Down the Call-Sheet: Birgitte Hjort Sorensen in 'Game of Thrones'
If you are at all familiar with HBO's hit fantasy series 'Game of Thrones' you know any actor is just happy to be on the call-sheet let alone far down on it. As series regular Peter Dinklage recently sang so eloquently in the Chris Martin parody 'A Man of All Seasons' characters tend to not last long on the ruthless show. And let's face it, with as many stories this show threads along when one is down the call-sheet, one is REALLY down the call-sheet.
That's what makes Birgitte Hjort Sorensen's (pronounced Beer-GUI-deh yord SIR-ehn-sehn ) guest spot in the season 5 episode 'Hardhome' so striking. In a sea of characters, plotlines and chaos she literally stands out of a crowd. (Spoiler alert) Portraying a wildling mother and warrioress named Karsi (though I don't even recall hearing her name uttered), Sorenson is introduced in the meeting of the clan leaders. As Jon Snow makes his pitch for unity against the white walkers he is faced with a clamorous dissonance from the unruly cabal. Amidst the clamor of men, giants and cannibals the soft eyes and worldly countenance of Birgitte's Karsi emerges as a sympathetic but wary voice of reason.
What can easily be lost in a show of this magnitude is the daunting task of stepping in out of nowhere and making it seem like you've been in this world all along. Indeed, Birgitte does just that. Hailing from Denmark, she has the Nordic look we have come to accept as the folk north of wall. More importantly she wears her strength on her sleeve. Before she even speaks a word at the council we find ourselves drawn to her. Part of this is insightful camera-work by the director, Miguel Sapochnick, but more than that she carries a presence. Shoulder to shoulder with sullied, giant men she seems every bit their equal.
It is an easy trap in this type of role to take a sort of defensive posture internally. Surrounded by rugged terrain in a segment more defined by its action than its dialogue one can find themselves relying purely on the physical. Poses and clichéd looks are a tempting option in order to make your mark. The battle-hardened wildling woman could be a two-dimensional arch-type that would be understood by the audience instantly. Instead we get a complex mixture of compassionate mother and tribal leader as well as the ferocity of one who has had to fight for everything in her life and knows how to stand her ground.
It is perhaps telling that her character Karsi does not come directly from the novels. Originally written as a man she then became a composite of two women: Morna White Mask and Mother Mole. It is common for this series to compress narratives and characters for clarity to varied acceptance from the novels fans. In Karsi it works to great effect because Sorenson has the ability to carry both energies within her without a sense of contradiction. Part of her appeal when we meet her in the gathering of the village is that we can clearly sense that she is truly listening. Her face is open and receptive without the hard mask of defiant certainty such a character might possess.
Perhaps in the massive coordination of the epic melee that little tent of actors felt like a great respite to slow down and just be present. Imagine, if you will, that you've been cast in this episode (I know, I know but settle down). You are flown to Northern Ireland in the dead of winter. Waiting there are 400 extras, 50 stunt men and a massive film crew that has just eight hours of sunlight a day to get everything they need. Week after week you have to learn and perform long combat sequences regardless of any previous experience. You have to learn them with the stunt actor, then a green screen version and then with an invisible partner because many of the wights and walkers are purely CG creations. You shoot three different versions all while wearing a heavy costume and going through endless hair and make-up adjustments in the snow. All of this to get 20 minutes of footage for an episode of television and your character dies.
Yes, I'm sure on whatever day the call-sheet read: INTERIOR: WILDLING HUT all the actors thanked the Lord of Light and enjoyed just being able to talk. Sometimes those harsh conditions can create a bond that is translated through the camera. Perhaps it is one of the many secrets of this shows success. The cast always seems up for big scenes and their camaraderie is contagious.
Though Sorensen is a new face to many viewers she comes to this appearance fully armed. Having trained at the Danish national School of Theatre she shares nationality with cast-mate and fan Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jaime Lannister). The two even shared the screen together in the Danish film titled 'At World's End' (Ved Verdens Ende) A fitting title if ever there was one for this experience. Gaining notice on the stage she then began working in London, playing Virgilia in Coriolanus with Tom Hiddleston, along with films and episodics on the BBC as well as Denmark.
It's a testament to Sorensen that her character Karsi seems like she has always been on the show. So much so I found myself trying to predict her role going forward on the series before her shocking demise. It was, in fact, a great death. Poetic in the way that her primary ambition was to save her children and when faced with the spectred young she has no will to destroy them further. This was not about winning but the dread of a war already lost. Birgitte had all of 2 seconds to portray that anguish but her work to that point had built the context thoroughly. She symbolically crosses her weapons to her stunned face and surrenders to the inevitable end she agreed to when she forwent departure.
By all accounts, Birgitte Sorensen is having her moment. With a timely and completely unrecognizable turn in 'Pitch Perfect 2' the media and fans are taking notice. There are interviews and columns about her appearance in Vanity Fair, MTV, EW, etc. You can't plan moments like this as an actress you can only be ready and do your job when the time comes. While many bemoan her untimely demise on 'Game of Thrones' (it seems an endless ritual) she has slyly suggested we may not have seen the last of her.
While Sorensen's fate on 'Game of Thrones' is uncertain her future with HBO has been re-animated. Working with Martin Scorcese on the networks up-coming rock and roll project she appears in all eight episodes. Coincidentally the show was created by 'Boardwalk Empire' creator, Terrence Winter.
I guess the ominous phrase "Winter is coming" isn't always a bad thing after all.