9 December 2009

Interview with Lena on IMAY ('06)

And old but interesting interview with Lena where she talks about Imagine Me & You and lots of other stuff like The Brothers Grimm, London, Hollywood, etc. From the British Telegraph.

Flower girl of Primrose Hill

In her latest film Lena Headey plays a florist who has an affair with a customer - a woman. Is this Britain's answer to 'Brokeback Mountain'? No, she tells Clemency Burton-Hill, it's just a love story


In a pub in Primrose Hill, Lena Headey is reliving the horror of her first-ever men's magazine shoot. 'I lasted all of about two seconds,' she explains, 'pouting and trying to look sexy, before descending into giggles.' The session took place a few hours ago. Back in her preferred uniform of scruffy jeans and Converse trainers, Headey jokes about her refusal to wear the skimpy underwear the stylist was hoping for - 'I was like, no way! Give me the boy shorts!' - and confesses she found the experience 'traumatising'.

Given that this 32-year-old British actress has been in the business since 1992 (the producers of Waterland spotted her in a school play, aged 17), the fact that she has avoided such photo shoots until now reveals much about her attitude towards the business. 'Well, yeah,' she concedes. 'I haven't exactly courted publicity. I guess the dream is to have both a long career and a normal life.' It's with a degree of stealth, then, that Headey has become one of the busiest and most respected young actresses on both sides of the Atlantic (without so much as a red-carpet antic or strategic seduction of a famous co-star). The director of her latest film describes her as 'fiercely intelligent, warm, funny, beautiful, a complete natural', while studio bosses at Miramax wanted her so badly for the lead in last year's The Brothers Grimm that they famously overrode director Terry Gilliam's choice of Samantha Morton for the part. Headey, ever modest, refuses to elaborate on this story, which sent industry gossip-mongers into a frenzy. 'Look, as far as I was concerned, I went to an audition, got a part and turned up on set. I just wanted to work bloody hard in that role; I had no idea what had gone on behind the scenes.'

Working hard is something that Headey believes passionately in. After starring in blockbusters (she recently wrapped on Warner Bros' upcoming Spartan epic, 300) and low-budget indies alike (including the critical success Aberdeen, for which she won Best Actress at the 2001 Brussels European Film Festival), she seems to prefer the indies. 'Oh, God, yes. I've had a good time on those big jobs - on 300, for example, the director Zack Snyder was just such a brilliant man, and there were no egos. People worked long hours without complaining. But, generally, on smaller films there's a better atmosphere: it's more collaborative; people work much harder; the whole thing tends to be more rewarding.'

Her most recent film, and the one we're here to talk about, was apparently one of the most rewarding of her career. 'I loved every second of it', she grins. A charming, bittersweet British comedy from first-time writer-director Ol Parker, Imagine Me and You trespasses on Working Title territory to explore the messiness and magic of love at first sight. Headey plays Luce, a north London florist who unwittingly wreaks havoc on Hector and Rachel, a beautiful, seemingly perfect, couple, when one of them falls in love with her after she provides the flowers for their wedding. Conveniently timed to coincide with the post-Brokeback fascination with portrayals of homosexual romance, our expectations are confounded when we discover that it is Rachel, not Hec, who has fallen helplessly for Luce's charms.

Headey's excitement at getting the part had nothing to do with the prospect of pushing social boundaries. 'I think the Americans have been a bit disappointed there aren't more issues here', she muses. 'But, really, it's just a quirky, honest, painful and brilliantly written little story about two people who fall in love, completely out of the blue. That's why I wanted to do it.' So this is not The Lesbian Flower Girl Movie, then, any more than Brokeback Mountain should have been The Gay Cowboy Movie? 'No! 'It's not a gay movie. It's just a movie. It's about love and human relationships, and responsibility, and guilt … and, most of all, it's about timing.' When I ask her if she believes in its premise - namely, that you can catch someone's eyes across a crowded room and everything can turn upside-down - she looks horrified. 'Of course!' she exclaims. 'Life would be pretty rubbish without that possibility wouldn't it?'

Headey met Parker years ago on Loved Up, a film he had written for BBC2; 'Ol is a genius', she declares. Appealing, too, was the thought of shooting in London after a long stint in Romania. 'I'd just spent three months in the freezing cold, being chased around in a wetsuit, eating disgusting food, so the idea of working at home on a film like this? Yeah, that had a certain appeal.' Yet another draw was the chance to work again with Piper Perabo, the American actress who plays Rachel (delightfully) to Lena's Luce. Perabo had been the only other female actress on the Romanian movie, and the two became firm friends. 'It was wicked to work with Piper again,' says Headey, although when I suggest that the chemistry between the two girls is one of the film's most compelling aspects, she pulls a funny face. 'Hmm, maybe. I have to admit, it was very weird, snogging such a good mate.'

Most of the action takes place a stone's throw from where we're sitting, in glorious Primrose Hill and its environs. Impressively for a first-time director, Parker managed to assemble both a superb cast - including Matthew Goode, Celia Imrie, Anthony Head and Sue Johnston, whom Headey says she 'worships' - and a great crew. The director of photography Ben Davies, for example, has created one of the most breathtaking cinematic portraits of London I've ever seen. 'I know,' she laughs. 'I watched the film and was like, wow, where's that? That looks like a great city. Love to live there.'

Of course, she does live there. Moving to Los Angeles would probably help her career, but I doubt it would suit the straight-talking Headey. On the issue of pressure to conform to a certain body shape, for example, she is refreshingly candid. 'When actresses say they aren't bothered about it, that they don't diet, or whatever, that's bullshit. Everybody in Hollywood is under that kind of pressure: you just can't, and don't, escape it.' Headey has a tight group of friends, almost none of whom are in the film business. 'I'm so lucky,' she admits. 'I've got such, such good people in my life.' Although, she is coy about the vintage diamond sparkling on her ring finger, she will admit that her fiancé, too, has nothing to do with the industry. 'We met at a wedding, actually,' she says with a wicked twinkle in her eye. 'Luckily, he wasn't the groom.'

Interview by Clemency Burton-Hill

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