Lena Headey: Leading Lady & Queen of the Damned

by Madeline Iva

Doesn't she look a little like Keira Knightly?
Doesn’t she look a little like Keira Knightly?

When you see an actor in a tiny role or without Hollywood shouting out their name at you they rarely stand out.  Yet some people just have that magic and you’re watching a film when you suddenly say to yourself: Hey! Who’s that?

I had this experience with Lena Headey at least three times and never realized it.

-when she was in THE REMAINS OF THE DAY

-when she was in THE BROTHERS GRIMM — and I kept wondering who the Keira Knightly look-a-like was.

-and when she was in 300 and she seemed totally familiar — but that was because I was watching her at home on  THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES and never made the connection.  One was contemporary, one was “historical” and I put some big quotation marks around historical.  In one she had her American accent on, in the other she got to intone and chew her words like a fine Shakespearean actress, only without quite as much spitting as Gerard Butler.

A cross between Poe's Raven and Cassandra, Sarah Connor is a pre-post-apocalyptic soccer mom in desperate need of some Paxil.
A cross between Poe’s Raven and Cassandra, Sarah Connor is a pre-post-apocalyptic soccer mom in desperate need of some Paxil.

She was pretty good as Gorgon in a movie I roll my eyes at, but she was very good in THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES playing an utterly thankless role.  That series tries to imagine how John Connor –the character from Terminator–goes from being a boy to becoming a man and a leader.   The answer is not easy, and his mother is like some cross between Poe’s Raven and Cassandra –while at the same time she’s trying to be his mother, feeling so much guilt about raising her boy up in a doomed world.  It’s a pre-post-apocalyptic L.A. they wander around in–which is a neat trick to pull off, making the sunlight and carefree glitter seemed drenched in gloom and this-is-all-going-up-in-flames prophecy.

The series was fairly short lived, but in that time they packed in some awesome story lines: and Lena Headey didn’t get any of them.  Yet what sense of sadness and gloom was created was done almost totally by her whenever she was on screen.  It’s a strange gift–to convey world destruction with a small crease between your eyebrows.

It’s okay that she fulfilled her thankless role in SCC, because it gave her the American TV experience so she was ready to stomp all over GAME OF THRONES as Circe.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again that she helps to add a wonderful dimension to Circe’s character, and she’s so perfect for the role — very very cruel and very very beautiful at the same time. Yet put upon in a way that any smart woman can relate to.

Circe. As cruel as she is beautiful.

Lately I enjoyed her with full realization of exactly who she was when she showed up in the movie DREDD. She played yet another Villainess with a capital ‘V’ — this time it was queen of the ‘hood Ma-Ma.

It’s said a book or movie is only as good as its villain–and Ma-Ma raised DREDD up by several notches.

Headey is one of those actresses who seems tall, but isn’t.  She has all these photos on the internet of her lookin’ fine, but she’s never-never-never gonna be one of those who is considered a ‘babe’ or sex object.  And that’s okay with me, because her personality walks into the room about five paces before she does.  She is a woman of power, my friends.

This is Ma-Ma, bad gal in DREDD.
This is Ma-Ma, bad gal in DREDD.

She brings  a whole world with her when she walks on a set — and that world is usually not a happy place.   She is an actress born to play rulers and leaders in a world that’s still not wholly comfortable with that–thus she winds up over and over again as some sort of Queen of the Damned.  One who may never have good luck, but who doesn’t give up and who will always get her followers to do what they set out to do.  There’s something admirable in that.  History is full of complicated male leaders–I think we need some complicated female ones.

I like watching her.  She occupies an uneasy place, but the way she does it makes it seem pretty cool.  It’s interesting that her powers seem to fit more in imaginary or legendary worlds than in our real one — but that’s why sci-fi/fantasy is so cool.  If we’re still not ready for it in the real world– we are at least playing it out in imaginary ones.

Loyal wife, blah-blah-blah, but pretty much the only one left alive at the end of the last movie.
Loyal wife, blah-blah-blah, but pretty much the only one left alive at the end of the last movie.

Even so, I was a little surprised to see her leading out the men in 300 the sequel.

300 has such a strong stink of testosterone, it just fascinates boy-men, mesmerizing them like catnip does cats.  The new film looks like a whole lot more of the same — but if everyone is dead at the end of the first film what are you going to do for the sequel? It definitely makes sense that they trot out Queen Gorgon.  She could lead the men into battle with one hand tied behind her back.

Hey, if the laced sandal fits.

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  • Post authorKiersten Hallie Krum (@kierstenkrum)

    Personally, while not at all unaware of it’s flaws, I love the movie 300. All that mancandy on displayed, oiled and rippling? Yum. I’ve always like Lena Headley. Oddly enough, I like the way her mouth forms words, as though each vowel and consonant requires individual enunciation. There’s no wasted moment with her, each one is charged with her impressive screen presence, which explains how she holds more than her own when so often sharing the screen with so many charismatic men.

    Reply to Kiersten Hallie Krum (@kierstenkrum)
  • Post authormadelineiva

    We could talk a long time about 300. I loved the stylization. I was at home googling all about the Spartans after I saw the movie.

    A lot of young men bought into the masculinity hook line and sinker and didn’t see any flaws in the film at all. I found that a tad disconcerting, but what can you do?I wish they knew that ancient greek fragment written by the mercenary and poet Archilochus:

    Some Saian mountaineer
    Struts today with my shield.
    I threw it down by a bush and ran
    When the fighting got hot.
    Life seemed somehow more precious.
    It was a beautiful shield.
    I know where I can buy another
    Exactly like it, just as round.

    Reply to madelineiva
  • Post authorkatelaity

    She was THE BOSS in Dredd, a movie that didn’t get near enough acclaim while tepid superhero films got all the kudos (like the super-boring Thor which had no appeal beyond Loki).

    Reply to katelaity
  • Post authorElizabeth Shore

    She’s great and I’m really loving her in Game of Thrones. She has that “take no shit but still be feminine” thing going on oh-so-so well. I feel like I also get that from Lucy Lawless, who’s also super awesome.

    Reply to Elizabeth Shore

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