Lena Headley was born in 1973 in Bermuda. She made her film debut in Britain in “Waterland” in 1992. Her other movie appearances include “The Remains of the Day”, “The Devil’s Advocate” and “Mrs Dalloway”.
Having barely begun her career on British television, actress Lena Headey was wooed by American feature directors who were captivated by her emotional realism and timeless beauty. A big fan of British films, Headey maintained a demanding international schedule in more lucrative American fare to finance her love of homegrown period pieces and art house dramas like “Face” (1997) and “Onegin” (1999). But it was her acclaimed performance in the hyper-real historical epic “300” (2007) that propelled the actress into true international stardom and opened the door for higher-profile projects. From there, Headey was tapped to play single mom and cyborg battler Sarah Connor in the popular, but short-lived sci-fi spin-off, “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles” (Fox 2008-09). With each role, Headey reinforced her unique screen presence and ability to embody both the china doll delicacy and the fierce independence that she put on fine display in the medieval series “Game of Thrones” (HBO, 2011- ), which helped underscore her versatility in a wide range of projects.
Lena Headey was born on Oct. 3, 1976 (though some sources cite 1973) in Bermuda, where her father, a British police officer, had recently been transferred for his job. She spent her earliest years in the British territory before she and her parents returned to England, where Headey grew up mainly in Yorkshire. A shy tomboy with one younger brother, Headey began to take an interest in acting through a local youth theater group. While still in high school at Yorkshire’s Shelley College, she was “discovered” during a theatrical performance and offered a role in “Waterland” (1992), making a saucy debut in a supporting role as a sexually precocious schoolgirl. The following year she portrayed a quiet young woman who consents to marriage with a thoroughly unbearable man twice her age (Jeremy Irons) in “The Summer House” (1993), also landing a small role in the Merchant-Ivory period drama “The Remains of the Day” (1993). She moved to London following school completion and set about looking for acting jobs – not with stars in her eyes and dreams of Hollywood, but rather as someone with a sturdy work ethic who saw an opportunity to make a living doing something she enjoyed.
Headey never received any formal dramatic training, but from the beginning it was clear that her talent lay in her natural ability to access emotions in an intense, passionate way. She parlayed that innate sense into immediate acting work, landing on British drama series including “Soldier Soldier” and “Spender.” Her first American production was Disney’s live-action take on “Rudyard Kipling’s “The Jungle Book” (1994), in which she played the virginal heroine, and following a role in the ABC TV movie, “MacGyver: Trail to Doomsday” (1995) she returned to the U.K. and stayed busy with a run of British TV appearances in “Band of Gold,” and “Ballykissangel,” among others. Her film career received a boost with a co-starring role alongside Sting in the period drama “The Grotesque” (1995) and big screen roles began to outweigh TV ones. In “Face” (1997), Headey starred as a girlfriend trying to persuade her boyfriend (Robert Carlyle) to abandon his life of crime, and in the period drama, “Mrs. Dalloway” (1997), she added a buoyancy and verve as the daring Sally Seton, who not only flirts with Natascha McElhone, but also runs naked through the Edwardian household.
Headey lent her beauty and charm to the role of the bewitching girl whom two guys want to marry in the disappointing time-travel romance “Twice Upon Yesterday/If Only” (1998). She was perfectly cast as Guinevere in the swashbuckling NBC miniseries “Merlin” (1998), which rejoined her with Sam Neill – who had portrayed her father in “Jungle Book” – here, cast as the legendary sorcerer. After enjoying a pivotal role as Liv Tyler’s sister Olga in Martha Fiennes’ feature directorial debut “Onegin” (1999), Headey sank her teeth into the role of a bitchy college student in the dark comedy “Gossip” (2000) – the first film of a two-picture deal with Warner Bros. She additionally starred in the festival-screened “Aberdeen” (2000), earning praise for her turn as a lawyer reconnecting with her estranged parents, an alcoholic father and a domineering mother dying of cancer. Over the next several years, Headey’s reputation as an intelligent, unfussy beauty landed her key supporting appearances in Neil LaBute’s romantic mystery “Possession” (2002); the acclaimed HBO Winston Churchill biopic, “The Gathering Storm” (2002); the adaptation of author Patricia Highsmith’s lesser known Thomas Ripley tale, “Ripley’s Game” (2002); and other British and American productions.
In 2005, Headey turned heads with two wildly different titles. First, came Terry Gilliam’s “The Brothers Grimm” (2005), in which she played the tough-as-nails love interest of the Bavarian fairy tale tellers, in which she impressively held her own opposite Matt Damon and Heath Ledger in the otherwise disappointing film. For her first sci-fi horror thriller, “The Cave” (2005), she played one of a team of explorers who stumble upon a new species of unique and unwelcoming beings dwelling beneath the ruins of a 13th century Romanian abbey. Another dramatic shift in gears saw her as a bohemian London flower shop owner who woos a new bride (Piper Perabo) in the lesbian romantic comedy “Imagine Me & You” (2005). The film opened to predictably less-than-stellar returns, but Headey rebounded from the string of lackluster box office receipts with her next film.
The visually stunning adaptation of Frank Miller’s graphic novel, “300” (2007), was a loose telling of the famed Battle of Thermopylae, where 300 Spartan warriors inflicted heavy damage to a massive Persian army led by Xerxes I (Rodrigo Santoro). Headey, who was a stand-out for most film critics, regally portrayed Queen Gorgo, wife of Spartan King Leonidas (Gerard Butler), whose valor and sacrifice inspired all of Greece to unite against the Persian army after he and his outnumbered forces fought to the death. Following a co-lead in the Wesley Snipes direct-to-DVD actioner “The Contractor” (2007), the ever-versatile Headey portrayed Miss Dickinson in “St. Trinians” (2007), the sixth installment in the beloved British franchise about an unruly girl’s school.
Later in the year, Headey landed the highest-profile role of her career, when she was asked to portray Sarah Connor in a TV spin-off of the popular “Terminator” film franchise. “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles” picked up where “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” (1991) left off, with Headey taking on the iconic role made famous by the buff Linda Hamilton. Fans of the franchise were apparently open to the new chapter and its new cast, as 18 million tuned in to the show’s premiere to watch Headey portray the single mom entrusted to protect her 15-year-old son, John, from predatory cyborgs intent on destroying the future savior of mankind. The series was the surprise hit of the season – helped, no doubt, in some part by the writer’s strike – and an overwhelming critical hit, with Headey proving more than able to fill the shoes of the iconic character. Unfortunately audiences proved fickle and the show was canceled in 2009. Meanwhile, Headey took leading roles in horror thrillers like “The Broken” (2008) and “Laid to Rest” (2009), before returning to series television for the medieval epic “Game of Thrones” (HBO, 2011- ). Headey played the paranoid, politically-minded Queen Cersei Lannister, whose facade of self-control masks an inner world where everything is falling apart.
The above TCM overview can also be accessed online here.