Game Of Thrones: Gwendoline Christie Interview

Interview by Andrew Davies-Cole

Fantasy fans are an impatient lot.

Not content to simply wait for news of Game Of Thrones’ second season, some were eagerly “fore-casting” its return before the clouds of season one had even cleared.

Fansite earmarked London-based actor Gwendoline Christie in a shortlist of actors who could play the role of warrior maiden Brienne of Tarth months ahead of auditions actually taking place. One particular enthusiast emailed her agent to alert him to the part.

“Because of the stuff I’d seen online I’d already talked to my agent about it,” Christie reveals. “But he did say to me: ‘Someone’s emailed me about this – what’s going on?’

“I suppose that’s the power of the books – people feel so passionately. I thought that was lovely.”

She certainly must stand out at the auditions. One might be forgiven for thinking Christie – whose six foot three frame was once crowned by waves of blond hair – would have it made in the business from the very beginning. Few of her peers can match such a striking appearance. Yet she’d baulk at the suggestion she’s had it easy.

“It’s difficult, because many people can’t see past my height, and it’s been very difficult to be considered for parts simply because I’m six foot three.”

Raised in a small hamlet at the foot of the South Downs, tales of Sussex’s famous son Sir Laurence Olivier served to inspire Christie as she grew up.

“I graduated in 2005 from Drama Centre London, and had a very complex but wonderful training there,” she says. “I got a First as well… which made my father proud, and that pleased me.”

Pleasing too was her recent coup in being cast as master swordswoman Brienne who first turns up in episode three of the new season of Game Of Thrones, which UK viewers will get to see next Monday at 9pm on Sky Atlantic.

“I wanted the part so very badly because from reading the books the character was so like elements of myself and the kind you’d always want to play. I’ve not come across a part like this before, whereby the complexities of being an extremely tall woman are explored. So I decided I had to go all out for it.”

Previous stage roles – including Mrs Hubble in a 2005 RSC adaptation of Dickens’ Great Expectations and as the Queen of Shakespeare’s Cymbeline (opposite Tom “Loki” Hiddleston) in 2007 – helped hone her craft, as did a small role sharing scenes with future Academy Award winners Heath Ledger and Christopher Plummer in Terry Gilliam’s film The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus. Beyond these roles she’d also been mentored since drama school by actor and author Simon Callow.

But the lengths Christie went to ensnare the part in Game Of Thrones took her into new territory.

“I wasn’t someone who went to the gym, but a big part of this character is her physicality,” she says. “She’s not just tall, but big, broad, phenomenally strong. She’s extremely athletic, a master swordswoman and horse-rider.”

So she got some training in to prepare for the audition.

“Over six weeks a dear friend of mine worked with me: I started working out and lost a stone and a half,” she reveals, adding: “We did cardio-vascular exercises and I began to do yoga regularly. I stopped drinking, changed my diet entirely, and when I learnt I had a meeting coming up, I started kickboxing. I couldn’t find any sword-fighting places…but I read all of Brienne’s story throughout the books in detail and started watching the series.”

Christie felt tapping into the lifeblood of the character – discovering her psychology – was vital too.

“Because the character is very masculine, I changed what I wore. Because I was trained as a dancer – which helps feminise you if you’re extremely tall – I deliberately started wearing very unisexual clothing. I’d always been someone that’s had long blonde hair, wore lots of make up, dressed up and wore high heels, and this part was very far away from that.

“I’m the type of person that has to make those kinds of external changes to get in touch with and increase my own masculinity.”

Learn what made Christie cry about playing Brienne on the next page

Read our Game Of Thrones episode reviews