The actress and fashion favorite is just as strong as her warrior character in Game of Thrones, finds HERMIONE EYREPhotographs by EMMA TEMPEST
Styling by CHARLOTTE BLAZEBY
Gwendoline Christie arrives at the St Pancras Hotel in London looking magnificent in a Giles Deacon cape, exclaiming, “And WHY haven’t we met before?” in a swooping, resonant voice. “WHO has been keeping us apart?” Christie often speaks in CAPITALS, her expressive voice changing registers and layering emphasis as she delivers her conversational lines. “IT WAS DIVINE” (her verdict on Anna Nicole, the opera); “I’m BATS about Miu Miu and Prada.” She also uses my name frequently, in the teasing manner of a natural flirt. She is wittier and a thousand times more feminine than her most famous role (to date), the stern-faced, bone-crunching warrior Brienne of Tarth in HBO’s epic Game of Thrones, a television adaptation of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire book series.
PROFESSION: Actress/enemy slayer
MY STYLE IS: Mythic Space Horse with chocolate-box tendencies.
GO-TO LABELS: Gile Deacon, Miu Miu, Prada, Roksanda Illincic, Richard Nicoll and Louise Gray – being in her studio is endlessly fun.
FAIL-SAFE PIECES: For day, Acne Studios jeans. For evening, a black crepe Miu Miu dress – it’s a dear old faithful – and a cashmere cape by Giles that transforms any outfit.
FAVORITE ACCESSORIES: My Roger Vivier pumps are timeless.
So impactful is her performance that Barack Obama is reported to have asked the show’s producers after her character’s well-being, and Mike Tyson once accosted her on the red carpet for a joint selfie (with the stipulation that she put him in a headlock).
In 2015, Christie’s fortunes look set to rise further with roles in blockbusters The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part Two and Star Wars VII. Her coterie of influential friends insist this is simply nature taking its course: the actor Simon Callow, her friend and mentor after she left London’s Drama Centre, said he could “smell success” coming her way.
“I was incredibly lucky to leave drama school and work with [director] Declan Donnellan at the Royal Shakespeare Company for my first job,” says Christie. “I never had to go too long without being employed.” Still, for eight years, she walked Callow’s dogs to earn extra money. “I miss them so much,” she says. “They were the best friends I ever had! Two boxers called Biff and Roxy; two glorious beings that I fell in love with.” She was busy taking Biff and Roxy for four-hour romps across north London’s parks and canals when it came to her attention that fans of Game of Thrones were lobbying online for her to play Brienne in the TV adaptation of the novels.
“There was this wonderfully encouraging wave of support,” says Christie. “I read the books and I really, really wanted to play the part. I started kundalini yoga, kickboxing and running, and completely changed my diet. I felt I wanted to undergo what was necessary for the part.” This was all before her first audition. “I love a challenge,” she shrugs. “And I love defying limitation, gender stereotypes and people’s expectations of me as an actress.”
“I love DEFYING limitation, gender STEREOTYPES and people’s expectations of me as an ACTRESS”
Life had already set expectations for Christie to defy. Growing up in a hamlet near England’s South Downs, she was conspicuous, having reached almost her full height of 6ft 3in by the age of 14. She rejected the growth inhibitors offered by her doctor and struggled to belong at school. At home, she read, watched Hitchcock and ellini films, and devoured fashion magazines. “By hook or by crook, I got my mitts on them,” explains Christie.
“My life was very quiet, sedate and bookish, and it was so exciting to me to see what was going on in nightclubs and communities of artists and subcultures around the world. It gave me a taste for transformation – the idea that a woman could be a chameleon.”
After moving to London to attend drama school, Christie formed friendships with a group of performance artists called The Offset. “Finding those people who embraced that alternative way of life made me feel like I’d come home,” she confesses.
Christie’s first bespoke dress, made for her when she was 19, changed her life, insists the actress. Due to her height, she could never find clothes that fitted, until a seamstress friend revved up her sewing machine. “She was my height,” says Christie. “She said, ‘Darling, you need to experience what it’s like to wear something that has been made for you.’ On the surface she was offering to make clothes that wouldn’t restrict me, but what she was saying had a lot more depth; it was about not having to bend around the world. Just inhabit it.”
That lesson proved “very valuable” to Christie, though she is “still grappling with it today”. Brienne of Tarth is a noble misfit, and her story arc with the male knight Jaime Lannister was conceived as Beauty and the Beast with gender roles reversed. Or so the characters’ creator told her.
“People say,‘You look so much BETTER in real LIFE’, and I always thank them, because the INTENTION is good”
“I met the great George R. R. Martin,” Christie says, “and we talked for a long time about Brienne because he had, as he put it, ‘the advantage of being able to shine a torch around her mind’. He’s a deeply kind, intelligent and sensitive man.” Sometimes the viewing public is not so tactful. “People come up to me and say, ‘You look so much better in real life’,” she laughs, a deep, wicked cackle you could roll around in. “And I always thank them, because the intention is good.”
I bring up the name of designer Giles Deacon, the boyfriend that she doesn’t wish to discuss. She gives me a firm look and there’s a reddening of the delicately pale skin around her neck. Instead, we talk about other designers: Louise Gray, who has made her dresses; her friend Richard Nicoll, who makes her wonderful coats; and how Roksanda Ilincic designs with a longer line, “so the waist will hit you at the waist rather than just below the bust”. She concludes with, “But Giles is my favorite designer. More tea?”
It is clear why Christie is loved by the fashion world – she comes to life talking about the technicalities of clothes; thevalue of ruching, turn-back cuffs and concealed slits; about bionic T-shirts from the ’90s or the long, tall Poiret silhouette of the ’20s. And, as a woman with a “grueling” work-out schedule, she is excited that a new “strong” aesthetic is becoming fashionable for women’s bodies, saying: “It’s empowering, and I LIKE IT.”
There is no doubt about it, Gwendoline Christie’s time has come, and WE LIKE IT.