Almost a year since the world said goodbye to Cersei Lannister, Game of Thrones alum Lena Headey is back on our screens with a much more intimate and personal project. In The Flood, which was released in the U.K. last year, and is available digitally in the U.S. from May 1, Headey plays immigration officer Wendy, whose latest case – an asylum seeker who’s crossed borders and oceans to get from Africa to Britain – poses a challenge to her emotionless, business-as-usual approach to the job.
The movie criss-crosses between Wendy’s interview with asylum seeker Haile (Ivanno Jeremiah) and the latter’s perilous journey to the U.K., focusing in particular on his time in a Calais refugee camp known as “The Jungle”; the movie’s director, Anthony Woodley, as well as its writer and producer, were all volunteers there. Headey, who has worked closely with the International Rescue Committee and visited multiple camps herself, is the film’s executive producer. “You want to be a voice,” she says of her experiences in the camps. “No one’s got any voice. That’s what you find when you go to the camps. Everyone says, ‘Just tell my story.'”
Like the rest of the world, Headey has spent much of the last two months indoors with her kids. “That would be a fine thing,” she says with a chuckle when we ask if she’d like to talk about the films she’s been watching while in quarantine. “I have two children! The chance of watching any adult films would be great. I can tell that I’ve seen The Croods three times – three nights in a row!”. She has some found time to make bread – though her last batch was “s–t,” she jokes about opening a bakery – and to record Instagram videos from her kitchen giving hilarious beauty tips and talking into bananas as if they’re phones.
The “Throners” Watsapp group has been busy, too, with lockdown memes and happy birthdays passing between the former cast members. Her first project when social distancing restrictions ease will see her reunite with one of those Thrones actors. Michelle Fairley, who played Catelyn Stark in the first three seasons of the HBO series, starred in Headey’s acclaimed short, The Trap, which she wrote and directed; Headey plans to direct a full-length feature version as soon as she can.
Below, Headey shares her five favorite films – which she has definitively not had a chance to rewatch lately – and tells us more about The Flood and the revelation that led to her involvement in refugee advocacy.
[I saw it] when I was kind of getting into working as an actor in that beautiful moment of British cinema; I just think it was the peak of what we did really well here, with low budgets and sort of dynamic, ferocious films. Kind of ballsy and just sort of out there. It didn’t adhere to any rules of cinema. I just love the energy of that film, the music. I love Danny Boyle‘s work. I think he’s amazing. Yeah, it just spoke to me as a young actor. I was like: That’s the kind of stuff I want to pursue. It just really, really made me proud to be in the industry.
It just moves me so much, the relationship between the boys and sort of beautiful bleak countryside and that nugget of joy that they found. I loved it, I loved it.
Honey Boy, for me, was another sort of moment of like, “F—k!”. I came out of the cinema, I was like that was just… everything about that film was gorgeous. That scene between Noah Jupe and FKA Twigs – you know that sort of moment when they’re in the room? In someone else’s hands [besides director Alma Har’el], it would have been a very difficult thing, I think, but that tenderness made me weep from a place that I don’t think I felt before watching a film.
One of my eternal favorites is A Woman Under the Influence. That’s kind of the center of everything for me. It’s such beautiful, simple filmmaking. I first saw it about 10 years ago, maybe. It just really struck something in me that I thought, “My god, that just looks like such a great acting piece.” It allows the actors to do what they do. They were obviously given room by [John] Cassavetes just to be brilliant, do you know what I mean?
I love ’70s film. There’s something about that era just in general – kind of wish I’d lived through it. Because, I think when films became sort of more constructed in a way, the bigger that they got, the more kind of panic about cash and everything [there was]. Back in the ’70s, it just seemed like there was a lot more freedom, just in general. A lot more experimentation and expression and all of that stuff. Yeah, I just think it’s such a gorgeous, moving piece, and the color, that kind of ’70s sort of saturation, I love as a visual.
Clio Barnard is a great filmmaker. That’s an incredible piece of filmmaking, too. I think it’s made with non-actors, kids that are not actors, which should be a disaster, and it’s absolutely like searingly brilliant. It’s about kids growing up in poverty finding their way through and their friendships. It’s just a blinding piece of film.
Joel Meares for Rotten Tomatoes: One of the things that struck me about The Flood is that we’re watching someone basically go to work; she’s kind of a cog in this bureaucratic machine. We don’t really see a lot of stories about people just doing the work and the sort of dilemmas that come up with that.
Lena Headey: It’s just basic. Do you know what I mean? What I love about it is there’s no frivolity in the film, and it doesn’t shove any message in anyone’s face. It’s like: This is it. Obviously, we’ve dramatized moments, to make it kind of cinema-worthy, but you’re just watching someone on the grind, you know what I mean?
I like that you said that the movie doesn’t deliver this strong message on either side. I was reading a review that took a dig at the movie for not having a view, and I thought to myself that kind of misses the point, because this is a complex and nuanced situation.
Headey: It’s so complicated, yeah, so complicated. There were so many opinions, so many opinions, you know what I mean? It’s just like, watch this. This is what’s happening daily, and we kind of just brush over it.
I know that you’ve done some work with International Rescue Committee, and obviously you EPed this project. Was there a moment that shook you out of whatever it was and made you get more actively involved or interested in this cause?
Headey: Yeah. Yep. I’d been reading, obviously, and listening to everything happening in Syria, and then it was Alan Kurdi, whose body washed up on the shores of Bodrum, dead. It just moved me. Then I kind of got more involved, and I started watching more stories, and I saw this woman who had a child who [was near an officer] at a border. She was just like, “Take my child so he can live.” Then, it sort of opened the floodgates, as it were. There’s no returning for me after that.
You went to the camps, right, at Lesbos?
Headey: Mm-hmm, yeah. I went to about five different camps over the time I’ve been working with them, yeah.
Watching this film and how it turned out, do you feel like what we see of the The Jungle refugee camp will give people who have no concept of what life could possibly be like there some insight into it?
Headey: Yeah, I think it gives you a tiny… it’s sort of a swallowable thing to see. It’s just moving enough, hopefully it’ll anger people enough. But, of course, there are far worse things going on. We concentrated on Ivanno’s character, Haile, so the film’s really about his journey.
What is something that’s surprised you that you’ve learned about the refugee crisis since becoming involved?
Headey: Human resilience. How people with absolutely f–k all, who’ve lost every possible thing, can still smile and offer you a cup of tea when they’ve got nothing. I think that’s something we can all learn right now.
I’m going to pivot a little bit, back a few years, if you don’t mind. The RT staff and audience are all huge fans of The Sarah Connor Chronicles. With so many series reboots happening, if someone came to you and asked you to play her again, would you consider it?
Headey: I would totally do it if it was on like a cable channel, so we could be more dirty with it. Yeah, yeah, make it a bit more grungy, do you know what I mean? As it would be, yeah, and not bring any men in. Maybe an actor or two, but I think she needs to be able to handle herself.
One reboot of sorts you’re a part of is Netflix’s upcoming animated Masters of the Universe: Revelation. Have you started recording yet?
Headey: Yeah, we’ve done a few episodes. I did a session with Mark Hamill, which was great. He’s really wonderful to watch and a lovely guy. We’ve got a bit more to do. I think this whole thing has shut down so many things.
You play Skeletor’s [Hamill] second-in-command, Evil-Lyn. What can we expect from your take on the character?
Headey: I think she’s pretty loyal to the original material, character-wise. I’m not doing any sort of grand, strange voice, no. It’s more about her, who she is, and her relationships. She’s quite a weirdo.
The Flood is available on VOD from Friday, May 1, 2020.
Thumbnail image: JA/Everett Collection, ©Sundance Selects, © Samuel Goldwyn Films, © Amazon Studios, Everett Collection