Before she was leaping off Winterfell roofs and knife-fighting Brienne of Tarth as Maisie Williams’s stunt double on Game of Thrones, 31-year-old Kristina Baskett had dreams of Olympic gold.
The former University of Utah gymnast was a 12-time All American, and from the ages of 12 to 17, attended U.S. team training sessions at Márta and Bela Károlyi’s “Károlyi Ranch” in Texas. The notoriously tough bootcamps were attended by the best of the best: Gold medalists like Simone Biles, Shawn Johnson, and Aly Raisman have all convened there for Olympic training. It’s also, of course, one of the gyms where convicted former team doctor Larry Nassar sexually abused young female athletes for years. In 2018, Raisman claimed there was a lack of “appropriate safeguards” at the now-defunct ranch that left her and other gymnasts vulnerable to the crimes of Nassar, who was was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison after pleading guilty to seven counts of sexual assault of minors. (USA Gymnastics has since severed ties with the Karolyi Ranch.)
Baskett, who says her years of formal gymnastics training helped prepare her for Game of Thrones, tells ELLE.com she never “had any bad situations” with Nassar at camp and never saw anything questionable, but that she “supports the victims” 100 percent. Tonight, HBO is set to air At the Heart of Gold: Inside the USA Gymnastics Scandal a documentary directed by Erin Lee Carr.
“My heart goes out to all the victims that had to endure what happened in the USA Gymnastics system,” Baskett says. “Although I did have my own mental and emotional pains through the sport, overall I had a very good experience in gymnastics and with my coaches… I support the changes that can be done on a systematic level to keep our sport and athletes safe.”
Baskett’s stunt reel, including scenes from Game of Thrones season 6
Since the Indianapolis Star first reported on Nassar back in 2016, Baskett has followed the case closely. Nassar pleaded guilty to three child pornography charges in 2016 and criminal sexual misconduct in 2017. In February 2018, he was sentenced to prison, bringing an end to his criminal cases.
By that time, Baskett’s gymnastics career had ended and she was well-established in Hollywood as a stunt double specializing in tumbling. “Most of us in the stunt industry come from either a gymnastics background or martial arts or some sort of extreme sport like motocross or rock climbing or car racing,” she says. “The more skills you have, the more you can work and the more you can offer as a stunt performer… I definitely incorporated gymnastics and kind of a parkour free running [into my skill set], so I’m known for physical flips, tricks, and fights.”
She has 75 credits on IMDB, including Sharknado, Divergent, and Ender’s Game. She’s also appeared in several TV shows, among them NCIS, American Horror Story, and Scandal. She’s worked with Reese Witherspoon in Wild and Lea Michele in Glee—but nothing beats doubling as Game of Thrones’s resident badass Arya Stark.
When Arya escapes the House of Faces in Season six and races through the streets of Braavos only to get stabbed? That’s all Baskett. In Season seven, when she fights Brienne of Tarth and gets hit hard in the stomach, falling to the ground—Baskett took that punch. If Arya is jumping, falling, rolling, getting tackled, or involved in intricate combat—it’s all Baskett.
The former gymnast also helps train Williams, who does a lot of her own stunt work. “She’s one of our favorite types to work with, because she’s really excited about stunts and she enjoys it, so she’s willing to put the time and the effort to really train and get good and want to do as much as she can,” Baskett says. “She’s also very naturally talented. She’s very coordinated, very athletic.”
The two had a “really fun time on set,” Baskett says, and Williams even invited her to her 21st birthday last year.
“She’s so great!” Baskett says. “One of our main jobs is to help the actors look as good as they can, and she makes it very easy for us to make her look good, because she’s very natural at it and enjoys it.”