Maisie Williams Unpacks the ‘All-Consuming’ Job of Playing Catherine Dior in ‘The New Look’

TheWrap magazine: To play Dior, a member of the French Resistance who survived Nazi camps, Williams lost 25 pounds and isolated herself from her cast mates

The New Look Maisie Williams
Maisie Williams as Catherine Dior in "The New Look" (Apple TV+)

British actress Maisie Williams was familiar with the dramatic and celebrated 1947 Dior fashion collection that gave the Apple TV drama series “The New Look” its name. But the 26-year-old performer who came to Hollywood’s attention at the age of 14 in “Game of Thrones” didn’t know the story of Catherine Dior, the sister and muse of famed couturier Christian Dior (played by Ben Mendelsohn).

Both Diors lived in Nazi-occupied Paris during World War II, when Catherine was a member of the French Resistance who helped hide Jews. She was arrested by the gestapo in 1944 and sent to the Ravensbrück concentration camp for women in Germany, later moving to several other camps before the U.S. Army liberated her in 1945. 

“This show is telling the human story behind these names that we know so well,” Williams said. “It was a real opportunity to use a lot of different tools as an actor. When you’re playing someone who’s a real person, a lot of the answers are already out there for you to find, so you just have to throw yourself in. My favorite thing about it was just how all-consuming it became.” 

Maisie Williams and Glenn Close in "The New Look" (Apple TV+)
Maisie Williams and Glenn Close in “The New Look” (Apple TV+)

Before shooting, Williams dove into Justine Picardie’s 2021 biography, “Miss Dior: A Story of Courage and Couture.” To play a camp survivor who was tortured by the Nazis, nearly starved to death and witnessed unconscionable brutality every day, she lost around 25 pounds and isolated herself on set and off, steering clear of Mendelsohn until Catherine’s return to Paris in Episode 5. When Catherine is reunited with her brother, she is so emaciated that he breaks down in sobs at the sight of her. 

“The most challenging scene, I would say, is at the end of Episode 5 when she returns from the camps, just because that was the day when I was always going to be at my lowest weight,” Williams said. “I had done a lot of exercise before getting to work that day to sweat out a lot of liquid, kind of like fighters do, so that was a tough thing.” 

At first, Catherine struggles to articulate, even to her brother, the horror she suffered in the camps. Williams had encountered this reluctance in her research. “It’s one of those parts to this time in history where such atrocious things happened, and as a survivor of those things, you feel like even speaking about them is somehow putting that evil back into the world again,” Williams said. “And it’s something that a lot of women spoke about — it’s so hard to open up about these things because they’re just so awful. But it gives Christian some sort of insight into what happened to her.” 

Maisie Williams and Ben Mendelsohn in "The New Look" (Apple TV+)
Maisie Williams and Ben Mendelsohn in “The New Look” (Apple TV+)

By contrast, depicting Catherine’s slow recovery was a welcome shift in tone. “I found building her back to be really rewarding,” Williams said, noting that costume designer Karen Muller Serreau reintroduced color to Catherine’s wardrobe, “bringing a sense of lightness back.” For Episodes 9 and 10, she got to collaborate with director Jeremy Podeswa, who last worked with Williams when the world knew her best as Arya Stark. “I worked with him on ‘Game of Thrones’ a long time ago,” she said. “So he was seeing me now like a grown-up woman. And so it was plotting out those little moments that are so beautifully put in the script, feeling all of those little beats.” 

One of those beats came when Christian named his first perfume after his sister. “Catherine spoke about smelling that perfume for the first time and returning to herself for the first time since the war. We tried to show that,” Williams said. “There are so many parts of her story — winning the Croix de Guerre, returning [to Paris], helping people in the repatriation centers, so many moments where she’s seen as this hero, and it just sort of washes through her because she doesn’t feel particularly heroic. She feels disappointed in the atrocities of the world, and it’s hard to celebrate in that headspace. 

“So becoming this namesake and the impact that has on her, that really does reconnect her with herself. It’s a moment that’s transformative in her life.” 

This story first appeared in the Race Begins issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine. Read more from the Race Begins issue here.

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Photographed by Molly Matalon for TheWrap

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