In the spring of 2007, we were staying with my British grandparents in Plymouth, and on a shopping day I stopped at WHSmith to buy romantic comedy DVDs. I watched a lot of those back then, and knowing that gems of the genre such as Love Actually or Four Weddings and a Funeral were Brit productions, this was the place to go. I remember purchasing Notting Hill and My Best Friend’s Wedding (not a British film, but Rupert Everett sold it for me) -which didn’t always lived up to my expectations- and Imagine You & Me -which more than did. It was my first encounter with Ms. Headey -or at least, I thought it was- and I fell in love with the film, Luce and Lena, all at the same time. What I loved about it, besides everything, is that for once the irresistible bright-eyed protagonist who woos the heroine wasn’t Hugh Grant -and much more my type, no offense to Hugh Grant. And that it didn’t matter that Luce was a woman, that the conflict for Rachel was that she fell in love with someone other than her husband, is exactly what matters. And I totally get it, it’s easy to fall for Lena. Those eyes, that smile, that soft-speaking voice. So, it was love at first sight. You know, that thing “you know immediately, as soon as your eyes…”
Or so I thought. It turned out we’d already been acquainted when I watched The Jungle Book and Mrs. Dalloway, in which a baby-faced Lena plays spunky, strong-minded and independent Kitty Brydon, and spunky, strong-minded and independent (young) Sally Seton, respectively. I don’t know if I should feel bad about not recognizing either opinionated young woman in Luce, because after all, isn’t that what actors want: disappear under the skin of a character, that all you see is that character? And Lena is formidable at this game, she is such a chameleon. Whether she is a Yorkshire prostitute who specializes in S&M on Band of Gold, a suburban mom who wants her family to make it through the night in The Purge or a blood-thirsty and ruthless drug lord in post-apocalyptic America in Dredd, she endows her characters with that je-ne-sais-quoi that makes them fascinating. She has that ability to give them history, no matter how long they appear on the screen, they are full-fledged people. I have watched a lot of her films and TV apparences lately, and one of the best example of what I’m referring to is her part as Jenny Clark on Ballykissangel. The series follows the life of a small Irish town, into a new English priest has just been transferred. In the second episode, Jenny gets off the bus from Manchester and asks to see Father Peter Clifford (Stephen Tompkinson). They finally meet, and from that moment on, you can sense all the unsaid, that something maybe happened between Peter and his parishioner, and imagine what her family life is like. We don’t know much about Jenny, or her past, but we know she has one. We can feel and imagine it in every silence or longing look. Now keep in mind that Lena only appeared in one episode of the series, and that she was 23 at the time. That’s how good she is. That’s a bit of an understatement, that’s how amazing she is. She makes her guest starring moments memorable, whether she is the daughter of an ambassador accused of murder on Kavanagh Q. C., or a genius hacker on White Collar.
Like I mentioned earlier, I watched a lot of her work lately, and if all films are not masterpieces, they all can boast her performance at least. She grounds the characters she plays in a reality somehow, someplace they touch you, never leave you indifferent. She is always good, regardless of the material. It’s probably why the one thing I can hold against Band of Gold (an otherwise brilliant series) is the way her character was written off. Lena only appears in eight episodes (the whole second season and the first two episodes of the third). Colette is an S&M hooker who does drugs and is thus at odds with Rose (Geraldine James) who’s gone straight and wishes Tracy (Samantha Morton) would do the same, and believes Colette has a bad influence on her. Even more so when the two begin a relationship. [Okay, now I’m gonna spoil] A subplot throughout the season is Rose looking for the daughter she abandoned when she was sixteen, and who turns out to be Colette. The scene in which she tells her is such a beautiful scene, packed with subtle emotions. But the final confrontation is a letdown, mostly because it was rushed. If they just had a little more screen time, there’s no doubt Geraldine James and Lena Headey would have made it work.
I just love her, I love what she brings. I love how damaged and cruel Ma-Ma is. I love how fierce and combative Queen Gorgo is. I love how fucked-up but trying her best Kaisa is (watch Aberdeen, absolutely). I love how gentle and determined Luce is. I love how Colette is this very dark girl who’s also a ray of light in others’ lives. I love how Cersei is manipulative and power-hungry, but also a mother who loves her children with the purest heart. I watched her in The Gathering Storm today, and I love that the impression you have of Ava Wingram (Ralph Wingram's wife) is that quiet and steady strength. A loving wife and mother who certainly inspired her husband that his duty to Britain was to feed Churchill information about the expansion of the German air force, even if it was then considered betrayal (as Churchill was not privy to this information). There is this remarkable scene in which a government official downright threatens Ava to send her husband abroad, in a country where getting medication and care for their sick son would be difficult. She could have bent, for the sake of her son and husband, but she recognized that the sake of the nation was more important and courageously stood up to him: "You’ve made a foolish mistake, Mr; Pettifer. A tactical error. When a member of the government comes to my house and threatens me so openly, it only goes to show how extremely important that my husband continues his friendship with Mr. Churchill." I have no doubt she did great justice to the real Ava Wingram.
Also, the number of British (and not British) acting legends she’s worked with is itself a testament to her talent. She appeared on the screen alongside Vanessa Redgrave (twice, although they maybe didn’t even meet on Mrs. Dalloway), Jim Broadbent, James Fox, Jeremy Irons, Sinead Cusack, Albert Finney, John Cleese, Emma Thompson, Sam Neill, Celia Imrie (thrice), Colin Firth, John Thaw, Charlotte Rampling, Charles Dance (twice), John Malkovich, Stellan Skarsgard, Rupert Everett… to name a few.
I could tell you more, a lot more about her fantastic acting skills. How she never fails to touch you even when she barely has dialogue, just through her wonderfully expressive face and eyes. For proof, you absolutely need to watch Inside-Out, No Verbal Response, Round About Five(with Martin Freeman), Vacancy. But I think you get my drift. And I believe, this appeal that her characters have whether they’re villains or not, comes from her quite simply. She has that irresistible appeal. That genuine smile and that warmth in her gorgeous green eyes. She’s a good person, you just can feel it, you just know it. She’s fun, and witty, and shy, and smart, and adorable, and beautiful and sexy, and good. Just good. Not only because she’s supported Plan UK (a nonprofit organization that aims against child marriage and FGM amongst other things) or No H8 long before she appeared on their posters. She’s just one of these people you can feel are genuine.
And I just genuinely love her.