One of the real pleasures of the press junket this year was getting to talk to a member of the cast I’ve not met previously… and perhaps no cast member has really excited me as much as Gwendoline Christie, the imposing Brienne of Tarth.
The actress seemed practically born for this role, and she made quite an impression in her all-too-brief appearances in the second season. The third season promises to give us a lot more of the Maid of Tarth, as she travels through the dangerous, war-torn riverlands trying to deliver Jaime Lannister to King’s Landing as Catelyn Stark commanded her to do.
What can you tell us about this season of Game of Thrones?
“As ever, what you can expect is that the unexpected always happens. Anything you think isn’t in the realms of possibility can very well occur. Characters are being thrown into situations that are normally completely alien to them, and you have to watch how they scrabble out of it.”
How did you prepare for this role?
“It was really intense. I loved the character so much, and really wanted to play it and play it well. She’s a huge fan favorite, people are engaged and passionate about her, so I know I have a responsibility.”
Why do you think people like Brienne so much?
“For some it’s that she’s a badass woman, someone who can with ease overpower men. But there’s another aspect, that she’s an outsider who has tried to overcome the confines of being a woman in that time and place, of being a female knight. Everyone likes to see the underdog triumph, and that’s who she is: she wants to overcome all the limitations. But this gets harder and harder for her as the story progresses.”
Was the audition process difficult?
“A friend was the one who told me that there was some talk about me playing this role. I’d never heard anything about it, but I decided to look into it, and I fell in love with the character.
“She’s a tough part to play. You have to be physically fit, you have to be able to carry out stunts, you have to be adept at all this training… but she has a vulnerability, too. Partly, it’s also just absolute vanity that makes it hard. It’s hard to be made much less attractive than you really are. You’re not wearing a mask, it’s you that they’re taking and giving more of a male cast to.”
Do you feel the difficulty in your own life, of being so tall and standing out?
“Constantly, constantly. It’s true, you do have to deal with that. Women have more tools than men to make ourselves look however we like, and I’ve taken advantage of that.”
You say she takes on male attributes—the armor, the sword—
“Yeah, but it’s that she adopts the behavior too. So she has to give off this air of dominance and confidence, confidence that comes from her spirit so that she can keep people at bay.”
Do you think that that’s the only way a woman can be powerful in that world, taking on masculine traits and attitudes?
“No, I wouldn’t say so. But it’s the path Brienne of Tarth has chosen. And maybe we’ll see that adapt and change.”
She’s one of the most loyal characters in the show. She doesn’t question her loyalty, or the people she’s loyal too. Do you think we’ll see that change?
“One of the foundations of Brienne of Tarth is that she has an almost fundamentalist view of what is right and what is wrong. But in Game of Thrones, you’re never entirely clear of what the politics really are, and everyone is able to completely change and some other part of them is revealed. Every single character in the series is forced to question what is reality, what is loyalty. And season three, it’s even more amplified than in season two… so mistakes have much higher stakes.”
How are the fight scenes for you, are they hard?
“I love them. They’re absolutely my favorite. When do you get a chance to slay three men? I also loved doing them as well because you’re so in the moment and don’t have to think about acting. There’s lots of training, lots of hard work, but it’s fun. Our fight director, C.C. Smith, manages to make it not only dedicated work but hilariously funny.”
So are you at the stage now where if someone bothered you in the street, you could sort it out?
“Oh, I’d probably just scream. Yes, I’d scream, “Don’t damage my manicure!” I can’t seem to eradicate those aspects of myself.”
Are you recognized by fans in the street now?
“It’s the slightly unusual height that people tend to recognize. I get a lot of, “I wouldn’t have recognized you, but you’re so tall…” And I wear heels, so that makes it even more obvious.”
How have you found the fans?
“They’re so nice and complimentary! The fans are so enthusiastic and passionate. It’s quite a privileged position to be in. And in season 2, since Brienne’s so dedicated to honor and loyalty, people have very little to complain about.”
Did you watch the first season through before you started filming?
“I did. I had my audition after episode 1 and 2 had aired, I think, and I had watched those. I was genuinely hooked, and I was really, really excited because it was so addictive.”
Were you rooting for any side in the first season?
“Who was I rooting for? Well, there were quite a lot of hot boys… [laughter] ... I’ll say Jon Snow.”
You mentioned that Brienne adopts masculine attributes, and that was interesting because Nikolaj, as Jaime Lannister, effortlessly gives off that sort of confidence and dominance she aspires to. But at the same time, he’s the Kingslayer, an oathbreaker and betrayer, he’s everything a knight shouldn’t be… but he’s a knight, while she aspires to that as well. How does that affect their relationship?
“From the off, they don’t respect each other. He thinks she’s a freak, and she thinks he’s contravened everything that is right. She thinks he has this privileged position of knighthood, but he’s weak and has betrayed it almost out of sport. She has no respect for him at all, really.”
Any indication on upcoming projects for yourself?
“There’s a lot of possibles. It’s so great that lots of people are watching the show, that the material is so great. But I don’t really think about the maybes. I just want to do good work, honest.”
Do you think you’ve fulfilled the expectations of fans, because of how popular she is?
“I was very aware, as I said, about her following. You have a duty to try and live up to that. You can’t do it all the time, of course, because you can’t please everyone all the time, but all that can ever translate to is hard, dedicated work.”
Do you visit any fan sites?
“Oh, I don’t think it’s wise to pay any attention to that. Because if you start reading and paying attention to a million people and their opinions of you, it’s unhealthy. I think it’s best to focus on the work.”
Fantasy often has things to say about war, about human nature. Is there anything you feel you can learn about our reality from the series?
“I think there’s a million things you can learn from it. The show takes very dramatic human relationships and exchanges, often that many of us don’t experience in our own lives, and puts them in a beautiful, exciting, fantastical context. You see people’s reactions to… I don’t know, seeing someone you love die in front of you. That’s a situation that you can’t help, as a human being, but connect to.”
“The program is very honest in its depiction of relationships.”
Where did you film the most in season 3?
“Oh, I don’t know if I can say—”
He [Nikolaj] mentioned Los Angeles just a bit ago…
“I don’t care what he said [laughter].”
You mentioned you enjoyed the rougher elements of filming, like fight scenes. Did you have any limits?
“No, not with this show. The material is so amazing, so all the rough, tough elements just make it feel more real. Anything that can help you, as an actor, feel like it’s more real, that’s exciting. The more of a challenge it is, the more exciting it is to overcome it. If you have rain lashing in your face, it’s going to do somethign to you, and hopefully it’ll do something to make the scene great.”