Gatewatch faithful, your patience has been rewarded! I come to you with tidings, cheer, and a lovely slice of Brienne of Tarth!
The interview was arranged for us by Mara Mikialian, HBO’s wonderful Media Relations guru, and happened at precisely the time she said it would. I kid you not when I tell you Gwendoline Christie called me on my phone.
And let me tell you, she is as advertised – exactly as you’ve seen her on television and heard in interviews – aglow with positivity, edged with a sly wit, and brimming with wicked laughter. And boy, can Gwendoline ever laugh. Laughs don’t so much escape as explode from her, popping the ears and, on at least one early occasion, making the mic cut out. She has the expected English politeness, of course, though her voice can (and does) dip towards a throaty, playful purr that verges on flirty. But most of all she is honest, seemingly guileless, and wholly appreciative of everything Game of Thrones has brought her way.
In addition to that, I came away with the impression that she regards the role of Brienne of Tarth as both seminal and groundbreaking in a number of ways. She came off as exceedingly loyal to the show and those involved with it, and seemed almost impossibly eager for the interview, even though mine was the last one in what I was told was a long batch of them.
Full disclosure: The recording device I used to record the conversation (on my iPhone) gave up the ghost less than two minutes into our conversation. A beep and a big fat ERROR message. (Let me assure you this was neither Gwendoline nor her laughter’s fault.) After that one blind moment of panic, I was forced to write down all of her answers in my own (exceedingly) messy shorthand. So if you can imagine the first minute or so with me leaned back comfortably in a chair and then the rest with me hunched over a table, phone held to my ear pinned by my shoulder and scrawling furiously, well, that’s pretty much accurate.
I don’t know if she ever realized it; if she did hear me sweating, she never let on. I’m pretty sure I have her cadence and syntax down, and key words and emphasized sentences were placed in more or less the correct order, but I guess for official record purposes (because we’re so official here), consider most of the quotes in this interview to be indirect ones. And I apologize for that. Bad Axey!
(This is what happens when they let us have Nice Things.)
Anyway. Here is that Nice Thing!
Axey: Hello! I’m Kenny–
Gwendoline: I know you! You’re also called Axechucker.
Axey: I– (slightly taken aback) I am he! Yes!
Axey: Hello! Wow. Gwendoline Christie, as I live and breathe.
Gwendoline: I hope so.
Axey: Me too! (a moment) Thank you for doing this. I’ve been dying for it, honestly. Well not literally. I’m still alive, I think.
Gwendoline: Good. And it’s my pleasure.
Gwendoline: I am lovely, thank you. How are you?
Axey: Slightly nervous. I know you’ve been doing a lot of these interviews of late. This time of year must be a bit hectic.
Gwendoline: It’s a privilege. An honest privilege. This is all a part of the thing that I love doing.
Axey: An actor friend of mine in the business once told me that, with all things being equal, he would pretty much act for free – but it was the hamster wheel of interviews, with people asking the same questions, over and over and over again, the same thing, over and over again… that’s what sometimes made it a job. Parroting the same answers. Does this sort of thing become repetitious?
Gwendoline: I don’t know that I feel that way. It’s all part of it, and it really is a privilege. I enjoy most of the interviews I do. This isn’t tedious. (and here I feel like she was just trying to reassure me) You’re not tedious.
Axey: Well, thank you! I’ll try to make the questions unique and exciting.
Gwendoline: Well go right ahead.
Gwendoline: He what?
Axey: He – Well, it may be his own sort of… hipster way of saying he saw you “before anyone else did”. But he says you picked up Tom Hiddleston and threw him across the stage.
Gwendoline: I don’t know quite about that, but we were on stage together. There may have been some jostling. We were doing Cymbeline. It was a traveling show, and we performed it all around the world. I loved it. Absolutely loved it.
Axey: But at the time, it wasn’t this big thing, it was small, right?
Axey: Well, I mean, look at both of your careers. You and Tom. You’ve both completely taken off, and you started together in a road show.
Gwendoline: Well he is very lovely, and Tom has had great success because he is exceedingly talented. Very, very talented. And I’m very lucky.
Axey: (snorting a laugh) Yes, that’s it completely. His success was all talent, yours was all luck.
Gwendoline: (she’s toying with me now; I can hear the grin) Yes!
Axey: I’m going to go on record and say you’re both exceedingly talented.
Gwendoline: (demurring with a purr) (depurring?) Well, thank you.
Axey: Brienne is a remarkable character, one of my absolute favorites. What would you say is her strongest draw for you?
Gwendoline: Her honesty. I’m lucky to play her. I love her. She stands up for everything that is right, at least to her. And her path is not one many women in that world get to travel. And I love that as well.
Axey: Now I have a submitted question from one of my Twitter followers, @BeautyBrienne, your #FakeWesteros namesake.
Axey: It’s… #FakeWesteros. It’s a thing on Twitter. You pick a character from the show and inhabit them as if they owned a Twitter account. And you Tweet reactions to things as though you were that character.
Gwendoline: (she gives a bit of a pause, but then seems amused at the thought) Alright!
Axey: Hey, for a very short time I had a Jory Cassel account. It didn’t last long. He died, so I stopped Tweeting.
Gwendoline: Oh… well… (I can only guess she was perhaps searching for a way to give condolences for a fake person’s death, but I’ll never know)
Axey: Anyway! @BeautyBrienne asks, What was your absolute favorite scene to shoot? Not necessarily this season. Any of the four seasons.
Gwendoline: That is difficult! I don’t know that I have an absolute favourite.
Axey: Well does any one just spring to mind?
Gwendoline: I really loved my fight with the Hound. And it was quite memorable. It was a very, very hard scene. We worked with C.C. Smiff for days, just getting every bit right. And most of the fight I was moving backwards, which is very difficult, and the terrain… the ground was very rough. And it was in Iceland, which was of course beautiful, but it was extremely hot the entire time, and just… very hard. But we were determined to make it great, to make it feel real, and it really… There was a real gravitas to it. There really was. And at the end of it all, the finished product was what we saw.
Axey: Yeah, it was brilliant. One of the best scenes all year. For any year, really. I think the fandom as a whole, even the staunchier book fans, agreed that the fight was excellent. We loved it.
Gwendoline: Well I’m glad. Oh! And I have to say, also, the bear pit scene, from series three. That was fun.
Axey: It had to have been. And exhausting. You seem to enjoy [filming] exhausting scenes.
Gwendoline: Perhaps I do! That one in particular, we filmed in two places. The first half was near Belfast, and the weather was… Well I was in, essentially, a heavy silk gown. And it was torrential. Pouring rain down on us nearly the entire time. And it was heavy, and we were deep in mud. And then–
Axey: Oh, but there wasn’t a bear there, right? Not an actual bear.
Gwendoline: Well there was a bear. I was going to say, we went to Los Angeles (pronounced AN-gel-eeez) to film the bear [portion] and I had the distinct pleasure of working with one of the most cooperative actors I have ever met.
Axey: The bear.
Gwendoline: Bart. His name was Bart the Bear. Exceedingly professional.
Axey: That’s funny, since most of the other cast’s experience working with live animals has not painted the most glowing of pictures.
Gwendoline: Of what?
Axey: Oh, I mean working with animals. Season one they used actual dogs for direwolves, and they didn’t always behave. And then Natalie Dormer last season with Ser Pounce. The cast and crew weren’t exactly singing Ser Pounce’s praises.
Gwendoline: Oh, the cat!
Axey: Yeah. He was apparently kinda out of control.
Gwendoline: My personal experience was with Bart, and he was lovely.
Axey: Alrighty! … Next question! The armor you wear – the blue plate given to Brienne by Jaime Lannister last season – what is that like? It looks absolutely fantastic, but I’ve always imagined it’s equal parts empowering and uncomfortable.
Gwendoline: Well that’s it precisely. Empowering in such a way that it helps inform the character. The performance. One stands a certain way when armoured. It’s protective. But at the same time, it’s quite heavy, and if you have to be in it all day long, it…
Axey: Hard to lounge around in.
Gwendoline: (laughs) No lounging. Very little [of that].
Axey: You had the London premiere at the Tower of London…
Gwendoline: Yes! Appropriate!
Axey: I’ve been there. They have real suits of armor there, stuff that was worn in actual wars, had seen actual battle. That looked extremely heavy and uncomfortable.
Gwendoline: Armour is. [Director] David Petrarca called my [series two] armor my “car”. He would say, “Have her bring her car.” He thought it was very funny.
Axey: Your car. That just sounds bulky.
Gwendoline: It was.
Axey: Alright, another question. Do you have a favorite blunder? Like something that you did something, or messed up on something that was maybe a little embarrassing at the time, but now you can kind of go back now and laugh about.
Gwendoline: (she’s considering) I can’t say “embarrassing”… Oh! Well, the fight I had with Jaime on the bridge.
Gwendoline: It took all day, and we were going at it full on, and I remember at some point Nik came up to me and asked, “Could you take maybe ten percent off [your swings]?” And I told him I would. (a long pause and then a conspiratorial whisper) But I didn’t.
Axey: Well he’s going to find out now.
Gwendoline: (she BURSTS into laughter) I hope so!
Axey: (noticing our time is running out, and I haven’t even asked her half of the questions that I wanted to, so I just skipped down to near the bottom) One of the most unique things about this show is the fact that the cast is so large, and filled with so many talented people, that you could be on the same show for years and never share a scene with half of the other characters.
Axey: Right, and so if there are actors or characters you admire, and you receive the new batch of scripts each year, it must heighten the excitement of it. Not only do you finally get to act with, say, an Aiden Gillen or a Sophie Turner, but Brienne of Tarth gets to interact with Littlefinger or Sansa Stark. It would be a little like Mark Hamill learning that Luke Skywalker would soon share a scene with William Shatner’s Captain Kirk. Not just the actor in question, but the actor in that specific role. I just don’t think this has ever been done. It’s a truly unique show.
(Axey’s note: I did remember after this conversation that Brienne did already in fact share a scene with Sansa – Joffrey’s Purple Wedding – but they never interacted.)
Gwendoline: It is a remarkable phenomenon, this show. A fascinating one. The draw of having all of these wonderfully-written characters, the execution of this complex vision… by the writers, and by George Martin… You really look forward to every script, but yes, certainly you love it when your character meets new people. You feel the tension. And it’s wonderful.
I was just about to ask the infamous indigo question… when our time ran out. Drat!
(I’m sure she’d take my side… right?)
Thanks again to Gwendoline, and to her people, and to Mara at HBO! Always Support the Bottom!