Natalie Dormer Steps Out of The Forest and Emerges a Leading Lady

Natalie Dormer sits near the window in a hotel room at the Mandarin Oriental, with Miami's skyline and clear-blue bay her natural backdrop. She wears a red-and-white floral-print blazer that aesthetically complements the topic at hand: her latest film, The Forest. The 33-year-old actress is in town to promote the flick, which draws inspiration from the Aokigahara forest in Japan.

In The Forest, Dormer plays identical twins, living thousands of miles apart yet still sharing a special connection. When Jess goes missing, Sara jumps on a flight to Japan in search of her other half. In one scene, Dormer's character meets a reporter, played by Taylor Kinney (Lady Gaga's fiancé), and he agrees to take her into the famed Suicide Forest if she lets him use her story for a piece in his magazine. As reporters often do, he asks if he has her permission to record their conversation. She mumbles yes, to which he replies, "You have to say yes out loud."

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When a New Times reporter begins an interview with her in a similar fashion, the actress doesn't seem to find the reference humorous. But she politely responds, "Yes, out loud," a direct quote from her character in the film. "We had fun shooting that scene; it was a bit improvised."

The Berkshire, England native is the oldest of three children and feels a "disproportionate sense" of protectiveness toward her younger brother and sister. By drawing on her own experience with her siblings and her role as a godmother to twins, Dormer was able to relate to her character. Comparing Sara and Jess to her godchildren, the actress says, "This role was really interesting to me because I'm watching these babies grow up, and their whole lives are based around another person — based on learning to sit, stand, and walk next to the other. Their whole world is being part of half of a whole."

The Forest, director Jason Zada's first feature film, is an attempt to re-create a classic Japanese horror movie. It succeeds with plenty of where-did-that-come-from moments, along with a compelling story about yuurei, or evil ghosts.

"What drew me to The Forest was that it seemed to be a really intelligent, psychological horror," Dormer says. "Yes, it's a horror movie, but it has so many suspense and thriller elements to it... It seemed like it was something I could really sink my teeth into as an actor."

"I will always go where the good scripts are, irrelevant of genre or medium. I will always go where the best characters are."
"I will always go where the good scripts are, irrelevant of genre or medium. I will always go where the best characters are."
James Dittiger / Gramercy Pictures

Dormer is known for her role as Margaery Tyrell in Game of Thrones; she also recently appeared alongside Jennifer Lawrence in the final installment of The Hunger Games franchise. The Forest is her first foray as a leading lady, and it's one heck of a jump because the film revolves solely around her, with supporting characters sprinkled throughout.

"I feel like it's just a natural evolution of what I've been working toward," she says, explaining how the duties of a leading lady extend to not only onscreen but also on set. "It was a great sensation, because you get to bond with your crew when you're on set every day, every hour, every scene. You're one of the team leaders... It was a joy. I've been the lead onstage, I've been the lead on TV, and I was ready for the responsibility.

"And 2016 is going to bring a lot of that responsibility for me... moving forward with other projects I'm attached to." They include Patient Zero, in which she costars with Doctor Who's Matt Smith, and In Darkness, for which she co-wrote the script and plays a blind musician.

"I will always go where the good scripts are, irrelevant of genre or medium. I will always go where the best characters are."

The Forest
Starring Natalie Dormer, Taylor Kinney, and Yukiyoshi Ozawa. Directed by Jason Zada. Written by Nick Antosca, Sarah Cornwell, and Ben Ketai. Rated PG-13. Not rated. Opens Friday, January 8.

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