The making of an icon: Maggie Robertson on becoming Lady Dimitrescu
A heightened performance.
"Surreal." That's how Maggie Robertson, the actress behind Resident Evil Village's Lady Dimitrescu, describes the fan reaction to her performance.
But then it must be. The "step on me's". The "mommy's". Being known as the tall vampire lady. Becoming an icon.
But what leads to that fan reaction? What is it about Lady Dimitrescu that's enraptured fans so much?
"She's totally sexy and beautiful and powerful," says Robertson. "And I think power is really sexy when you see intelligent women who are so confident in who they are, and don't need anyone else.
"I think that's part of why she has made such an impact because she is unapologetically herself. She literally doesn't fit in anywhere, and yet still remains so true to who she is, and isn't afraid to show it and isn't afraid to demand the respect that she deserves."
Despite that characterisation, Robertson was caught unaware by the internet's collective thirst and wasn't knowingly creating a sexualised character - it was just a natural result.
"I was just trying to create the character that I saw before me," she says. "And she is very curvy and sensual. And so it was important to do her justice and create a character that was sensual and sexy and strong."
Robertson was responsible for the voice and movement of Lady Dimitrescu (the face model was Helena Mankowska). All of that was inspired by the character design. Her curves, sweeping hat and cigarette inspired her regal mannerisms. She's "a little transatlantic".
And as Robertson had just completed her masters in classical acting before booking the job - her first in video games and completed without agent representation, no less - she tried to bring a sense of Shakespearean grandeur to the role.
"This game is very Shakespearean, because you're in these really heightened spaces," says Robertson. "And Lady D is incredibly heightened. Not just her height, but her style and mannerism in the way she speaks everything. Her language is so ornate."
Robertson has "a real love of language and a love of playing with words and sounds" and this role provided an opportunity to play with that, to move from the fluid, elegant sentences at the start to a more aggressive, staccato rhythm in full monster form.
"I really liked this idea of having an internal rhythm versus an external rhythm," says Robertson. "So her external rhythm is what you see: this controlled facade where she's in control of everything around her, nothing fazes her, she's regal. And then internally is where her rhythm is more aggressive, a lot of slashing violence. There has to be a real sense of potential for danger, that she could do something unexpected."
The character certainly provided plenty of material for Robertson to sink her teeth into. She loves playing villains to understand what makes them tick. "[Lady D] chose to be a mother, she made her daughters. So what does that say about her? How does that impact her character and her motivations?" she says.
"She loses all sight of the end goal with mother Miranda because her children were murdered. That's powerful stuff. And that's so juicy to play as an actor. It just gave me so much to work with. It was a blast."
Robertson expected the next Resident Evil game to be a big deal, but she didn't anticipate her own performance receiving such a passionate reaction. Since the game's release, Lady Dimitrescu has taken on another life. From memes, to cosplays, to makeup looks and fanfiction, Lady Dimitrescu truly stepped all over 2021.
"Once it's out there, the audience then gets to take it. It's their turn now to make this art into whatever they want it to be," says Robertson. "And I feel that that is what happened with Lady D. We put her out into the universe and now the fans are continuing to expand her and grow her character.
"I think, to that end, Lady D will always live on and will always be growing and changing. It's so so cool."
It's also led to the character becoming an icon specifically for the LGBT+ community. She's unique, othered, and doesn't fit in, making her a key symbol for the queer community, something Robertson is incredibly proud of.
"I never expected that I would be able to have an impact on a community that I care very deeply about, to be able to provide that safe space and that sense of home and welcome and just unconditional love and acceptance," says Robertson.
"The fans always talk about how much we, the actors, give them. But actually, you guys give us a lot back too. Being able to witness that level of support and acceptance and community is really inspiring and does make me want to keep going and keep doing what I'm doing."
Oh wow, highlight of my day going through all these! Happy Pride y’all!! Love you so much!!! You’re all WONDERFUL!!!! 💗 (so many exclamation marks!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)— Maggie Robertson (@maggiethebard) June 15, 2021
Robertson was initially nervous about the reaction, but is certainly thankful to the community for embracing both Lady Dimitrescu and herself as an actress.
"I was sitting there on the interwebs, anonymously, watching all of the thirst," she says. "And I was worried that that would be reflected back onto me when I first was announced. But I was very pleasantly surprised.
"I think that speaks to the community, that once my name was announced the overwhelming majority of what I was receiving was just an overflowing of love and thank yous, we love your work, all of that stuff. And it was about the work, which is what I want it to be about anyway."
There's separation too in that the character doesn't look like Robertson, allowing her to sit back and enjoy the game as a fan. She describes it as "liberating" compared to her previous work in theatre and music.
The fan reaction also comes with a responsibility to be a role model. "What can be overwhelming is just to feel the weight of how much you now mean to other people," says Robertson.
There's a negative side to online fame too. In particular, Robertson has strictly limited her time on social media, to avoid any negative comments amongst the thirst.
"For me, it's helpful to remember that the negatives that you find out there are truly the minority," she says. "And if you go look anywhere else, you will find just a vastly more overwhelming amount of positives. And knowing yourself - I think it's helpful to know yourself."
As for what's next, Robertson is tight-lipped on whether we'll see a return of Lady Dimitrescu in future DLC for Resident Evil Village. But Robertson would love to play the role again in future. "I think she's so fascinating. And she's got so many more layers left to explore," she says.
There is a little fear in remaining in the tall shadow of Lady Dimitrescu and Robertson is keen for a new challenge. "Let me play the little derpy frog instead of the massive giantess vampire!" she says.
Yet Robertson is proud of the work she's done with Lady Dimitrescu, despite having to adjust from acting in regional theatre to a breakout performance in a global hit video game.
"Lady D will be with me for the rest of my life," she says. "And that's crazy to think about: to have a legacy that you can carry with you now, forever, is really cool."