'I couldn't be less queenly in real life'
As ruthless Cersei in the ‘Game of Thrones’ TV series and with an upcoming role in ‘Dredd’, Lena Headey seems to have cornered the market in cruel queenly parts
NOT SO VERY long ago, the career path of the successful British actress might as well have been written in stone. She would never go hungry so long as she looked wonderful in whalebone. If not straightened and prim in a corset, she was unfettered and pastoral in a petticoat; cascading curls an optional extra. If she worked hard and wooed Hollywood, Damehood beckoned. Like many of her peers, Lena Headey began her professional life in Merchant Ivory and period prestige, appearing in lavish big screen adaptations of The Remains of the Day (1993), The Jungle Book (1994) and Onegin (1999). A career as an English Rose seemed certain.
But 20 years on from Headey’s film debut, you’ll find her in science-fiction and fantasy, as the star of HBO’s Game of Thrones, 300 and the incoming Dredd. How on earth did she escape the costume-drama corset? Even she doesn’t know.
“Nothing I do is by design,” admits a cheery Headey. “It’s always the result of a happy accident. I didn’t have a career plan. It has just become the way it is. It’s all good fun. It’s learning. I don’t think of the background when I am reading stuff. I don’t think about genre. If I like a character, if it intrigues me, that will be the reason that I jump in.” At 38, in sharp contrast with early roles, Headey has kicked bottoms in the title roles of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles and Ultra. She’s taken on Marvel’s Avengers as Mystique in The Superhero Squad Show. She is currently squaring up to the eponymous judge of Dredd. A keen boxer and an incidental weaponry expert, she’s fit for frontline duties, surely? “Ha. Oh please don’t send me to the frontline,” she says. “I love being physical but I am extreme either way. I can be superfit. And then I can be really lazy and ignore everything. I am finally getting back into being fit. I love being physical when I am working. There is something visceral about that. I get a kick out of that. Cersei in Game of Thrones is quite solid and stiff. So it’s great to move when you can.”
Kate Winslet has an Oscar and Emily Blunt is the darling of the US independent film sector, but among British performers, only Kate Beckinsale comes close to Headey as a fanboy magnet. Sure enough, when Dredd played at the uber-geek bash that is Comi-Con, the entire convention threatened to spontaneously combust with delight. “I love doing those things because people are so in love with it all,” she says. “There is no malice in it. They are so protective of all these characters they grew up loving. They are very particular and are really honest. They come up and say, ‘I hated that. But I loved the way you did this.’ It’s touching that they are so loyal to the characters they love and that they take it so seriously. It’s an honour that they’re out there.”