Ever since they burst onto the scene as firebrand Lyanna Mormont in Game of Thrones, Bella Ramsey has clearly had no intention of being typecast or pigeonholed into certain roles.
From a star-cementing turn as survivor Ellie in The Last of Us to a pregnant inmate in Time, Ramsey has proved again and again to be a versatile actor – and an asset to anything they appear in.
Even for someone with their skillset, however, their wordless role in Villain – directed by Sparky Tehnsuko – could be seen as a challenge. And that’s without the small matter of working with their (non-actor) mother.
Filmed over two days with no dialogue, the short film sees Ramsey play Georgia, someone who must venture into the territory of a cave-dwelling dragon while protecting a young child (Isla Gie).
A comment on the cyclical nature of revenge (those eager for The Last of Us season 2 will surely revel in its core message here), Villain utilized out-of-work crew during COVID lockdowns – including artists working on its fearsome CGI dragon, which puts more big-budget productions to shame – to give Ramsey a chance to shine with several key firsts.
"The script was just exciting," Ramsey says of their first reaction to the project, adding, "I think it was the first time I’d played an older [character], the older one."
Ramsey continues, "It’s the idea that I’d have a little sibling which was really cool. Isla, who played my little sister, was just phenomenal. I learned so much from watching [her]. I just thought the idea was really cool, Sparky seemed great, and it all just happened."
As for the lack of dialogue, Tehnsuko has no qualms over what he felt was a "natural" choice.
"The idea was to create distance between the characters given that Isla’s character is essentially feral and doesn’t necessarily have language. There’s no necessity for Bella’s character to speak with her," Tehnsuko explains.
"That would also maybe stop them being able to get past the differences and to communicate on their similarities. It’s something that I’ve always thought – that anger wins at the end."
For their part, Ramsey felt Villain carried its own challenges – but they didn’t involve the lack of dialogue.
"When I first read [the script], I didn’t even think about the fact that there’s no dialogue," Ramsey reveals.
“Like Sparky said, it felt very natural and it didn’t feel like there was any need for it. Then on set, similarly, it felt natural. The bit where the house burns down and I’m just watching that burn, for sure, was a test. One of the things I found [really difficult], acting-wise, is just to stand still and cry."
Just out of sight in that scene involving a burning house and tears flowing was an intriguing extra: Kate Ramsey, Bella’s mother.
"I think we had looked at the idea of just having someone else cast for it. Between our casting director and, I think, [Bella]’s agent Georgie, they just said, ‘Why not have Kate do it?’ She’ll be there and it’s a non-speaking role," Tehnsuko reveals.
"I was just asked if I’d mind and I said, ‘No, no. Absolutely!’ So, I was really happy about that." Ramsey interjects: "It was very, very strange for me, to be honest. The level of pride that I felt – I was so proud of her because she was very nervous and just wanted to make sure she did it right"
"Having her go through the works of hair and make-up and costume – I thought I’ve maybe had a glimpse about how she feels about working. I felt incredibly proud of her and I reassured her afterwards that she did a good job.”
Tehnsuko jokes, "I never had to worry about her doing the role, but I was constantly thinking, ‘Please, let’s not set her on fire.’"
Unlike big budget HBO series and their month-long shoots, short films – as the name would suggest – are brief in their nature.
Ramsey, who is in Canada filming for The Last of Us season 2, opens up on the experience and how it’s differed from their other ones saying, "I think the hardest thing for me about a short film is you’re just so in and out. You get there and two days later everything is done. Relationships develop [while] being on set, you just make friends with people pretty much instantly. Normally you have months or weeks of spending time with those people, it becomes a real family.
Ramsey adds, "So the idea that you’re in and out and make these relationships at the same speed of your eight-month shoot but then have to say goodbye within two days, that’s always an interesting thing about short films. You want to feel like you’ve lived in the character enough and that you feel like you’ve done a good job. That’s one of the problems. But it was really great."
And next up? Alongside slipping back into the well-worn shoes of Ellie, Ramsey is working on writing that they’ve been doing for a “long time”.
"I’ve been on the festival circuit for a year and haven’t been able to sit at my desk and get words on paper. I’m working on somewhat of a contemporary drama, as well as a teleportation mystery and a fantasy. So a few things that I’ve had waiting desperately to get out of my brain."