With the possible exception of the bear she battled, it’s tough to think of a performer on Game of Thrones more perfect for the part they’re playing than Gwendoline Christie as the towering, glowering Brienne of Tarth. At 6’3″, she captures the sword-wielding maiden’s imposing physicality. But it’s her willingness to totally ditch the sex appeal and glamour of virtually every other character on the show and embody Brienne’s lonely life as an outcast, clinging to a moral code it often seems she alone upholds, that makes her a justified fan favorite. To hear Christie tell it, Brienne’s recent experiences with Jaime Lannister (played by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) are opening up new paths of exploration in a part she’s been dying to play since before she even knew it existed.
This is the first time I’ve interviewed an actor who moved me to tears in the last thing I saw them in.
Wow, was it that bad? [Laughs] No, I’m really touched. What was it?
When you said “Goodbye, Ser Jaime.”
I’m really, really, deeply touched, I really am, because it’s marvelous to hear when your work touches someone. But it’s so much more than me – it’s the writers, it’s the writing, it’s the director, it’s the cinematography, and it’s the brilliance of Nikolaj Coster-Waldau.
A lot of the impact came from seeing Brienne treat a person with kindness who’s not used to being treated that way, but it’s also that in doing so, she was letting her own guard down.
In that moment, she recognizes him as a man rather than a monster. I’m so pleased that that came across, that she wants to give him the respect that she feels that he deserves, to be recognized as a man and worthy of the title of “Ser” as well. I don’t think he’s experienced that for a very long time.
Brienne is very focused on a moral code, on the good of the world around her and what is right. But in their bathtub scene, she recognizes his humanity, and his own struggle with what it is to be honorable. She’s also seeing something of him in her – she’s seeing his striving for the good of all, to an extent. It’s a revelatory moment. It really expands Brienne’s mind, shows her not to regard everything as being quite so black and white. We start to see the complexity of a person’s mind developing.
Nikolaj described Jaime’s time with Brienne in much the same way. She’s shown him something outside the closed systems of the Lannisters and the Kingsguard.
They’re quite similar people in terms of their psychology and their lives. They found a kind of symmetry, somehow. A kinship. Brienne has certainly never had a relationship with a man like Jamie. I mean, in terms of physical proximity and what they share emotionally, this is the closest she’s ever been with any man that she’s not been related to certainly, but probably with any man, full stop. For the pair of them, there’s a moment of enormous expansion where everything they’ve regarded as normal and set in stone prior is changed, and there’s a multitude of possiblities.
Is romance one of those possibilities?
Do I think they will get together? [Laughs] I mean, it’s very . . . The world of Game of Thrones, the world that George R.R. Martin has created and that Dan [Weiss] and David [Benioff]’s translation adapts brilliantly, is a world that’s never straightforward. I genuinely have moments of absolutely no idea. I don’t even know if I want them to, because what they’re experiencing is a bond that is quite unusual and quite pure bond. He did come back and save her life, which is enormous. I think it makes us examine a lot of possibilities and angles of what love is, and what love makes us capable of.
And Brienne is a virgin and Jamie has only slept with his sister, so . . . [Laughs]. We’re looking at two highly unusual individuals. I don’t think that anyone genuinely can predict the way in which their relationship will go in any regard. Genuine and true love is so rare that when you encounter it in any form, it’s a wonderful thing, to be utterly cherished in whatever form it takes.
I enjoy asking these questions about shipping, because it’s absolutely one of the pleasures of fiction. But I worry that it flattens the range of intimacy that is available to human beings. To force it all into a romantic or sexual framework is to deny a lot of human experience.
Yeah. But at the same time, we wll want to see the impossible actually happen, to see these two extraordinary characters reach that amazing stage. Everyone’s a sucker for some love and romance and whatever that may bring. But with those two? Lord knows. [Laughs] I mean, he couldn’t even say goodbye to her! He just kind of nods and looks at the floor and leaves. If anything, it’s the virgin that’s making great strides. [Laughs]
You’ve spoken very frankly about how your unusual height has affected your life, and some of your modeling work seems to touch on this as well – taking ownership of your physical body. Brienne has struggled with her physicality as well. She’s gone a different road, obviously – she’s a warrior, not an actor – but I wonder if you see overlap between her and yourself.
Absolutely. That’s why I wanted to play the part so much. I never thought I’d ever come across a part like this. I was always told about this in drama school, that occasionally you might come across a part where you say, “Yeah, I know that. I know it. I don’t have to pretend to try and get there. I know this.” As soon as I read about the character, I had to play it.
And it’s a character that we don’t see that often. I’m certainly really rather tall at 6 foot 3, and I’ve been this way since I was 14, but for years women who are even 5 foot 10 have come up to me in the street and said, “Oh, it’s so nice to see a woman who is taller than me. I’ve always felt like a giant.” They describe it to me like outsiders. It sounds a bit worthy, but I genuinely feel that as an actor part of my job is to highlight those recesses of human life and human psychology that we don’t see that often. And if I have the opportunity, which I very luckily have, to play the part of an outsider, then I felt like I might be doing some good. Occasionally I get messages from women saying that I’ve brought them some joy, and that’s unbelievably thrilling.
An additional wrinkle for Brienne is that she’s pretty much universally seen as ugly. When you’re made up to look that way, when you change your hair and your demeanor and your physicality to look that way, does it change how you feel?
Yeah, totally. As a woman, we all want to feel attractive. We all want to feel that we’re making the very best of ourselves so we can accept ourselves. It’s like all of these gorgeous, devastatingly beautiful actresses in the show, and then there’s me harrumphing around. [Laughs] So it can be tough to look like that.
But you have to step outside of that and think about what these things really mean. I am still a person with a sense of superficiality that I’m trying to challenge. I hope that it makes us examine exactly what “unattractive” is. Perhaps it’s not the conventions that we have or the blueprint in our minds. And if it makes people question for a minute what unattractive is, and the way in which we may respond as people to what we think unattractive is, then it’s worthwhile.