‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’: Gwendoline Christie on Playing Captain Phasma

     September 21, 2015

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While news of Game of Thrones cleaning up at the 2015 Emmys certainly put the HBO show back in the spotlight, star Gwendoline Christie has plenty to keep her busy during the series’ off-season. Case in point, her portrayal of the mysterious, shiny-armored character Captain Phasma in J.J. Abrams’ highly anticipated Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Fans have been captivated by the new character since first appearing in the film’s trailer as a military leader, though the reveal of Christie’s portrayal of Captain Phasma has been met with both praise and confusion on either side of the gender divide.

In a recent interview with Variety, Christie talked about her role in the upcoming Star Wars film and responded to both the acting challenge Captain Phasma presented and the sexist criticism she’s already experienced. Her most notable characters in her career have been famously askew from conventional gender roles: Game of Thrones’ Brienne of Tarth is ridiculed for her masculine appearance even though her fighting abilities allow her to compete and survive on equal footing in a world ruled by men, and though the full extent of Captain Phasma’s character won’t be revealed until December 18th, the androgynous armor allows Christie to mold the character in whatever way she sees fit.


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Image via Lucasfilm

Here’s what Christie had to say about the acting challenges presented by Captain Phasma’s costume:

“It was very important to J.J. that I was there acting a part,” she noted. “I found it to be a really interesting acting challenge, not just because of what I felt this character was representing — and it was just what I felt, and we talked about it a little bit, but it was never like a manifesto, ‘this is what it must be’ — and it was exciting to me to have that weight of responsibility taken away, of having to be a certain way as a woman, to have to be mindful in a way that isn’t always useful. To have that stripped away was very liberating, and it meant that as an actor I had to focus on other things. I had to focus on what my body was communicating and what exactly my voice is communicating.”

 

She added, “It becomes about the way in which you hold your hand, the way in which you walk, where your weight lies and what you want that to mean, and I wanted to give the character identity. I thought it was interesting to make something about the character identifiably female in a non-superficial way, and I hope that comes across.”

Essentially, on the surface, the mask and armor of Captain Phasma belies nothing of the person wearing them, putting more of an emphasis on Christie’s performance of the character. It also allows her to be a pure actor without residual gender expectations, a rare opportunity in Hollywood, let alone a major franchise like Star Wars. Christie’s Captain Phasma will likely be scrutinized all the more for the character’s unconventional nature, but I for one have confidence that she’ll turn in a memorable and inspiring performance.


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Image via Lucasfilm

Christie expounds on her take on Captain Phasma below:

“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, but I found exactly the same thing with Brienne of Tarth, and that was very liberating,” she said. “It was great as an actor to work on your skills — that it isn’t about holding your head so you look beautiful. It’s about what you’re transmitting, and to be in service of an idea greater than yourself, whether it’s the character’s overriding objective or, beyond that, hopefully something more sociopolitical. We have seen an image of [Phasma] and again, it’s an unconventional kind of woman exhibiting a kind of strength, but in a very different way to my other two characters.”

Unfortunately, there are still some folks out there still don’t quite get it:

Star Wars social media folks responded perfectly, and Christie followed up in kind:

“It was beautiful because it was informative, which is what we all need in order to tackle prejudice of any kind in our world … to be fed information,” Christie said of the measured response. “That’s just my opinion, that education combats fear, and fear leads to prejudice — so if we all become more educated, and if our mainstream media continues to expand and show a more realistic representation of women and of men… For instance, in ‘The Hunger Games,’ Katniss is an incredible woman, but Peeta also is a different kind of male hero. He’s a different kind of male character because he has a rich emotional world and he isn’t the brawny steadfast man that we have seen again and again.”


Christie’s got an uphill battle against the Internet ahead of her, but if anyone can do it, it’s Brienne of Tarth / Captain Phasma / Commander Lyme. Let us know which of her performances you’re looking forward to most by sounding off in the comments below!

Be sure to head over to Variety for the full interview, including more from Christie on her famous role in HBO’s award-winning Game of Thrones series and her work in The Hunger Games films.

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Image via Vanity Fair


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