In a gorgeous forest glade in Northern Ireland last September, the actress is dressed in armor and sitting atop a horse. Her arms and hands are bound with sturdy rope. “I can only shake hands with my eyes,” she says with a grin.
When the director orders “action,” Christie, as Game of Thrones fan-favorite knight Brienne of Tarth, jumps off the horse and muscles through some henchmen. On the show it all looks quick and simple. In person, the action is more impressive because of Christie’s bulky costume and bindings — just try jumping down onto uneven ground without the use of your arms. Luckily, ever since landing the role of Brienne two years ago, Christie has engaged in heavy physical training for the part. The rigorous dedication will pay off more than ever in season three as her character undertakes a very challenging journey while trying to return the captive kingslayer Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) to King’s Landing.
“We last saw her as a female knight who was very much having to prove herself and find her place and find her place in society because she doesn’t have a natural place where she fits in,” Christie says after the crew releases her from her bindings. “By the end of [the season] she has a mission, which she believes is for the greater good. [Season 3] focuses on [Brienne and Jaime's] relationship and the journey those two human beings go on is extraordinary. We see her in situations trying to survive in ways that extend beyond her physical strength. And we start to see her explore her womanhood, what it is, for her, to be a woman. She’s starts to find out more about herself and about very basic human emotions — attachment to someone else and what honor really means to her. In this ridiculous and extreme situation of high drama, she starts to really find out who she is and what she believes in.”
Brienne is described in George R.R Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire novels as large, tough and physically unattractive. When EW first reported the relative newcomer had landed the role, the very first reader comment on the post, which included a red-carpet out-of-character photo of the actress, was, “She looks too pretty and thin to play Brienne.” That oddly flattering knock was a somewhat common reaction to her casting (at least, until fans saw her impressively muscular interpretation of the role).
Christie says she was rather startled — and pleased — by the response. “All my life, all I’ve ever wanted is for people to say — first of all — I’m pretty. But ‘too pretty’? Is amazing,” she says. “I also loved that they said, ‘Who’s this model?’ I only ever wanted to be a model. This acting thing — three years of drama school — is an accident! I was like, ‘Wow, they think I’m a model?’ I didn’t mind it at all. I knew all the things I wanted to do to become the part. I’ve always been able to look very different very easily.”
As you listen to Christie, it’s striking how, on the surface, she is nothing like Brienne — in a good way. Brienne’s personality is rather cold and humorless whereas Christie is witty and passionate. Nonetheless, the actress says she’s been able to identify with Brienne’s search to find her place in the world. “There’s so many parts of my life that I’ve struggled with — that so many millions of others struggled with — about being an outsider, about feeling ugly, about having to overcome looking different to other people,” she says. “The great thing about this character is she’s found her strength. And this season, she goes beyond that as a person.”
THRONES NEWS!: This is the first entry in a series of 17 Game of Thrones stories with exclusive behind-the-scenes content, largely drawn for our Northern Ireland set visit last fall. EW’s Thrones countdown will feature a new Game of Thrones story (#EWThrones hashtag) with original (non-spoiler) interviews each weekday in the Inside TV blog leading up to the March 31 season three premiere. After that, we’ll have recaps (see the recaps for the first two seasons here) and interviews after each episode airs. Follow me on Twitter @james_hibberd for Game of Thrones news and bookmark our Thrones hub here.
17 DAYS OF THRONES
17. ‘Game of Thrones’ producers Q&A: Why season 3 is the most epic yet
16. Lena Headey on Cersei’s season 3 fears
15. How Kit Harington conquered his injury to keep Jon Snow fighting
14: Gwendoline Christie on being ‘too pretty’ to play Brienne
13. John Bradley defends fantasy fans
12. HBO: ‘Thrones’ piracy is ‘a compliment’
11. ‘Game of Thrones’ producers on casting Mance Rayder, Lady Olenna
10. Sophie Turner on fans bashing Sansa
9. Jack Gleeson on Joffrey’s season 3 romance
8. Maisie Williams talks Arya’s season 3 adventures
7. Peter Dinklage on Tyrion’s season 3 survival
6. Richard Madden teases Robb Stark’s season 3
5. Emilia Clarke says Dany gets fast-paced season 3
4. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau talks Jaime’s season 3 struggle
3. Rose Leslie: You know nothing about Ygritte’s catchphrase
2. ‘Game of Thrones’ producers on season 3 dragons: They’re not cute anymore
1. EW Cover: ‘Game of Thrones’ wildest season yet! Jon + Dany, an ice and fire pairing
– Buy EW’s Game of Thrones cover story issue
– EW’s exclusive ‘Thrones’ portraits
– ‘Game of Thrones’: 23 amazing season three photos
– Latest S3 trailer
EW rolled out 17 Game of Thrones stories with exclusive and spoiler-free behind-the-scenes content, largely drawn from our Northern Ireland set visit last fall, leading up to the show’s season 3 premiere on March 31. After each episode air we’ll have our popular recaps (catch up on the recaps for the first two seasons here) and interviews. Follow me on Twitter @james_hibberd for Game of Thrones news and bookmark our Thrones hub here.