Faye Marsay Wants to Talk About Sex

Netflix’s period drama Lady Chatterley’s Lover is ushering in a new era for the female gaze, and its star is up to the task.

Faye Marsay

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Faye Marsay may have been born in the 1980s, but the actress is no stranger to transporting herself to (and from) different time periods. From the 2013 series The White Queen and Game of Thrones (in which Marsay plays the nameless Waif who bullies Arya Stark) to Disney+’s Andor (which takes place in a whole other world altogether), Marsay is finding herself in all the right places at all the right times.

It all bodes well for her, considering that historical fiction is having a moment on both the silver screen and streaming platforms alike. (Hello, Downton Abbey! The Crown! The Gilded Age!)

“History is a big thing for people, and we're able to put modern-day twists and try to make sense of where we came from and a time that we never got to experience,” she tells InStyle when asked why she thinks the genre resonates with viewers today. “It's being able to [see] human beings and their emotions, desires, wants, and fears, but seeing it through the lens of a time that we didn't have the privilege of living in and trying to make sense of history.”

Faye Marsay Lady Chatterly's Lover


It’s not just about looking back, however. Marsay is just as likely to jump into the future. She starred in an episode of Black Mirror in 2016, a show that takes place in a (disconcertingly) near future and shows the potential consequences of our current society. But she also threw it back to the ‘80s in the critically-acclaimed 2014 film Pride with Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton, and Dominic West about LGBTQA+ activists in the U.K. who supported miners during a 1984 strike.

Now, Marsay is returning to her period-drama roots alongside Emma Corrin and Jack O’Connell in Netflix’s new movie Lady Chatterley’s Lover, based on that controversial novel of the same name by D. H. Lawrence, which was initially released in Italy in 1928 and later banned in the United States and United Kingdom for its obscene language and raunchy plot. The film adaptation, which premiered on the streaming platform on Dec. 2, shifts the focus of romance to a female pleasure-centric perspective, following some of its recent sexy predecessors, like Bridgerton.

“[The book] was out in a time where people didn't really discuss sex or anything around desire, especially for women,” explains Marsay. “It was really revolutionary for what it was trying to do. It allows for a conversation to be had and for someone to hold up the mirror and say, ‘Look, there are these desires that exist for every single human being on this planet.’”

Marsay adds that, especially in a time when women’s reproductive rights are in jeopardy, it’s important to normalize female sexuality and destigmatize human desires. “Making sure that [sex] is not demonized is a really important responsibility,” she says. “It's normal: People have sex and have desires that are outside the realms of what society deems normal.”

In the film, Marsay plays Hilda, the protective older sister of Constance (the film’s lead portrayed by Corrin), who shows off a “naughty streak” within the first few minutes of the film, when she begins teasing her sister about sex with her new husband, Clifford Chatterley (Matthew Duckett). But later in the film, Hilda questions Constance’s sexual relationship with Oliver Mellors, the title character of Lady Chatterley's Lover.

Faye Marsay Lady Chatterly's Lover


“I often thought there was an element of jealousy there for Hilda, because I think that freedom that Connie [Constance] pursues probably wasn't something that Hilda felt she could do,” Marsay explains. “Therefore, it's all about protecting her sister and staying within the confines of what's socially acceptable.”

Hilda surprisingly warms up to the idea of her younger sister’s affair with the gamekeeper — adding another layer of spice to the entire ordeal — and even helps the lovers get their happy ending. Read on for Marsay’s thoughts on the steamy classic, how she transforms for period pieces, and the celebrities who left her starstruck.

What liberties did the new movie take from the source material?

[The novel] was out in a time where people didn't really discuss sex or anything around desire, especially for women. I think that was the big thing. So it was, in one sense, really revolutionary for what it was trying to do. I kept an open mind. I did my research, but wanted to go [off] the actual script in front of me and the version we were trying to tell. It's true to the novel but there's twists, and there's different ways of telling and dealing with these subjects, especially in the present day.

It's important to emphasize that women have the freedom to explore and to want something else for themselves.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover was banned in the U.S. It later became a classic. Why do you think that it's important to have these sort of stories available?

Obviously, with everything that's going on in the world right now, certainly in [the U.S.] and the whole nightmare with the abortion laws, it's important to emphasize that women have the freedom to explore and to want something else for themselves. Look, we're not in the same world that the film and the novel is set in. Women have advanced so much, but unfortunately there are things that are pulling us backwards, and there are decisions being made generally not by women, about women. 

Do you think its portrayal of sexual freedom is what made Lady Chatterley’s Lover so controversial?

We have this idea in society of a certain way of being. And what happens is people's needs and wants get stifled and stuffed down, and people make decisions or stay with the wrong partner for years. I'm not saying that everyone should run out and cheat on their partners because they watched the film, [and it] awakened their soul, but it allows someone to hold up the mirror and say, "Look, there are these desires and there are these things that exist for every single human being on this planet."

It allows good conversation and exposure. Making sure that [sex] is not demonized is a really important responsibility. I think we have [to pass that] down to our next generation of young people.

This story puts an emphasis on female pleasure and telling female-centric, sexy, and empowering stories.

In terms of female directors and male directors, there should be a revolution within women telling women's stories. I think that that is happening. If you look at amazing writers and actors and people taking control, Michaela Coel for example, who wrote I May Destroy You; Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Fleabag; Daisy May Cooper — all these really important women that are taking charge of the story and putting their version of it, the version that is true because it's told from the female perspective.

In Lady Chatterley’s Lover, you play Connie's sister, Hilda. You tell her that she's confusing sex for love. Why do you think it's just as important to have a physical connection as an emotional connection?

From Hilda's point of view, she's worrying more about the judgment of others and the social norms at that time. Hilda alludes to the fact that she possibly could maybe, I don't know if we ever quite say it, but could have had those desires. From my point of view as the actor playing the part, she's stuffed that down. But there is a naughty streak to Hilda, and I think that there's a feeling of jealousy. And she wants what's right for her sister. ... She will lose everything if this is made public. Back then, women had to marry, in some ways, someone who could look after them, who could provide for them. Women had a responsibility to find a husband that could provide. If you expose the affair and she gets found out, she loses all that. 

Hilda's clothes were also a sign of her status. How did her wardrobe come together and did you have a hand in creating any of Hilda's looks?

When I get a part, I like to be open to whatever the designer is thinking. I think we're a team. It's important that the designer gets their space to create what they need to create. I think the designer did a wonderful job of mirroring who we were in the characters, the freedom of Connie, the movement and the evolution of her, and then the tight, buttoned-up, in a sense, version for Hilda.

You’re currently starring in the Star Wars franchise’s Andor, and you were in Game of Thrones and The White Queen. How do you adapt and take on these different eras? What helps you feel connected to a specific time and place?

I love doing period dramas, because the clothes are always fascinating. Fashion is for the audience; it's a defining thing that they can see that puts them in that world and puts them in that era. For me, it's more about the research, writing, and what those characters are trying to achieve. 

I like to immerse myself in what the women of that day were wearing. I even go look at slang and different cultural references. That's how I get into it. It's about the story and the messages that we're trying to share with the audience in every job I do. But the makeup and the costume departments are super important for anything.

Why do you think audiences are so fascinated by period pieces?

I think that we enjoy period dramas because human beings have a fascination about where we came from, how we've evolved. If you look at Shakespeare, he writes human behavior so beautifully and so bang-on. If you look at Iago in Othello, about jealousy, love, or any emotion, he was so bang on with it.

Black Mirror, which is generally set in the future, is so close. The themes are so terrifyingly close to us. But if you set something in the 1800s, there's a distance there that allows you to receive the message, perhaps learn a bit about the history, and take a look into a life that you would never have been able to.


Who was your first celebrity crush

Nick Carter from the Backstreet Boys. I remember having a really massive poster of him in my bedroom as a kid. I was also the biggest Spice Girls fan. I still listen to them now. They're great.

Are you into astrology at all and what is your sign?

I am a Capricorn, and if I'm having a particularly bad day, I might do a little “star sign” Google. But I know very, very little about astrology.

What was your last binge watch?

I’m currently watching A League of Their Own on Prime Video, which is brilliant. Also White Lotus, which I think is absolutely amazing. It's so well done. That would be a dream to be in one of those [seasons]. And I love how it's a completely different cast, apart from Jennifer Coolidge and a different setting. I just think the writing is so good. I could go on about it forever.

Which celebrity have you been the most starstruck to meet or work with so far?

Stellan Skarsgård. I definitely went bright red and couldn't [breathe] when I first met him. And he's the most charming man on earth and looks dead in your eyes, cares about what you have to say, and is really interested in every human he meets. But there've been a few jobs I've done that have had some super, super ‘god’ actors to me: Imelda Staunton, Helena Bonham Carter, Andrew Scott, Bill Nighy. So, I've been lucky. I've met some really cool humans.

 Regencycore fashion, do you love it or are you leaving it?

I've been in a corset before doing a job, and I found every time I needed a wee, it was a nightmare. Couldn't breathe for most of the time. I'm leaving it, babe. I'm leaving it.

If you could wear one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?

I would love to wear a really badass Dior suit. Just boss around in a beautifully cut Dior suit.

If you weren't an actress, what would you be doing?

I would be playing soccer, as you guys call it. I would be playing football. I absolutely adore it. I played it for a long time as a kid and still follow it. I like being on a team and things like that. But unfortunately (or fortunately, whichever way you look at it), I got a knee injury, and then I was always interested in acting, anyway. A lot of footballers actually end up being actors, which is an interesting thing. I think the same part of the brain is being used. I don't know what the science is, but it's interesting because a lot of actors are actually very good at sports.

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