hit series The Tudors.

"It was interesting," she says. "It was a steep learning curve. Anthony had written his own material before; he knew he worked best by riffing off someone. But then we also learnt quite quickly not to write [while] eyeballing each other at the same time.

"It was better to do it separately and swap drafts of certain scenes and sequences."

She has since asked Game Of Thrones writers David Benioff and DB Weiss about their process of working together.

Laughing, she recalls: "David Benioff said to me, 'You [and Anthony] were writing in the same room to begin with?! You idiot!'"

Dormer would "never say never" to directing, but is really enjoying producing and developing stories at the moment.

"I would like to carve out some time to try and write again," she says. "There's only so many hours in the day, but being part of a team... It's a team sport, in a way that, maybe, when you step on a stage, it's not. Camera work really is a team sport."

Dormer has had a huge variety of high-profile roles in recent years – as Margaery Tyrell in HBO's Game Of Thrones, but also Cressida in The Hunger Games film series.

Then there's the much-talked about TV adaptation of iconic Australian novel Picnic At Hanging Rock, which starts on BBC Two this month.

But when it comes to In Darkness, she found portraying someone without sight an entirely different acting challenge.

"I completely underestimated it," she admits. "Not being able to make eye contact with your co-stars is tough. And I felt a sense of guilt that, you know, I wasn't... locking eyes with them."

The film boasts an impressive cast, including Neil Maskell, James Cosmo, Ed Skrein and Joely Richardson, who Dormer counts as friends. They were really supportive with the unique acting process, she says.

"You realise as an actor how much you rely on your eyes to communicate with the camera," she says. "But the beauty of it was it kept me still. I think it's probably, if you want to be quite technical about it, one of the stillest performances I've ever given, and I liked that."

Overall, she reckons the experience of making In Darkness has made her a better actor.

"It's made me, hopefully, a more team-orientated actor," she says. "There's no greater lesson than starting a project right from the beginning and following it all the way through to the edit, the sound design, and the promotion, right to the very end. It's the whole whammy."

:: In Darkness is in selected cinemas now, also available on DVD and on streaming platforms.

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