Gwendoline Christie, best known as the indomitable Brienne of Tarth on “Game of Thrones,” is the feminist hero you’re looking for.
Later this year, the Sussex-born actress appears as the first female Stormtrooper in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” She joins another blockbuster franchise this holiday season via “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2.”
In honour of Christie’s breakout success, we’re taking a look back at her meteoric rise to fame.
Rhythmic gymnastics was her passion from the age of seven. 'I had quite a strict upbringing,' Christie told Stylist, 'so it was an opportunity to be totally free.'
On the fast-track to the professional circuit, at 11, Christie sustained a back injury that strained her spinal muscles. She was told she'd never dance at that level again.
Christie quickly corrected course. Marilyn Monroe's performance in 1956's rom-com 'Bus Stop' convinced her to try acting.
'Acting couldn't be further from the existence I knew, but that's what I wanted,' Christie says. To her surprise, her father, who worked in sales and marketing before his death, and her stay-at-home mum gave their unconditional support.
At 15, Christie took on the role of Lady Macbeth in Shakespeare's 'Macbeth' and felt she found what she was supposed to do in life.
She studied at the infamous Drama Centre London, whose alumni include Michael Fassbender, Colin Firth, and future 'Game of Thrones' castmate Emilia Clarke.
The school's rigour earned it the nickname Trauma Center. 'I was told I was rubbish all day, every day,' Christie says. 'But really that prepares you for the amount of rejection you get on the job.'
Christie stood at six-three, and her height soon became an obstacle. Casting directors turned her away because she was too tall.
In an attempt to appear more feminine, Christie wore makeup, heels, and long hair. Coincidentally, it was an aesthetic she liked.
'At one stage I was like, 'I'll give this another six months and if this persists, I'll become a nun,' Christie jokes. She says the effortless wardrobe and free food appealed to her.
As a student, she modelled nude for Australian photographer Polly Borland in a series entitled 'Bunny.' Christie says the experience helped her come to terms with her body.
It became her mission to take on roles that challenge notions of femininity and what it is to be a woman. Her size couldn't hold her back.
She made her theatre debut in 2005 in Royal Shakespeare Company's 'Great Expectations,' and later landed roles in British productions of 'Gilgamesh' and 'Breakfast at Tiffany's.'
Her only role in a major movie came in 2009, when she was cast in Terry Gilliam's 'The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.' Her IMDb credit says 'Classy Shopper 2.'
At last, in 2010, word spread the producers of a hit HBO fantasy drama 'Game of Thrones' were casting the role of Brienne of Tarth for season two.
In author George R.R. Martin's 'A Song Of Ice And Fire,' Brienne is a female knight who fights valiantly, demands respect from her male peers, and gives herself fully to those who earn her loyalty.
The series' fans threw their support in online forums behind casting Christie for the role. She took to Twitter to lobby -- hard.
'I wanted the part so very badly because from reading the books the character was so like elements of myself,' Christie says. 'I've not come across a part like this before, whereby the complexities of being an extremely tall woman are explored.'
Christie lost over 20 pounds and gained it back in muscle in preparation for her audition. She traded blouses and skirts for androgynous clothing.
But by then, her fate was already sealed. The show's casting director saw Christie perform in 'Great Expectations' and was convinced they found their Brienne. She got the part.
Christie has since become a fan favourite, winning hearts for her valor and for challenging gender stereotypes.
Now, Christie's movie career is taking off. This November, she appears as Commander Lyme in 'The Hunger Games: Mockingjay -- Part 2.'
In the books, Lyme is a former champion in the Hunger Games who serves as a military leader in District 13. Katniss describes her a muscular woman with an unforgettable face.
Christie took on what could be a career-defining role in 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens.' She plays Captain Phasma, the franchise's first female Stormtrooper.
Christie worked with director J.J. Abrams to carve out the character. The armour, she says, allows her to focus on body language and voice, not looking beautiful.
It felt familiar. 'I don't think many female actors get the opportunity to play a part where they're not having to think about the way their face looks,' Christie says, 'but I found exactly the same thing with Brienne of Tarth, and that was very liberating.'
We don't know what's next for Christie. Right now, she's juggling press tours and interviews while also filming 'Game of Thrones' overseas.
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