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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Gwendoline Christie Talks Captain Phasma and Fighting Gender Stereotypes

Since we first saw Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie) in all of her chrome-plated glory in the second teaser for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, she's attracted tons of discussion and speculation. There's a female stormtrooper now? How could that have happened? Various interviews, merchandise, and promotional art has confirmed her role as a prominent villain in the film, and J.J. Abrams cited her as his favorite character. 
Christie as Brienne of Tarth (left), Captain Phasma (right)
Christie is most known for starring in Game of Thrones as strong and honorable knight Brienne of Tarth. In comparison, Phasma is a power-hungry, intergalactic officer of the villainous First Order. These two characters seem pretty different, but the clear connection is that they're both capable, female warriors who reject gender stereotypes. Additionally, Christie is starring in another huge movie of the winter, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay- Part 2, as Commander Lyme, yet another strong woman. If she's being typecast, she's certainly not complaining about it, Christie told Variety.
“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. 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.”
Christie also spoke about the challenges of portraying Captain Phasma: 
“It was very important to J.J. that I was there acting a part. 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.”
In late August, on the official Star Wars Facebook page, a user named Cody Paul made a rather sexist remark about Phasma's armor looking unfeminine, and the page personally responded with a pretty logical defense, much to the delight of the rest of the Internet. Presumably, Paul was expecting high-heeled boots, a short skirt, and/or a cleavage-bearing breastplate, all of which are common among other fictional female warriors, and yet severely impractical in real combat. Christie explained to Variety how she made her character feminine in much more subtle ways, and what she thought of the brilliant response from the Star Wars page. 

“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... [The Star Wars page's response] 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. That’s just my opinion, that education combats fear, and fear leads to prejudice."
Christie certainly seems to have very progressive ideas, and it's clear that she dedicated herself to the role. We can only hope that we'll see some of Captain Phasma in action when the first full-length trailer for The Force Awakens drops sometime this fall. What are you hoping for in Captain Phasma's character? Tell me in the comments, and may the force be with you all. 

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