Pint-sized Game of Thrones star Maisie Williams and Hollywood actor Antonio Banderas were in Dubai yesterday to help launch broadcast network OSN's new lineup, which is set to give television audiences wider access to their favourite American shows and films.
As the star of what has arguably become the biggest TV series in the world, Williams, who plays the role of spirited Arya Stark on the show, was quick to acknowledge her luck in being a part of the Game of Thrones phenomenon. Her visit to Dubai this week comes ahead of an appearance by former co-star Jack Gleeson at the IGN Convention in Abu Dhabi this weekend.
"Now that the show has grown into the size that it has, it's really overwhelming," she said during a press conference at Jumeirah Zabeel Saray. "But I've been lucky enough to have had this experience grow very gradually. I have had time to get used to it so it hasn't made me insane."
Williams, 18, has long been a fan favourite on the show thanks in large part to her character's fearlessness and resourcefulness. She has been featured prominently in all five seasons so far as one of the show's most compelling storylines.
"I think Arya is a breath of fresh air on the show," she said. "She's a young character that makes a lot of grown-up decisions. It's very refreshing to see a child's character who isn't just bringing a cute element to the series. It's nice to see a real young person who is portrayed in a way that we can all kind of relate to."
"A lot of the decisions she makes are very grown up, though not always correct, but hey, that's the way it goes and no one is perfect. I'm so thrilled to be able to play her and so lucky to have such a wonderful female role at such a young age. I intend to keep it that way for the rest of my career."
The appeal of the HBO series, which has won 26 Emmy Awards and attracts record numbers of viewers internationally - particularly in the Middle East - is simple, Williams explained.
"We're all human and there's a lot of characters in Game of Thrones that we can all relate to," she said. "I feel like the relationships and struggles that are portrayed are something that, no matter where you are, is very real. It comes across in such a way that you feel like you can escape into a fantasy world."
Spanish actor and producer Antonio Banderas, 55, was also on hand to discuss his career ahead of next month's release of his upcoming film, The 33, based on the real events of the 2010 Chilean mining disaster which captivated the world.
"I believe that art in general and cinema in particular serve many purposes," he said. "From pure entertainment to movies that are about the human soul and its complexity."
Banderas, who is perhaps most famous for his roles in The Mask of Zorro and Shrek, last visited Dubai in 2008 and was overwhelmed by the city's transformation. "Dubai has become a fantasy and more," he said. The star, who was close friends with the late Egyptian actor Omar Sharif, lamented the loss of the Hollywood icon who helped introduce him to Middle East film and television.
The star-studded event, which featured an impromptu guest appearance from famed Egyptian satirist Bassem Youssef - the "Jon Stewart of the Middle East" - also showcased a number of new developments from OSN. From next year, the network announced it will begin airing Saturday Night Live in Arabic, featuring a voice cast that Youssef is rumoured to be a part of.
A dedicated channel that will showcase all HBO's content is also in the works that will include popular shows like True Detective, Girls, Veep and more. A digital video store is also on the horizon that will allow subscribers to purchase titles from a catalogue of over 1,500 movies.
By Mohamad Kadry
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