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Natalie Dormer On The Me Too Reckoning And ‘Picnic At Hanging Rock’

Culture
Photo courtesy of Amazon

“It is harder for the older generations to communicate with us younger women”

Over the course of her career, Natalie Dormer has played many roles, but she's perhaps best known for those of two doomed queens: Anne Boleyn in The Tudors and Margaery Tyrell in Game of Thrones. Both of these women are iconic in their separate spheres of history and fantasy, and have in common one defining thing: They rose to power in male-dominated worlds, and did so using the feminine tools at their disposal, only to succumb, eventually, because of their gifts at playing a game they were never going to be allowed to win. Both women are warnings, then, of the dangers of participating in a system which is designed to oppress women, the dangers of thinking your fate might be different if you allow yourself to be a tool of the patriarchy. Dormer's portrayal of both women left an indelible mark on anyone who watched; her gift for playing incredibly complicated, powerful, yet constrained characters is a sight to see. And, now, as Hester Appleyard, in Amazon's new adaption of Picnic at Hanging Rock, Dormer has a new complicated, powerful, yet constrained woman to embody, and she does so with a sensitivity and intelligence that is a marvel to behold.

This latest iteration of Picnic at Hanging Rock is not the first adaptation of Joan Lindsay's 1967 novel about a group of Australian schoolgirls who go missing on a day trip to Hanging Rock; Peter Weir's 1975 film adaptation is a dreamy, gauzy, stylistically superb version of the story, one which relies heavily on the magical realism throughout the novel, and is more of an impressionistic rather than literal retelling of the story. This new version, which has Dormer portraying the stern school headmistress with a complex past, is far more expansive and offers a fascinating look at the oppressive patriarchal society that was colonial Australia. It is reductive to look at art and see it as being merely relevant to what is happening in the world today, since true relevance is timeless, and yet it is difficult not to watch this series and notice the ways that Appleyard fits into a tradition of other women throughout history and into the present, who, rather than fight an unjust system, choose to participate in it, only to have a final reckoning as to what their selfish decisions have wrought.

Below, I speak with Dormer about what it was like playing such a complicated woman as Hester, how Picnic at Hanging Rock fits into the Me Too movement, and why bullies are bullies.

What was your relationship to the original text, both the book and the film?
I didn't have a relationship with the story at all—I had never read the novel. And even though I had seen the famous sequences of the film, I had never watched it the whole way through. Which was probably to my benefit, because it meant that I read the first scripts cold, and I thought the way Beatrix Christian wrote felt so unique—bold and psychologically poignant. She's a playwright by design, and... she has a very unique voice that drew me in. And then that led me to have a FaceTime with Larysa Kondracki, our showrunner and director, who is amazing and who had such vision. So, an incredible script plus a director with a strong vision, and what else do you need? I was intrigued by not just the women on the page, but the women I was talking to. I thought, These are incredibly talented women.

Once I said yes, I went back and read the novel and realized what [Beatrix and Larysa] obviously knew when they offered me the job, which was that within that 200-page novel, Joan Lindsay makes so many hints and nods in subtext that you can have a field day with them all. You can roll up your sleeves and find six hours of drama easily. You can make 10, 16, 20 hours of drama actually if you really wanted to elongate it. No matter how seminal and incredible the Peter Weir film is, stylistically, to actually explore the drama of the story, it had never been done before in proper detail. 

And that's the real benefit of television right now, that it offers such a deep storytelling experience, and potentially can really balance style and substance, and create something bigger. Is that part of what appeals to you about this project?
There's a real opportunity to explore this massive ensemble cast, who are in the book by the way, and to give them all emotional journeys and psychological journeys. And not just with one or two characters, but to actually flesh out a plethora of characters. Obviously, it was sold to me on the premise that they wanted to use Hester Appleyard as a nucleus from which they spread the web of the story. Fundamentally, it's a great mystery, like a "who done it." It's the oldest form of storytelling, a great edge-of-your-seat page-turner.

I think that is one of the things that narratively must be so compelling—there is no specific answer at the end. In fact, a lot of people didn't know how to receive the book. They weren't sure if it was fiction or factual, or if it should be categorized as magical realism or science fiction.
The top-tier science fiction is always anthropology, always a metaphor for our lives. So even though [the story is set in] 1900, it doesn't feel like normal costume drama. Because it has this sci-fi, magical realism element that is anthropology and lends itself to us being able to understand it in a modern way.

What is so interesting too is that the novel was written in the '60s, it takes place in 1900, and now here we are in 2018; it's not just that these are evenly spaced, in terms of timing, but these times have a lot in common...
For feminist milestones! From the turn of the century, where the fight for the vote is galvanizing, and achieved in those next 20 years, to the '60s, to what we are going through now. I couldn't agree with you more.

It's these feminist waves, for sure, but then, also, these really interesting patterns of mysticism. In the early 20th century, there was this huge rise of occultism.
The same thing happened with drugs and the New Age [movement] in the '60s.

Exactly, and now everyone I know is into crystals and astrology. And I do think that mysticism is so tied into the divine feminine.
There is something in us with trying to find out identity, going back to the moon goddess, this sort of mother earth spiritualism. And the Australian landscape in our story is what represents that. The rock represents that.

And really so much of what happens in your story is this struggle between the natural...
Well, Hester represents society. She represents someone who has been victimized. As you peel back the layers in those six hours, you see that she has been a victim of a classist, economically constrained, Victorian society. She has been repressed. She hasn't been able to contact that natural self you're talking about and has, therefore, become this monster as a persona, but found herself leaning into that mask, and it becomes her identity. It's only really redeemed when she touches her inner spiritual self when she goes to the rock in episode six. 

How did you access the humanity, vulnerability, and the goodness of Hester? It couldn't have been easy.
Yeah, I mean, it was hard because I am so not Hester. I highly value that relationship with nature. My antidote to modern life and busy press schedules is taking the dog for a two-hour walk into the countryside. I believe very strongly that nature has a tendency to ground us. It is an important counterbalance to modern life. I found that Hester is determined, but I wouldn't necessarily call her strong. She is a profoundly broken woman. I found it painful toward the end playing her because it is not healthy to play a bully. It's not a headspace that is fun to be in for long. Some of the scenes I had were quite difficult because of something we all know: Bullies are bullies for a reason. They've got their own profound issues. They are deeply insecure or broken themselves. There is a bit of the monster in Hester. I would be the first to call that. But, what Larysa said is, "This is why I want you to play her. I think you would bring a humanity and a vulnerability to her, that I won't necessarily be able to find with another actor." I was curious by that. But, yes, Hester is one of the least self-aware, emotionally-out-of-contact-with-herself characters I've ever played.

It's fascinating to see how fully she felt like she had to embody these weapons of patriarchy in order to have power for herself.
She's a product of her time, and she's a product of the wrongs that were done to her. This is a time when women don't have the vote, they have no legal right to property, she thinks she is equipping the girls with the skill sets to get on. But, it's like tough love. She doesn't mean to be malevolent. Yet she is doing an utter disservice to herself and to them, and that's, as I said, the tragedy. The girls are just trying to liberate themselves, and her values and her pain is alien to them and anachronistic. She could never communicate to them the baggage she's carrying from the rat-run streets of Victorian London, anyway. Even if she could, it would be lost in translation. And that is apt to today, with the older generation, because of the new industrial revolution, it is harder for the older generations to communicate with us younger women, like the women who are just straight out of college, and to give them the tools and arsenal to cope with modern life, because it is so alien to them.

It's like how, in terms of the Me Too movement, and the way older women in their fifties or sixties are not all embracing it, and are saying, "I navigated an incredibly sexist world because I'm strong." They don't see that the movement is not a denial of their struggle or achievements, it's more we can make things better, so why not?
I agree with you. It's this idea of getting more women in the corporate ladder, in the boardrooms, my industry and your industry. These women that fought to get to this place, they have to make the changes. There has to be an evolution. You have to say, "No, the culture must and will change." And it doesn't take away what they have achieved, but it needs to become anachronistic. We need to have that culture change. You're right, the gap between Hester and those girls is the same. I hope you feel that when you watch it. There's not a lot of dialogue—and that's the amazing thing about Picnic at Hanging Rock, there isn't actually a lot of dialogue. But [in episode six] what you read on Hester's face, I was trying to communicate an acknowledgment, that she sees herself and that she understands what she did. Therefore, she goes back to herself and makes the choice that she makes. There is a moment of recognition. 

Picnic at Hanging Rock will premiere on Amazon Prime on May 25.

Photo courtesy of Amazon

Photos by Jesse Grant/Getty Images for WE Day, Emma McIntyre/Getty Images

He also thought Lana Del Rey telling him he would be guillotined was a compliment, so we don't think he understands women

In a new memoir called Then It Fell Apart, singer Moby alleged he had a relationship with actress Natalie Portman when he was 33 and she was 20. But, in a new interview with Harper's Bazaar, Portman set the record straight, saying that his description of their relationship is false and contains other factual errors, that makes his behavior seem even grosser than it already did.

Not only did Portman say that the two didn't date, but that he also misrepresented her age. "I was surprised to hear that he characterized the very short time that I knew him as dating because my recollection is a much older man being creepy with me when I just had graduated high school," she said. "He said I was 20; I definitely wasn't. I was a teenager. I had just turned 18."

She says that they met when she went to one of his shows: "He said, 'let's be friends'. He was on tour and I was working, shooting a film, so we only hung out a handful of times before I realized that this was an older man who was interested in me in a way that felt inappropriate."

Portman also stated that she was not contacted to fact check this information, noting that "it almost feels deliberate." "That he used this story to sell his book was very disturbing to me. It wasn't the case," she said. "There are many factual errors and inventions. I would have liked him or his publisher to reach out to fact check."

Another part of his memoir describes a conversation with Lana Del Rey, in which she joked about how wealthy he was. "You're a rich WASP from Connecticut and you live in a five-level penthouse. You're 'The Man.' As in, 'stick it to The Man.' As in the person they guillotine in the revolution." His response: "I didn't know if she was insulting me but I decided to take it as a compliment." This only further proves that Moby doesn't understand women at all, which may explain how he took a couple of hangouts with Portman to mean that they were dating.

Moby has since responded to Portman's statement in an equally creepy Instagram post with a photo of him shirtless with the actress, calling the interview a "gossip piece." "We did, in fact, date. And after briefly dating in 1999 we remained friends for years," he said. "I like Natalie, and I respect her intelligence and activism. But, to be honest, I can't figure out why she would actively misrepresent the truth about our (albeit brief) involvement. He also said that he backs up the story in his book with "lots of corroborating photo evidence, etc." He then ends with this: "I completely respect Natalie's possible regret in dating me(to be fair, I would probably regret dating me, too), but it doesn't alter the actual facts of our brief romantic history."

Among many other things that are questionable about his claims, if you have to have "corroborating evidence" to prove a relationship that one person claims didn't happen, you're doing the whole "dating" thing wrong.

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Photo by Jerritt Clark / Stringer / Getty Images.

She's been wonderfully honest about the ups and downs of her procedures

There is a good chance that, right now, Cardi B is wearing really something really tight. I'm not talking about one of the pieces from her Fashion Nova collection, either. Instead, she's probably cooing at baby Kulture while swaddled in a compression garment, a necessary part of the healing process after certain cosmetic surgery procedures.

As reported by E! News, Cardi B has had to cancel several performances after her doctor ordered her to rest and allow her body to recover following cosmetic surgery. A rep for Cardi explained to E! that "Cardi was overzealous in getting back to work" and that "her strenuous schedule has taken a toll on her body and she has been given strict doctor's orders to pull out of the rest of her performances in May." This followed an admission by Cardi herself, at the Beale Street Music Festival earlier this month, that she should have canceled her performance because moving too much would mess up her lipo.

Cardi's transparency about plastic surgery is nothing new for her. She has opened up in the past about her underground butt injections, including the financial pressure she felt and the risks she took to get them. She's been open about both of her breast augmentation procedures as well, most recently getting them redone after giving birth to her daughter. But Cardi's transparency about the ups and downs of plastic surgery is still rare amongst celebrities and is therefore refreshing.

And it's not just celebrities who keep quiet about these procedures. The first person I knew to get a butt augmentation was a friend from high school. We reconnected as adults, and I remember going to her apartment after her surgery, and seeing her pace the floor in her compression garment, since it was still too soon to sit and put pressure on her backside. But even in the comfort of her own home, she seemed to speak in a hushed tone about having had the surgery. Before I'd arrived, she just told me she'd had a "medical procedure," and didn't say anything more. This has been the case for other women I've met who have gotten "work" done, including my aesthetician, a colleague who got a nose job, a darling YouTuber with whom I had the pleasure of having dinner; all of them would only acknowledge their enhancements in secret—the shame was palpable, and unfortunate. It's clear that women who get plastic surgery might be celebrated for the results, but there's an expectation that they should keep quiet about it, and feel bad for having made a choice about their own bodies.

So it's no surprise that, in the pop culture realm, people like Cardi are exceptions to the rule. Thanks to the internet, we can easily track the fullness of a celebrity's lips or backside over the course of time without them ever explicitly acknowledging the medical intervention that took place. And while people, of course, have the right to privacy, and should be able to do whatever they want with their bodies without offering explanations, it would still be nice if they opened up, if only to take away the attached stigma that affects so many people. Which is why I hope Cardi's willingness to lay it all out there becomes a trend. No one should have to harbor shame for investing in having a body that looks the way they want it to.

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Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

"In my head I thought, This is how it ends"

Kit Harington almost lost a lot more than the Iron Throne while filming the final season of Game of Thrones. According to an interview with NowThis News, the actor almost lost one of his balls while riding a mechanical dragon.

Harington revealed that the incident took place when he was filming the scene where his character, Jon Snow, takes a ride on Rhaegal for the first time in the Season 8 premiere. Since dragons aren't real (sorry), Harington was filming the scene, where Jon almost falls off the dragon and then swings around to pick himself back up, on a mechanical contraption.

"My right ball got trapped, and I didn't have time to say, 'Stop,'" Harington said in an interview. "And I was being swung around. In my head I thought, This is how it ends. On this buck, swinging me around by my testicles, literally." We see shots of the fake dragon he's riding in front of a green screen, and it does look pretty terrifying.

Luckily, his testicles remained intact through the near-disastrous event, and he's survived with quite the story to tell to unsuspecting journalists.

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Photo by Phillip Faraone/Getty Images for goop

"I had to create a harder shell about being a woman"

In a panel discussion during Gwyneth Paltrow's In Goop Health summit, actress Jessica Alba revealed that she "stopped eating" to avoid unwanted attention from men when she was first starting her career in Hollywood.

According to People, Alba said that she "had a curvy figure as a young girl" and, as such, was made to feel as though her body was the reason that men may be inappropriate toward her. "I was meant to feel ashamed if I tempted men," Alba said during the panel discussion. "Then I stopped eating a lot when I became an actress. I made myself look more like a boy so I wouldn't get as much attention. I went through a big tomboy phase."

She continued, "In Hollywood, you're really preyed upon. They see a young girl, and they just want to touch you inappropriately or talk to you inappropriately or think that they're allowed to be aggressive with you in a way."

Alba also noted that she was raised in a conservative household. "My mom would say, 'You have a body, and it's very womanly, and people don't understand that you're 12,'" she said. "I wasn't allowed to have my nalgas out, which is butt cheeks [in Spanish], but I was born with a giant booty, and they come out of everything. So, I didn't get to wear normal things that all my friends wore."

She said that these reactions to her body really affected her attitude. "I created this pretty insane 'don't fuck with me' [attitude]," she said. "I had to create a harder shell about being a woman."

According to her, her relationship to her body only changed when her first child, Honor, was born in 2008. "[After she was born,] I was like, Oh this is what these boobies are meant to do! Feed a kid!" she said. "And that was the dopest shit I'd ever done. So, I came into my body as a woman finally and I stopped being ashamed of myself."

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Photo courtesy of Teva

Because of course

Teva, the most obvious lesbian footwear brand since Birkenstock, really knows its customer base. In time for Pride, the brand has teamed up with Tegan and Sara for a gay shoe to end all gay shoes. In other words, your Pride footwear is on lock.

The shoe isn't just your average Teva sandal. Tegan and Sara's design, the Teva Flatform Universal Pride sandal, is a 2.5-inch platform shoe with a rainbow sole. Tegan and Sara noted in a press release that they have been Teva wearers for pretty much their whole lives. "We got our first pair of Teva sandals when we were 16," they said. "This rainbow Flatform collab is like full circle LGBTQ+ Pride validation."

What's better, with each sandal sale, Teva will donate $15 to the Tegan and Sara Foundation, up to $30,000. The funds donated will go toward scholarships which will give young members of the LGBTQ+ community the chance to go to summer camps which will "help develop self-confidence and leadership abilities in a safe and nurturing environment." Tegan and Sara added, "Teva's generous support for our foundation will allow us to help even more LGBTQ+ youth."

Available today at Teva's and Nordstrom's websites, the sandal retails for $80.

Photo courtesy of Teva

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