As Captain Phasma in ‘Star Wars,’ Gwendoline Christie is a standout

Gwendoline Christie attends the 67th Emmy Awards at the Microsoft Theatre in Los Angeles on Sept. 20, 2015. (Lionel Hahn/Abaca Press)

Gwendoline Christie attends the 67th Emmy Awards at the Microsoft Theatre in Los Angeles on Sept. 20, 2015. (Lionel Hahn/Abaca Press)


By Josh Rottenberg
Los Angeles Times

Gwendoline Christie has various ways of putting off questions about Captain Phasma, the villainous Stormtrooper leader she plays in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” and, sitting down for a chat during a recent visit to L.A. from her native England, she gave them all a workout.

There was the apologetic approach. (“I’m so sorry — this is where I’m going to frustrate you.”) There was mock indignation. (“You can’t ask me any of these questions, and I’m almost appalled that you have!”) There was the vague threat of what could happen if she were to spill any “Star Wars” secrets. (“Something bad would happen to me — and you.”)

Christie, 37, is accustomed to withholding plot details, having starred for the last three years as the fan-favorite warrior Brienne of Tarth on HBO’s hit fantasy series “Game of Thrones.” But with roles in not one but two of the most highly anticipated films of the holiday season — she’s in the final installment in the “Hunger Games” franchise, opening Nov. 20, as well as “The Force Awakens,” in theaters Dec. 18 — she finds herself sitting on a pile of spoilers like never before.

It’s not like she can easily hide from all the curious fans. At 6-foot-3 with short-cropped blond hair, Christie quite literally stands out from the crowd. She already gets recognized constantly from “Game of Thrones”; adding the vast and passionate “Hunger Games” and “Star Wars” fan bases on top of that is a rather bewildering prospect, particularly for someone who, until recently, had always been told that she was too tall to find success in acting in the first place. “I don’t think I’ve really taken it on board yet,” she said. “All this stuff is very new to me.”

Asked how she planned to juggle her daunting promotional duties on these two massive films while shooting the sixth season of “Game of Thrones,” Christie laughed. “I’ve been working on some clones,” she said. “I built some greenhouses, and they’ve been incubating in there next to some tomato plants.”

Of her role in “Star Wars,” Christie can say only that though Captain Phasma is a supporting character, she will exert considerable force on the story. “She is a Boba Fett-style character,” the actress said, “which means she makes a lot of impact but she’s not at the forefront of the action all the time.”

From the moment she heard a new “Star Wars” film was in the works, the actress — who grew up in the remote countryside of southern England and had felt like something of a misfit since shooting up to her current height at age 14 — locked onto it like the Death Star’s tractor beam.

“I really wanted to be in ‘Star Wars’ because it had a special meaning to me,” she said. “Being someone who never felt part of the mainstream, who always felt unusual, it felt like a world that I could inhabit in terms of my imagination and who I was. I became like a dog with a bone and was absolutely insistent: ‘Please, please, please try to have me seen.’ Eventually they were worn down by my incessant asking.”

In “Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2,” Christie plays a formidable warrior named Commander Lyme. “She is a victor of a previous Hunger Games,” she explained. “She is the leader of the rebels in District 2 and is shown as an example to Katniss. That’s all I’m allowed to say.”

Though her role involved only two days of shooting, Christie threw herself into it with gusto. “She fell right in and had a great energy and everyone just embraced her immediately,” said the film’s director, Francis Lawrence. “Knowing she’s so popular on ‘Game of Thrones,’ for her to come out to Berlin and work with us for two days — we felt lucky to have her.”

For years, Christie, who studied acting at the Drama Centre London, was told that her height would be an impediment to being cast in film and television roles. But she plowed on despite the warnings. “I never really understood what the fuss was about,” she said. “I always thought, there’s such a wide selection of different people in the world, why wouldn’t it be logical to represent them?”

Still, to have carved out the career she has is beyond anything she could ever have foreseen — and a hopeful sign, she believes, for all those who have felt relegated to the margins for whatever reason.

“There are so many of us being told no, who feel outside of everything,” she said. “I do feel like the world is changing, though, and more attention is being brought to issues of prejudice. I can’t believe my luck that I might just be clinging on to a little bit of it.”

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