IT’S a long, long way from the prim petticoats. Huddersfield actress Lena Headey was seen regularly on our screens in classic period dramas.
Films like lavish big screen adaptations of The Remains of the Day (1993), The Jungle Book (1994) and Onegin (1999) seemed to steer her down the English Rose path.
She was demure in St Trinians, feisty in 300 and scheming as Cersei Lannister in the TV series Game of Thrones.
Not any more.
Her latest big-screen offering shows her with a slashed and scarred face and a sadistic, evil character.
Twenty years on from Headey’s film debut, you’ll find her in the new summer blockbuster, Dredd.
“Nothing I do is by design,” admits a cheery Headey. “It’s always the result of a happy accident.
“I didn’t have a career plan. It has just become the way it is. It’s all good fun. It’s learning. I don’t think of the background when I am reading stuff. I don’t think about genre.
“If I like a character, if it intrigues me, that will be the reason that I jump in.”
At 38, in sharp contrast with early roles, Headey has kicked bottoms in the title roles of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles and Ultra.
She’s taken on Marvel’s Avengers as Mystique in The Superhero Squad Show. And now she is currently squaring up to the eponymous judge of Dredd.
A keen boxer and an incidental weaponry expert, she said: “I am finally getting back into being fit. I love being physical when I am working. There is something visceral about that. I get a kick out of that.
“Cersei in Game of Thrones is quite solid and stiff. So it’s great to move when you can.
“It’s touching that they are so loyal to the characters they love and that they take it so seriously. It’s an honour that they’re out there.”
Born in Bermuda where her father John, a policeman, was stationed as an advisor, she returned to England and Huddersfield with her family when she was five.
Lena has appeared in more than 30 films but got her first taste of acting as a pupil at Shelley College and got her big break at the age of 17 thanks to the school, which has produced other stars.
She was appearing in a school production at London’s Royal National Theatre and was snapped up for a role opposite Jeremy Irons in the 1992 film Waterland
The Game of Thrones star separated from her Irish husband, the musician Peter Paul Loughran, after five years of marriage late last year. The couple’s son, Wylie Elliot Loughran, was born in 2010. Thrones is shot in Northern Ireland and Headey is there a lot.
“I guess the next four years of my life I’ll be there for a good four months for each season. My son is in LA. So every second I have, I go home. I fly between the two. Busily.”
The new challenge Dredd required her to brush up on all things 2000 AD.
“I was never one of the cool kids who read 2000 AD,” she admits. “I know it’s disappointing but it’s true.
“The character that I played was drawn by Alex Garland so I talked to him a lot. He is a giant fan. So I had the oracle there. I loved that it was really a British journey. The budget was relatively small for something on this scale. But that works.
“It seems British. I read it and I just loved Ma-Ma. She’s quite a piece of work.”
She added: “I am very much a seat-of-the-pants actor. I will prepare when I have to. But I like being unprepared.
“Being too prepared doesn’t work for me. Sometimes it’s fulfilling. There are days you walk away and say, ‘Well, I did everything I could.’ But I am still terrified every time they say action.
“There is a part of me that lacks self-confidence. I couldn’t be less queenly in real life.”
That extends to her love of body art. She admits she loves tattoos and has a lotus design across her back and the actor Jason Flemyng’s name in Thai on her wrist: the pair were together for nine years.
“There is something in the act of having tattoos done that I love. It can be quite addictive. I’ve got a few on my back because my friend is an artist, and a few on my arms. Every time I pass a tattoo parlour, I think ‘maybe just a tiny one’. I can get away with it. There is an inch on my shoulder I could use.”
Read our review of Lena's new film, Dredd, on the next page
LENA HEADEY gives a compelling over the top performance as sadistic dealer Ma-Ma in the ultra-violent reboot of the 2000AD comic Judge Dredd .
She plays powerful drugs baron Ma-Ma, the main link to a triple murder .
Her empire is built on Slo-Mo, a narcotic which reduces the speed of skirmishes - remember The Matrix? - and allows director Pete Travis to show the trajectory of bullets as they scythe through flesh and explode internal organs with sickening fury.
It’s all a blessed far cry from Danny Cannon’s ill-fated, cartoonish 1995 foray into this dystopian future with a chisel-jawed Sylvester Stallone .
In the near future, America has been reduced to an irradiated wasteland and more than 400 million people are crammed into Mega City One on the eastern seaboard, which is patrolled by law-makers called Judges.
The Chief Judge (Rakie Ayola) asks universally feared Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) to assess rookie Cassandra Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), a mutant with devastating psychic powers.
Reluctantly, Dredd mentors Anderson and they head to the Peach Trees mega-block, home to 60,000 impoverished denizens, to investigate reports of a triple homicide.
The Judges apprehend Kay (Wood Harris) for the murders and using her abilities, Anderson surmises that the suspect is linked to Ma-Ma ( Headey) and the supply of Slo-Mo.
Before Dredd and his protegee can interrogate Kay, Ma-Ma locks down Peach Trees and orders the hoodlums and lowlifes in the building to kill the interlopers.
Special effects are solid and Travis acknowledges the 3D by throwing debris and severed limbs at the screen at regular intervals.
Adrenaline-junkies and hardcore fans of the comic should enjoy the unremittingly bleak rush.