Why Captain Phasma Kept Her Helmet On, According To Gwendoline Christie

In the build up to Star Wars: The Force Awakens, one of the most intriguing new characters was Gwendoline Christie’s chrome-plated badass Captain Phasma. After all, writer and director J.J. Abrams did call her his favorite character. What we got on screen, however, wasn’t much, as she’s only in a handful of scenes and doesn’t really have anything substantial to do. Like many Star Wars characters before her, Phasma never removes her helmet, and according to Christie, there’s an interesting reason why.

Gwendoline Christie is getting ready to return to HBO’s Game of Thrones when it comes back in a couple months, but when Entertainment Weekly caught up with her, the subject of Star Wars: The Force Awakens came up, as it likely will for the rest of her professional life, and probably beyond that. When asked about the decision to keep her character’s face hidden, the 37-year-old actress explained the choice, saying:

I thought it was a really interesting opportunity because as an actor I’m interested in transformation and different kinds of roles. … I thought it was a really interesting opportunity to play a female character where we formed an opinion of her based on her actions rather than the way she has been made flesh. And that concept within a Star Wars movie, a mainstream phenomenon, was very modern and interesting and exciting. … To be in it as that kind of character – she’s a woman, she’s in armor, the armor isn’t sexualized, and in the film we don’t see the actor’s face – I thought that was an exciting, modern concept.

In a climate where actresses are often judged more on their appearance than their actual performances, to completely hide Gwendoline Christie in metallic armor is indeed an interesting choice. It’s also one that cuts off a valuable tool in an actor’s repertoire, facial expressions--and to be honest, her armor even cuts down on the amount of body language she can use--and it presents a unique acting challenge.

This is, of course, far from the first time Star Wars has kept characters largely hidden from view behind masks. Until we saw John Boyega’s Finn, the movies hadn’t really shown the faces beneath the stormtrooper helmets, Boba Fett never removes his mask, and it’s not until the very end of Return of the Jedi that we saw what Darth Vader looked like underneath his terrifying black helmet (I guess you can argue that, chronologically speaking, there’s a lot of pre-Vader Anakin Skywalker to be seen).

As is the case with all things Star Wars, there’s a shroud of secrecy surrounding Captain Phasma’s continuing role in that far, far away galaxy. Though there are no specifics to speak of, there has been a great deal of talk about how she will have an expanded role in the upcoming Rian Johnson-directed Star Wars: Episode VIII, which just began filming the other day. We’ll have to wait a while to find out what she’ll be up to, but I still have hope that Phasma will be as good as we all hoped.

Star Wars: Episode VIII hits theaters December 15, 2017, but we’ll get another Star Wars fix later this year when Rogue One: A Star Wars Story opens on December 16.

Brent McKnight