Gwendoline Christie has brought two of the most iconic feminist characters of the last decade to life.
As Brienne of Tarth on Game of Thrones, she's proved that a woman can not only carry a sword, but also use it to beat the shit out of anyone who stands in her way.
In the Star Wars universe, she's broken new ground as Captain Phasma, the first female storm trooper in the franchise, whose refusal to be seen without her chromed-out armour was one of the most controversial elements of The Force Awakens.
With so many onscreen female characters still being forced to neuter their extraordinary abilities with sexy, revealing outfits, Brienne and Phasma are symbols of resistance. Both are women who defy societal expectations with their power and sheer physical force, and whose armour allows them a certain freedom from those traditional norms — their actions define them, not their gender.
This marks a shift for the Star Wars franchise, which after all, was responsible for the Princess Leia gold bikini that launched Ross Gellar's sexual awakening. And it hasn't come without setbacks: When Felicity Jones was announced as the lead in Rogue One, the first Star Wars spin-off released in December 2016, certain (male) fans took to Twitter to express their distaste for what they saw as yet another woman infiltrating their cherished galaxy.
With Christie about to reprise her role in the upcoming Star Wars: The Last Jedi, we asked her how she feels about that backlash, playing a female villain, and who she thinks would win in a fight: Brienne of Tarth, or Captain Phasma.
Refinery29: First things first: What's it like to play Star Wars' first female stormtrooper?
Gwendoline Christie: "To take on a villainous role in Star Wars, as a woman, in live action — it's incredibly thrilling! I mean, who would have thought that this would ever have happened? It couldn't be more of a privilege, nor could the creative process be more of a delight."
Did you have any input as to how Captain Phasma would develop in The Last Jedi?
"No, not at all. Because when I first learned that I'd been cast in The Force Awakens, it was only supposed to be for a couple of days. I'd wanted to be in the film so badly, and I said, 'I'm happy to play anything.' And I just thought the character was so fascinating, and felt so new — the ideas we all had seemed to really work, and I was lucky enough that everyone on the creative team decided that they wanted more Phasma, and they made more Phasma. It was amazing that I was afforded the opportunity to do it, because I was actually filming Game of Thrones at the time, and they were very accommodating. It was absolutely incredible when I was asked if I could please be in another film."
What was it about this particular character that you found so compelling?
"What we realised is that this is the birth of a female villain: a woman who was in the military, she is a Captain, she elects to wear a suit of armour, which is unyielding and brutal, all the time. The First Order is a male dominated environment, and she's one of the few women. And through her ambition and drive, she's allowed to achieve what she's wanted to achieve. That was very exciting to me.
"As a character, what I think is brilliant about her, is that the armour doesn't delineate her gender. It doesn't highlight it in any way — it's entirely practical. And for that to be your starting point, it feels sort of limitless."
Usually female villains are physically-typed — but in Phasma's case, you wouldn't know her gender from just looking at her. That's so rare.
"And important. I'm really proud to be playing the part, and really heartened that Disney chose to include a female character where we are drawn to her not because of the way she looks, not because of the way that she has been made flesh, but through her actions."
How important do you think it is for bigger franchises, like Star Wars, to take the lead on female representation?
"We live in a world where people want to see themselves reflected in our entertainment. We live in the age of the internet, [where] everyone has an equal voice. And what we're learning is that people want to be heard. The world is an incredibly diverse place, with so many unique individuals, and people want to see that in their stories. It's only through really showing our humanity, in all of its different forms, that we can really connect to the human experience. The idea is that the Star Wars films are starting to reflect our society. It's modern, it's progressive, and it's exactly as it should be."
What's your take on the criticism by certain fans who see Star Wars as getting too woman-focused?
"I think that's not an opinion that I can readily understand, I'm afraid. Because I see the characters — all of them — as being very well developed and three-dimensional. What we have conventionally seen with female characters are women playing the mother, or the girlfriend, or someone that's not essential to the plot, or generally based on a kind of attractiveness. Carrie Fisher used to refer to body as her 'brain bag,' because she truly just saw it as something that encased her soul, and her mind. I think that's a very healthy attitude for us all to have. I don't see the new Star Wars films as being woman-focused, I see them as being human-focused. And in the words of George R.R. Martin, 'I've always thought of women as people.'"
Speaking of Game of Thrones, who do you think would win in a fight: Brienne, or Captain Phasma?
"It's so difficult for me because I hold them very dear to my heart. I also know that they're both incredibly strong. John Boyega said to me yesterday, 'It would be Phasma.' But I'm not so sure. Maybe what can come about is some sort of cross-franchise movie, where Brienne of Tarth and Phasma battle it out, and I will fight myself."
I would see that! Maybe they can team up at the end.
"Imagine what they could do together."