From Academy Award-winning writer/director Jane Campion, Top of the Lake: China Girl sees Detective Robin Griffin (Elisabeth Moss) having recently returned to Sydney and trying to rebuild her life. When the body of a girl washes up on the beach with little hope of finding the killer, Robin gets drawn deeper and deeper into the investigation while she’s also trying to reconnect with the daughter she gave up at birth. The six-hour story also stars Gwendoline Christie, Nicole Kidman, Alice Englert, David Dencik and Ewen Leslie.
During a small roundtable to promote the return of Top of the Lake, actress Gwendoline Christie (who plays Miranda Hilmarson, an eager new recruit in the Sydney police force who’s excited to be partnered with Robin) talked about why she wanted to be a part of this project, being afforded a little bit more choice in the work that she does, wanting to know everything she can about the character she’s playing, whether it’s on Top of the Lake or in the Star Wars movies, the experience of working with such a brilliant artist as Jane Campion, and why she was (and still is) so obsessed with Twin Peaks.
Question: When you have more of a choice and say over what projects you do now, why was Top of the Lake: China Girl appealing?
GWENDOLINE CHRISTIE: I think what we’re seeing is that the world is developing and evolving somewhat, in terms of creatively recognizing that what we want to see in our entertainment is people that are representative of ourselves, and we want to see different kinds of women, different kinds of men, and different kinds of humans. It still isn’t at the stage where it’s all embracing, but definitely, there is an evolution, and that’s really, really positive. So, I wouldn’t say I’m at the stage of being able to pick and choose. That’s the rarified air for the .1% of the movie stars, but I am afforded a little bit more choice. It was only natural to me because I’ve wanted to work with Jane Campion since I was 11. I still wrote her a letter. She said she wrote the part for me, but I still had to audition for three and a half hours. She said, “I know you’re in Game of Thrones, but I have to check you can act,” so we did three and a half hours of improvisation, which was fantastic. I was prepared to do whatever was required to get that part. And then, when I got the scripts, I was really excited because, having been such a huge fan of the first season, I wanted to see where it would go because it could have gone absolutely anywhere. Jane always subverts form, so I liked that the second season actually felt like an entirely separate and different entity. It exists on its own terms because it’s a different world. You have its common and identifying central factor, in the form of Robin, but there’s a totally different set of characters. It’s four years later, and the world is a different place.
For Game of Thrones, you have source material to turn to, but Captain Phasma is a character in the Star Wars universe that we don’t know much about yet and this season of Top of the Lake is its own world. When you’re playing a character, how much do you want to know about your character?
CHRISTIE: Absolutely everything!
Were you given the opportunity to get that backstory, before you started the shoot?
CHRISTIE: Jane [Campion] and I talked about the [Top of the Lake] character for hours on the phone. We talked about who she was and where she’d come from, and I had done all of my work, as well. I’m hugely lucky to have been classically trained in the method approach, so I do all of my work for who that character is. That way, I can go into that situation and everything is justified in logic and fact, like it is for us, as humans. Life governs the decision-making process that becomes who we are. And Rian [Johnson] and I did have long conversations about [Captain Phasma] and who she was, and I was utterly delighted in how willing he was to listen to my ideas, and really thrilled to exchange them with him and hear his. He really is a master writer/director. We’ve seen that in the films that he’s made, but I think that we truly will see that in the depths to which he goes with The Last Jedi
Is it surreal to work on projects that carry on beyond their medium, whether it’s through books or comics?
CHRISTIE: I’ve always worked with artists, since my late teens. I’ve never approached the world of acting as just an actor. I’ve seen it in a way that is much more three-dimensional. That’s why my favorite TV show, other than Game of Thrones and Top of the Lake, was Twin Peaks, both when I was 11 and remains now. I thought I was going to pass out when I met Kyle MacLachlan (at Comic-Con). I was talking to some other members of the cast, and then I became aware of this presence that moved towards me like the most graceful, beautiful, silent, powerful, radiating energy monolith. I looked up and I said, “Oh, hello!”