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Lena Headey Profile

She's Beautiful When She's Angry

British bombshell Lena Headey fights terminators for a living. It's the perfect role for a girl who grew up defending herself with a smart mouth, a sharp wit, and a mean right cross

The first time Lena Headey shot a man in the balls, she cried. She wasn't even looking when she fired the gun. But the sheer brutality of it allthe hard steel against the interior of her knuckle, the violent shudder in her groin after pulling the trigger, and the sound, that deafening, ear-breaking sound--was too overwhelming. At the very moment she should have focused on her target's chest, she turned away, the marauder in front of her suddenly a eunuch.

"It scared me," says Headey, 34, in an accent that glides between British working-class and the Queen's English. "I thought, My God, here's a gun and there's a life, and you shoot the gun and there ends the life." The target in this case was a paper assailant at the shooting range where Fox Television sends its action stars in training, and where for the last many weeks the actress has tried to appease her fear of weaponry. At the very least, the instruction has taught Headey to look like she knows what she's doing: On Fox's midseason entry Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, a prologue to the Terminator movies, she wields pistols, shotguns, and heavy artillery like a modern-day Bonnie Parker. As the embattled mom protecting her son--and the human racefrom killer robots, Headey seems completely at home, albeit not at all at peace.

"[Playing with guns] is not something I'd do on a day off," she says over a salad of prosciutto, melon, and figs served al fresco at Pace, a stylish organic Italian eatery in Los Angeles, where Headey and her groom of six months have set up house since moving from London in July. "I don't really understand why Americans have such access to them and why they shoot them for sport." Headey's father, I point out, was a police officer: You'd think having a cop for a dad might have inured the actress to the general idea of firearms. "Are you kidding?" she asks incredulously. "He was a British cop. He didn't have a gun; he had a f--king stick. He'd run after people, and it was like, 'I'm going to hit you with my four-foot stick, so you better be scared and give up that lady's handbag.'"

With her fair English skin and shock of dark hair, Headeymost recognizable as the sultry Queen Gorgo from last year's sword-and-shield-fest 300is delicate and slightly vulnerable looking; she's more Audrey Hepburn gamine than the Linda Hamilton tough she was cast to re-create in The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Yet beneath the foppish locks, the thick, arched eyebrows, and the high, alabaster cheekbones is a stubborn independence born of protecting her soul in a complicated family and defending her pride in bare-knuckle street brawls.

Born in Bermuda, Headey moved with her parents to Somerset, in southwest England, when she was 5. At age 11, the family moved to blue-collar Yorkshire in northern England. At her working-class mother's behest, Headey took elocution lessons to learn "to speak like a lady." But her newly manufactured upper-class diction seemed only to get her into trouble in a town where being unique was unacceptable. "I remember asking this boy where the playing field was, and he was like, 'Where are you from?' Then he literally smashed me on the head with his cricket bat because I was different," she says, and then contemplates, "or maybe he just wanted to kiss me."

It was the first of many rows for Headey, who insists she throws punches only to protect someone she loves--her younger brother, Tim, for instance, now an air steward for British Airways. "He stood out in school because he played the violin and painted his nails and his friends wore Lycra T-shirts," she remembers. "He got picked on, and I was like, 'Don't touch my brother.' I'm small but quite tough. When incensed, I can swing a punch."

The last knockdown she chooses to share took place in the early 1990s after she returned from London to Yorkshire. Already she had appeared in the critically acclaimed films Waterland and The Remains of the Day, and she had just been cast as Kitty in The Jungle Book. "My girlfriends and I were drinking, and these girls from a lower year who we always had trouble with asked, 'What are you doing here?'?" Headey recounts, her throat tightening at the memory. "I said I was having a drink with my mates, and one girl said, 'Oh, you think you're so f--king good coming back here, don't ya?' Then she punched me in the eye, and I showed up on my first day of a Disney film with a real shiner."

Headey confides that she has always carried a quiet rage that can detonate at the slightest injustice, real or imagined. "I have a scary side of me," she admits. "I f--king yell and shout and I'm horrid and then it's gone. My poor husband."

Headey's atavistic compulsion to be both open and honest and yet always on guard clearly inspires her in her current role. "I love Sarah Connor. There's a complexity in her that's great for an actor, because you're not just being a smiley face or a sad face," she says. "She has so many f--king issues, past and present."

She won't pinpoint the origin of some of her own issuesthat wild temper of hers, or a certain conversational self-consciousness that melts away when she lapses into one of the many accents she uses to animate an anecdote. But one can guess that it might have something to do with what she will only call her "tricky" relationship with her mother. "It always comes down to the mum, now doesn't it?" she asks rhetorically. "Since being quite young, I've had a very strong sense of independence and survival. As a child, I was on my own two feet emotionally," she says. "I have an internal protectiveness where it's like, if it comes to just me, as frightened as I am of losing someone I love or things going sour or simply being alone, there is a dark place in my brain where I'm like, It could happen and I'm okay, I'm prepared."

But as independent as she paints herself, Headey has meticulously arranged her life in such a way that emotional support is always on call. For one, she has never not been in a romantic relationship. And she rarely trusts anyone she hasn't known for, say, most of her life. "If all this [TV and movie stuff] f--ks up, I still have these people I love in my life, and that keeps me stable and that's my reality," she says. "I could quite happily run a florist or a bake shop."

Or be a mom. Headey is drawn to her character's hyperdeveloped maternal instinct, almost as though she were informing her performance with a fantasy of the kind of mother the actress wishes she'd had herself. "The bottom line is that her own life isn't even about her, it's about her child," she says, going silent for a moment, her lucent green eyes looking skyward. "I guess when you become a mother, it's like that." Headey says she wants a baby "sooner rather than later. We'd have to work out the bump on Sarah Connor," she says, "but at least I'd have the boobs they want me to have."

Still, the maternal and nurturing side of Lena Headey can stay on the surface for only so long. As anxious commuters interrupt our meal, their car horns honking their way home along Laurel Canyon Boulevard, Headey sets down her fork and politely asks, "Do you mind if I go out there and punch them?"

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