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Game of Thrones’ Gwendoline Christie on Brienne, the Kingslayer, and Taking Pee Breaks in Armor

Things aren’t going so well for Brienne of Tarth, the formidable female knight charged with escorting Jaime Lannister to King’s Landing in exchange for Catelyn Stark’s daughters. She’s been taken prisoner, almost violated by Locke’s men, and she's now a hand short of returning the Kingslayer in one piece. Gwendoline Christie, who had a small role in Terry Gilliam’s The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus before landing the role of Brienne, is cryptic when it comes to what’s next. “Brienne finds herself in certain situations that she could never predict. Sometimes they result in confusion,” she teases. “She really experiences the polar opposite of what we’ve seen her go through so far.” Vulture spoke to Christie, a six-foot-three glamazon in real life, about her playful relationship with Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, who plays her prisoner-tormentor on the show, and the demands of getting into shape to play the warrior woman. She also shared a very important lesson about the perils of wearing knight’s armor into the bathroom.

Most of your time on the show is spent with Nikolaj. What's it like working together by yourselves for the most part for so long?
Nikolaj is an absolutely brilliant actor and a really extraordinary human being, and I’ve learned so much from him — that all sounds like generic actor chat, but as someone who hadn’t had masses of experience, to work with someone who had was a real privilege. But the relationship onscreen is not dissimilar to that offscreen. It continues all the time. I mean, he seems to be afflicted with a terrible disorder whereby he can’t leave his character at work. He loves to continue to torture me. I’ll be sitting there, five o’clock in the morning in the makeup wagon having a lovely chat with the hair people, and he’ll come in and say, “Yeah, I watched Beverly Hills Chihuahua this weekend with my kids. You look like the chihuahua.” I’m like, “Okay. First of all, ‘Morning.’ Second of all, that’s pathetic. Thirdly, what’s your problem?” It’s a complete delight.

Would you be as patient as Brienne has been with Jaime? Or would he be dead already?
Brienne has such a highly developed moral sensibility. It’s an extraordinary thing to observe and act out because I certainly would find it difficult to operate with that degree of complete and utter focus. It’s almost fundamentalist. She’d be indulgent if she just killed him. The argument that Nikolaj and I often have is I say, “Of course I could just kill you now,” and he says, “No, because Jaime is infinitely stronger, even in chains.” Do you see what I mean? The man is delusional. I would have killed Nikolaj by now, but I don’t like to upset the fans.

When his character lost his hand, did he back off a little?
He’s able to take the [arm stump] off, but when I’d see him struggling, you know, I would get stuff for him. Of course he found that completely shocking, that I would help him. I do remember watching when they were rehearsing the scene, and he’s tied up to that tree trunk, I said, “I like you like this. This is the best I’ve ever seen you. I’m really pleased to be witnessing this.” I thought it was good for him to experience that kind of disability. He needed that!

Which of the other actors do you wish you had more screen time with?
Yeah, exactly, right? I mean, “all of them” is the basic answer. I’d love to work with Lena Headey, Alfie Allen, Charles Dance. I’d love to work with Peter Dinklage. There is the kind of very obviously visual aspect to that [laughs], but I just think he is a really brilliant actor, incredibly skilled, and really funny. And I think he’s loads of fun to work with.

What was your training regimen while filming?
In season two, there was a lot of work because I didn’t really have any muscle on me at all. It was a lot of packing on as much muscle mass as possible to just have the strength to carry out the stunts. Game of Thrones is a fantasy show not dedicated to any specific time, but it seems to exist in sort of a 1400s medieval fantasy world, and in that setting, I wouldn’t have had a six-pack. That said, I was very strict with myself last year, eating protein six times a day and training three or four times a week.

How heavy is the armor?
Oh God. That armor is pretty real. It’s very heavy, and it is very painful. It’s very difficult to execute any sword fighting as well because your movements are incredibly restricted — but that is exactly how the character would be moving. I mean, it’s my job to work with that and to take away the discomfort that I feel as a person and translate that into what the character is experiencing, so I don’t always look like a lumpish tin man harrumphing around, grimacing and going, “I can’t move! I can’t move!”

Do you have to schedule pee breaks? That would be my concern.
Yeah, and there was an amazing, amazing incident one time. I needed to utilize the little girls' room, and the horse mistress took me over to one of the blue portaloos. I was in there in some strange state of undress, maintaining the armor on top. I was actually simultaneously texting someone, as elegant as I am. And then the whole thing, which was on very muddy ground, started to sort of tip and move, and it was moving forward where the door is. There was one horrible moment where I thought, This whole portaloo is going to tip over and I’m going to be trapped with my trousers around my ankles, in full armor, all 900 million kilos of me, on top of the door. They’re going to have to crane me out, and it’s going to be entirely humiliating. Me, in armor, trousers around ankles, phone still in hand. [Laughs.] Luckily, I threw myself back against the back of the portaloo just in time to prevent it from tipping. But it was a lesson: Don’t text and go about your private business. In armor. 

Photo: Helen Sloan/HBO