Exclusive Interview with Lena Headey, the Queen of '300'

Lena Headey appears at a press event for the movie '300' wearing a black strapless dress and a short, dark hairstyle.

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The movie "300" is about 300 brave Spartans fighting against immeasurable odds during the historical Battle of Thermopylae. But there’s so much more to the film than handsome, muscular, scantily-clad men involved in fierce combat with their Persian foes. Stunning Lena Headey, who plays Queen Gorgo in the film, sums it up best: "I think it’s about belief and freedom and what the whole world goes through every day. It’s fighting for your heart and just for justice, for what you believe is true. We all do that every day."

Interview With Lena Headey, '300' Star

Queen Gorgo is sexy and beautiful and above all, tough. How did you approach the character?

"I think that the kind of element that's the key to her is, she's rather male in psyche, in terms of pride. You know, whereas you're used to seeing females cry, they cry and the emotion and the way we are, once or twice a month, and I think it was the kind of stoic, stillness of a man she has — even when she wants to give in to it, she doesn't. I mean, she could do with therapy, probably" (laughing).

You were pretty much the only female in the cast surrounded by all these nearly-naked men. Was that kind of strange?
"It was. They're such great guys, though. It's just a big group and it was like having loads of brothers wearing nothing. So, you know, the first few days were kind of strange. Then you think, actually, it's a role reversal. We [women] get to wear the clothes for a change, which is not a bad thing in my book."

"This industry is so male-heavy anyway, and it's such a male crowd. But, you know, when you get boys in shorts, it becomes quite girly, let me tell you" (laughing). "The questions about the thighs, the stomach, 'Can you see the…' It's like a big girls' night out."

Were you familiar with the Battle of Thermopylae prior to this film?
"Not at all, only when I met Zack [Snyder, writer-director]. He kind of brought the book and I was like, 'Oh my gosh, it's kind of insane.'"

Did you do any research?
"I just sat with Zack for like an hour and he told me everything he'd looked into. I mean, it's fascinating. The society is kind of incredible. I'd love to see something about the back story of the men — how they bring up the boys, what happens to the sons, what happens when they're sent out and when they come back."

That would make an interesting prequel to "300."
"Exactly. Apparently, they send the boys out from [age] 11 to 16. They're out and then they bring them all back to this table. It's this special ceremony with this table with cheeses and wine. They come down and they're beaten by the men in the village while they're trying to get food. There's this whole crazy battle."

What happened to the females?
"Apparently, the women...the men come back and the women are given to the men. They have their head shaved, they're taken to a room, basically raped by the guys. And then they get married because these men are not socialized with women. It's a pretty intense society."

When you first picked up the script, did your vision of the film match what the finished film looks like?
"No. Well, I'd seen a ten-minute teaser that he'd done visually, so I had some idea. I only saw it a couple [of] days ago and it just blew my mind. I just thought it was so extraordinary. I was like, screaming. This experience has been such a pleasure. Zack's such a joy to work with. Just to be part of something like this, whether you have two lines or ten lines, it's just such a pleasure and I think it's an extraordinary piece of filmmaking."

"It's beautiful; it's romantic. A girl said it's a 'date movie' and I was like, 'I know what she means.' It's a romance."

Did you have the same reaction as that girl when you watched "300" for the first time?
"I thought what surprised me was how much you care about their relationship — about Leonidas and Gorgo — because we really only had one scene to do that with, the love scene and the kind of dialogue beforehand. I found it very powerful. I found it very moving and I believed it. You believe that this foundation — her strength — is kind of behind this battle. She doesn't go 'you're not going!' She's like, 'You go. I'm not going to cry; you just go.'"

The script doesn't call for you to deliver many lines, so how difficult was it to develop that strength in her?
"I just think there's a stillness in her and a regality. She's in this deeply male psychological society and she's very male within that. There's a kind of femininity in her dignity. There's only one moment when she loses it at the end and it's not a breakdown. So, I don't know. I just think there's a stillness and there's a listener in her."

How much of a physical set was around you and how much was green screen?
"Not as much as the guys. The scene in the Coliseum when I talk to the council was like two pillars and some stairs. So to see them light [up] and moving through it was just, like, extraordinary. I saw myself walking...I was just walking off the stage and it had green curtains. And then Sparta had pillars and floor, but nothing was extended. Everything ended with curtains."

"300" has to be one of the most talked-about films of 2007. Did you ever anticipate when you were signing on that it would become this huge, monster project?
"I have to say I think when you meet Zack, and you see the visual, you know immediately it's going to be something pretty extraordinary. I didn't know that people would be so excited to see it. But then you come to think 'why couldn't they?' All the ingredients are there for something special. I think to have something this big in terms of reaching people, it's got such a lot of heart and emotion. It's kind of clever. When I watched it I was like, 'Wow, this really works on every level.' I had rushes of emotion, besides just kind of marveling at it visually."

What was the appeal of working on "300?"
"It's a funny thing. You read things as a woman and you think, 'Oh, the female character [Gorgo], she's got a few scenes, blah, blah, blah.' And then you look at it overall and I was like, 'I just want to be part of this.' I just think Zack [Snyder's] fabulous, I really do. There's a generous spirit to him and the cast, and that's very rare in people in this environment sometimes."

"Film, for me, is a process. It's not an end result, it's a process. I think if you can't enjoy that and you don't appreciate everybody that's working and putting everything into it, then it's not worth doing. If you're just into this for the glory and going 'it's going to be on big,' it may never be. You have to enjoy this moment because that's really where it is."

"It's such an experience, my job. It's such a crazy place to work. [Acting is] very public and your mistakes are seen by loads of people, and your successes are seen by those people. So I enjoy it, but it's all very different. It's like we meet so many people and obviously, you're not going to jell with everybody and mesh, you know? I thought that when I first started out that I'd come home with 700 phone numbers and now I have like two" (laughing). "But you know, it's just a great opportunity to explore the world, as well as meet people."

Are you prepared to be recognized by fans of "300" as Queen Gorgo?
"But I look so different in the film!"

You do look different in the film, but when they find out who you are, that's going to cause quite a reaction. Are you ready to be associated with this character?
"I just hope I can still get away with...I just don't ever want to be photographed. I mean, I hate that. It's an invasion of privacy."

But you're an actress and it kind of comes with the territory, doesn't it?
"Yes, but I've worked for 15 years without being recognized or known pretty much anywhere. I can go anywhere, and for that to change terrifies me. I love my life; I love my anonymity. I love doing what I do, but I like being able to be trashed at parties and nobody's going, 'Look at her! Look at her with watercress in her teeth.'"

And you're doing the television show "The Sarah Connor Chronicles" next?
"I just did the pilot. Yeah, a TV pilot."

Were you looking to transition to television?
"I want some constant, and TV's changed so much now, especially in the States. It was a kind of cool project to get into. I just think it will allow me to do other work, to do other movies that necessarily I wouldn't be able to. I think it puts you in a position of being able to take projects that are smaller, that you are interested in, that you wouldn't necessarily be able to do [in movies]."

What was the appeal of playing Sarah Connor?
"It's kind of a hard part. It's a single mom with her kid — and the fact that she's holding in her hands this boy that she loves who also is the key to the survival of the world. It's pretty big, so there's a lot to go on there."

Is action your genre?
"It's just been the things I've loved and I've been interested in. I just did a film called "The Red Baron," which is...the war story of the German fighter pilot. That's a romantic love story. And then I just did a horror thriller in London, a low budget kind of very visual, very psychological movie. It's pretty twisted. It's kind of about losing your mind and reality and the boundaries of reality and madness."

Do you lose your mind in it?
"Yeah, I played two people."

Is she really two people or does she just think she's two people?
"It's kind of...it's like which side do you believe? Are you crazy or who knows who's not crazy?"