Maisie Williams is accustomed to complicated brother and sister dynamics, having played a member of the Stark family for eight seasons on Game of Thrones. While 1940s Paris is worlds apart from the Westeros fantasy landscape, Catherine Dior and Arya Stark share the same frustrating problem of dealing with family members who aren’t always on the same page—even when they strive toward the same goal.

Luckily, Williams struck up a quick bond with co-star Ben Mendelsohn, who plays legendary haute couture designer Christian Dior during a turbulent period in his career, which ultimately ushers in a definitive fashion era. “I think we wanted to try as quickly as possible to be as familiar with one another [so] that we could do these difficult scenes and know at the heart that we still had each other’s back and we would still support one another,” Williams tells The Daily Beast’s Obsessed.

During the latter half of the historical Apple TV+ drama from creator Todd A. Kessler, World War II is over, but the Dior siblings face new challenges. On paper, Christian now has everything he ever wanted, as not only has he been reunited with his younger sister Catherine, but he is in the process of opening a fashion house bearing the Dior name. However, there is no magic spell that can turn the clock back to the way things were before Catherine was imprisoned in the Ravensbrück concentration camp for her work within the French Resistance. Yes, she survived, but she bears the mental and physical scars of this ordeal.

“His fantasy, or whatever he’s imagining, could not have anticipated what that coming back was going to be like. I think the frames of reference of understanding the expectations of ‘She’s gone away into a camp’—now they knew they were bad, but I don’t think they had a tactile sense of just how bad it was,” says Mendelsohn. “Then she comes back, and it’s fucking terrible. It’s just devastating.”

Christian’s spacious Parisian apartment has gone from a place where Catherine and her fellow Resistance fighters convened to a haunted home filled with guilty memories. In Episode 7, “It All Came True,” director Helen Shaver highlights the distance between the siblings, neither willing to be in the same room to discuss her next steps. Catherine tells her brother she will volunteer at the repatriation center as part of the effort to help track the missing who may have perished in a camp. “No. Absolutely not,” Christian answers. Catherine claims she is fine, but her brother thinks she must be careful about her health.

By the end of the episode, Catherine ignores Christian’s concerns and departs the capital city for their father’s country house in Callian. Her desire to leave Paris is so great that she doesn’t wait for her brother to finish a phone call before she is out of the front door.

“We tried to portray all of the feelings that both sides of siblings could have. The one who is the survivor feeling guilt for surviving: How in the world that they survive, and other people didn’t, how precarious and what a tightrope act that was,” Kessler says. “But then also to be the caring sibling wanting to try to ease the person’s suffering now that they’ve survived, but also understanding that they’re on the outside because the person doesn’t want to talk about it.”

Ahead of this week’s finale of The New Look, Mendelsohn, Williams, and Kessler recently talked to Obsessed about depicting a brother-sister relationship fractured by war, what Williams learned from her co-star (“working with Ben was the highlight of—maybe even my career—but certainly this show”), the book that became Williams’ guide for this role, and why Mendelsohn thinks Christian could be a “pain in the arse” to his sister.

Juliette Binoche and Emily Mortimer in The New Look on Apple TV+

Juliette Binoche and Emily Mortimer in The New Look

Apple TV+

Finding a sibling bond

Throughout the limited series, snippets of conversations about the Dior family give insight into what drives them both. Despite how disconnected Catherine and Christian currently seem, they are still closer than the rest of their family.

“They had such an incredible relationship. I think Catherine was the only person in Christian’s family who really respected and saw him for who he truly was,” says Williams. “That’s something that comes with massive families; you have different variations of closeness with different people.” For starters, Christian doesn’t have to hide his sexuality (or boyfriend) around his sister, and she is nothing but encouraging of his career. “I think of anyone in the family; she is the one he’s able to be his most authentic self with,” says Mendelsohn.

Support and trust don’t mean there isn’t tension between the siblings. “I think we had a sense of parameters of who these people were or what the roles were,” Mendelsohn says. “But ours was very much a felt kind of thing. One of the most important notes we got was, ‘You’re brothers and sisters, so you don’t have to love each other too much. You’re actually brothers and sisters; all that’s done for you already.’”

The Australian actor is candid in how he views Catherine compared to Christian and where we find them both during and after the war. “She’s a more cohesive and resolved person than I think Christian is, and I think he’s kind of a pain in the arse to her,” says Mendelsohn. “He does provide an enormous amount, and they are incredibly close, and they do love each other incredibly. But he’s a bit controlling around her, and that’s situationally appropriate.” After all, Christian is 12 years Catherine’s senior and attempts to play protector before and after her arrest.

There is a keen sense from both Mendelsohn and Williams about the depth of the story they are playing. Williams says Justine Picardie’s 2021 book Miss Dior: A Story of Courage and Couture was a significant touchstone to understanding that: “As soon as I was given free rein to run with the character and I got the part, I turned to Justine’s book, which became my Bible throughout this process.”

Picardie’s extensive research covers not only Catherine Dior’s experience but also those of other women who were in Ravensbrück. The scenes of Catherine at the repatriation center begin to scratch the surface of the many different voices. “I appreciated how she [Picardie] suggested an image of the world that Catherine was living in without putting anything into Catherine’s mouth that she didn’t say,” says Williams. “I think that as an actor, you want to try to fill in those blanks. The way she had treated Catherine’s story with such care in that book inspired the way I wanted to approach this character too.”

Another source of inspiration for Williams during the series came from her scene partner. “Ben, as an actor, is so unpredictable; he takes so many risks, and he changes it every single take and tries to try everything rather than just sticking to one thing,” Williams says. “I’ve never worked like that really with anyone. It really kept me on my toes.”

Maisie Williams in The New Look on Apple TV+

Maisie Williams in The New Look

Apple TV+

Therapy and clairvoyants

Therapeutic solutions in the post-WWII landscape for women like Catherine, who were grappling with surviving against the odds, were severely lacking. “They don’t have words to talk about it. There was no understanding of post-traumatic stress disorder,” says Kessler. “There may have been an understanding but no words to label it. So it’s a very complicated dynamic between them.”

When Catherine is arrested and then sent to Ravensbrück, Christian has minimal connections, and unlike Coco Chanel—who brokered a deal to free her nephew— he has to wait until the end of the war to find out if his sister is alive. When she is gone, it cracks Christian open, revealing something he had taken for granted. “You don’t miss your water until the well runs dry, and if it’s your heart, your blood, your little sister—it’s devastating to him and becomes his entire raison d’être,” Mendelsohn says.

In this unstable world, clairvoyant Madame Delahaye (Darina Al Joundi) is a tremendous source of comfort to Christian. Kessler depicts how often the designer turned to the fortune-teller during crisis and decision-making. “I boil it down to something very elemental and easy for me to understand and get a hold of,” says Mendelsohn. One of these is to view these predictions and visions through the prism of a scared child asking their parents if something is going to be OK, and as “a way of being held in the experience and given a notion of certainty.”

So, while Catherine is gone, Madame Delahaye gives Christian hope when she emphatically states Catherine will return. “Now, as to whether that certainty occurs or not, and in which way it does, is incredibly important to who he is,” Mendelsohn says.

Often, on TV, women are depicted as having this kind of trust in this spiritual realm. Yet, here, Catherine rejects Delahaye and doesn’t share her brother’s beliefs. It strikes me as a welcome choice to highlight this lesser-discussed aspect of Dior that wasn’t unusual at the time. “Christian pushed a lot of chips in. He was a committed Catholic, but he was also a committed occultist in the lighter sense of the word,” Mendelsohn says. He mentions that post-war existentialism pushed aside what was previously very popular. “Mystical faculties, I think, at that time, were still something that were very alive. In fact, all that period around the ’40s and the ’30s, the occult—what we understand as occult-ish sort of stuff—is really prevalent to a degree, which we’re just not that aware of,” says Mendelsohn.

The designer is also committed to his sister’s recovery, even if his attempts have instead highlighted their inherent differences. While Catherine struggles with Christian’s approach, the same cannot be said for how much Williams has taken from her experience working with Mendelsohn. “I was saying the whole time, ‘I knew nothing about acting before I worked with Ben and I learned everything I know on this job.’,” says Williams. “I’ve had such an amazing opportunity to work with many incredible actors. But whenever I do, I find myself learning everything all over again.”



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