Gwendoline Christie in 'Top of the Lake: China Girl'. Picture: See-Saw

You might not know the name Gwendoline Christie yet, but you’ll recognise her immediately, as Brienne of Tarth in 'Game of Thrones'' or as Captain Phasma in ''Star Wars'. 

At six foot five, Gwendoline is hard to miss, “a real expansion of the idea of how women ‘should’ be,” according to Jane Campion, director of Top of the Lake: China Girl.

Jane cast Gwendoline as her third lead alongside Elisabeth Moss (The Handmaid’s Tale) and Nicole Kidman (Big Little Lies) in the second season of her Emmy and Golden Globe winning crime series.

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Gwendoline plays Miranda Hilmarson, a police constable partnered with police detective Robin Griffin (Elisabeth), who has just returned to Sydney and is trying to rebuild her life. 

When the body of an Asian girl washes up on Bondi Beach, there appears little hope of finding the killer, until they realise ‘China Girl’ didn’t die alone: she was a surrogate carrying a child for a desperate couple.

Gwendoline had wanted to work with Jane since seeing her Oscar winner, The Piano, as a teenager. 

“When I was at drama school, I used to go home and watch The Piano regularly, and I'd fall asleep to it. 

So it really was a part of my world, and it helped me to see the world in a different way. I realised I was not just looking at a story through the eyes of a great artist but I was looking at the story through the eyes of a female director.”

 

She reached out to Jane after seeing the first season of Top of the Lake. 

“I fell in love with it. I thought it was the most brilliant series. I thought that Elisabeth Moss was brilliant, ravishingly brilliant, and everyone was so real. And the humour, the incredible humour. The relationships between the characters were so complex and so real, I really wanted to be a part of it.”

Gwendoline calls the season two scripts “absolutely the most darkly hilarious thing I've ever read. It’s a piercing stare into the core of what it is to be human. That’s why the drama is so painful and so funny – because it’s true.”

She says Top of the Lake: China Girl ”is an exploration into a subject that doesn't get enormous amount of airtime in TV shows – what it is to be a woman, at many ages.”

Gwendoline has built her career on playing unconventional women. 

“I’ve always wanted to play parts outside conventional norms - that’s why it was so brilliant when I was given the opportunity to play Brienne of Tarth in Game of Thrones. I enjoy giving voice to a section of society that is not being given a voice.”

But part of the appeal of playing Miranda was the opportunity to explore a more traditionally feminine role. 

“I've been very lucky in my work in that I've explored characters that are considered to be traditionally more masculine, and it's interesting for me to move that journey on and explore those aspects of womanhood that are considered to be conventional.”

Miranda has been in the police force for around two years. During that time, she’s formed a relationship with her married boss, and isolated herself from the other officers. 

So when she hears that star detective Robin Griffin is arriving at their police station, she makes a beeline for her, but making friends proves challenging. 

Gwendoline particularly enjoying acting opposite Elisabeth. 

“I knew she was a sensational actress, but I didn't know I'd be equally bowled over by her incredible personality and her discipline and her dedication and her imagination and creativity.”

The first season of Top of the Lake is available on Showmax now.