There has never been a character like Brienne of Tarth on television. Not as written, nor as played by Gwendoline Christie. Every now and then all the tumblers in the cosmos line up and pair the perfect person with the perfect part. That is what happened when Gwendoline was cast as Brienne.
In our interview, we discuss the significance of Brienne not only to her career, but to well beyond that. What the acceptance of this character into millions of homes has meant to women and to society as a whole. And on a personal note, I have never interviewed anyone who seemed more alive in the moment and more grateful for their place in the world than Gwendoline Christie. She is pure, big-hearted joy.
I hope that comes through.
Awards Daily: This is pretty exciting for me because I really love your work on Game of Thrones, and I’m also excited to see what you do with Armando Ianucci in David Copperfield. Pretty pretty exciting times for you, I suspect.
Gwendoline Christie: Thank you so much! I have to admit it is the most wildly exciting time of my career! With the amazing journey Game of Thrones has taken me on with Brienne of Tarth that have loved playing so much. Then working with Armando was just extraordinary. I actually finished Game of Thrones and I think it was the next day I started working with Armando. It was really an incredible and contrasting experience. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. We all laughed all day long. He’s very freeing. He uses a lot of improvisation. It was a complete joy to work on. The grief of (ending) Game of Thrones was tempered – at least momentarily – by a very different kind of experience. It was just a joy. At the moment I’m joining every second of where I am over these next few weeks. This amazing undreamt of situation that I find myself in.
AD: I wouldn’t have immediately though of Armando for David Copperfield. I am just fascinated at what that project will look like.
GC: I think that is the thing. Armando is a really extraordinary combination between having a fantastic understanding of classical format, but he’s also brilliant at subversion. He has a very inclusive outlook, And of course, he has some of the funniest and most exciting comedic muscles in the industry at the moment, I think. He has such skill at creating comedy. But in David Copperfield, it’s also exquisitely beautiful, much of it. And extremely touching. I think it really shows his depth as a filmmaker and as a director, and takes a step forward in another direction. But not at the expense of the comedy that we love so much from him.
AD: It’s it’s it’s been almost 3 months since the Game of Thrones finale. Have you had the time to reflect upon the ending of such a massive success?
GC: I’ve definitely felt an engulfing sadness about this story coming to a conclusion. I’ve always felt incredibly lucky to be a part of Games of Thrones. I don’t think anybody could have ever believed that it would become the success that it did. It became a a global phenomenon. It seemed to capture people and transport them in a way that they were entirely consumed and so passionate about this story. I feel now more than ever just extraordinarily lucky to have been part of this is incredible thing. You’re very lucky to work as an actor. You just are. To be a part of something that people watch and people love is an extraordinary thing. I have to say I feel very grateful to have played my character, Brienne of Tarth, within that show. It’s been an amazing blessing and has truly transformed my life and my career and I will never stop being being endlessly grateful for that.
To be honest it’s been evolution of self. Where by playing the character of Brienne, I have been forced to confront those aspects of myself that I felt didn’t sit into society, or felt that there should be some degree of shame about about things that a lot of women reflect on in terms of the way that they look, the way their face looks, the inconsistencies in their face and body, their size, their shape, the strength of some of their opinions – all the struggle they have. I’ve lovde playing Brienne because she’s such an incredibly unconventional character, an unconventional woman to have in mainstream television. Its caused me to go on quite a journey and to embrace those parts of myself that were considered “other” and to realize that there was a strength in them.
AD: You felt a real parallel with Brienne.
GC: Hugely. I think it’s because of what the character taught me. That character existing in a TV landscape…I don’t remember seeing characters like that frequently, or really ever on television when I was growing up. I didn’t see women who outside of a patriarchal view of what women were supposed to be, and were able to stand proudly outside of those confines. To be such a combination of things, to have such physical strength and prowess and skill, and with it an enormous emotional world, and have a great deal of sensitivity to what happens. I think it’s a feeling that you are allowed to take up the space that character took.
That made me feel like I was allowed to take up that space at the same time I was portraying that character. The most surprising thing of all happened. Which is we found that people liked the character. We found that she spoke to women. She spoke to people. I suppose to the outsider, or the misfit who overcomes the obstacles that are put upon them – the abuse that they suffer simply because of the way that they look. Then to achieve something significant for themselves and within their world. Yes, it is a fictional world, but there are so many unconventional characters in Game of Thrones, and I think that’s what’s drawn so many people to it. They’ve been able to see themselves and identify with a degree of humanity we don’t normally see in mainstream television.
AD: People had a very emotional attachment to your character. I think women in particular. The scene where Brienne is knighted struck a real cord with viewers. Were you surprised by how strong the emotional reaction was to that moment?
GC: I was surprised by the response. I think because I don’t tend to put my focus there. I was focused on delivering the scene, I thought the scene was really truly very beautiful. I thought the writing was wonderful. David Nutter did such an incredible job of bringing those performances out of everyone, particularly me. He really worked with me. That scene operated on so many different levels to me. I felt so much joy at the character achieving something that she always wanted. Which was to step outside of gender stereotypes and be recognized for her loyalty. To be recognized for her skill, for her chivalry, for her living her life as a Knight, and everything that means to be in service of someone else, putting others before herself, for their well-being. It really struck me that Brienne was achieving something that she really truly wanted. For me as an actor it was hugely emotional because it felt like the culmination of having been lucky enough to be employed for seven years, playing this incredible character, with the crew that I’ve worked with for seven years fully intact and that I adore. I felt so much in that moment in terms of for me as well.
Yes, I am fairly well considered to be an unconventional woman, an conventional actress. It felt like an achievement. In terms of women, and in terms of stepping outside of gender stereotypes to be recognized simply for the choices that you make, and to be made a “Sir”, to be recognized. The sort of “otherness” that Brienne has always represented. I found it deeply emotional. I felt very lucky to be in service of this storyline. I really wanted to do my best to deliver the story and deliver it well. ]I definitely worked on it very hard but it really, deeply touched my emotional sense of myself and the character in the in that moment. David Nutter, and Nikolaj, and Liam, and Christopher, and Peter, and Daniel, and all the people in the room…it was just an extraordinary moment. I truly couldn’t wait to play it, because I felt it had significance. It was very personal.
AD: And then right after that moment that Brienne gets recognized, so did you. In the form of your first Emmy nomination. I know the work is often the reward, but that had to feel great.
GC: Do you know what I have to say? This is one of the best things that has ever happened to me in my entire life, and it is the most unexpected. I genuinely, genuinely, never expected this to happen. I had to do this for me. Just for me. Just to have the potential of the opportunity and for everything that character represents. Which I believe has some significance in the landscape of television for women. I just had to do that for me. I just had to say I feel this is worthwhile. I’ve never done anything like that before. I didn’t tell anybody but my team and my partner. Because why would I? I didn’t believe for a second it would happen. I truly did not. To be honest it is the most wonderful feeling, because it feels like acceptance. And…that’s a really good feeling.
AD: And then on top of everything else, you and your sisters on the show took over almost the entire category with four of the six nominations.
GC: Isn’t that amazing?! I’ve got to say that is what’s wonderful. I feel so lucky to be in that category. I feel so lucky that so many people from the show have been nominated. It’s incredible and it’s the most wonderful way to end this life-changing. extraordinary gift of an experience that we’ve all had. I mean how wonderful to be recognized by our peers in this way. It’s truly sensational and I will never stop being grateful. It is the most wonderful feeling I have to say.