From Game of Thrones’ Brienne of Tarth to The Hunger Games’ Commander Lyme, the Amazonian Gwendoline Christie is no stranger to playing some seriously kick-ass warrior women – and that’s only set to continue with her new role as Captain Phasma in the film we’ve spent all of 2015 waiting to see: Stars Wars – The Force Awakens.
Attitude’s Cliff Joannou caught up with the 37-year-old to find out what she makes of her character’s ground-breaking place in the legendary series, her growing status as a lesbian icon and whether she’d snog, marry or avoid Yoda or Chewbacca (it’s s a question we should all ask ourselves, frankly).
Naturally there are some very minor clues about Gwen’s character to follow, but read on to find out what Brienne of Tarth made of going intergalactic this year…
So the last time we saw you was at the Attitude awards when you presented to Vivienne Westwood! She delivered a rather inspiringly expansive speech…
Yes, she did! I think Vivienne was told she could have five minutes, but she had a lot of very worthwhile things to say. And she was entertaining. It was brilliantly informative and erudite, but thoroughly charming. I couldn’t believe I was asked to do that. She’s been in our minds for such a long time as a revolutionary thinker and the idea that you’re the one who gets to present that person with an award is a big deal. It’s a big to deal to me. I’d never been to the Attitude awards, but I knew people who had who said it’s always a real blast!
You’ll have to come back next year.
Onto the film though. You’ve developed this identity for playing these empowering female roles – who would you say is your ultimate feminist icon?
That’s very nice of you so say, thank you. There’s two answers to what you’ve said. I’ve been very lucky in that I have gone where the work is and the work has been good. As an actor, you can have ideas about the kind of work you want to do, but you can’t dictate what that is. And it happened that these two incredible parts came along, and I feel very lucky to play them. In terms of my ultimate icon, a classic example is Germaine Greer, but I think Grace Jones is an example of a woman who is entirely herself, she does what she wants to do, she is unselfconscious and she’s totally at ease with who she is. And she’s had an incredible career! Of being a muse, a model and a singer and writer, but I thinks she’s more than that, she’s living art.
How do you feel about being a lesbian icon? You play these really strong characters that are usually cast as male. You tick a lot of the boxes. Is it something you’ve ever really thought about?
Never before! That’s thoroughly nice. I don’t think anyone has ever said to me that I might be a lesbian icon, but I think we need more of them don’t we? What I’m interested in is diversity and I don’t feel the need to just be one thing or really plough one field, I’m interested in playing lots of different sorts of parts, and I’m interested in what we consider to be the margins of society, and the people that might think of themselves as misfits or outsiders. It’s interesting to me. What’s encouraging is in a film like Star Wars, we have one of those characters. It still blows me away now when I look at the poster and see that Captain Phasma is looking incredible, stage centre. Because that’s part of what it means.
You must look at that poster and say, ‘that’s me!’
It’s so wild! It really is. But it’s what it represents. And what it represents, as you identify, is something unconventional and empowering.
When was the first time you ever saw Star Wars, was it later in life or as a kid?
I saw it when I was a child, when I was 6 years old. It was also Christmas. Maybe that’s part of why we love it so much, that it’s always around Christmas. It has that magic to it. What people have really wanted with this film, The Force Awakens, and what Disney and Lucasfilm have done, is give people that experience. And a surprise! You know how it is with trailers for example, there’s so much information and you feel like you’ve seen the whole film. There is so much online and those things mean that there aren’t so many surprises in life, there just aren’t, and as a consequence this film is special because you will go to the cinema and you will have that experience and a surprise.
It was touted that you’re the first female Stormtrooper, and there’s more of Captain Phasma in the second film, is that true?
I genuinely have no idea! It’s very encouraging to me that you say we see more of her in the next film.
Do you know her backstory? How much are you informed about what’s happened and the bigger picture?
I haven’t yet been given any official information saying ‘this is who this character is going to be’. Because, as we know from the Star Wars films, the direction they’re going can be back, for example with episodes 4, 5 & 6 and then 1, 2 & 3. In terms of the future? I really don’t know. I wish I did because then I could give you something more interesting!
Did you ever feel insecure about your height when you were younger? Were you ever discouraged from acting?
Growing up, the emphasis was never placed on my physical appearance, it was only ever based on my passions and interests. I think everybody has something that makes them different that people pick up on, but I’ve actually found it now to be something that’s made me stand out. It’s made me be looked at differently. In a way that’s incredibly positive. Because I think what we’re seeing is in a character like Captain Phasma, people want to see something that’s different. And people have more of a voice due to the internet, they can say what it is that they want. They can respond as well, I feel very overwhelmed that people seem to like the character, but what that says to me is people want to see something that’s more representative of their society and them. We’re all individuals and unique, and we’d like to see a greater diversity in our entertainment.
You’re the first female Stormtroopers. Do you think there are other female Stormtroopers?
Yes, I do. I think that was a smart move. It makes it more real and more of a reality. It also means that this character is not an anomaly. We look at this character and the person, and why they’re like that, more than just their gender.
The First Order is an evolution of The Empire. You’re playing a villain in the film. Do people feel intimidated when they meet you because of this and the other roles that you play?
I’ve got absolutely no idea. No one’s ever said that to me. I might not be observant enough. No one has acted scared around me. But it’s my job. They’re very much characters that I’m playing. And I’ve been very lucky that they’ve all been unique, but I haven’t experienced that yet. Maybe I should have?
What’s your next ideal role?
I’d really like to do some theatre again. When I was at school, I would love and read classical work. I would read it and think I wanted to be in the play, but I would always want to play the male parts. I think I’d like to play a female Iago. That’s what I’d like to do.
Snog, marry, avoid: Yoda, Chewbacca or MazKanata?
Okay, I’d marry Maz Kanata. Hmmm… Who would you snog?
I’d probably snog Yoda, and avoid Chewbacca because I don’t know how often he washes and conditions all that hair.
Okay! Marry Maz Kanata. Snog Yoda. And avoid Chewbacca, because of the teeth.
Star Wars – The Force Awakens is out now.
Interview: Cliff Joannou