Gwendoline Christie is Wednesday Addams’ charismatic principal in new Tim Burton series  

Nathalie Tomada - The Philippine Star
Gwendoline Christie is Wednesday Addams� charismatic principal in new Tim Burton series   
Gwendoline Christie (Game of Thrones, Star Wars) plays Principal Larissa Weems, the headmistress at Nevermore Academy, also known as the ‘educational haven’ for supernaturally gifted outcasts like Wednesday Addams.

 “In a world full of normies, do you feel like an outcast?”

That’s how English actress Gwendoline Christie — as Principal Larissa Weems — invites prospective students to enroll at Nevermore Academy, an “educational haven for supernaturally gifted outcasts” like our macabre teen heroine, Wednesday Addams, in Netflix’s Wednesday.

Directed and executive-produced by Tim Burton, the series tells the journey of Wednesday (played by Jenna Ortega) into young adulthood. This includes training her psychic gifts, carving her own path away from her parents’ shadow, navigating newfound friendships and dealing with a mysterious monster in the local town where Nevermore is at.

Principal Weems attempts to guide the 200-year-old institution’s newest student who, unsurprisingly, doesn’t do well with figures of authority. It doesn’t help either that she was the former school rival of Wednesday’s mom Morticia Addams. And beneath her charismatic and so fashionably put together exterior is a stubbornness that seemingly matches Wednesday’s, so much so they clash the moment the latter is delivered to the doorstep at Nevermore.

During a roundtable Zoom interview in the leadup to the Nov. 23 premiere, Christie furnished multiple reasons why she said yes to the series. First of all, she jumped at the opportunity to work with Burton, the man behind such films as Sweeney Todd, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Corpse Bride, Mars Attacks, Beetlejuice, Frankenweenie, among others.

“I’ve always wanted to work with Tim as far back as I can remember. He was one of my dream directors. I truly love his work. I think he’s a marvelous storyteller,” began the actress, whom we last interviewed, in person, back in 2019 for Game of Thrones.

Wearing an all-black uniform, Wednesday Addams (played by Jenna Ortega) still defies norms at the 200-year-old school that rejects ‘normies

Christe, an Addams Family fan, also felt assured over Burton directing “new chapter” — not a reboot or a remake, as showrunners Alfred Gough and Miles Millar noted in the press notes — of a story that has long cemented its place in pop-culture canon.

“I’ve also really loved The Addams Family, the black and white TV series and I really love the (‘90s) films of Anjelica Huston and Christina Ricci and so I just knew it would be in safe hands. I knew that (Burton’s) sensibility would work so perfectly with The Addams Family. And I wasn’t disappointed,” she said.

When it came to her approach to the character, Christie enjoyed how Burton would get her to push and pull her back with her “comedy” and “look at the reality of the situation.”

“Tim is a hugely collaborative director,” she added.

“He really wants to know what you think and how you feel comfortable, how you see the character, how you want to look.”

When it came to her look and style, Wednesday afforded the 6’3”-tall actress the chance to experiment and work with Oscar-winning costume designer Colleen Atwoods.

“You have someone who is — I don’t use the term lightly — a genius costume designer who’s able to look at you and see what suits you best,” said Christie. “I felt like my body was truly celebrated and my creative ideas were completely respected.”

She further recalled the “surreal” and “immersive” first day on set in Romania, where they filmed in an actual fun fair, as well as the “wonderful time” acting alongside other casts. “Working with these amazing actors like the legendary Luis Guzman, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Jenna Ortega who I wasn’t so familiar with but who is an outstanding actor, and of course, the iconic Christina Ricci, is sublime.”

Guzman, Zeta-Jones and Ortega play Gomez, Morticia and Wednesday of The Addams Family, while Ricci, who essayed Wednesday Addams in the ‘90s movies, has a very special role in the series.

Reel and real inspiration

In preparing to embody the role of a principal, Christie took inspiration and references from both real and reel life.

“I spoke with a headmistress of a school at length about what a headmistress really entails, and also what it meant to deal with difficult students, which very interestingly she said they don’t exist. And often, what was really fascinating, she said it meant that they could be the cleverest, the most interesting, the most unconventional and that was valued,” she said in a response to a question from The STAR.

“That really gave me an insight into Weems. That one of the reasons she spent so much time with Wednesday is she does see potential (in her) and she knows she has many hidden talents. She thinks it’s a straightforward case of a highly gifted student that has gone down the wrong path or doesn’t yet have the skills to know how to express herself constructively. But instead, she finds there is all of that (and that) there’s also a world of inimitable darkness (laughs) within Wednesday Addams.”

ristie further revealed she got inspired by female actors in Alfred Hitchcock films. One series trivia is that Weems’ look was creatively influenced by Tippi Hedren as Melanie in Hitchcock’s 1963 film The Birds.

“I also looked at the way in which some of the actors in Hitchcock films portrayed their characters. Actresses like Tippi Hedren in The Birds but also Kim Novak in (the 1950s film) Vertigo and much of Novak’s work, which at times had a very feline quality to her,” she said.

“It was fascinating to me to see the way that women would often portray themselves. I don’t like to always give a list of everything I’ve done or watched or drawn upon because I think it can destroy the magic but women certainly helped themselves in a different way. There was a different language, physical expression during that Hitchcock era. It was fascinating to tap into and find a power in it now, as this character.”

Principal Weems is the latest in Christie’s string of onscreen roles that runs the gamut, from Commander Lyme in Hunger Games, Captain Phasma in Star Wars films (The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi), to Lucifer in Netflix’s The Sadman and of course, the badass Brienne of Tarth in Game of Thrones. Her roles have oft-been described as a redefinition of female characters on the small and big screens.

Diverse, complex roles

Landing such diverse roles wasn’t intentional on her part though.

“It’s not my mission. It’s literally what comes to me. I’m interested in playing a wide range of things. I really love all the characters I play and I know how fortunate I am,” Christie said.

“I also love doing period pieces like The Personal History of David Copperfield with Armando Iannucci or real drama (Top of the Lake) with Jane Campion. That is as satisfying to me. But it is what comes to me. I don’t know why! I can imagine so many reasons why but I don’t know. Maybe you can tell me, hahaha!” she added with a laugh ringing across the virtual room with the Filipino press.

It’s also not hard to recognize that many of her characters straddle between hero and villain. Weighing in on the appeal of these types of roles, Christie said they reflect human experience. “I think we are all capable of everything as human beings. We’re immensely flawed and often lose our way and only really learn from our mistakes, which can be a very difficult thing to do.”

She, however, stressed that these roles are the most enjoyable to portray. “It’s the most fun to play a character but you don’t quite know where their loyalties lie. You don’t quite know who they are. They keep changing. They keep changing their mind. The way you see them keeps changing. It’s very challenging as an actor to inhabit that, explore that and bring reality to it,” she shared.

“It forces you to really examine the human experience and vulnerability of what that is, and ambition and desire and what they are. I think it affords actors the luxury of thinking about what it means to be human.”

Interestingly, the roles Christie is most recognizable for belong to beloved franchises with the most dedicated fanbases. While she feels the weight of responsibility to help bring success to these projects, she has never fully grasped the extent of the fandoms.

“I don’t know that it necessarily serves me to spend too much time thinking of that because if you feel under pressure, you’re less able to have creativity flow. So, I’ve focused on the character and what the story is, how to tell the story,” she said.

“I have to say I feel immense gratitude for being cast in things that people do love. I recognize that and I’m genuinely grateful for that.”

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