‘Catherine Called Birdy’: Bella Ramsey on why that ‘more hopeful ending’ differs from the book

Spoiler alert! The following post contains details about the ending of “Catherine Called Birdy.” 

Bella Ramsey is a long way from Westeros. 

The young actress, who broke out on HBO’s “Game of Thrones” as the small but mighty Lyanna Mormont, gets to show off her comedy chops in the delightful “Catherine Called Birdy” (now streaming on Prime Video), a coming-of-age tale set in medieval England.

Based on Karen Cushman’s 1994 novel, the film follows 14-year-old Birdy (Ramsey) as she attempts to ward off potential suitors when her father, Lord Rollo (Andrew Scott), reveals his plans to marry her off in exchange for money and land. The movie frankly deals with subjects such as menstruation, sexuality and grief, all buoyed by the sharp one-liners and glittering pop songs that filmmaker Lena Dunham (HBO’s “Girls”) is known for her in her work. 

“It’s historically accurate, but with a very modern attitude,” Ramsey says. “Most of the time, (medieval stories) are depicted as very dreary. But I think what makes this different is there’s so much color and vibrancy and life. It’s a fresh take on it.” 

Ramsey, 19, tells USA TODAY more about “Birdy,” its unfortunate timeliness, and what it was like starring in HBO’s post-apocalyptic thriller “The Last of Us,” which is adapted from the popular video game and premieres next year. 

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"She's weird and chaotic, and to have that celebrated is really cool," actress Bella Ramsey says of her "Catherine Called Birdy" heroine.

Question: How is Birdy different than any character you’d read or seen before? 

Answer: She’s just this vivacious, wild teenager. I like the fact that we get to see her just being messy and existing, rather than having a specific skill set or romance. It was a story about a teenager being a teenager and everything that comes along with that. It doesn’t matter what time you’re in – whether it’s 1290 or 2022 – the experience of being a teenager is still very much the same, just with different limitations.

You shot this more than a year before Roe v. Wade was overturned, which gave states the ability to restrict or ban abortion. Do certain moments in the film hit differently now? 

Definitely, and unfortunately, it shouldn’t be something that we still have to protest for. It’s a basic human right. Birdy is protesting for bodily autonomy without realizing that’s what she’s protesting for. It’s not a political thing for her, it’s not anything she feels she has to get behind – it’s just human instinct, to want to have control over your body and your life. It’s sad that it still resonates and that it’s been hitting harder (with audiences), but it also shows that society hasn’t progressed as much as we maybe think that it has. It’s an important reminder to keep fighting for basic human needs that everybody deserves. 

Catherine (Bella Ramsey, right) and her father Lord Rollo (Andrew Scott) celebrate his victory over Lord Murgaw.

At the end of the book, Birdy is reluctantly set to marry an old rich man she calls “Shaggy Beard,” before he dies and she’s matched with his son. But in the movie, Birdy’s father challenges Shaggy Beard (Paul Kaye) to a duel so she can stay at home and be a kid a while longer. Why was that an important change to make? 

I know it was really important to Lena to have that more hopeful ending, and I really liked it. It meant that her fight wasn’t for nothing. It doesn’t mean that another suitor isn’t going to come along, but she avoids it for now. It’s a beautiful moment between her and her dad as well. They’re very similar and they clash a lot, and don’t get many opportunities because of that to show their love and admiration for each other. It’s nice for her to get to see her dad do this thing that was extremely rare in those days: for a father to make that decision of, “I’m going to keep my daughter for a bit longer.” I’m glad that’s been expanded from the book. She learns to find freedom within the limitations she has. 

Lyanna Mormont (Bella Ramsey), the feisty young Lady of Bear Island, was a fan favorite on HBO's "Game of Thrones."

It’s been more than three years since “Game of Thrones” ended. Do fans still stop and talk to you about Lyanna? 

It’s slowed down a little bit. Lots of people ask me what I thought of the ending, which is a controversial question and I don’t know how to answer. So I always say, “What do you think of the ending?” and then go from there. People just love the King in the North. 

Are you watching “House of the Dragon?” 

I watched the first three episodes, but then I went off on this press tour for “Birdy” and I’ve barely been at home, so I haven’t really had a chance to watch it. I have some catching up to do, but I love it. I think it’s really cool. 

I can’t wait for “The Last of Us.” Did you play the game at all before signing on? 

I was actually encouraged not to. After my first audition, they asked me, “Have you played it?” And I said “nope,” and they said, “Keep it that way.” (Laughs.) I did watch some of the gameplay on YouTube just to get a sense of it. But I’m so excited for it to come out – it was such a big part of my life. I shot for a whole year, which is quite a long time when you’ve only lived for 19 years. Pedro wrote a little card to me at the end, saying, “How interesting that something so huge and life-changing should happen so early in your life and so late in mine.” I thought it was a really sweet observation and I just had the best time. 

I’m sure making the show sparked some interesting conversations about how to survive a post-apocalyptic world. Do you have any strategies? 

I have zero survival strategies. I would probably just dig myself a hole, crawl into it with my best friend and cry.

Yeah, I’d definitely be one of the first to die. I have no skills. 

I mean, someone’s gotta die first. It might as well be us.