Speaking to SciFiNow for the massive Dredd feature in the latest issue, exuberant Game Of Thrones star Lena Headey was happy to explain the connection between vigilant mother of the resistance Sarah Connor, venomous monarch Cersei Lannister and her latest role, that of druglord Ma-Ma Madrigal in Alex Garland’s Dredd.
“What appeals to me is people who are broken in some way, who are facing either giant challenges, or are not quite equipped to deal with living in their environment – who aren’t fully functional. There’s something really intriguing about being broken, you know?”
Her character, though, Ma-Ma – a prostitute who sliced up her pimp and claimed his empire, bringing her into conflict with Mega-City One’s toughest lawman, Judge Dredd – presents a set of unique challenges, even to an actor with Headey’s repertoire of dangerous and driven leads.
“The challenge of her is you’re dealing with someone who’s pretty much dead – apart from physically. She fears nothing, she embraces the thought of death, and I thought she’d be an interesting character to play
“It was just really fun!” continued Lena Headey. “I got into makeup and they were like, ‘What do you want to do? Do you mind-‘ and I was like, ‘I can do everything!’ She was like ‘Really!?’ and I was like ‘Yeah, let’s create this clinical mess’.That really helped – looking like that. It was quite interesting shutting off a response – a lack of intimacy – even though she’s looking at somebody she’s not really thinking anything – she’s just just present. She doesn’t give a shit about anything, and she’s frightened of nothing, which makes her scarier.”
Obviously, Dredd is a countdown to their face-off – both scarred, unrelenting and merciless. It’s that old clash between immovable force and irresistible object. He’s the knight, and she’s the dragon in the cave.
“Karl’s pretty intense, he does such a great job. He’s very present when he’s working, so it’s kinda cool to face off and Ma-Ma can’t look into his eyes, which she prefers, I think,” Headey muses, “She doesn’t need to connect. It was intense for Dredd, but for Ma-Ma she was thinking ‘Finally, someone who might actually cause me some pain’ – which, weirdly, is the only way she gets her kicks.”
Although filmed in South Africa (which she describes as “relaxed, sunny, warm, friendly”) on location in Cape Town, with a Kiwi lead, Lena Headey picks out its very British, very indie vibe as part of its appeal.
“It was great,” she agrees. “It’s why I said to Alex [Garland] when I watched it, ‘It’s so British’, which I love. It’s very aggressive, and visceral and it’s unapologetic – there isn’t a piece in it asking you to like it and be pleased by it, and I mean that in terms of ‘Oh, look at this lovely funny bit we’ve put in!’ It’s relentless, and I think it’s got that small British feel to it, and I don’t mean that to its detriment, I think it’s brilliant, you can connect to it, it’s immediate, which sometimes gets lost on giant budget thrillers with 700 people involved.”
Similarly, she’s unconcerned about what kind of reaction it might inspire – used to both fandork outrage from her roles in Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles and Game Of Thrones and more mainstream controversy from Zack Snyder’s 300.
“Who knows? You never know who thinks what and people can tell you what they want to. All I know is as an audience I really enjoyed what Karl did, he pulled it off brilliantly, and the elements of humour are just right. It’s not trying to please anybody, it’s just raw.”