interview by JANA LETONJA

Actress Nell Tiger Free is best known for her role in seasons 5 and 6 of ‘Game of Thrones’. Most recently, we’ve been able to watch her in Apple TV+’s ‘The Servant’ and she will next star in the leading role of Disney’s ‘The First Omen’, which is being released in theaters worldwide today (5th April).

Nell, we’re able to watch you in Disney’s ‘The First Omen’, which serves as a prequel to the 1976 original film, ‘The Omen’. Tell us more about the story of this film and about your character.
I play Margaret, a young American woman who travels to Rome to become a nun. She was raised in an orphanage in the care of nuns and priests and is devout in her faith. Shortly after she arrives in Rome, she starts to uncover a dark conspiracy to bring about the birth of evil incarnate. And then things get weird.

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The film is a supernatural horror film. What excited and challenged you the most about the story?
Even though what we were tackling was true horror, it felt like thematically the film had more to say. Quickly after we started shooting, I realized how physically taxing the role was going to be and that energized me a lot. It felt like a good opportunity to get some long-avoided exercise. Emotionally I felt ready though, it felt like something I could really sink my teeth into. 

How did you prepare for this role? Have you watched the original film prior to starting filming?
Yes, I watched the original when I was 11. I’ve always been a big horror buff, so revisiting the original ‘The Omen’ before we started shooting was honestly just an opportunity for me to get excited knowing I was going to become a part of the franchise. And as far as preparation goes, I didn’t do much. To be honest, me and Arkasha just had a lot of long conversations about what we wanted to achieve and then we just went for it.

This film marks your first leading role with a major studio. How excited were you to get cast on it and most of all, in a leading role?
Well, it was a daunting feeling to say the least, equal parts exciting and absolutely terrifying. I had found myself becoming comfortable on ‘The Servant’ and when I got the call offering me ‘The First Omen’, I knew I was about to be thrown into something of a different magnitude. I also have a nasty habit of minimizing everything. It’s like I’ve trained myself not to let the excitement in. A therapist may tell you that it’s a classic form of self-preservation avoidance, but I would say it’s just good sense. 

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How would you sum up the experience of having your first leading role in a film?
To be honest, I’m feeling it most now as it is being released. I have never opened myself up to public judgment in this way before and it’s a very exposing feeling. No one really warns you about that part. Whilst we were shooting, there were moments where I forgot anyone would ever be seeing it. Despite doing this for 13 years, everything feels new again. But swimming alongside that is this warm feeling of accomplishment, like I’ve left it all out on the table for consumption and it’s out of my hands now whether people come back for seconds. Relinquishing control is the hardest part of this job and it feels good to do so. You have to remind yourself once in a while that nothing is that serious. 

Most recently, you starred on Apple TV+’s ‘The Servant’. How would you sum up your experience on this series?
I look back on it fondly and deeply grateful. It was a formative experience for me. The wonderful days I cherish and the hard days I tried to learn from. I didn’t go to college or university, I never experienced those things, so ‘The Servant’ in its own way was my version of that. I went from 19 to 23 and that four-year stint took me from teen to young woman, serious bloody stuff. I was surrounded by people I revered and looked up to and was able to watch them closely, see the way they interacted, the way they conducted themselves. I was fascinated by them and am honored now to call them friends. The show itself challenged and pushed me, but nurtured me all the while. I couldn’t have played Margaret without Leanne. 

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Your international recognition came about with your role on seasons five and six of ‘Game of Thrones’. How would you say this role impacted your career?
I think it’s still impacting my career. It was over 10 years ago that I shot that show, which makes me feel decidedly old. I felt like my life would never be the same at the time, like I was going to burst onto the scene in a flurry of pink silk and blonde 22-inch wefts. But truthfully, I was back in detention the day after my death scene aired. I felt like I was living a double life. ‘Game of Thrones’ certainly opened doors that were bolted shut before. I was considered a young woman from then on in the industry and not a child anymore, and went on to try my hand at more adult roles.  

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Besides acting, you are also passionate about fashion. What fascinates you the most about fashion and what do you love the most about it?
I’ve realised that what we wear speaks volumes about us, whether we like it or not. So why not shout out exactly who you are? Looking back on all the phases I’ve had in my wardrobe, I can see what I was feeling in what I was wearing. At 15, it was with ripped tights and band T-shirts trying my hand at rebellion, but also secretly hoping I would be street cast in ‘Skins’. At 18, it was gregariously short skirts and un-walkable heels, desperately trying to fit in but stand out enough to be interesting. And now at 24, I wear things that I find beautiful and that make me feel the same, so there’s an art to it. Fashion is completely subjective and deeply personal, and it is something that I’ve enjoyed exploring.

When you’re not on set, what are the things you enjoy in life the most?
Simple answer would be the pub. You can’t really beat the pub. I find writing in any form to be cathartic, whether it’s a song or a poem or something like this. I’m lucky enough to live with people I love, so honestly, I’m just at my happiest when I’m in their company, feeling quietly soppy that for this moment in time, we’re all in the same place.

After ‘The First Omen’, what is coming up next for you?
Nothing right now. My head has been deep in ‘Omenverse’. I’m just looking forward to reading what’s been written and searching for something that gets me excited.

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photographer ALAN GELATI via Werth Represents
makeup EMMA DAY
photography assistant STEPHEN YOUNG
styling assistant JANNELLE WILLIAMS
editorial director & interview JANA LETONJA