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The reason it matters so much in our world that Captain Phasma is a woman is because it doesn’t matter very much at all in her world.
That’s according to Gwendoline Christie, the Game of Thrones actress who plays the villainous First Order officer in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. She tells EW in our Holiday Preview issue that the story takes a matter-of-fact approach to Phasma’s gender – and that seems to be part of her appeal.
“We know very little about her at this stage, but what I think people are drawn to is that this is a very progressive female character,” the actress says. “We see Captain Phasma, and we see the costume from head to toe, and we know that it is a woman. But we are used to, in our media, connecting to female characters via the way that they look, from the way they are made flesh.”
Phasma does not show skin. It’s not even clear how much – if at all – we’ll see Christie without her helmet. The silver armor also isn’t sculpted around the female form. That’s revolutionary for a genre in which women have traditionally been relegated to roles as scantily clad damsels in distress.
Phasma’s character radiates through the armor, like previous masked villains such as David Prowse’s Darth Vader and Jeremy Bulloch’s Boba Fett. We come to know her not by her expressions, but how she stands, the way she walks, and who she hurts. “We are actually connecting to a female character as a human being,” Christie says, even if, ultimately, she’s does inhuman things.
“It wasn’t just about what I was expressing above the neck, it was also as focused on what I was expressing below the neck,” says Christie. “It was an interesting acting experience as well as a fangirl’s dream.”
Strength defines much of Christie’s work, including her breakout performance on Thrones as Brienne of Tarth, the warrior whose imposing physical prowess is exceeded only by the might of her spirit. This season, Christie’s also taking over the role of fearsome Commander Lyme in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 (out Nov. 20), playing a former District 2 champion now fighting on behalf of the rebellion.
Both of those characters can stand alongside Princess Leia in the pantheon of tough, smart, no-nonsense heroines, but when Christie got the chance to play within the Star Wars universe, she ended up on the other side. The Dark Side.
“She’s Star Wars’ first female villain,” Christie says. “It’s incredible, it’s timely, and I’m very proud to be a part of it.”
Phasma demonstrates that not only can a woman be as a good as a man, she can also be as bad.
Although the character is ice cold, the role roused some powerful emotions for Christie. “Little” is not a term usually applied to the 6-foot-3 actress, but once upon a time, when Christie truly was little, she found her life changed by Star Wars.
“It’s one of the first Christmases I remember, and A New Hope was on the television. I really just fell in love with it,” the actress recalls. “I remember very distinctly adoring Princess Leia, because even in my infant mind, I thought, ‘Gosh, that’s a woman with strength.’”
Sorry, Princess Leia, Christie still loves you – but Phasma is ready to take you down.
“Unfortunately,” Christie answers in a low, sinister tone, “it came all… too … easily.”