Gwendoline Christie on Playing the ‘Complete Opposite’ of Brienne of Tarth
By JENNIFER VINEYARD
SEPT. 6, 2017
If Jane Campion’s first season of the crime drama “Top of the Lake” seemed remote and somber to some, the second season, “Top of the Lake: China Girl” has more of a sense of humor, even when delving into the darker recesses of life. (In this case, migrant sex workers, institutionalized misogyny, mental illness and more.) In the second season, which begins Sunday on Sundance, Elisabeth Moss’s detective Robin Griffin, who returns home to Australia after time in New Zealand, is assigned an overeager assistant, played by “Game of Thrones” star Gwendoline Christie.
Over the phone earlier this month, Ms. Christie spoke about becoming Robin’s reluctant partner, her own reluctance to take a stand on the issues the show raises and her meltdown on set. Following are edited excerpts from that conversation.
Jane Campion wrote the character of Miranda with you in mind?
I really wanted to be in this series, so I wrote to Jane, and I was lucky enough to have her write this part for me. It touches on aspects that I don’t always feel particularly comfortable with, but I think it’s important to highlight, and so we see Miranda being marginalized at work, the victim of misogyny. It’s not always comfortable to play those things. Yes, you’re at work, and yes, you’re just playing a part, but it’s so personal.
And yet at the same time, Miranda provides some of the comic relief.
I think the series is quite hilarious! It has a very, very dark sense of humor, but it’s extremely funny. Miranda is like an enthusiastic puppy. Miranda desperately wants to be friends, and she’s really governed by emotion in a way that Brienne of Tarth from “Game of Thrones” is not. Miranda is the complete opposite of Brienne. Brienne has a reflective thought process, and works things through with sustained thought. She takes her time. She pauses. And Miranda is totally impetuous. She’s also incredibly gauche. She’s gawky. She’s awkward. She’s too much. That’s a note that Jane gave me to constantly remember: “You’re too much.”
There’s a moment when Miranda tries to make someone laugh by pretending to be a space traveler, “Captain Miranda on Andromeda West.” Was that scene improv?
Yeah. [Laughs] Jane told me that she likes to wear a space helmet that belongs to a friend of hers, to relax, and they pretend to be on a spaceship, so we included that. It seemed to be the only way to give that scene the life it deserves, to go about it with abandon, to try to be as impetuous as Miranda. That’s who Miranda is. She’s a loon. She’s bizarre. She’s a fairly illogical person.
The case Robin and Miranda are investigating involves both prostitution and surrogacy – but it’s the prostitution that’s mostly legal, and the commercial surrogacy that’s illegal, which raises all sorts of interesting questions about the ownership of female bodies.
Jane Campion is a provocateur, and she wants that conversation to take place. I think it’s no secret that we live in a patriarchal society, but as we are also apparently civilized human beings, we are, I hope, continuing to experience more equality between the sexes. So I think these sorts of conversations are incredibly worthwhile and fascinating, and necessary, too. Jane has this unique way of delivering a story that is just filled with these machinations of womanhood and femininity. She’s described it as being positively ovarian. And so the idea of the right to choose and whose right is it to choose what happens to a woman’s body is a discussion that is essential.
So what’s your take on some of those issues? Do you have an opinion on whether or not prostitution should be legalized, from working on the series?
What I find as I get older is that I don’t always have a definitive opinion, and I think the process of my life is going to be consumed with trying to consolidate what it is that I think. I don’t know how I feel about it as a whole. I really don’t. I think Jane’s reason for choosing this subject matter, and choosing Australia as the background, because it is different than other places in the world, is that when you’re presented with a different representation of the world as you know it, it causes you to question everything. What are the reasons, for any behavior?
On a lighter note, how did you survive shooting for long stretches on Bondi Beach?
I have very sensitive skin, which I obviously installed in the character of Miranda, that she has very sensitive skin. [Laughs] I was scuttling into the shade every single moment I could get and begging for SPF. Absolutely begging for it! My goodness, the heat was so intense. At one point, my eyes started burning really intensely and I couldn’t see. Elisabeth Moss said to me, “Are you O.K.? Are you having a stroke?” [Laughs] And I didn’t know! I didn’t know! I said, “Let’s just keep going! As long as I can feel your presence, I’ll be able to follow you.”