Last Woman Standing
As the Machiavellian Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones, LENA HEADEY revels in a toxic portrayal of entitlement, bloodlust and ambition. Off-screen, she’s disarmingly zen. She talks to co-star MAISIE WILLIAMS about misspent youth, the GoT death that left her heartbroken and who will ultimately claim the Iron Throne
Maisie Williams: What, for you, has been Cersei’s best moment?
Lena Headey: I think the highlight was last season when she blew up the Great Sept of Baelor, then just enjoyed her wine. And this season coming, because she’s lost everything. Whatever was good in her life has been erased and she’s a horrible cow to one particular character… It’s really quite loathsome.
Williams: Was the explosion in the Sept when you liked her least?
Headey: No! I thought that was great. The High Sparrow played by Jonathan Pryce was yet another man who came along and was like, “I’m going to manipulate you.” So I think her revenge… Well, I was like, “Yes! F**k you!” And she took out Margaery Tyrell Natalie Dormer and her low-cut blouse. Bye, perky tits.
“Cersei has lost everything. She’s a horrible cow to one character… It’s quite loathsome”
Williams: You’ve told me that you were a rebellious teenager…
Headey: Laughs Yes, I would sneak boys into my house all the time. We lived in a tiny little house in Yorkshire with a tiny little landing, and one night my boyfriend got up to have a wee and found my mum sitting naked on the toilet. She was screaming, he was screaming, and my dad comes out of the bedroom and literally chased him out of the house, naked.
Williams: Now that you’re a mother, do you worry about what your kids are going to get up to?
Headey: Yes, and that’s why my mum loves to say, “There’s karma.” I was talking to a colleague the other day about raising children, and I said, “I’ve got a son Wylie, seven and a daughter Teddy, two, and I know my son is going to enjoy his time sleeping with girls” – well, I know he is – but then I thought of my daughter and had an instinctive reaction: “No! No one’s touching you!” My mum’s like, welcome to the world of children.
Williams: Has getting into Cersei’s head affected the way that you want to raise your children?
Headey: God, no, we’re very different. What I want for my children is for them to be kind and conscious and happy and that’s it, really. I don’t want them to think, “You have to achieve that in order to have that,” because that’s not true anymore. And I want my daughter to have a good voice and to use it, to not feel restricted by being a woman in any way, to make her choices freely.
“I’d be dead if fame happened when I was young. The places it takes you, the parties you go to… It’s bonkers”
Williams: You’d been working for a long time before the role of Cersei came along. How did you adapt to the fame of the show?
Headey: I’ve been acting for 25 years and this has opened a lot of doors for me. I can now say I’d like to produce something and people don’t just say, “Ha, whatever” – they’ll listen to a conversation at least. But it’s not changed my life because I did my madness when I was younger. I’d probably be dead if fame had happened to me when I was young. The things it allows you to do, the places it takes you, the people you meet, the parties you go to… It’s bonkers.
“I’m happier now I’m older, playing women who aren’t expected to be beautiful. That pressure has gone”
Williams: What advice do you have for me? How do I not end up crazy?
Headey: I’ll always love you, Maisie, because you’ve just remained. You guys Game of Thrones’ younger cast members have all handled it brilliantly. I just think it’s great; you’ve grown up with this, and you’ve remained delightful. There isn’t a knob amongst you, which is incredible. Not everybody would have come out…knobless.
Williams: You said that being a woman meant being judged on your looks as soon as you walk into a room.
Headey: Yes. I’m happier now I’m older, playing women who aren’t expected to be beautiful. That pressure has gone for me. Male actors can be ‘interesting’, but there’s a real pressure on women to be beautiful and skinny. When I was in my twenties, and doing a lot of audition tapes in the States, a casting director told me: “The men take these tapes home and watch them and say, ‘Who would you f**k?’ I’ve never played the game of going in to auditions and flirting; I’ve never done it.
Williams: Do you think taking that stance has ever stopped you from getting the job?
Headey: Yes, and I’m very happy I didn’t.
Williams: Being a woman in this industry is sometimes not the easiest. How have you found that?
Headey: I was talking about this with another actress, and I said, “Do you find that you have to say the same things seven times, whereas a man says it once and everyone listens?” Male counterparts can say the same thing I just did and everyone’s like, “Oh, that’s a great idea,” and I’m like, “I just said that 19 times but you chose not to listen or take it on board.”
Williams: Absolutely. Can you talk about your tattoos?
Headey: I have these three on my arms, and my back is covered. One day my grandchildren will be picking up my floral back and tucking it into my knickers laughs. But I love my tattoos because they are my story.
Williams: We recently went to Greece with the International Rescue Committee and visited refugee camps. We experienced it from two different points, as a teenager and as a mother. It’s only when you’re face to face with someone who is just like you, who deserves the same opportunities as you and is just as bright as you, yet they’re forced to live in a tent with people they don’t know, that you realize how horrendous the situation is. What affected you most?
Headey: Just sitting with women of a similar age to me, mothers, and all of them saying, “Please tell everybody that I’m not a terrorist.” I thought, “How awful that has to be your line to me. I’m not frightened of you, I’m looking at you as an equal and a human being – you don’t have to tell me that.” All they want to do is go home and work, educate their children, make food, have a choice. But that’s all gone and they’re stuck.
“I did the first year of Game of Thrones postnatally depressed, going through a weird time personally”
Williams: You’d just given birth to your son when we started filming Game of Thrones. What was it like doing traumatic scenes, while also having a lot going on in your own life?
Headey: Really horrendous – I was postnatally depressed but I didn’t know it. I saw a doctor for the medical check, and I just burst into tears. She said I was postnatally depressed and I went, “Am I? Why is that?” I saw a great guy and he sorted me out, but I did the first year on Game of Thrones in that space, figuring out motherhood and going through a weird time personally. It was tricky.
Williams: The Game of Thrones cast don’t all shoot together, so what’s the atmosphere like for you on set? Because playing Arya is pretty lighthearted most of the time. Rory McCann, who played The Hound and I had some amazing times on set together. Although for one of the seasons he was on this crazy training diet. Rory is a great laugh, but Rory minus food…
Headey: …is not good laughs. Peter Dinklage, who plays Tyrion Lannister makes me laugh a lot. And Conleth Hill, who plays Varys is incredibly clever, talented and funny. On set I fall down a lot, on those stairs, when I’m trying to be really regal. They’re so old now, those steps, and they’re really slippery. And trying to sit nicely… All the chairs fold into your bum so everything eats you.
Williams: Are you aware of all the other storylines being filmed in different places, or do you like to just know your own so you can be surprised when you watch?
Headey: A bit of both. Last season I was doing post-production in LA and watched Hodor’s death. I was just weeping. The technician said, “Are you OK?” and I went, “I didn’t know, I didn’t know he died.” I was beside myself; genuinely heartbroken.
Williams: Who do you want to meet on-screen? I always say Cersei, but I think if they ever met again, one of them would end up dead.
Headey: Surely Arya would kill Cersei? Arya’s such a little fiend that she would find a way. Look, she f*g wears people’s faces.
Williams: So who do you want to see on the Iron Throne in the final hour? Who gets it?
Headey: I think she’s already sitting there, isn’t she?
“Surely Arya would kill Cersei? Arya’s such a little fiend that she’d find a way. Look, she wears people’s faces”
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