Maisie Williams is Just Getting Started23 July 2019
As she sets out on a new chapter in the aftermath of Game of Thrones, END. sits down with actress turned tech entrepreneur to talk about her new platform: Daisie; about finding your tribe; and why fame is really the girl with many faces.
In one of the closing scenes of the Game of Thrones finale (spoilers ahead, fair warning), the last of the Starks meet on the docks of King's Landing to say goodbye. Having successfully navigated 8 seasons' worth of the unique 'no-one-is-safe-and-nothing-is-sacred' carnage which became the bedrock of the series and its unprecedented success, the four remaining Starks have some parting words to share.
Standing on the precipice - caught between the trauma of a torrid past and the sombre optimism of an uncertain future - the Starks' swan song emerged as one of the most potent scenes of the final season. Bran is King; Sansa is Queen in the North; Jon has been exiled to the Night's Watch; but what of Arya? Undoubtedly one of the show's most beloved characters, the future isn't as clear cut for the North's second daughter. Having watched her grow from girl to woman before our very eyes, becoming a force of nature who's subversion of other's expectations cuts to the core of her character, the anticipation for what the girl with many faces might do next was palpable. "Where will you go?" her siblings ask. "What's west of Westeros?" Arya replies. I don't think many of the show's many millions of viewers would have guessed that the answer was Silicon Valley.
Hard at work in between filming the final two seasons of the most widely watched television series of all time, Maisie Williams - the actress and entrepreneur who grew up as Arya Stark before our eyes - was heading west herself; subverting her own set of expectations and turning her experience and passion into something no one had expected - Daisie.
Dubbed 'the playground for creative collaboration,' Daisie launched its latest version worldwide earlier this year after securing investment in tech-mecca, San Francisco. Co-founded by Williams and her partner, Dom Santry, the platform's purpose is to connect creative collaborators from across to world and to provide them with a space to bring their projects to life, from ideation through to fruition. "I’d always seen that people are quite timid to reach for a career within the creative arts and ever since I got such a great opportunity when I was younger, I’ve realised that so many people are terrified to do the same thing because there’s so much rejection." Maisie tells me as she walks me through the platform. Tucked away in her boyfriend's Hackney studio on a muggy mid-summer's day. "I’ve always thought about a way that I could maybe help inspire people to put themselves out there and reach outside of their comfort zones, but I never really thought I’d be able to be a part of something that would actually facilitate that other than just speaking about it. So when Dom came to me with the idea, I knew it was something I wanted to be a part of and we just started working to get it off the ground."
Tapping into their unique network of creatives at all stages of their career - from industry leaders to those just starting out - Williams and Santry identified a problem and set out to solve it. "To start with it was all about connectivity, but the more we looked at it we realised that the connectivity already existed. People are already connecting with artists they like on Instagram and asking to work with them, but the missing link is the next step in the process. Actually putting plans into action and bringing it offline and meeting up IRL and making it happen, that’s where things fall flat and that's where Daisie comes in."
Talk to me a bit about the Daisie journey so far - where did the idea come from and what's been happening up til now?
It was actually my cofounder who came to me with the idea probably about two and a half years ago. We just invested ourselves initially, so we didn’t have insane amounts of money and it’s really expensive to build this sort of thing. We launched an initial beta version last August and saw great traction. People really liked the concept, but it was really buggy and it wasn’t the best product that we could build. With that we decided to go to San Francisco and started pitching the idea to investors out there. People out there bought into it and got on board with the idea and we got investment. After that it was about growing the team, so we grew from 6 to 16 people and set out to build a much better product than we had before; something we’re a lot more proud of. We launched the new platform in May and people are really engaged with the product so far. They don’t just love the idea, but they have a platform they can actually use as intended and they’re feeling the benefits. Now it’s just about improving that: we’re in a much better place now than we were this time last year.
The app feels as though there's a real focus on finding the right people to work with - people that really get your aesthetic or your ideas - connecting and working with them. Do you think finding your tribe is an important part of succeeding as a creative?
I think finding the right people to support you is the most important part really. Reaching the next level is all about who you’re surrounded by. Even with my own career, I’ve made it this far but in terms of stepping out and creating something of my own I’m still completely terrified of doing that even though I’m maybe in a position that I can. That’s really something we wanted to capitalize on when we were talking about who we wanted the Daisie community to be. We wanted it to be a space for those people who might feel outcast from other social platforms and feel like what they’re interested in isn’t cool or isn’t popular. We planned for what we thought we were going to see and what creative minds we were going to attract, but we’ve actually been blown away by the different people we’ve seen share work on the platform.
One of the best things about the platform is that it's actually encouraging people to get out there and make art, even if just for the sake of improving. You've used the term 'make it til you make it,' to describe this idea before. What does that mean to you?
These industries are hard work and they are built on rejection. 'Make it till you make it' is about getting out there and doing it and believing in yourself. It's about having that persistence and the strength to believe in yourself when other people won’t. We did this whole series called ‘Profiles’ where we spoke to well-known names in a variety of creative fields about why they think they’ve been successful. So often the response was about being persistent. 'Make it till you make it' is us saying ‘we can give you the tools to find the right people and elevate your work, but at the end of the day to build a career is a lot of hard work and you need to be prepared for that.’
It feels like we're witnessing the democratisation of creative industries: the barriers to entry are falling down and people who have abused their positions of power are starting to be held accountable. Do you see Daisie fitting into this new paradigm?
Definitely. I think it's really great timing for a platform like this. The new generation are real opportunists and can see the career paths they want to take and are willing to work to make it happen. I think the internet has made this self-made success possible for anyone, even if you’re not in the biggest cities or if you don't have parents who are rich and famous. People now can really start from nothing and create something incredible for themselves. We wanted Daisie to slot into the industries we were already familiar with; we didn’t want to create a new type of success. It's about democratising access to those industries and giving the power back to the creators. We wanted people to at least have that first gap bridged for them. To have that access point to just meet that person who can connect you to photography or acting or styling whatever your passion is and help you get your foot in the door.
You’ve grown up in the public eye - through really formative years of your life - but you’ve never felt like a product and you’re individuality has never really wavered. How did you protect yourself from people trying to make decisions for you or mould you into something or someone you’re not? Were there times behind closed doors when things weren't as easy as they seemed?
I think I always had a really strong sense of the people I trusted. I could spot the people who were giving me genuine advice and connected most with the people that have known what was truly best for me. I’ve learnt a lot and I've made a lot of mistakes, but you have to do that on your own to be able to learn from them. I spent a lot of time pretending I was fine and that no one needed to worry about me, but that wasn’t really true. I was trying to act like I was so grown up and had everything together when I was, like, 15 because I'd grown up with so many people telling me that child actors or musicians always end up ruining everything. I had this pressure on myself to never let that happen. Now that the show has ended, I’ve realized that I actually don’t really enjoy living that super famous life and being “Maisie Williams!" I’m much more selective now about what press I’ll do or when I’ll share and when I’ll keep things for myself. You’re asked all these questions about yourself and you feel like you need to be this open book and you’re not allowed to have anything that’s just for you. That’s really exciting when you start off and you think "this is crazy, I'm no one from nowhere and everyone wants to know everything about me." I think it's a case of being careful. It’s much more difficult to put those walls back up and clawback your own identity and set those boundaries once you've been an open book, because people already feel like they know everything about you.
There's a lot of parallels between your own personality and Arya's. I read an interview where you said that everyone was urging you to pursue acting and only acting when the series finished and you’ve subverted that completely by moving into the tech world, do you think Arya’s refusal to conform has transferred over into your personality or have you always been this way?
I think I desperately wanted to be really outspoken and cutting and have this ‘I don’t care about anything’ attitude like Arya, but I’m not really like that. I’m quite quiet really and don’t enjoy confrontation like she does. I think people would meet me in the street and they’d be expecting this scrappy, witty, wild child running around with a sword and I spent a long time feeling like I needed to live up to that expectation or I was letting people down. I guess that wasn’t really honest of me to be portraying myself like that, but it was a process. When the show started we were basically exactly the same person, but as I’ve grown up I’ve developed into a totally different woman from the woman Arya grew into.
I think the anxiety of feeling like you need to outdo yourself constantly is a struggle for a lot of creatives. Is this something you've dealt with and what would your advice be to someone feeling like they need to keep beating their previous portfolio of work?
Absolutely. In terms of scale, Game of Thrones brought us into a new era of television! If I never do anything that iconic again then that’s okay. I was so lucky to have been a part of it and it's an experience that I'll never forget. I think the battle that I’ve had - probably the same battle that a lot of the cast on the show might have had - is thinking ‘how am I ever going to live up to the magnitude of that?’ I think that’s the wrong challenge to set yourself. What we did was so incredible why would we want to try and repeat it? It’s about figuring out what else you can offer and ways that people haven’t seen you before and working on projects that you wouldn’t expect. That’s more exciting to me. I want a long career; I don’t want to peak in my mid-twenties so I’m really happy taking a step away and finding new ways to fulfil myself and my creativity. If you ever feel like you’re in that position where the only thing to do is go further and bigger, go back to the drawing board and think about what work would be meaningful to you. What would make you feel like you've improved as an artist?
With collaborators and users including the likes Heron Preston, Liam Hodges, and Rankin, Daisie's is a story that's only just beginning. As the morning passes into afternoon, Maisie walks me through the initial versions of the app that launched in beta in early 2018 - the version they used as a basis to secure investment in Silicon Valley. As we talk more and more what strikes me most is her passion for what the team has built and her vision for the platform. A passion that shines through in a way that only someone who has tapped into something they truly believe in can. And a large part of it seems to be Maisie's understanding of the gifts she's been given - both her unquestionable talent as a performer and creative mind, and the opportunities that launched her career - and the drive to create a place where people can hone those talents and seek out those opportunities for themselves.
Because Maisie is proof that it can be done. She's been the girl from outwith the big cities, her subtle country 'R's and drawn out 'A's belying her proud Bristolian roots as we joke about her spider plants that won't stop growing. She knows how it feels to be someone with a dream that their parents can't buy them. Someone who knows they have what it takes, and is ready to work themselves to the bone to prove it.
Actress, advocate, entrepreneur, producer, friend, daughter, sister. This is a girl with many faces, learning how to navigate them all in an ever changing world. And this girl definitely has a name. It's Maisie - and she's just getting started.
The Daisie app is available now for download worldwide.