Maisie Williams, an English actress, made her professional acting debut in 2011 as Arya Stark of Winterfell in the HBO world phenomenon Game of Thrones.
Here is the full text of Maisie Williams’ talk titled “Don’t strive to be famous, strive to be talented” at TEDxManchester conference. This event occurred on February 3, 2019.
Margaret Constance Williams – TEDx Talk TRANSCRIPT
Hi. I’m Maisie Williams.
And I’m kind of just waiting for someone to come on stage and tell me that there’s been some sort of miscommunication, and that I should probably leave. No? Damn it.
So, some of you may know me as an actress. Some of you may know me for my really average tweets. Oh, yeah.
And some of you may be finding out who I am for the first time right now. Hello.
Whether you knew me before or not, you’re probably wondering what I’m going to talk to you about today. And I would be lying if I said it didn’t take me one or two sleepless nights, trying to figure that out, too. At last, here I am.
Upon finding out the news that I would be giving a TEDx Talk, I did what I think most people do — and watched about 50 TED talks back-to-back, and read “Talk like TED” by Carmine Gallo for some inspiration.
Was I inspired? Yes and no.
Did it make me want to go out and change the world? Hell yeah.
Did it make me feel like a totally inadequate public speaker with absolutely no point to make, who was definitely in need of a big thesaurus if she wants to keep up? Indeed.
What could I possibly say that would have any impact? What point am I trying to make? And who the hell thought it was a good idea to give me a TEDx talk?
So here’s the part where I tell you what I know: I’m the youngest of four siblings.
My parents divorced when I was four months old. I really was the icing on the cake of a terrible marriage. I have two step siblings who are younger than me and a half brother who’s older than all of us.
I grew up in a three-bedroom council house with four of my six siblings just outside of Bristol. I went to a very ordinary school. I got very ordinary grades. I wasn’t quite good enough to get a gold star, and I also wasn’t quite bad enough to be kept after school.
I walked that nice center line where if I kept my mouth shut in class, then I could probably get away with not being spoken to you by teachers for weeks on end. Everything about me was pretty damn ordinary, except for how I felt on the inside. I had big dreams. Shock!
From as young as I can remember, I have dreamed of becoming a professional dancer. There are certain memories from my childhood that I would really rather forget. But during those times of immense pain, I found myself instinctively walking over to my mother’s CD player, cranking up the volume to drown out the noise and letting my body move to the beat. It’s hard to describe how it felt.
I was harnessing emotions that I didn’t even really know the names of yet. I was summoning all of this energy and feeling it flow through my body and out of my fingertips. I was alone in my own head, and I felt the most alive.
I didn’t really know much about the big wide world then, but I knew that this feeling was addictive; and I was going to stop at nothing until I made it my profession.
At eight years old, I was enrolled in dance class. And by 10, I informed my mother that I didn’t want to go to school anymore. I wanted to be like Billy Elliot and go to stage school. This was the first opportunity or challenge I was presented with.
Even as young as 10, I was willing to give up all of my friends and go away to board at a private school, away from my siblings, away from my mom. She would repeatedly ask me, “Are you sure this is what you want?” And to me, it was a no-brainer. I didn’t just want this; I needed it.
My grubby knees and crooked teeth were not on the list of requirements for becoming a professional dancer. And when I look back now, both myself and my mother looked severely out of place. But at the time, I was just too young and naive to feel inadequate. I didn’t care.
If Billy Elliot could do it, so could I. Once my audition was done, I returned home for two weeks of staring out the window, waiting for the postman, waiting for my ticket out of my sleepy village and into a world of jazz hands and dorm rooms.
It was good news followed by bad news: I had got in, but the fees to attend a school like this were not cheap. And despite my best efforts, I had not received any government funding.
I auditioned again the following year. And this time, I received 40% funding, but this was still just money that we didn’t have, and it broke my heart.
I was good enough I made the cut. But I wasn’t going anywhere. It was a blessing in disguise, although if anyone had said that to me back then, I probably would’ve given them the finger and told them to jog on. I wasn’t willing to give up that easily.
So at age 11, I was bursting with excitement when my dance teacher informed me of a talent show which boasted opportunities of making you a star. This was the second opportunity I was faced with.
I entered into singing, acting, dancing and modeling. The talent show consisted of workshops and seminars with specialists who would help train you up for your performance at the end of the week.
After meeting a woman called Louise Johnston in an improvisation acting workshop, she gave me the words “bowling ball,” and asked me to create a short scene inspired by these words.
After making her laugh with a fictional story, of how I threw a bowling ball at my brother and it bounced, she asked me to join her acting agency. I didn’t really know what this meant. I knew that I would do auditions for films and maybe become an actor, but I still had big dreams of becoming a professional dancer.
So this woman was going to have to work a lot harder than that if she was going to convince 11-year-old me that I was going to become an actress. Was this going to take time away from the 30 hours of dancing I was doing a week?
And what if I didn’t get the part? Was this going to be too upsetting? And do actresses have teeth like mine? Because if they do, I’m yet to watch any of their movies.
After meeting Louise in the February of 2009 and trying but failing to land the part in the hit sequel “Nanny McPhee” to “The Big Bang,” my second audition was for a show called “Game of Thrones.” This was the third opportunity or challenge I was presented with.
I climbed the steps to the Methodist Church with my mother’s hand in mine. I perched my tiny bottom in one of the seats outside the audition room and listened to an annoying girl with her even more annoying mother tell me all about the number of auditions she had done prior to this one. And also about her pet fish.