Meet Game of Thrones' woman of weapons

By Helen Bushby
Entertainment and arts reporter

Image source, N Lee/Getty
Image caption, Natalia Lee has worked closely with Thrones star Kit Harington

It's probably not a good idea to get into an argument with Natalia Lee.

The only female armourer working on Game of Thrones, she looks after all the show's weapons, from flaming arrows to giant catapults.

She also played the fearsome Chella in season one, because they needed "a warrior who chops ears off" and then strings them around her neck.

Image source, N Lee
Image caption, She's in her element surrounded by weapons

But while she loves working with the actors, she gets worked up if anyone questions the fact that a woman is wielding swords and slingshots.

"I'm constantly told, 'Women don't want to see that, women don't want to do that.' It's so frustrating," says Australian-born Natalia, 35.

"We're capable of handling weapons, I've proved I can carry all of them.

"My job's a learned, technical skillset, so your gender has no bearing."

Image source, N Lee
Image caption, Natalia often adds the finishing touches to weapons in the workshop

Natalia's career has been a one-woman battle - literally - to get to where she is now.

It's hard to find another woman working at her level in film and TV.

But despite her seniority, she still calls herself the "baby" of the Thrones crew. The men she works with are all 20 years her senior.

She's worked alongside weapons master Tommy Dunne with "quite a small crew", helping co-ordinate their team, which includes model-makers.

Natalia's responsibilities have included designing the huge Heartsbane Sword, which Thrones fans will know was stolen by Samwell Tarley in season six.

Image source, N Lee
Image caption, Natalia did weeks of research to design the Heartsbane sword

She clearly loves her job, enthusing about how much she loves both the designing and the "physical discipline" of working with weapons.

Despite experiencing sexism during her career, her attitude towards work is unfailingly positive.

Her top advice to for aspiring female armourers is: "Yes you can!"

Image source, N Lee
Image caption, ...and here is the finished Heartsbane sword

"The job can be hard," she admits. "You're going to be the only girl in the room, quite isolated.

"I'm used to men being rowdy, and getting them on your side pretty quickly. It can be intimidating for women to be outnumbered.

"But don't be disheartened - most men want you to succeed and they've been my greatest allies."

Natalia has kept an eye out for young women on set, saying: "If it's a stand-in or stuntwoman, I'll always reach out and talk to them, I know how it is.

"Some days I'm the only woman in a male environment of thousands of men. I know it can be uncomfortable."

Image source, N Lee
Image caption, Natalia's artistic flair is used in her work

So, given she's often fighting her corner, what is the appeal of her job?

It's in her blood, she explains.

"I was surrounded by weaponry growing up, my family was always at shooting ranges."

Jobs in security led to certifications in firearms, self-defence and stunt training, before working as a civilian for New South Wales Police armoury.

Jobs assisting armourers on film sets followed, and the rest is history.

'Bursting the bubble'

"The lure of the film industry dragged me in," she says. "You tend to travel a lot and it's better than working in a bunker somewhere."

Her job on Game of Thrones means she rubs shoulders with the actors, showing them how to use the weapons, including replica swords made of rubber and aluminium.

Rubber swords are pretty common on set, as it turns out.

"The movie magic, I don't want to burst the bubble!" she laughs.

Image source, Sky
Image caption, Swords can have many replicas made of rubber and aluminium

There can be 20 versions of one sword if it's used in a lot of scenes.

Steel blades are only used for close-ups, but not in action scenes because they could "really chop someone's head off".

For fight scenes, an aluminium blade is often used because it's much blunter and lighter, but makes the same "clank" sound as steel.

Rubber can be used if someone falls off a horse or goes in water, and Natalia often touches up the paintwork afterwards.

The actors could have plenty of airs and graces working on such a popular show, but she's full of praise for them.

"I get all the younger girls and older ladies saying, 'Kit Harington, he's so beautiful', but he's a really lovely, polite young man," she laughs.

Sub zero working temperatures, Iceland.

A post shared by Natalia Lee (@natalialeearmoury) on

She recalls working with Harington, who plays Jon Snow, on a freezing glacier in Iceland, where she was wrapped in thermals while he had to contend with having his hands and face exposed.

"I was still freezing, and yet he said 'Thank you' every time I put on his sword or helped him with something."

She laughs: "If it was me, I would probably have been screaming, going 'Get that thing off!'"

Her favourite actor, though, is Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, who plays Jaime Lannister, who she likes because he's "very competitive, very sporty".

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption, Firm favourite: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau

She admires his ability to fight with one hand (fans will know the character's other one was chopped off). Natalia teaches the stars how to move around easily while wearing a sword, and how to use the crossbows, trebuchets and catapults.

"They have such high standards, I'm surprised how hard they are on themselves on set," she says.

"They're on camera from morning 'til night, they have to ace every scene. For the youngsters, being kids growing up on a film set instils a hard work ethic."

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption, The cast swapped swords for trophies at the 2016 Emmy Awards

Another firm favourite is Jerome Flynn, who plays the soldier Bronn. She describes him as fun to work with, "wisecracking and also a great humanitarian in his own life".

Special plaudits are reserved for the sword-wielding actresses.

Maisie Williams, who plays Arya Stark, is "tremendously talented", having "done everything from wirework to fighting with knives and swords".

The mighty Brienne of Tarth is played by Gwendoline Christie, who's a "very strong girl" who had to learn to lose her "feminine traits".

Natalia says: "You go, 'No buddy, you've got to look like a bloke.' It could be something as simple as how she's holding the sword, so you have to work with fine mannerisms."

But Natalia, who won't reveal any secrets when asked about the final series in 2019, says she's not entirely sad to say farewell to the show.

'More to do'

"I've been stuck in medieval weaponry since the pilot - eight years. They say there's going to be a prequel but I'm out, wanting to do my own thing."

Her next job is firmly rooted in modern-day warfare, on Amazon's new Tom Clancy series Jack Ryan.

As for the future, she's positive but thinks there's so much more to do.

"We need mentoring programmes, female apprentices and a quota for women on the crew. If one girl sees another in a workshop, they won't feel as intimidated," she says.

"When we can say there's a girl who works with a two-tonne catapult and nobody blinks an eyelid, that's when we'll be on an equal playing field."

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