‘Game of Thrones’: Gwendoline Christie on Brienne of Tarth’s beauty

March 20, 2014 | 12:13 p.m.

“Game of Thrones” returns in less than a month, bringing the world of Westeros back to the small screen after a 10-month hiatus. The fourth season of the sprawling HBO TV show, based on George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” fantasy book series, premieres April 6.

Judging by the trailers, the season promises plenty of action and, of course, intrigue as the Lannister, Stark and Tyrell clans deal with the fallout of the so-called Red Wedding, which saw a host of main characters massacred. Cruel King Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) prepares to marry Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer), Jon Snow (Kit Harington) prepares to defend the Wall against a Wildling invasion, and Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) continues her conquest of Slaver’s Bay. (If any of this sounds fuzzy, fans can catch up on the show’s third season, now out on Blu-ray — watch an exclusive clip featuring Maisie Williams’ Arya Stark and Rory McCann’s Sandor “The Hound” Clegane.)

Gwendoline Christie as Brienne of Tarth in "Game of Thrones." (HBO)

Gwendoline Christie as Brienne of Tarth in “Game of Thrones.” (HBO)

Not least among the show’s massive cast of characters is fan favorite Brienne of Tarth, the principled and highly skilled warrior woman portrayed in the series by Gwendoline Christie. Tasked by Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley) with exchanging prisoner Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) for her daughters Sansa (Sophie Turner) and Arya, Brienne and Jaime set off on a journey to King’s Landing that found Jaime losing a hand and Brienne facing off against a bear.

It has been a breakthrough role for Christie, who began her acting career on stage and counts among her screen credits Terry Gilliam’s “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” and the BBC children’s series “Wizards vs. Aliens.”

Hero Complex chatted with Christie about the physical and emotional challenges of portraying Brienne, and what’s next in Season 4.

Hero Complex: Brienne has become such a fan favorite. What drew you to the part?

Gwendoline Christie: I just really loved the part of this woman, who, from what I read about it in the books, goes on this phenomenal journey. In Series 2 we see this very big woman in armor with these male affectations, trying to be a knight, being a lady knight, and being mocked because of the way that she looks. And we see in Series 3 that she’s tethered to this man who’s tormenting her, and then they develop this grudging respect for each other, and then he rescues her, which Brienne’s never been rescued before. I just saw the unfolding of this woman from the very off. She’s very tall, she’s unattractive, she’s tough, she’s a high-skilled warrior, and she can and will kill a man. She doesn’t want to, but if she has to, she will, and that’s just for starters.

For me, what I’ve seen in the writing throughout the series is the unfurling of this woman’s personality, of this woman’s understanding and search of what it is to be a woman, and that strength doesn’t have to come from acting like a man. And when I read it, what it reinforced to me is that beauty is not about the way in which we’re born and conforming to traditional archetypes, it’s about the choices that we make. And I just thought for me as an actor, to have to play that kind of part was thrilling and mind-blowing, and I wanted to commit to it and do whatever was necessary to fulfill it as best as I possible could.

Gwendoline Christie attends the Elle Style Awards in February, 2014 in London.  (Anthony Harvey / Getty Images)

Gwendoline Christie attends the Elle Style Awards in February 2014 in London. (Anthony Harvey / Getty Images)

HC: You mention being defined by the choices you make. It seems that unlike many of the characters in this universe, who are just tossed around, Brienne has so much agency, and she is very much in control of her decisions.

GC: She takes control. I love the character, because in that world, she feels like she is adhering to a moral good, and she is very focused on that. I think throughout what we see in each series is her expansion and starting to question what good is, what duty is, what honor is, who people are, that things aren’t just black and white. We see this woman’s education, and we see what experience does to her, and we see her efforts to adhere to this moral purpose. She’s a moral crusader that is about good, who’s dedicating her life to returning this good woman’s daughters to safety. And I’ve fallen in love with her a little bit.

"Game of Thrones" actors Finn Jones, Jack Gleeson and Gwendoline Christie attend the "Game Of Thrones" Season 4  premiere in New York on March 18, 2014. (Jamie McCarthy / Getty Images)

“Game of Thrones” actors Finn Jones, Jack Gleeson and Gwendoline Christie attend the “Game Of Thrones” Season 4 premiere in New York on March 18, 2014. (Jamie McCarthy / Getty Images)

HC: You mentioned wanting to do whatever it took to commit to the role. What’s been the most challenging part of that?

GC: The physical aspect is definitely really challenging. It’s tough, but it’s fun to learn to sword-fight, and the fights become increasingly epic and complex and multipurpose, and I absolutely love it. It’s hard, but it’s just really thrilling to do something that’s outside of your natural realm of what you might do. Having said that, to be completely superficial, the hardest thing was, at the time, to cut my hair off. But with all of the intense fight sequences, I realized that was nothing. And you know, sometimes it is hard to look so unattractive on screen, particularly in a show where there are so many naturally, incredibly beautiful women in it. That can be hard. But I’m an actor. And I can, in the next role, be something else again. What I’m interested in is transformation and meeting the character, and attempting to find them and do what’s necessary to portray them as effectively as possible. But I’m quite fond of sword-fighting now, definitely. I get excited, like months before filming starts, I’ll start saying to my agent, “Can I train yet? When do I start training? Can I train? When do I train?” I start getting quite excited about it.

HC: Brienne is such a loyal person, first to Renly Baratheon (Gethin Anthony), then to Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley), then, in a way, to Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). And as a result, your scenes are often one-on-one interactions with other actors. What’s it been like to work with each of them?

GC: It’s been very special, because all three are incredibly talented and skilled actors. I loved working with Gethin. It was unfortunately brief, but a lot of fun, and I have a deep affection for him.

I loved working with Michelle Fairley. I hadn’t done an awful lot of filming before I started “Game of Thrones.” I’d done mainly theater work, and I’d seen Michelle Fairley’s theater work and had always deeply admired her, so it was somewhat intimidating knowing that I was going to be acting opposite this woman, but so incredibly exciting. And then she was so warm and generous and funny and caring, and she is such a beautiful person, that I really treasure my relationship with her. And she nurtured me and strengthened me and empowered me. I’m so terribly sad that she’s gone from the show, but we are in touch, and she really empowered me and continues to.

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as Jaime Lannister, left, and Gwendoline Christie as Brienne of Tarth in "Game of Thrones." (Helen Sloan / HBO)

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as Jaime Lannister, left, and Gwendoline Christie as Brienne of Tarth in “Game of Thrones.” (Helen Sloan / HBO)

And Nikolaj is a very special actor. He’s brilliant, hilarious and mercurial. And again, incredibly highly skilled. I felt nervous about acting opposite someone that was so highly skilled that I’d be working with so intensely, but he completely went for it from the beginning and was not afraid to go full-throttle on all of the scenes. And to really feed the relationship off-screen, too, by endlessly teasing me, haha. It’s really fun and hard work. He’s a brilliant actor. And I’ve had an absolute ball. I’ve had a real riot. What a great time with three brilliant actors to work very closely with, and who knows what will happen yet.

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, left, who plays Jaime Lannister in "Game of Thrones," and Gwendoline Christie, who plays Brienne, attend the "Game of Thrones" Season 3 premiere after-party in March, 2013. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images)

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, left, who plays Jaime Lannister in “Game of Thrones,” and Gwendoline Christie, who plays Brienne, attend the “Game of Thrones” Season 3 premiere after-party in March 2013. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images)

HC: I understand the events of Joffrey’s wedding will set your character off in a new direction?

GC: For those people who haven’t read the book, all we can expect from “Game of Thrones” is entirely the unexpected, and all we can ever generally kind of predict is that pretty much most of the characters are going to be confronted with some of the worst hardship they’ve ever known in their lives. What I will say about Season 4 is that Brienne is journeying on, and we see different aspects of her character flowering, and we see her having to use different parts of herself to survive in different worlds that she has no experience of, and we see her undergoing some of the worst hardship that we have seen. The first three seasons of “Game of Thrones” structurally have taken a very similar path in that it starts as a slow build, and then there’s a climax. And Season 4 takes a very different path, and I think it genuinely is going to blow people’s minds.

HC: You’ve done “Thrones,” “Parnassus” and “Wizards vs. Aliens” — is there something appealing about the world of genre entertainment that keeps you coming back?

GC: I think it’s one that has so far embraced me, and I am very grateful for that. Terry Gilliam is someone I’d always deeply admired. I saw his films when I was a child. I watched “Time Bandits” about 10 times — more, I’d say more — again and again and again when I was very little. And the material that I like to work on, I like it to be challenging to me, and I like to really inhabit different kinds of characters, and for people’s preconceptions toward me to be challenged. I like to explore characters who are very different to me, or varied parts are very similar to me. I like the work to be really varied, and luckily so far it has been. That’s really what I look for. The fantasy genre has so far rather embraced me, and I’m incredibly grateful for that.

– Noelene Clark | @NoeleneClark | Google+


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One Response to ‘Game of Thrones’: Gwendoline Christie on Brienne of Tarth’s beauty

  1. Firannion says:

    Funny: She describes Brienne in the HBO version as 'unattractive,' and yet she's MUCH prettier than the way that the character is described in the books!

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