Maisie Williams Discusses Dramatic Weight Loss and Transformation for ‘The New Look’

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The New Look, the latest original drama from Apple TV+, follows the rise of iconic designer Christian Dior as he reinvented modern style for women. Ben Mendelsohn plays Dior while Juliette Binoche plays his rival Coco Chanel. The series depicts how both of them dealt with living and working in Nazi-occupied Paris during the Second World War. Dior is reluctantly enlisted to create dresses for the wives of Nazi officers, and Chanel ends up becoming a full-blown collaborator for them. Resistance was particularly personal for Dior, whose sister Catherine was a prominent figure in the city’s covert French Resistance. Catherine, played by Maisie Williams, is arrested, imprisoned, and eventually tortured by her captors.

For Williams, still best known for playing Arya Stark in Game of Thrones, playing Catherine was a mighty responsibility, and telling her story required a major physical transformation. She has her head shaved on camera as Catherine is sent to the Ravensbrück concentration camp for women in Germany. She also lost a lot of weight to fully embody a woman who was all but starved by the Nazis. As Williams told Variety, ‘It felt like it was bringing me closer to doing Catherine justice.’

As is now the norm for any actor who has lost weight for a role, the headlines have been a mixture of leering and scornful. They want you to be shocked and kind of disdainful at Williams, using words like ‘drastic’, ‘shocking’, ‘dramatic’, but they also want you to know the exact process and the specific number of pounds she lost. They want to allow you to shake your head at this silly actor and their craft, but also latch onto the dietary suggestions, as though it could help you in your own weight loss endeavours. It’s a big old catch-22, and I’m not sure how we navigate these waters.

Williams did give the exact number of kilos she lost to play Catherine in an interview with Harper’s Bazaar, but she also stressed that this ‘regime was carefully overseen by medical professionals, with regular blood tests and measurements of her heart rate.’ She’s candid about how tough it was, and how much of her daily routine was taken up by losing the weight. Frankly, it sounds awful, but for Williams, it was important for telling Catherine Dior’s story.

I won’t share her weight loss routine here. You can click on the link and find out for yourself if you want. For me, the discussion is less about one actress wanting to do her job well and more about how we simply have no idea how to properly talk about this one common and frequently fetishized part of the acting process. The press really loves to play up the dramatic ways actors change their appearances for a role, and frankly, so do many actors (and their publicists.) It’s nigh-on impossible to get through awards season without being bombarded with glowing profiles focused on weight loss, weight gain, hardcore workouts, fatsuits, prosthetic noses, or some other form of transformation being a sign of a performer’s dedication. We see less of this nowadays, but I certainly remember the late ’90s and early 2000s, when fad diets were everywhere, how often full-blown write-ups of actors’ diets were featured in glossy magazines with the explicit intention of encouraging readers to follow suit. I will go to my grave with the maple syrup cleanse that Beyoncé did to quickly lose weight for Dreamgirls etched onto my brain.

Many actors are trying to sit this cycle out. Last year, Cillian Murphy made a point of not wanting to frame his performance in Oppenheimer around the number of pounds he lost for the title role. Yet, when his co-star Emily Blunt made a very obvious joke about him only eating like, an almond every day’, the press latched onto it with headlines about his ‘emaciated’ form. It wasn’t true but people seemed to want it to be true, either to judge Murphy or herald his dedication. He wanted none of that.

It’s impossible to separate the ways we talk about weight loss as part of an actor’s job from the squalor of fatphobia that permeates every corner of our lives. Anne Hathaway called out publications that pushed fake diets as the method with which she lost weight to play a woman dying of TB in Les Miserables. Society so hates fat people and the mere idea of fatness that they’ll push disordered eating for profit rather than let people live their lives. Actors didn’t sign up to be a part of this sickness, but because these ‘transformations’ are one of the most public ways through which we see changing bodies, they become representations of this fatphobic fury. The same goes for when they gain weight for a part then lose it in time for the premiere.

As Williams noted, she had a dietician and doctors helping her with something that is ill-advised under any other circumstances. She’s returned to full health and doesn’t seem to have hurt herself with this weight loss (she’s also on these red carpets looking incredible in couture.) There was a period where actors just full-blown starved themselves for these roles and ruined their health for life. Just ask Matt Damon and Tom Hanks.

Transforming yourself is the entire point of acting, and while I think that some of the focus on physically remoulding your body for a role has gotten somewhat overblown, it does matter for something with many roles. Could you imagine Maisie Williams playing a concentration camp survivor with a bad bald wig and looking as healthy as a spring lamb? It would feel insulting. Williams is a great actor and wanted to respect the very real person she’s playing. So, is there a way for us to talk about that process, for Williams herself to do so, without it contributing to fatphobia and society’s fetish for disordered eating and ‘wellness’? I don’t think we’re there yet. Not while the headlines want to know the numbers of pounds lost.

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