The 6-foot-3 British actress is quick to laugh in an interview, but on screen she cuts an intimidating and imposing figure as the tall female knight in the HBO fantasy series. Christie and the rest of the cast return for a fourth season of Thrones April 6, though a Season 3 Blu-ray and DVD is out now for those who need to catch up.
The third year found Brienne in the service of Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley), and she is tasked with returning Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) to Kings Landing — though along the way Lannister doesn't prove as handy as he should as a master swordsman.
And the new season? It's not only structurally very different from the other three, Christie says, but also "I think it's going to blow people's minds."
Christie, who also appeared in the Terry Gilliam films The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus and The Zero Theorem as well as the TV show Wizards & Aliens, talks with USA TODAY about what's coming next in the land of Westeros, her gymnastics background and swordfighting safety.
Q. I'm sure author George R.R. Martin and the rest of the Game of Thrones team is stalking everyone with an ax to make sure no spoilers get out, but what can you tease about where we'll find Brienne in this new season?
A. Over Seasons 2 and 3, we've see a real growth of character, and Season 3 certainly saw her placed in situations she'd never been in before with the type of person she'd never been manacled to before — I don't think she'd ever been manacled to anyone — and had gone on this very complex and lengthy journey with Jaime Lannister.
At the end of Season 3, we of course see that she delivers him back to Kings Landing, almost in one piece, and then in Season 4 it's safe for me to say that is where we see them again. Brienne finds herself throughout Season 4 in situations that are unexpected and outside of her comfort zone.
What I love so much about the show is we really see the expansion of the character — we see her move through different stages of development and we see her at Kings Landing, which is perhaps not a kind of environment that Brienne is used to negotiating. It's a world of secrets, of words, of intrigue, and Brienne is a women of physicality and physical action. We see the development of this person as they negotiate another new world that they have no experience of.
Also, yet again, Brienne is tested against great hardship — perhaps the greatest hardship yet.
Q. In Westeros, conflicts can often be very methodical and intellectual things. Will she get more involved in that or learn how to do that in her own way?
A. Brian… (Laughs)
Q. I guess you can't go there.
A. What I love about what George R.R. Martin created is the progression of a character. I do say it because it's true, in Game of Thrones the only thing you can ever expect is totally the unexpected. We see the punishing nature of human experience as people are tested again and again.
There is no shortage of action for her. And sometimes with comic consequences.
Q. Do you really dig Brienne's physicality?
A. I love it. Certainly, it wasn't something I did before I got the part — it's something I did exclusively for the part, and something I've become more interested in as a consequence. I never played a really physical woman before, and that was something I was really interested and intrigued by and wondered how that might manifest itself, and the kind of challenges it's posed have been enormous. (Laughs) You don't just find yourself trying to act well but also be good physically too.
It's exciting and makes you feel really alive. I'm never bored.
Q. It also seems like an empowering role both for you and for fans of the character. Not only just the physical stuff, but there's some pathos and gravitas to her journey as well.
A. Brienne is an outsider, but for me she's not just defined by her physicality, even though that defines her outsider status in the book.
Brienne's outsider nature as a woman gives us something that many women can tap into: the struggle of inequality or the struggle of being marginalized or the struggle of just feeling like you're outside the party.
We're presented in Season 2 with this big, tall woman who has these male affectations, and as the story continues we actually see a woman — we stop seeing, oh, look at her physicality. We see her in the situation rather than the situation impacting on her.
Q. Being tall yourself, have you found that in your own life where your height might strike people before your personality?
A. I think everyone feels that in their own life, don't they? Everyone has something that defines them, whether they're wildly intelligent or whether they have really big feet. (Laughs) Or maybe they're really pretty.
The beauty of existence is that we get past the superficialities and material world and hopefully move into, lord, hopefully a bit of depth.
Q. Do your personal tastes tend toward fantasy and Game of Thrones-type entertainment?
A. I am quite a mad Game of Thrones fan. (Laughs) I'm really excited to watch it and I'm even more excited to be in it!
I've always liked fairy tale and spectacle. I wouldn't say I was a fantasy fan, but anything beyond reality I've always found exciting — the work of David Lynch, the work of Tim Burton. But for me I also love those things that are absolutely about human relationships.
Q. Somebody like Terry Gilliam who you've worked with is kind of like that.
A. Absolutely. Boringly, I like a bit of everything. I love action films, I really love Paul Thomas Anderson, I love the world of Fellini, I love Sofia Coppola. I've always liked visual spectacular.
Q. You were a gymnast before an injury veered you toward being an actress. Let's say you're watching gymnastics during the Olympics — do you look at it with a critical eye?
A. I so wish I had ever been good enough to be in the Olympics! (Laughs) I was a semi-professional gymnast between the ages of 7 and 11, so I wish I could sit there now with some authority and say, "I could do better than that…." Mostly I just sit there and admire their incredible expertise.
What I've always loved about gymnastics and one of the many reasons I love watching it now is the combination of skill and freedom it has, the discipline and expression — letting you dance.
That part of my life stopped when I was 11, and then I just decided I'd be an actress. Life is more productively lived when the emphasis is placed on overcoming the obstacle than the obstacle itself, so when I watch it I just watch it and save the melancholy for the acting.
Q. Now you're more liable to break down sword fights on TV.
A. Oh yeah, I do. You really got me now! (Laughs) That I really do like to watch but I'm not as good at it as I would like to be. I would like to be world champion — Brienne is, but I would like to be as well.
I'm not really someone who would think, I could do better. I think, "How did they do that?" or "How did they do that so well?" And maybe I could work that in. I have been known to get up close and personal with a sword fight.
Q. Have you had any nasty injuries yet?
A. HBO looks after me so well. My sword master C.C. Smiff is pretty much dedicated to my safety to the point that I've become like a stroppy child saying, "Oh God, I'm fine! I can walk up this mountain! I can do that!" (Laughs) I would be throwing myself all over the place and frightening them.
I'm very lucky in that thus far I have not received any particularly serious long-term injury. That's boring, isn't it? I wish I could say, "Yeah, actually filming Season 4, the top of my head was cut off and I had to stitch it back on — no one's really noticed and thankfully the hair's short, but it won't ever grow past my ears."
Q. In between seasons, do you go as far afield from Brienne as possible — letting your hair grow, avoiding swordplay, etc.?
A. I love my job, I really do, but what one embraces when one isn't dedicated one's self to a part, where so much of your concentration is placed, is you just want to be at liberty.
I'm wearing a skirt right now, Brian. It's fairly short. And I had a pair of high-heeled shoes on early, I will confess. And I'm wearing a full face of makeup also and have let the hair grow a little bit, so maybe you've caught me out. (Laughs)
It's nice to be mistress of your own mansion. Certainly Season 2, when I prepared so intensely, it was such a big shock because I had never done anything like that before. I was doing all the protein shakes and I bulked up a lot because I didn't really have any muscle on my body, and I had to create all that muscle and then strip it down. That's a very long process.
It was a little unnerving at points, but because you're altering yourself in service of something else. But ultimately if you feel uneasy, then you just remind yourself how grateful you are to have a job and to have a fantastic job and you're in service of something that's greater than yourself. And that's a very nice situation to find one's self.
Q. This has been a pretty big role for you. Has it led to folks wanting you for more parts? I can imagine Marvel or Warner Bros. eyeing you for superhero movies because you have a definite physical presence.
A. Yes, there's definitely more interest. I can't say anything more than that. (Laughs) Things are definitely looking exciting, but we'll have to see.
Q. Nicely played. Has being on Game of Thrones made you better at keeping secrets?
A. It's so strange, I never think of it like that. It was a few weeks ago, but I realized I had never told anyone a spoiler. I've never said, "Oh my God, you'll never believe what happens, and then this happens and then this happens…" And I know lots of people are big fans.
When people are excited to see it and to know it, what I enjoy is seeing their excitement, not delivering the news and them just going, "Oh, that happened. You've ruined it for me." (Laughs)
I would hope it's made me better at keeping secrets, but keeping secrets of the script is not an effort.
(Fixed the image link to imgur, sry)
How much of Brienne's storyline do you think we'll get through this season? What about other characters? It's getting harder to tell as we get more into AFFC/ADWD plotlines.