Kristina Baskett, the stunt woman who whipped wide-eyed Arya Stark into a believable Night King killer is the “Game of Thrones” Season 8’s deadliest secret weapon, and of course not made of Valyrian steel.
At 5-foot-2, she’s a near-perfect match for 5-foot-1 Emmy nominee Maisie Williams.
“I did gymnastics my entire life and I was able to receive a scholarship to compete at the University of Utah, where I had an amazing experience,” Baskett, 31, tells New York Post. “I became an NCAA champion on the uneven bars and a 12-time All-American, and I think that definitely set me up for a career in stunt doubling.”
After graduating in 2009, Baskett traded in her red-white-and-blue leotard for the sparkly spectacle of Sin City. She performed with “La Réve” at the Wynn Las Vegas casino resort for two years. Her signature move for the acrobatic/illusionist troupe was a show-stopping high-dive off a giant, multi-tiered fountain amid a high-tech light show.
She followed that splashy gig with her first stunt stint: Disney’s “Make It or Break It,” a gymnastics dramedy that ran from 2009 to 2012 on ABC Family.
“That really is what introduced me to the world of stunts,” she says, flashing a dimpled grin. “I had no idea what I was doing but I knew that I enjoyed it and I wanted to pursue it and see where it could go. It’s taken me on the most amazing adventure.”
Kristina, right, says Maisie is “our favourite type to work with” because she’s “very excited about stunts” and “naturally talented.”
After her scripted TV debut, ample doubling work followed on shows ranging from “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” and “Modern Family” to “American Horror Story,” “NCIS: Los Angeles” and “Glee,” to name just a few.
She took the “Wild” risks Oscar nominee Reese Witherspoon couldn’t and racked up more than 75 screen credits before encountering the pop culture juggernaut that is HBO’s “GoT” in 2016.
“I remember waking up one morning to an email from the stunt coordinator on ‘Game of Thrones,’ asking if I’d be interested in joining the stunt team,” she says of the career milestone. “Of course, at first I was very excited. I’m definitely a big fan. I read all of the books before it was even a show.”
But with cutthroat industry experience comes the reality check.
“You try not to get your hopes up on the initial contact because there’s a lot more that goes into it than just like, ‘Hey! Do you wanna join the show?!’ We went through a lot of steps in order to make it happen, but once it was official, and it was a sure thing and I was on my way to Northern Ireland, I was very excited to be a part of it.”
She was on set for the entire filming of episode 3 (i.e. the infamously dark Battle of Winterfell), which consisted of three months of all-night shoots.
“It was very cold, wet and dirty — exactly what it looks like on screen, but we knew it was going to be really amazing, so we kept telling ourselves that to push through.”
However, Baskett claims the episode’s climactic moment — Arya’s fatal knife-drop fake-out with the Night King — is indeed enacted by Maisie herself.
“Which is a great thing because it means we did a good job as a stunt department. We do a lot of work rehearsing [and] a lot of testing and working with the choreography to get it as perfect as we can before we bring the actors in. A lot of what we do is working with the actors to make them look as good as they can and do as much as they can because that looks best on film.”
Alas, a less high-profile action segment is Baskett’s own personal best from her three seasons on the series.
“Definitely my favourite sequence that I’ve done on the show is the chase scene through Braavos in season 6. It was so cool to actually run through the streets of Spain with a lot of action involved. I think one of the biggest things I’ve done for her character is the massive stair fall that happens during the chase scene. It was a never-ending fight of stone steps. It’s one of those where you’re like, ‘OK, I’m just gonna throw myself down these steps.’ ”
Indeed, executive producer/writer/co-creator David Benioff lauds her as “an excellent stuntwoman for the dangerous stuff” in HBO’s behind-the-scenes doc about the final season.
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The surreal nature of this line of work is not wasted on Baskett. One minute she has a grenade in her hand, the next she’s swapped it for a cup of coffee with White Walkers.
“There are so many times when I’ll look around and say, ‘This is so strange. Our lives are so weird,’ ” she says, stifling a chuckle. “When they say action you have these scary White Walker stuntmen running and growling at you, trying to kill you. Then as soon, as they say, cut you say, ‘Oh my gosh! I’m so sorry, did I hit you? Are you OK? Please let me know if I’m hurting you.’
“These random moments are some of the best memories of the show,” she says, admitting that the “very emotional” final days on set with a cast and crew that spent nearly a decade together had her “feeling the feels.”