Bella Ramsey: Her Hollywood Life As The Star Of The Last Of Us

Bella Ramsey first won the hearts of fans when she appeared as the petite spitfire Lyanna Mormont on Season 6 of "Game of Thrones." She was only 11 years old at the time, but her presence commanded respect. From there, Ramsey's career took off like dragon fire, as she landed role after role in TV series, films, and as a voice actor.

She now stars in the new HBO series "The Last of Us," opposite fellow "Game of Thrones" alum Pedro Pascal. The show features the pair on a journey through a post-apocalyptic world wherein Ramsey's character might be humankind's last hope. Her character, Ellie, is immune to the fungal disease that takes over its hosts, turning them into zombie-like creatures called Clickers. If it sounds terrifying ... well, it is. But Ramsey is more than up to the task, bringing a mix of heart, bravery, and foul-mouthed attitude to the role.

In real life, Ramsey is self-reflective, funny, and not without the fierceness inherent in so many of the characters she's played. Even without the threat of White Walkers, giants, Clickers, or zombies, Ramsey seems like a person we'd want to have on our side.

How she got her start

Bella Ramsey was quite young when she began acting. Ramsey grew up in Leicestershire, outside of Nottingham, England, where she joined a theater group with her older sister at age 3, and joined The Television Workshop at age 10 (via The New York Times). It was through The Television Workshop, a prestigious drama school in the U.K. which boasts alumni such as Samantha Morton and Felicity Jones, that Ramsey met a casting director for "Game of Thrones."

Ramsey snagged the role of Lyanna Mormont, which was only meant to be a one-episode gig. The actor knew she wanted the role as soon as she read the script. "I respected her. She was just words on the page, but I really felt a sense of her," she told The Cut. "I was already rooting for her. She's a badass." Originally slated to appear in just one scene, Ramsey's Lyanna Mormont was such a fan favorite with her fierce demeanor and taciturn expression that "Game of Thrones" showrunners brought her back for the show's final two seasons.

Her career took off like crazy after Game of Thrones

After her breakout performance in "Game of Thrones," Ramsey landed a number of roles in both TV and feature films. Among them was Mildred Hubble in the children's fantasy series "The Worst Witch," which earned Ramsey a BAFTA British Academy Children's award for Young Performer. In 2019, the actor played Lorna Luft, the daughter of Judy Garland, opposite Renee Zellweger in "Judy," and in 2020 she appeared as Angelica in the HBO series "His Dark Materials."

In 2022, Ramsey landed the titular role in Lena Dunham's adaptation of the beloved YA classic "Catherine Called Birdy." Ramsey read the book, a story set in medieval times about a 14-year-old girl (Birdy) whose father is trying to marry her off, for the first time on her way to her audition. Both the story and the character really resonated with her. "It was so wonderfully chaotic," she told Vanity Fair. "I love the weirdness and boldness and quirkiness that Birdy embodies." And Ramsey earned critical acclaim for embodying Birdy so fiercely. She was nominated for a Critic's Choice Award in 2023 for her portrayal.

Bella Ramsey identifies as gender non-binary

In 2023, Bella Ramsey revealed that she identifies as gender non-binary. While Ramsey uses she/they pronouns, the pronouns are not especially important to the actor. "I'm very much just a person," Ramsey told The New York Times. "Being gendered isn't something that I particularly like, but in terms of pronouns, I really couldn't care less." The actor also explained that being mistaken for a boy was exciting to her as a child. "I guess my gender has always been very fluid," she said.

While Ramsey joins a growing list of celebrities who are open about their gender fluidity, she is still protective of her public identity. "I have labels that I assign to myself," she told Elle. "It's just, publicly, I am hesitant to talk about what those are ... I think people who can publicly talk about who they are, I think that's incredibly brave and I look up to those people, but it's not the sort of thing that I can do yet, really." And yet we think plenty of people look up to Ramsey for her bravery!

Her response to The Last of Us casting backlash

Taking on the role of a beloved character in an adaptation can come with certain challenges. "The Last of Us" is based on a wildly popular video game of the same name, and fans were bound to have their own ideas about who should be cast as Ellie. Even Bella Ramsey herself had doubts about taking on the role. "It took a long time, actually, for me to accept that I was Ellie, and that I could be her and that I was the right fit. It took me a good while, even after we finished filming," she told Elle.

Ramsey knew there would be some backlash from die-hard fans of the game, and she couldn't help but take a peek at what people were saying about her being cast in the lead. But as we all know, social media can be cruel. "There would be times I'd find it funny," Ramsey told The New York Times. "Then I'd get to the end of a 10-minute scrolling session, put my phone down and realize: Maybe that was a bad idea."

Like her characters, she's kind of a badass

Bella Ramsey tends to play characters that are headstrong, fearless, and good with a knife (or dragonglass). And in real life, Ramsey exudes that same kind of badass energy. "I have too much confidence that I could take down a person," Ramsey said in a conversation with Pedro Pascal for HBO Max's "Get To Know Me."

The actor isn't squeamish either, even when it comes to her own character's death. In fact, she has a great sense of humor about the grisly scenes she's been a part of. When speaking to Jimmy Kimmel about her epic "Game of Thrones" death scene, for example, Ramsey said, "I enjoyed it ... I had a wonderful time." 

Her co-workers can attest to Ramsey's fierceness as well. When asked in an IMDb interview who he'd want on his apocalypse dream team, "The Last of Us" co-creator Craig Mazin said, "I'm definitely taking Bella Ramsey with me because she's ferocious ... and I'd give her the switchblade for sure. She's really good with that."

How she prepared for the role of Ellie

For Bella Ramsey, becoming Ellie in "The Last of Us" required some real preparation. The British actor would have to embody an American teenager, a character that was already well-established in the minds and hearts of fans of the video game the show is based on. When it came to perfecting her American accent, she worked with a dialect coach, as many actors do. But her training was a bit more fun. In an interview on "The Late Late Show," she explained that she started with the phrase "olive oil" and moved on to more colorful language. "The character that I play ... she curses every two seconds," Ramsey said, which is why learning to swear with an American accent was so important.

One might guess that an actor cast in a video game adaptation might be a fan of the game already, but Ramsey had never played it. On "Jimmy Kimmel Live" she said, "I'm not a gamer ...I've seen gameplay on YouTube, I watch clips." The actor told The New York Times that she watched the gameplay clips "... to feel confident that the Ellie I felt inside of me, under my skin, was the right one."

Oh, and in addition to getting the accent and the character down to a science, Ramsey had to cut off 15 inches of her hair!

She credits her religion with helping her overcome obstacles

Although Bella Ramsey appears to be unstoppable, she has at times had to prioritize her health over her work. And in doing so, Ramsey relied on her Christian faith to help her. "I know it's sort of been publicized a lot that I left ['The Worst Witch'] for mental health reasons," Ramsey explained to Elle. "... the idea was that, 'I'm not going to do this fourth season because it's not worth it, because I'm in a better place now.'" Those issues included anorexia, which Ramsey was able to get under control with the help of her religion.

In a series of tweets on World Mental Health Day in 2018, Ramsey said, "There's always a light at the end of the tunnel, no matter how dim it might seem ... For me that light was Jesus. My faith played a huge part in my recovery and so did my family."

These days, while spirituality is still a big part of her life, Ramsey's faith is less tied to organized religion and more of what she says is "one that [is] totally my own."

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

Balancing schoolwork and Game of Thrones was a challenge

Many teenage actors opt to either drop out of school to pursue their careers or find an alternative to traditional education in order to graduate. Bella Ramsey tried her hardest to balance her acting career with normal high school life, but found it to be difficult. Especially once her classmates caught wind of her involvement with "Game of Thrones."

"Everyone was intrigued by what I was doing and what it was all about," Ramsey told Evening Standard. "But I wasn't allowed to tell anyone yet, especially because Lyanna was a new character." That didn't sit well with Ramsey's peers. "Other people started taking it the wrong way. I tried to explain that I had to sign something and that I wasn't just being difficult — I just wasn't allowed to say." But once Lyanna Mormont appeared on the show, Ramsey gained a new popularity. "I was very much a loner, didn't really have any friends in secondary school—suddenly everybody wanted to be my friend and talk to me," Ramsey says. "I guess that's the first time that I ever felt something was shifting in my life," she told Elle.

But the pressure of filming the series, along with "The Worst Witch," and having to miss school to do so took its toll on the actor, who eventually chose online homeschooling instead.

She was diagnosed as neurodivergent while filming The Last of Us

Bella Ramsey seems very dedicated to understanding herself, and the past several years have been transformative in terms of her self-discovery. While filming "The Last of Us," Ramsey underwent testing which led to her learning that she is neurodivergent. Ramsey speaks about it in a very positive way, explaining to Elle, "I've been thinking for years that maybe I was, and then to find that out whilst filming this show was super special."

While Ramsey has not specified her exact diagnosis, there are many celebrities who have spoken out about their own experiences as neurodiverse. Iconic actor Daryl Hannah revealed in 2013 that she is on the autism spectrum, and singer Billie Eilish confirmed in 2018 that she has Tourette's Syndrome. While everyone's journey is different and not everyone is so open, it is certainly helpful for those with similar diagnoses to have people to look up to. Ramsey is a great role model in so many ways!

She bonded with co-star Pedro Pascal

At the heart of "The Last of Us" is the relationship between Ellie and Joel, played by Bella Ramsey and Pedro Pascal respectively. And it's clear from interviews with the actors that their bond was not simply well-acted but borne from a very real friendship between the two. Although both actors appeared on "Game of Thrones," they never crossed paths during filming as each was filming in different parts of the world. Still, there was some comfort in having shared in the "GoT" glory. "I feel like it made us come from a family without knowing each other already," Pascal told EW.

"We took care of each other quite well, I think," Ramsey shared. "I think it was just the case of recognizing the pressure we were putting on ourselves. I guess that was helpful being able to recognize and verbalize things, but then it got to the point where we didn't even have to do that."

Due to Covid restrictions, the actors didn't actually meet until it was time to begin filming. But it turned out to be a good thing, as it helped solidify their characters' chemistry as well. "It was very brief and special," Ramsey told The New York Times of her and Pascal's first time meeting. "We got on but were shy of each other because of how much was riding on our relationship ... we got to know each other as Joel and Ellie got to know each other." In a post-apocalyptic world filled with monsters and deadly fungi, it sure is good to have a friend.