Hannah Murray no longer wears a watch around her ankle. “I did dress very similarly to her before I did the show,” recalls Hannah, who was 16 when she auditioned with a watch around her ankle – a look she copied from the 1961 film Breakfast at Tiffany’s – and bagged the role of Skins‘ kooky anorexic Cassie.
“As soon as series one came out, I stopped dressing like that. I never, never lend any of my own clothes for parts any more because you lose your clothes; they become the characters’ clothes and you can never wear them again.”
Cassie doesn’t wear a watch around her ankle any more either. She’s grown up in the five years since we last saw her, although even Hannah can only guess at what turned her eccentric, effervescent character into the withdrawn young woman of series seven. “In the script, there’s not a huge amount of information about what’s happened in between which I really liked because it allows the audience to fill the gaps in for themselves.”
Skins was a game-changer: acclaimed and reviled in equal measure for its high-octane depiction of teenage life, and no one pushed the boundaries more than pill-popping, suicidal Cassie. “It’s easy to see her as a very issues-based character because she did suffer from an eating disorder,” says Hannah. “But I thought that the main thing about her was that she was insecure and lonely, and that’s why she was such a well-loved character. A lot of people – and not necessarily just young women, boys as well – could identify with that being an outsider.”
“Having that as my first job, I learned so much, and it made it very clear to me what I wanted to do for the rest of my career: I wanted to play characters that were equally interesting and equally challenging. There are so many female roles – particularly for young women – that are just somebody’s girlfriend or somebody’s daughter, or that are accessories to the main story rather than being three-dimensional characters.”
Even so, when Skins’ creator Bryan Elsley came knocking, she had reservations about reprising the role. “He said ‘I want to run something by you’ and I thought: oh god, what if this is him asking me to come back and I know I don’t want to do that. I’m not interested in playing her again. I’m going to have to say ‘no’ and feel really bad.
“Then as soon as he explained the actual idea my gut reaction was that I really wanted to do it and that really surprised me – and that made me want to do it even more because it was so against my preconceived ideas of what I would and wouldn’t do.”
Softly spoken and thoughtful, Hannah appears to have little in common with either incarnation of Cassie. Following Skins, she made her West End debut but then put her career on hold to read English at Cambridge University. Meanwhile her Skins’ co-stars were making waves: Nicholas Hoult has wooed Hollywood, Dev Patel hit the big time with Danny Boyle’s blockbuster Slumdog Millionaire and Kaya Scodelario is being touted as the next big thing after playing Cathy in Wuthering Heights.
If Hannah is envious, she’s far too considered to admit it – and doesn’t envy the attention. “I really hate being recognised. I’m quite a shy person and I’m not very good at talking to strangers. So when people come up to me in the street I just find it quite awkward. I don’t really know what to say to them.”
Awkward or not, it’s becoming increasingly unavoidable thanks to her recurring role in HBO’s mega-hit Game of Thrones. She plays Gilly, daughter and wife of incestuous Caster. Co-creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss advised Hannah to read up on the case of Austrian Josef Fritzl, who was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2009 after keeping his daughter captive for 24 years.
In other words, not just anyone’s daughter and – like Cassie – not a role for the faint-hearted. How does it compare to Skins? “Slightly bigger budget! I don’t think there’s any show comparable to Game of Thrones in terms of the way it does the fantasy element to such a high standard: everything is created with so much care and detail. You really feel like you are transported into this entirely other fictional place.”
In a fortnight, Hannah will fly to Belfast to begin filming series four. She’s yet to get her hands on the scripts but even when she does (and even though RT asked very, very nicely) she’s learned to keep her lips sealed. “People are so protective over their enjoyment of it. I was working with a director recently who told me off for telling him I was in the next series: he said knowing who survives would ruin the end of the current series. You have to be very careful not to spoil it for people.”
Skins: Pure – Part Two concludes tonight on E4 at 10.00pm.