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'Game of Thrones': Lena Headey hits back at critics who shamed her

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“Lena Headey enters her private club in London to meet a journalist for dinner” — this line, while accurate, gives you exactly the wrong impression. If you’re a Game of Thrones fan, you’re probably imagining an intimidating Cersei Lannister, with her blonde hair and ornate gown commanding every eye as she walks in the room. And by “private dinner club,” you’re likely picturing some elite venue with hushed tones, complicated silverware, and snooty servers. 

But Headey looks nothing like her character in real life — the two-time Emmy nominee covers her numerous tattoos with makeup and caps her short-ish dark hair with a blonde wig for the role. And her preferred club is charmingly unpretentious, resembling a casual neighborhood tavern with nothing on the menu over £18. Headey dines in her yoga gear because, as she might say, “Why the f–k why not?” She’s as different from her suspicious, humorless Lannister matriarch as you can imagine; game to candidly (and profanely) chat about U.S. politics, family, and meditation. But our focus, of course, is Thrones season 6.

Below, Headey talks about her character’s role in the eagerly awaited new season and reflects back on some of the reactions to last season’s climactic Walk of Shame, where producers employed a body double for some of the shots to create the illusion of Headey being nude in the sequence. The actress also recently appeared in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and will provide a voice in the upcoming feature-length CGI film Final Fantasy XV (along with former GoT castmate Sean Bean).  

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ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How are things for Cersei going into season 6?

LENA HEADEY: Just a right laugh, really. It’s probably her most interesting season — because now she really has nothing to lose and she has everything to gain from a horrible position she finds herself in. Her relationship with Jaime is at an all-time weird level. Even though they’re back together, a part of her must f–king hate him. He let Tyrion go. He failed to protect Myrcella. 

He didn’t protect Joffrey, either. 

Yeah. She’s also super emotionally vulnerable in a way she’s never been before. It’s an interesting moment [in the season premiere] when she realized Jaime’s comes back with a dead daughter. [Showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss] write about Cersei showing nothing — no screaming — and then later there’s a moment with Jaime where she’s broken and it’s so genuine. It’s purely a mother lamenting the purity of her child. I never thought Cersei would say out loud what’s said in this scene; it was quite a beautiful moment. And then it gets all f–ked up. 

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This seems like the first season where she’s had a clear mission given the threat of the Faith Militant. 

There are moments she really does, but she’s also still f–king around with people. I was such a nerd about it, I kept asking Dan questions. There are moments I wasn’t sure if she’s really doing what she’s presenting. Everything in this has 75 layers. 

Cersei also has The Mountain serving her — her own Frankenstein’s monster. 

Yeah, that’s fun. He’s insanely huge, I always forget. There’s a lot of comedy to be had out of that situation.  

How did the Walk of Shame affect her? Is she at all more — I hesitate to say “nice” — but did it make her humbler or more empathetic at all? 

No, it’s worsened things! I don’t think she’s found any humility. She’s even more self-preservatory. She can’t believe that happened to her, of all people. It’s fueled her desire for power and her desperation to prove that she’s somebody worth considering.

What were some of the reactions you received after last year’s finale?  

Really great ones. But some people thought I was less of an actress because I didn’t get my t-ts out. 

That had to be annoying.

You know what? It was really a bit shocking. I’ve done nudity. I’m not averse to it. But I know I’m a very emotional actor and I get really driven by that. In order to do my job, I allow myself to be really vulnerable. I don’t know any other way to do my job. Things really affect me. And the thought of being naked for three days and trying to contain her in the way she would be I think I would feel very angry. I didn’t want to be angry. I don’t think Cersei would be angry. I did what I thought she would do, emotionally. And wonderful Rebecca [Van Cleave, Headey’s stand-in] was able to contain herself and be naked. She found it very difficult, obviously. It’s not a natural thing to do. I film every year and I have kids and they know me now and [being naked in the scene] was just too much on top of that. So yeah, people that get it thought it was great. I didn’t phone it in; I was actually there for three days with Rebecca.

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Your comments last year praising Rebecca were very kind. Many actors wouldn’t have said anything at all.  

It’s a tough f–king job and she’s very smart. Another thing I want to say: People [assume] I picked Rebecca. Like I was in the casting and picked a hot body. Like I demanded to have a hot body. In reality, I said, “If somebody will do this, I’ll have no choice about it. Whatever you decide.” I had no judgment in that or desire to be involved. I just want to clear that up. Because as a woman, that drives me mad; the thought I’m like, “Nope! Nope!” [and dismissing nude women] in a room. I genuinely wouldn’t. Because none of it is about vanity for me — none of it — otherwise I couldn’t do it. It would be a hindrance. 

Has the show winning the Emmy for best drama changed anything for the cast this year?

I had no idea any of it would happen, we got so used to not [winning]. It was like a, “Yes, finally” moment. And when David and Dan won for writing, I was so proud. 

Overall, how does this next season compare to the previous ones, you think? 

It just keep getting better. It’s so juicy, and it’s so f–king dark, and so emotionally clever, in this landscape. It sounds so cheesy, but I’m really grateful to be part of something so cherished. 

For more on season 6, follow @jameshibberd for ongoing GoT coverage, sign up for our Thrones email newsletter, bookmark this page for the latest GoT stories, and subscribe now to our season 6 podcast. Preview:

Game of Thrones returns to HBO on April 24.

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