Our interview with the world’s only female film and television armorist, the very talented Natalia Lee – known for her cutting-edge work over 8 years on HBO’s juggernaut “Game of Thrones.”
In addition to her work on “GoT”, Natalia has extensive TV and film credits including working alongside Tom Hanks in HBO’s “The Pacific” and Nicolas Cage in GHOST RIDER, and weapon advising on Universal Pictures’ DRACULA UNTOLD and in the upcoming AMAZON Studios drama series “Jack Ryan.”
When Natalia isn’t busy forging swords, building trebuchets or advising on set, she likes to keep herself as physically fit as possible through boxing, weight training, and maintaining a healthy diet of clean foods. Fitness for her is key, because when it comes time to haul 200 swords up a mountain on set, she is there in front leading the pack of men.
Hi Natalia, please tell us a little about you?
I work in the film and TV industry as a Film Armourer. That’s all things weaponry.
When I get a particular script, I’m tasked with breaking it down for a production company to put together a budget and plan to achieve the shots they need in regards to weapons and armour. The plan then turn into action. From setting up workshops, teams, research, design, manufacture, training, filming, to supervising the use of the weapons on set, each project is different and each weapon presents it’s very own challenges. I’m quite young for a Film Armourer because most men I work with have at least 15 to 20 years on me. I say men because there’s not many women doing what I do. I’ve been lucky so far in my career to have travelled the world working with a vast variety of weaponry from bullwhips, catapults to iconic swords from shows like “Game of Thrones”. I’ve also been thrown into stunts and acting.
What is your work background before getting into the film/entertainment industry?
I worked in Security, Maritime Security and a Police Armoury as a civilian looking after law enforcement weapon and ammunition needs. All these jobs gave me exposure to a wide variety of weapons and defensive armour and equipment.
Describe yourself in 3 words?
TACTICAL …I mean TACTFUL …I mean TACTICAL
FIRECRACKER? (my friend told me she wrote a song about me called firecracker LOL)
Who is your biggest supporter?
My mum …I don’t think she quite understands what it is I do exactly, but she’s like, “You Go Girl!”
How did you get started as a Film Armourer?
I remember training with stunt friends when I was younger. They took me to a Film School seminar one day where a Film Armourer asked me to stand in front of a handgun and get shot (movie magic blank firing!) to freak the film students out. I had a special effect called a blood squib attached to me that was detonated in timing with the gunshot, spraying fake blood everywhere. The rest is movie history. I still get a kick out of shocking film students!
Tell us about your work with the HBO’s series “Game of Thrones?”
I’ve worked on the Emmy Award winning TV Series “Game of Thrones” since the very beginning helping run the massive Armoury Department. From archery to siege engines to fantasy swords, the show was a master class in weapons and big production film-making. It has been a global phenomenon and I even got to star as my own character, the ear chopping Chella. You would have also seen me as a stunt doubling with a kangaroo leather bullwhip in some very sculptured armour. I also got to design some pretty amazing weapons like the House of Tarly ancestral sword Heartsbane. Epic battles and extreme locations like filming on Icelandic glaciers were just part of my day job.
How did you get the opportunity to work with a big project like this?
I was asked by the Game of Thrones Weapons Master – Tommy Dunne to help run the Armoury Dept.
Do you have your own studio or where do you create and forge the custom weapons?
Usually a workshop must be set up for every specific project in the main location we are filming in. Sometimes it’s a mobile workshop on a truck on-set. I have a military grade indestructible tool box that travels the world with me… it’s a little beaten up now. For “Game of Thrones” we have built up a massive armoury in a military style hangar in Belfast Northern Ireland where the show is predominantly filmed.
What safety precautions are needed with the use of these kind of weapons on films and sets? Do actors and stunts need extra training or tips from you?
Some actors give me tips and there’s actors that are natural or have been doing action films longer than I’ve been alive so that can make things much easier. Some weapons are so specific that even the stunt men need familiarizing with. Not many people grow up operating 2 story trebuchets! Film Armourers make sure anyone in contact with weapons on a film set clearly understand the operating procedures including safe working distances. I get to work with stunt persons and specific experts like Military Technical Advisors that can add very authentic weapon craft to a project. This all helps the actor kick ass against the bad guys or maybe be the bad guy.
What other projects have you have been part of? What can fans see you or your work in next?
I recently worked on Amazon’s new TV Series “Jack Ryan”, a CIA action thriller featuring John Krasinski. Watch out for me behind the scenes interview in Morocco chatting in my office on the back of a Moroccan Military Monster truck racked to the brink with weapons and ammunition. It’s completely action packed and we had amazing Stuntmen and former Navy Seals helping.
How does it feel to know that you are the world’s only female Film Armourer?
I feel disappointed. I wish I wasn’t. I don’t believe it. There’s got to be another chick out there, for sure? Haven’t met one yet, which is surprising because I get a lot of females telling me they would love to do what I do! Once on a job walking into a production office the Production Manager said to me and an older guy, “So you must be the drapery person and you sir must be the armourer?” Negative, I have never made drapes in my life. He was very apologetic though and I couldn’t stop laughing. Recently on a job some crew members were taking pics of me carrying assault rifles and I had to tell them to just get it out of their system, so I could get back to work. I’m super grateful that everyone’s excited but we must get to a point where females are not a novelty but the norm. When everyone starts saying “That chick is operating a giant catapult or 50 cal. machine gun, so what?” I think we will be making a lot more headway but until then, everyone act surprised!!
3 things you can’t leave your house without?
My EDC (Every Day Carry):
Rapid One-Hand-Operable Multi Tool
Sports Bra and Suunto watch (I count them as one)
Flip Flops even when it’s raining (I’m an Aussie)
What music do you like?
Whatever sounds good! Recently, in LA I would cruise the 405 heading out to the mountains listening to country, “Written in the Sand” by Old Dominion. I love those moments! Matt Corby is my constant default. I’m also known for wearing my favourite Guns-N-Roses t-shirts to conservative boardroom meetings (c’mon who doesn’t like a bit of classic rock). AC/DC, Faith No More? I’m also listening to Kendrick Lamar’s “LOVE.” right now, sooooo romantic!
What do you do in your free time? Any hobbies or activities?
I love boxing, my poor coach copped a bloody lip recently after a strong uppercut. I just started grappling and I’ve perfected a killer choke hold. I also love gardening.
What do you like to watch on tv?
I’m always traveling and hardly ever get to watch the box. I’m usually streaming local news in whatever country I’m in and then world news becayse I have to know what’s going on outside of my bubble. However, “Miami Vice” reruns always make me feel at home especially when stuck in tacky hotels and it’s a lucky night when Steve McQueen’s “Bullitt” is on.
Best advice ever given?
ROLL WITH THE PUNCHES, get up, get up and get back up again Nat!!
Five years from now you will be…
…stepping into my very own self designed Sustainable Pre-Fabricated Shipping Container Home, somewhere in the remote Californian desert (complete with built in Archery Range of course).
…designing a line of my own tactical knives.
…filming a fifth season of my own Weapons TV Show.
…hopefully starting a family with a special someone.
…probably still cruising the 405 at sunset and sunrise.
What do you think of Social Media?
I’m old school. I value my privacy and I am super serious about information security but after persistent efforts from family, friends and fans to share my adventures online, I’m going to take a very cautious little big first step.
Where we can follow you?
On my brand-new Instagram page @NataliaLeeArmoury
Quote: If the Milk is Sour I’m Not the Type of Pussy to Drink It or CARPE DIEM – SEIZE THE DAY
Movie: Heat, Usual Suspects and True Romance equally!!
Travel Destination: 64.4220° N 16.7902° W
Sport Team: Japanese Female Karate Kata Team. If headed up by the phenomenal Rika Usami.
Song, and why? James Brown “Sexmachine”. Not sure I should answer why!
Photo credit: Courtesy of Anderson Group PR