When Gwendoline Christie was announced as playing Brienne of Tarth on Game of Thrones, there were detractors who couldn’t imagine how she’d fit the bill as such a physically unattractive character. Christie, though tall enough at 6’3″, had worked as a model and had gorgeous, long blonde hair.
For fans not familiar with the books, the character of Brienne is a female warrior who is highly loyal to Renly Baratheon. She is also often maligned as the ugliest woman in all of Westros being taller than most men, having too many freckles, a pug-nose, and figure that is muscular and not at all feminine. She is often sarcastically referred to as “Brienne the Beauty”. Her only esthetically redeeming feature in the books are her blue eyes.
Author George R.R. Martin quickly came to Christie’s defense on his blog stating, “This was another one of those cases where there was hardly any debate. The day the first batch of auditions went up for the role, we looked at a dozen actresses who were reading for Brienne and one actress who WAS Brienne. Gwendoline gave a great reading, and her look was just perfect….She came in looking… well, like Brienne.”
In an interview with SFX, Christie talks about what she went through to further perfect Brienne’s look after coming into audition having already altered her appearance.
“Once I got the part I worked out with a trainer called Phil Learney, a strength and conditioning expert,” she says. “I put on over a stone of muscle, working out three or four times a week. He tailored my workout specifically so I’d develop the kind of body structure of someone that rode horses and did sword-fighting.
“I was given extensive horse-riding lessons, so that not only was I confident on the horse, but I could ride. And a brilliant stunt coordinator called CC Smith taught me how to fight and swordfight. My physicality was altered so I was much heavier in the way I walked, less upright and a lot more masculine.”
Christie further reveals that the transformation wasn’t without pain.
“When they cut my hair off, the transformation was complete,” she says. “I really, really miss it. When I had it cut I was a good girl on set – I went to my dialogue session and my horse-riding session – then I went to my hotel room, shut the door and sobbed for two hours.
“I found it deeply upsetting. It’s such a minor thing, but I think women tie-up so much of their femininity in their hair. I certainly did – being six foot three and having that gone and playing such an androgynous character, I felt I’d lost so much of the person I identified as me and who I knew. It felt like a bit of a death.”
For a side-by-side comparison, here is a shot of Christie just before landing the role and Christie as Brienne.