We’re only a month into 2023 and Bella Ramsey is already having a great year. Not only did the 19-year-old British actress receive a handful of award nominations for her starring performance in Lena Dunham’s medieval comedy Catherine Called Birdy, she’s also at the center of the hottest show on TV right now, HBO’s The Last Of Us, where she plays Ellie Williams, opposite Pedro Pascal. But Ramsey’s winning streak didn’t just start this year, though. It actually dates back to 2016, with her breakout role as the young but not-to-be-underestimated Lady Lyanna Mormont in Game Of Thrones.
On the day we spoke with Ramsey, in an exclusive interview with The A.V. Club about her inclusion on our Who’s Next list of rising stars to watch in 2023, she’d just gotten the news that HBO had renewed The Last Of Us for a second season. That’s a strong vote of confidence for a show so early into its run. It does mean that Ramsey will have to put off some of her other big plans, though, which include writing and directing projects of her own. She’s not complaining, though. Ramsey is grateful for every break she’s gotten, and even shared some advice for those hoping to make their own way in the business.
The A.V. Club: What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve gotten so far, and who did you receive it from?
Bella Ramsey: I think there’s been a couple of people who have said this to me, they said, “Trust your instincts.” That’s the best advice that I’ve gotten, from several people. … That’s been the general consensus that people have said either directly or indirectly to me. Yeah, trust your instincts. And I hope to continue to do that.
AVC: Is there anything that you wish that somebody had said to you? Some advice you wish you’d gotten?
BR: I think I’ve been really well supported, actually. I’ve just been thrown in at the deep end, with my first project being Game Of Thrones. I think I was forced to learn very quickly and I think that’s been the best way. I’ve been so supported in every project that I’ve been on. I feel like I’m in a good position in terms of being able to deal with the pressure of the industry. I’ve had good people around me.
AVC: This might sound like a job interview question, but where do you see yourself in 10 years?
BR: Whew, that is a great question. I hope that I’ll still be working. I hope that I’ll be acting, but also directing and writing some more. I would love to lean into that a bit more. Yeah, that’s sort of where I see myself.
AVC: You mentioned writing “more.” What kinds of things have you written so far? Is there anything you’re currently working on?
BR: Yeah, I’ve written a film that I’m hoping to make and direct this year, if it all goes to plan. The Last Of Us just got the announcement that we’re doing season two today, so hopefully when I get back from that I’ll be making it. I’ve got more ideas, so hopefully I’ll get the opportunity to do more of that.
AVC: Since you’re interested in directing, do you pay attention when you’re on set to what the director is doing? Are you making mental notes, looking at the things you want to do when you get behind the camera yourself?
BR: Yeah. I feel like I’ve been doing that without even realizing it since I was sort of starting in the industry, without even thinking about the fact that maybe I’d direct one day. I’ve always been watching what other people do at their jobs, especially the directors. And sort of picking out things that I want to do if I was directing. Or things that I would do differently. And so, yeah, I feel like I’m in a place where I would love to have the opportunity to be behind the camera as well.
AVC: What would you say it takes to get ahead in Hollywood today? Is there some kind of secret sauce, or is it something anyone can pick up and learn?
BR: I honestly think it so depends on being in the right place at the right time, and the right opportunity coming up. I think there are probably hundreds of really, really talented actors—thousands probably—who won’t get the break that they deserve because the right project hasn’t come up for them at the right time. I honestly think a lot of it comes down to that.
AVC: But isn’t there an element of talent involved too?
BR: The harsh reality of the industry, I guess, is it’s not easy to get into. I was very fortunate with the way that I got into it. If I hadn’t gotten into Game Of Thrones I don’t know that I would be acting, or even considering going into it. So I think a lot of it is very situational. I hesitate to use the word luck, but yeah, that’s part of it.
AVC: Maybe it’s luck plus making the most of an opportunity. You were cast in Game Of Thrones, but because you were so good in the role people noticed you.
BR: Oh, thank you. Yeah, definitely. And no opportunity that comes along is too small when you’re starting out. I think that’s a pretty valuable thing to remember.
AVC: How do you approach your professional relationships? Is it important for someone to have connections to people like agents, managers, casting directors? People who can help you find those opportunities?
BR: I think if anyone is considering being an actor professionally, and seriously considering it, the number one thing to do is to try and get an agent. They sort of know everybody that you don’t have access to if you’re in the industry. Having an agent opens a lot of doors that I think are very hard to even get a look into.
AVC: One of the other names on our Who’s Next list is Storm Reid, who will be guest starring in an upcoming episode of The Last Of Us. Could you talk about working with her on the show and what we can expect?
BR: Yeah, she plays a character called Riley. It’s a backstory episode for Ellie, so it’s just the two of us and you see their relationship and how they relate to each other. You see them being best friends and more. Working with Storm was awesome. She’s incredibly busy. Like, she’s doing a full-on university degree at the same time. I’m really inspired by her and how well she manages her hectic life. She manages it with such grace. Yeah, she was awesome to work with. I’m excited for people to see that episode. I hope they love it.
AVC: You spent so much time working on The Last Of Us in a sort of vacuum, waiting for people to see it. Now that they have and it’s getting such a positive response how does it feel to have it finally out in the world?
BR: It’s scary, actually. It’s something that feels very personal to me. I think about everyone who’s watching it, everyone who’s so invested, it feels, yeah, like a very personal thing. So it’s bizarre, in a way, to share it with the world. But it’s a joy at the same time that people have been responding so well to it and being inspired by it and by the story, like they were initially in the video game. It’s quite exciting. I think it will feel really strange once all the episodes are out, because then it’s like, “Well, now what?” And I guess we have season two to look forward to. I’m just so happy that people are taking so well to it and I’m excited for people to see the rest.
AVC: Is there anything you’re watching right now that you’re really into? What was the last thing that you saw that you really enjoyed?
BR: One of my favorite series is one called Feel Good, written by and starring Mae Martin. I love that. It’s the only show that I will rewatch because I love it so much. I’m also just starting to watch Fleabag. It’s taken a long time to get on the bandwagon [Laughs], but that’s been really fun so far.