“There’s no way to prepare for it. I’ve just taken everything as it comes,” Bella Ramsey tells PinkNews. They are reflecting back on what has been a mammoth 2023, and how this breakthrough year has changed their life irrevocably.
First came The Last of Us in January. Ramsey, still just 20, plays Ellie Williams in the acclaimed TV adaptation of the 2013 video game, a fearless and temperamental teenager surviving in a post-apocalyptic world alongside a newfound father figure, Joel (Pedro Pascal).
Everything has snowballed since The Last of Us hit screens at the start of 2023: In October, they took on a lead role as pregnant heroin addict and prison inmate Kelsey in season two of esteemed BBC drama Time. Right now, they’re promoting Chicken Run 2: Dawn of the Nugget. Ramsey voices Molly, the daughter of coop leaders Ginger and Rocky.
“Nothing has really changed,” Ramsey begins, before stopping in their tracks to correct themself with a chuckle. “Actually, a lot has changed. Nothing has changed in terms of myself.”
Bella Ramsey is exceptionally humble for a rising star coming off the back of a breakout year. When I ask about the BAFTA Breakthrough award, they insist that they “hadn’t expected it at all”. When I ask about how their daily life has been altered post The Last of Us, they say that the main difference is that they have become more organised.
“My Apple calendar is like getting so much use. It’s now shared with my whole team, and so that’s been a big change,” they smile.
In addition to their humility, Ramsey is also polite and soft-spoken, and a little wary of saying the wrong thing. It’s unsurprising; though they became known for their role as the fiery Lyanna Mormont in season six HBO’s Game of Thrones, they were barely thirteen when their episodes first aired.
Now out of their teenage years and securing leading roles, they have increasingly become a target for trolls and media intrusion. Since coming out as non-binary earlier this year, they’ve had to fend off constant questioning and criticism about their gender identity. Before we speak, I’m politely asked not to touch on the subject by press reps.
As Ramsey’s The Last of Us character is queer, they’ve also been the target of anti-LGBTQ+ fans of the show and game. Ramsey has spoken before about feeling more like an “object” now they’re in the public eye, and the “scary” realisation that they can’t undo their fame.
Bella Ramsey. (HBO)
While waiting to film the HBO Max show in Canada, they had time to reflect on quite how much energy, time (it took around 11 months just to film the series) and anonymity they’d have to give up to become Ellie Williams. It sounds as though there was a slight twinge of regret.
“I was alone with my thoughts and realising that [making the show] was going to be for a year and then all the aftermath afterwards in terms of when the show came out,” Ramsey recalls. “I was like, ‘Oh, no, what have I done?’”
Despite trepidation, the experience was “phenomenal”, and one they “can’t wait to go and do again” as filming for season two commences in early 2024.
Despite all the doubts and doubters, there are a lot of positives about Bella Ramsey’s rapid ascension towards stardom. One thing they are most grateful for is how their packed diary has effectively “forced” their anxiety to ease.
“It’s kind of weird in a way. It’s kind of nice to like not have time [to be anxious],” Ramsey laughs.
“Practically I can’t not get on this flight because of anxiety. So I’ve just had to do things that have been previously far too terrifying. I never dreamed that I’d be able to fly across the Atlantic on my own, and I have done with ease.
“It’s been good. I’ve been challenged in a lot of ways that I think have actually had really positive outcomes. Even if initially, they seemed really scary.”
Alongside fame, they’ve found fans – Ramsey’s “gay army” – and friendship, too. On set of The Last of Us, they bonded closely with co-star Pedro Pascal, who they have said they love “deeply”. In return, Pascal has praised Ramsey for “bringing out the best” in him, and for being an “anchoring, generous, thoughtful” actor and companion.
The Last of Us star Pedro Pascal is always singing the praises of co-star Bella Ramsey (Getty/HBO)
I’d expected that working with someone like Pascal, who is 48 and has a CV stamped with huge shows including The Mandalorian, Narcos and Wonder Woman 1984, would have helped Ramsey hugely in developing their own craft on set (not that they need it). Yet the person who they say taught them the most is perhaps surprising.
“I actually learned probably the most from watching Keivonn [Woodard],” they share. Aged just 10, Woodard is nominated for an Emmy for his performance as Sam, brother of fellow survivor Henry (Lamar Johnson). He’s the second youngest and second Black, deaf actor to ever be nominated at the ceremony.
“I think watching young people come into the industry is fascinating,” Ramsey says. The fact that they don’t consider themselves part of that cohort is a testament to how much they’ve accomplished before even leaving their teenage years.
“I think some of the best lessons you can learn from young people who just are going into it with just such energy and curiosity,” Ramsey adds. “Watching him and how he went about feeling everything, and watching his little unspoken quiet process was really cool.”
Despite the praise, accolades, backbreaking filming time and immense season rollout, it’s not The Last of Us that Ramsey is proudest of when looking back on their 2023. Instead, it’s their role in another dystopian setting that makes them beam the most.
“It would be the scene in Time where I give birth. That’s probably my proudest day ever on set,” they say without hesitation.
Ramsey stars alongside Jodie Whittaker and Tamara Lawrance in the series, a fiction tracing the life of three women as they begin prison sentences for three very different crimes. It’s a harrowing exploration of how the UK’s criminal justice system is failing people – particularly women.
Ramsey’s character Kelsey is inside for repeat drug offences, has an abusive boyfriend on the outside, and is pregnant. In episode two, Kelsey goes into labour, and her child is delivered with the help of Lawrance’s character Orla, who has just begun a life sentence for killing her own baby. The scene has been lauded as one of the award-winning series’ best.
“Obviously I’ve never given birth, and I’ve never seen anyone give birth but, I just sort of went for it and I spoke to people about it,” Ramsey explains.
The scene was captured in the final week of filming, on a “long, hot day” on set. Despite their body being overcome with “exhaustion”, Ramsey “found it really thrilling” to shoot, and was more than satisfied with the result.
“I felt very proud when that day was done. Then when I saw how it had all been cut together, I was really pleased,” they say with a small grin and twinkle in their eye.
“It’s quite rare for me to be able to watch something that I’ve done and feel proud. I’m quite good at watching stuff back because I can disassociate from the fact that it’s me, but to actually watch it and be like, ‘Whoa, I did that’ – it’s cool, and I don’t get it very often.”
Much of Ramsey’s 2024 will be spent filming the hotly-anticipated second season of The Last of Us. Those who have played the game know that Ellie’s upcoming storylines are powerful, and will likely only further cement Ramsey as one of this generation’s greatest young actors.
Bella Ramsey talks to PinkNews about upcoming lesbian romance in The Last of Us season two. (BAFTA/Vivek Vadoliya/YouTube)
“I’m really excited,” Ramsey says of bringing more LGBTQ+ representation to the series.
“Actually, the first time I’d ever heard of The Last of Us was a PinkNews article – this was before the show, before I even got the audition for the show – which was saying that it was the first lesbian kiss in a video game,” they recall.
When the opportunity to audition for the role initially presented itself, Ramsey remembered that at some point down the line, they’d get to dive into Ellie’s queerness. Now, that time is just around the corner.
“I can’t wait to do that and to just explore that story,” Ramsey says earnestly. “It’s gonna be a lot of fun.”