Just days before Gwendoline Christie made her debut as the female knight Brienne of Tarth in “Game of Thrones” Season 2, she was feeling all aflutter.
“I am so nervous about it being on,” she told AccessHollywood.com, down the phone line from her native UK. “The character is very close to my heart and it’s probably the first character that I’ve got to play, whereby, I can connect to so many of the experiences. It’s a dream part for me.”
For devoted fans of George R.R. Martin’s literature series, it’s easy to understand why the actress was filled with pre-premiere nerves. Like Season 1’s Daenerys Targaryen and Arya Stark, the strong, complex and stereotype-defying Brienne of Tarth is one of the most beloved female characters in the, “A Song of Ice and Fire” books.
After a nail-biting wait, when her debut scene finally arrived, fans were treated to a marvelous unveiling. After defeating Ser Loras Tyrell, this golden-cased, towering sword-swinger removed her golden helmet, shocking the crowd as they saw that the person who bested the Knight of the Flowers, was a woman.
But while many in King Renly’s court were shocked (though not the king himself), a select group of “GOT” fans were on the side of Gwendoline the actress, from the start.
“I was told that there was something online about me being discussed in relation to this part, and so I had a look and I thought, ‘OK, I’ll read the books,’ and as soon as I read about this character and read about the part, I just wanted this part,” Gwendoline told Access of her pre-audition interest. “I wrote on Twitter that I wanted to play it… I’ve never really done anything like that before, but I felt so passionate about the part and started watching the series when it came on… It’s something I absolutely wanted to be a part of. So, I just committed to it entirely. I mean, going to the gym is something I haven’t done regularly since I was a child.”
Singularly focused, Gwendoline put in a fitness regime to rival “True Blood’s” hunky werewolf, the 6’5” Joe Manganiello, sweating it out with a mixture of kickboxing, boxing and yoga sessions. She also ditched alcohol and underwent a diet overhaul that included protein shakes and lean meat, showing her dedication to – and transformation into — Brienne.
While not an easy road, Gwendoline was able to draw on her athletic past, the very one that led her to acting in the first place.
“I was a semi-professional gymnast as a child. I did rhythmic gymnastics, but I sustained an injury and strained all the muscles in my spine,” she explained. “When that happened, and I was told that I wouldn’t be able to dance again at that level, I decided… I’d become an actress instead.”
Asked about the moment or reaction that first made her realize she had a forte for acting, Gwendoline told Access it was at 15, when, in front of an audience — including her parents — she brought to life another famed female literary character – Lady Macbeth, in Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.”
“They were really thrilled,” Gwendoline recalled. “I had been very good at gymnastics and then I couldn’t do that anymore and then, that was the first time they saw me act and I suddenly felt that I was good at something again.”
And, on Sunday, the Drama Centre London graduate (other alumni include Paul Bettany, Pierce Brosnan and Colin Firth), showed “Game of Thrones” watchers a morsel of her talents, bringing off the page and onto the screen, the thrilling female character.
It’s a role that – as the weeks go on — will include more sword fighting, horse riding, complex male-female politics and female-in-a-male-arena biases. And there was an internal struggle Gwendoline had to battle too. In order to play Brienne on screen, Gwendoline had to shed many of the conventions that made her feel most womanly (like her cascading blond curls).
“I had very certain ideas about the way that I felt that she should look and they matched — almost identically — with the hair and makeup team. But, you know, it was really hard. I feel embarrassed saying it was hard, but our self-esteem can be a fragile thing — particularly an actor’s,” Gwendoline said. “I think people only ever want to feel attractive, don’t they?
“And it was hard too — not only being 6’3” and all of the sort of androgynous implications that that has — but to push myself further in that direction, when all of the bullying and insults that I have received, very painfully over the years — about being tall and about you know, my androgyny — that I was stepping into that,” she continued, of the personal material she pulled from to play Brienne. “And I found it incredibly difficult, sometimes, to look at myself. But it was in service of something that was so much greater than that, that you just gotta make the best out of it really. It’s my dream job.”
A dream job, a challenging job, and an inspiring one, those who are just watching the show (and skipping the books) have only seen a sprinkling of the unique and thoroughly rich character in store with Brienne.
“Part of the reason why I love acting, is that you do hope that somehow your work will connect to people and somehow expand their consciousness somewhat, and being able to challenge notions of prejudice through work — through my work — is really thrilling,” Gwendoline noted. “I care a lot about women and the way that they’re perceived… To be able to play a character like this, who I don’t feel has strongly been represented in any other mainstream television show, is a real privilege.”
And, as Season 2 continues, Gwendoline will be able to do that as Brienne has a great series of adventures on the horizon.
“She’s got an incredibly interesting journey ahead, but I think Brienne gets to experience more of her femininity… She starts to experience more about what it is to be a woman [and] the complexity of love and all its forms,” Gwendoline revealed. “The journey that she goes on — it’s so intense. There’s so much action, there is so much fighting that the most extraordinary situations occur. It’s full of drama and she is lumped with someone that is abusing her constantly…
“But I think it’s… surprising for Brienne, what is born out of that relationship,” she added.
Even before her first episode aired on Sunday night, fans were already reacting with joy over Gwendoline’s casting. Now, with her first episode behind her, the actress’ profile continues to grow.
She told Access, however, she’s not in it for the fame.
“I just really want the work to be good,” she noted. “The way in which my life has changed is that, I’ve got this wonderful part that hopefully I’m going to be doing for a long time, and I get to think about that all the time and think about that character… It makes me very happy to be able to carry her with me all the time.”