Tim Stack, James Hibberd, and Marc Snetiker
July 18, 2014 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Gwendoline Christie,Game of Thrones

”I can’t really answer that.”

Gwendoline Christie has been saying that a lot these days. Fresh off her work as fearless swordswoman Brienne of Tarth on HBO’s Game of Thrones, Christie has a storm of secrecy brewing, between Thrones‘ fifth season, a role as formidable Commander Lyme in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 (replacing Lily Rabe), and a top secret part in Star Wars: Episode VII. If she weren’t contractually obligated to stay quiet, she probably still would anyway.

”I grew up in the countryside, [where] films felt like an event, so the anticipation would have been building in me for months before I could see, say, E.T.,” the 35-year-old tells EW from the London set of Star Wars. ”Nothing compares to seeing Star Wars for yourself, and that thrill you have when” — she breathes in sharply — ”’Oh, that’s what happens!’ I think anything that has a degree of secrecy makes it exciting, and I want to uphold that experience.”

At least she has the geek cred to back up her silence. As a child in Sussex, England, Christie had a pop culture diet of Hitchcock movies, Enid Blyton novels, and fantasies like The Dark Crystal. ”Anything with some element of darkness,” she says. ”And John Waters.” Christie’s performing career began with a foray into rhythmic gymnastics, but an early back injury forced her out. ”I was told I couldn’t dance anymore, but in my 11-year-old mind I just made the decision that I would become an actress instead.”

Two decades later, fan speculation bubbled up, placing Christie — then a theater actress with barely a screen credit to her name — on the short list for the role of the brawny Brienne. ”I hadn’t ever Googled myself before, but I had a look and started investigating the books and fell in love with Brienne. She seemed to be the character I’d been waiting a long time to play,” recalls the 6’3” Christie, who started kickboxing, dropped more than 20 pounds, and embraced her ”more androgynous elements” to win the part. Despite playing another warrior type in Mockingjay and fielding rumors about a badass role in Star Wars, Christie isn’t worried about being typecast. ”Being a woman, what interests me are women. If I continue to be cast in roles that challenge our conventions of what femininity is, I would be grateful.”

In conversation, Christie is much looser and more prone to fits of giggles than the stern characters she plays, so maybe it’s not a surprise that she’s taking a carefree approach to her first Comic-Con and the massive fandom she’ll likely encounter. ”It sounds like quite a nice thing,” she coos. ”Should I be nervous?” Fans, you have the floor. —Marc Snetiker

Jamie Bell,Turn, The Fantastic Four
Why Him Best known for breaking out in Billy Elliot and now starring on the AMC Revolutionary War drama Turn, Bell is poised to become a fanboy icon, with roles in this summer’s hit Snowpiercer and 2015’s highly anticipated The Fantastic Four reboot.

Runaway Train Snowpiercer comes from South Korean director Bong Joon-ho and posits a future where the entire population is on board a moving train. ”[Bong] is such a visionary director,” says Bell, 28. ”He had already made the movie in his head before we got there.”

Rock Star Four finds Bell playing Ben Grimm, a man transformed into a hulking stone creature. ”To go from me, who’s a very average 5’8”, to a guy who’s completely made of rock and 6’8” is obviously a feat of many different things,” says Bell with a laugh. ”Predominantly CGI.”

Franchise Potential Are young actors being pushed to nab a comic-book franchise today? Says Bell, ”I don’t think there’s any pressure. There’s probably a slew of actors who go, ‘Well, I’ll never do a comic-book movie.’ I happen to love comic books.” —Tim Stack

Hayley Atwell,Marvel’s Agent Carter
Why Her The 32-year-old Brit played operative Peggy Carter in both Captain America films and is now getting her own midseason television spin-off, ABC’s Agent Carter. ”Hayley has such a wonderful inner strength and at the same time has that incredibly disarming sense of humor,” says Marvel’s head of television, Jeph Loeb.

Super Shift ”Certainly my [previous] work has been very different,” admits Atwell, who appeared in period flicks such as The Duchess. ”I love heroines who are really strong. My dream was to be in as big a variety of things as possible, so it’s been a natural shift that Peggy Carter found me, I suppose.”

Study Hall Atwell has enlisted an expert to help educate her in all things Carter. ”I have a lovely guy who runs a comic-book store in L.A. and he said he’s going to be my go-to guy,” says the actress. ”He’s like, ‘Come to the store. I’ll show you my archives and I’ll give you a lecture on the history of comic books.”’

Drinking Buddy Thanks to a boozy evening with director Joss Whedon, her Agent Carter will appear in the sequel Avengers: Age of Ultron. ”We went out drinking one night and he was like, ‘You know, it would be great to write something for you.’ And I was like, ‘Yes, Joss, it would! It would be amazing!”’ —Tim Stack

Grant Gustin,The Flash
Why Him Gustin, 24, who stole scenes as villainous Warbler Sebastian on Glee, is completely winning as the lead of The CW’s The Flash — about a geeky crime-scene investigator who is struck by lightning and becomes a speedy crime-stopper.

Fandemonium The actor is somewhat prepared for the passionate comic-book crowd after facing the fervent fandom of the Gleeks. Says Gustin, ”The demographic is definitely broader for the comic-book world than it is for the Glee world — they’re a little bit younger, but they’re kinda both intense in their own ways.”

Super Physique Gustin admits that at least superficially he’s not the obvious choice to be an action star. ”I’m just kind of like this skinny dude from Virginia that did not think I would get to play a superhero; it’s pretty surreal…. I’ve done a lot of treadmill work since [getting cast], knowing it’s going to be part of my weekly life.”

Comic Karma It’s possible, though, that this gig was meant to be. ”I was a huge Superman fan growing up — I have a Superman tattoo. So I’ve kind of been in the DC Comics family without realizing it would be such a big part of my life.” —Tim Stack

Ben McKenzie, Gotham
Why Him Sure, the 35-year-old former Southland star is playing another cop, but he’s never played one who’s also a comic-book legend. In this mere-mortal origin story, McKenzie is Commissioner Gordon as a young detective, taking on the ills of Gotham before Batman showed up to assist.

Almost a Virgin Though McKenzie attended Comic-Con once already for playing Batman in the 2011 animated film Batman: Year One, he expects this year will be different: ”I’ve got a feeling this is going to be big and crazy,” he says. ”It’s exciting to have people freak out about something you’re a part of.”

Geek Roots McKenzie was a Star Wars obsessive while growing up in Austin. ”Those movies were magical to me as a kid. I had a ton of action figures and a little Millennium Falcon that my dad and I put together.” As for comics, he recalls reading only one — Iron Man. ”After seeing Robert Downey Jr. in that role, I can’t imagine ever playing him.”

Hiding In The Shadows His favorite way to walk the floor of the convention: in disguise. ”If you’re going to go for it, do walk around anonymously so nobody can recognize you.” Hmm, maybe he’s better suited to play Batman after all? —James Hibberd

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