Like her character on “Game of Thrones,” Gwendoline Christie believes in taking matters into her own hands. The actress, 40, submitted herself as a contender for the 2019 Emmys and landed a supporting actress nomination for her work as Ser Brienne of Tarth.
“It’s something I find hard to do, like everyone else, but I would like to be in charge of my own destiny,” Christie says, speaking from London. “And I would like to endeavor to give myself opportunities. Particularly when working very hard on something very special and you’ve pushed yourself beyond your limits.
“I checked that it wasn’t an inappropriate thing to do, and I was told it wasn’t. People submit themselves all the time. I truly never expected it to manifest in a nomination and I don’t think anybody else did either. But I just had to do it for me. And I had to do it as a testament to the character and what I feel she represents.”
For Christie, who is starring in a production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at London’s Bridge Theatre, the conclusion of the beloved HBO series handed her character what Christie considers a happy ending. The final episode brought the recently knighted Brienne back around to what she wanted from the very beginning: to be a member of the Kingsguard.
“I could not believe that I made it all the way through,” the actress says of her character’s survival, laughing. “And I was in the end of the final episode. Brienne makes it through and has a life beyond. I found that incredibly positive and unexpected. And she gets a great last line.” (“I think we can all agree that ships take precedence over brothels,” she tells Bron as the king’s advisors set about rebuilding King’s Landing.)
Christie felt a strong connection with Brienne since before she was even cast on the show in Season 2. The actress was so compelled to get the role that she spent eight weeks preparing for her audition, binge-reading three of George R.R. Martin’s books and training to get physically fit. While working as a dog walker to her mentor, actor Simon Callow, she spent hours perfecting Brienne’s stride. The actress was driven because she couldn’t believe this character could exist on TV.
“I did everything I possibly could to make it happen,” Christie remembers. “I knew that emotionally I could identify with the character, but where the work had to go was into the differences, which was all of the physical elements and all of the physical strength. I was very scared to go near my androgyny, my masculinity and my physical strength — and the strength with which I felt some of my own opinions, especially some of my opinions about women.
“It was the opportunity to do something I knew I needed to do, which was to undergo a change and undergo a transformation and get in touch with who I truly was and how I’ve been made physically and who I am as a person.”
She adds, “I felt that even if the show didn’t go anywhere, it didn’t matter, because I would get to do a job and I’d get to investigate that as work. That, to me, is what being an artist meant.”
After she joined the cast, Christie quickly became aware that she wasn’t the only person obsessed with Brienne. Fans gravitated to the character, a noble warrior committed to her duty and to doing what was right. With her grand stature and androgynous sensibility, she didn’t fit into the narrow bounds of women on TV. “I don’t know what plans [the writers] ever had for that character, but I was shocked by how embraced the character was by the audience,” the actress notes. “I didn’t think that would happen. I didn’t think that’s what audiences wanted, because we’ve been told that’s not what audiences want.”
The understanding of Brienne as a strong, unconventional woman might explain some of the backlash to the final season, when the character chooses to sleep with Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, the first person to congratulate Christie on her nomination) after the Battle of Winterfell. Some fans were upset that Brienne reveals vulnerable emotions when Jaime leaves to return to his sister, but Christie feels it’s important for us to see a woman in all her colors.
“When you’re about to lose something that has truly meant something to you, it can destroy you, and I don’t think there’s any weakness in that,” Christie reflects. “What I liked was that happens, but then she goes back to work. She doesn’t follow him, does she? She stays with Sansa and she does her duty. And she did get her happy ending, and her happy ending wasn’t defined by a man. What completes her as a character and what makes her three dimensional as a character is the fact that she becomes open about her feelings.”
Christie, who will appear in Armando Iannucci’s upcoming film, “The Personal History of David Copperfield,” which will premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, is particularly pleased by her Emmy nod because of what it says about how pop culture is evolving.
“I wanted the possibility of being recognized for everything that character represents, for what she’s meant to me and for the part I feel she’s played, in some small way, in the burgeoning landscape we have in entertainment of seeing women in a different way,” she says. “A more realistic way and a more unconventional way.
“I’m really, completely overwhelmed. What an extraordinary way to round out this phenomenal, mind-blowing experience that has changed all of our lives.”