GoT's Lena Headey on How It’s Good to Be Bad (INTERVIEW)

With one more episode left of "Game of Thrones" Season 5, we caught up with Lena Headey to get into the scheming head of Cersei Lannister and find out what inspires the talented actress when she isn't wielding her power on TV.
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Lenae Headey Photo

Lena Headey as Queen Cersei Lannister in 'Games of Thrones.'

Power becomes Lena Headey, the 41-year-old British beauty, who wields that puissance – onscreen at least, in projects like 300, Merlin, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, and HBO’s smash hit, Game of Thrones – with sultry vigor, ravishing treachery, comely sagacity, and, let’s be honest, a fair amount of blunt force. Whether duking it out with killer robots from the future, vengefully spilling rivers of blood in true Spartan fashion, bewitching, bothering, bewildering (and occasionally beheading) the feral castle dwellers and mud-caked denizens of Westeros and Essos (not to mention that profound, uh, affection for her Thrones siblings), it’s very clear: Headey believes its good to be bad, and her characters tend to be crowned for their chicanery. 

The Bermuda-born actress, pregnant with her second child, is quick, even, to defend the serpentine scheming of her Thrones femme fatale, Queen Cersei Lannister. “She’s not sinister,” Headey says. “She’s a survivor. (She lives in) a world of mammoths, giants, and brothers fucking sisters. Anyway, Cersei is on the brink of some really severe lessons this season.” No one will argue that Thrones mastermind George R.R. Martin has, in his Song of Ice and Fire franchise, created a mad, mad, mad, mad, mad world, so maybe Headey’s right, and brutality, backstabbing, and incest are the only sane responses to a universe in which problems are routinely solved by crushing skulls and poisoning pinot noir. It’s testament to Headey’s formidable charms – not to mention her Emmy-nominated gifts as an actor – that she can so dexterously sway audiences to her characters’ camps, no matter the fury and hecatomb in her heart. In so-called real life, Headey, a devotee of boxing and tattoo parlors, wields this saucy sorcery in the name of good, delivering consistently masterful performances, raising her 5-year-old son, serving a wide range of philanthropic outfits, and practicing with dedication both yoga and meditation. This fall, she’ll don a corset and muster an appetite for brains in the big-screen Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

It’s good to be the Queen!

Yes. (Laughs) Yes, it is! It’s very good to be the Queen.

There’s something about you that screams royalty these days. You’ve worn more crowns than Seabiscuit.

I think you’re flirting with me! (Laughs)

I’m not telling. 


What do you make of all the power you’ve been asked to brandish in films and television?

Who knows? I’m of a certain age now. People love an old queen, don’t they? (Laughs)

You’re no Iron Lady, though.

No! (Laughs) Not just yet. But I do carry a sword on occasion. 

Exactly. You’re one of the very few actors today who is both breathtakingly beautiful and incredibly badass, though. 

You are trying to sleep with me! (Laughs) It’s fun being all kinds of everything. It’s fun to act with a sword in your hand. Isn’t that what children dream of? I’m a very physical person in my real life, so it’s always nice to swing a sword on the job. 

Lena Headey Photo

Forbidden love: Jamie Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and his sister Cersei (Lena Headey).

Is it possible that your badassery began in 1994, when you appeared in that MacGyver TV movie?

I wasn’t such a badass in that. I actually remember very clearly: I was a kind of bespectacled science geek.

Did MacGyver save you with duct tape and paperclips, by chance?

It was a combo of those, I believe. Maybe a Post-It note was involved, too. 

These days, your characters are a little more hands-on, more inclined to take destiny by the throat. As an actor, you’ve reportedly jumped at the opportunity to do fight training with your cast mates.

Yes! That’s true. I’m a tomboy. I’m so very physical — though I’m a lazy bugger too, mind you. But to have the chance to work out and learn how to fight with people who know what they’re doing, that’s a very nice thing. Fight training is a physical expression. Being still is a challenge for me. Being stoic is a challenge for me. So being physical like that is right up my street, as the Brits say. There’s an element of catharsis to it all, as well, doing things you couldn’t really get away with in real life.

Lena Headey Photo

Headey as Queen Gorgo in the 300 franchise. 

How do you think Queen Gorgo, your character from the 300 franchise, would fare on today’s political stage?

She’d probably be far too honest for her own good, inform the people, and then she’d be shot by some nutter. 

But not by a gun, of course. 

No, no guns. Just some very pointy sticks. 

The Queen you play on Game of Thrones is a very different creature. 

They are pretty different women, but they’re both mothers, as am I, and there’s a certain ferocity that comes with that. I like that ferocity. It’s part of who I am, maybe. It’s a lot of fun to play. 

Cersei also believes that it’s better to be feared than to be loved. What does that mean to you?

I really love Cersei. I go to bed with her when I’m filming, and I don’t stop thinking about her. Ever. Having grown up in the family she’s grown up in, vulnerability is a hazard. Her method of getting through is to think solely for and about herself and to always protect her children. That’s really it for her. Somehow, that’s worked for her. We’ll see…

Lena Headey Photo

Cersei and son Tommen Baratheon (Dean-Charles Chapman). Headey says her character's method of survival is "to think solely for and about herself and to always protect her children."

So you’re breaking the news that Cersei will soon receive some karmic payback?

I did not say that! (Laughs) I’m not allowed to say anything. You know that. But I will tell you, things are beginning to narrow for her, intensely so. It’s going to get very intense. There are some shocking deaths. The stakes get higher and higher, if you can imagine that, and everyone’s inching their way toward that throne. Everyone gets a little closer this season – those that survive, anyway. 

You are quite the globetrotter when it comes to work. Your work takes you all over the planet. Is that a gift?

It’s a bloody nightmare! (Laughs) I’m a nomad, always traveling from one place to the next. I’m so blessed to work, but its just endlessly tantalizing to visit the most beautiful places on Earth, but to only see them for three days because you’re on set for 14 hours at a time. It’s endless traveling, this job. Sometimes I do a little acting too! (Laughs)