“People always ask me if my parents were hippies,” says the English actress Nell Tiger Free on the subject of her unusual name. “They definitely weren’t. Free is actually my dad’s last name and I got my middle name because my mom said that being pregnant with me felt like carrying a tiger. I guess I was fierce and restless in there.”
It was that wild, caged-cat energy that led her to acting. Growing up in Kingston, southwest of London, Free—the daughter of a yoga teacher and a corporate recruiter—was constantly bouncing off the walls. “I was driving my mother insane so she sent me to a Saturday school for singing and dancing just to blow off some steam,” Free, now 19, recounts. “I ended up getting scouted.”
She nailed her first major audition, for the part of Princess Myrcella Baratheon in Game of Thrones, despite having zero familiarity with the show. “My mum and sister were avid fans,” she says, “but I’d never even seen it.” Though (minor spoiler alert but no big surprise) Myrcella ends up in a casket just six episodes into Free’s run, the experience was enough to get her hooked on Hollywood. “I mean, it’s every kids dream to play a princess,” she says, “and the dresses were fantastic.”
In the three years since, Free has been working almost nonstop. She spent a chunk of 2016 in Italy filming the coming-of-age tale Wonderwell, which doesn’t have a release date at this point but was a worthwhile experience if only for the fact that it afforded her the chance to work with the OG fantasy princess: the late, great Carrie Fisher, whom she calls “the coolest woman ever.”
And, currently, she can be seen in the surreal crime drama Too Old to Die Young, which debuts on Amazon on June 14. Free plays Janey, the brilliant daughter of a billionaire (Billy Baldwin) who takes up with a grieving sheriff-turned-vigilante played by Miles Teller. Set in the seedy underbelly of Los Angeles during a dystopian future, the project, says Free, was a welcome opportunity to explore her dark side. “It was my first experience playing a non-family-suitable character, which was fun. Game of Thrones is an adult show but Myrcella was sweet and didn’t have to do anything too testing. I would definitely not categorize Janey as a good girl.”
Her dark turn, apparently, will continue with her next project: an M. Night Shyamalan-directed series for Apple TV being filmed in Philadelphia. Though details, in typical Shyamalan fashion, are being kept under wraps, the show is reportedly a psychological thriller centering on a chef and his wife, with Free playing their nanny. Once it’s wrapped, she’s planning on heading home to the UK for a much needed break. “I’m sure I’ll just fall right back into my usual routine: sitting in the pub with my friends and irritating my mother,” says Free, who, when not in the pub, writes and sings music that she describes as “my feelings and a piano.” But despite that hobby—which you can check out on her Instagram—don’t expect to see her belting it out on Broadway anytime soon.
“If I could dance I’d love to do a musical, but I can’t, sadly, and there are some things that you just can’t be taught,” she says. “If there was a musical where I didn’t have to dance that would be fantastic. It would have to be something where I just sit very still and sing.”