'Game of Thrones' star Gwendoline Christie on Brienne of Tarth's journey
There are certain characters on “Game of Thrones” who could probably have been played equally well by a few dozen actors across the UK and Europe. Then there are the ones who, because of certain traits given to them by author George R.R. Martin, needed a very specific combination of talent and physical appearance. Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister is obviously one of those, and Gwendoline Christie as Brienne of Tarth is another. At an imposing 6’4”(*) with icy blonde hair and large blue eyes, Christie makes an impression, and is absolutely convincing as the stoic warrior who keeps beating up all the men who underestimate her.
(*) Tall actresses often wear flats to downplay their height, but when I interviewed Christie, she was wearing heels, making her even taller, and one of the few actors of either gender I’ve ever had to look up at.
Christie and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau had some of the best material of “GoT” season 3, as Brienne and Jaime Lannister endured hardships, torture, attempted rape and a very nasty scrape with a giant bear on their way to Kings Landing. A few weeks ago, I spoke with Christie about the challenges and joys of playing Brienne.
I have to ask, first of all, about working with the bear. How did you get along with Bart?
Gwendoline Christie: Bart the bear was so professional. What's interesting is that you see this huge really cuddly looking bear and you almost forget that it's a live animal that could kill you. It could kill you in a moment. But he was so professional. He was there in his trailer. He had been there for a week beforehand so he could be adjusted to the temperature and where he was and we shot it in L.A., 'cause that's one of the places where we could get close enough to the bear. And he had to have country and western music playing at all times to keep him calm. And when he stepped out of his trailer everyone had to give him a round of applause. Whenever he did anything right or wrong you had to give him a round of applause and say, "Good boy!" When he got a little bit testy, or if he did something particularly well they'd give him spray cream in a frying pan. I asked David and Dan, “When can I start getting that kind of treatment?”
And how did they respond?
Gwendoline Christie: Yeah, that's what happens all the time on set now from there on in. Country and western music, rounds of applause, cream in a frying pan. But he was absolutely extraordinary. They'd worked for months to work out exactly what the routine should be and what was possible and they'd worked for months on these movements.
You're not easy to double, I imagine, so was that you down there with the bear?
Gwendoline Christie: Well, there was one moment where it wasn't me. I had wanted to do that bear scene for such a long time. At the end of filming season 2, I went up to David Benioff and said, "Please do you think you'll do that scene with the bear?" And he just started laughing and said, "Oh, the thought of asking Bernie, our producer, to get us a live bear." And I said, "Will we do it?" And he didn't say anything. But when I was reading the books prior to even getting the part, when I got to the bit, I thought, “What, she's fighting a bear? Could it get any better than that?” So I was very excited to do it. I really wanted to do it and as ever HBO facilitated that moment. And to make it as real as we possibly could do as safely as possible. I was entertaining the prospect of training with the bear but they wanted to keep me safe. So there is a moment, and it's a very powerful one, where the bear hits Brienne, which results in these claw marks on Brienne's neck and she really hits the deck. She really goes down. And that is Bart's trainer Smitty, and the poor chap had to be placed in a blond wig and a pink dress. And when I first got onto set, it's a very strange experience, because I look at, “Is that me?” or “No, I'm me, that’s someone else.” And obviously Nikolaj enjoyed that a lot. But he had worked for a long time in the dress as well so that Bart wasn't shocked by the texture of him in the dress, et cetera. So that was very funny. But I recall Bart that day may have been a little bit tired. And obviously he's being prodded all day and being made to do things and he's just a big bear. So there were three hits and after the third hit Smitty said, "That's it now. That's it now," because it was hard. And I saw it and I really gasped because it was hard and painful. It was real in that moment. But to be lucky enough to be involved with something like that, to be involved with shooting with a live bear and being facilitated to make it as real as possible was a highlight of my career to date.
After season 3, Nikolaj talked to me about the dynamic that the two of you had, because you had to work so closely together for such an extended period, and how you sort of developed this interesting sense of humor. I asked him to give me an example, and he paused for a long time, then said that I should ask you about that.
(Christie does as close to a spit-take as you can without having drunk anything.)
What is the sort of joke that the two of you tell to each other on the set?
Gwendoline Christie: That. What he did is a prime example. That's the best example he could have given. He's hilarious and he's a lot of fun to work with. And he loves to tease me. And he is also very dedicated to the work and very invested in making it as good as it possibly can be. And I'm very privileged to work with someone that has such integrity and such ability. And I've learned an awful lot. Nikolaj is fantastic. He's highly intelligent and enjoys doing what's necessary to make the scene as dynamic as possible. So if he feels that requires pushing the other person in the scene’s buttons on set and off, then that's what happens, but it's always hilarious. I love that he just tossed that over to me. When will you speak to him again?
I don't know.
Gwendoline Christie: Yes. Okay. Throughout this interview I'll simultaneously be running (through my mind) what you could possibly ask him in the next interview.