After so many acclaimed and popular performances in projects ranging from 300 to Game of Thrones to The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Lena Headey is stepping behind the camera for the first time for her directorial debut, The Trap.
The indie film – which is having its world premiere this weekend at the Austin Film Festival — is a character-driven psychological drama with some shockingly dark elements (which will not be spoiled here). The Trap stars Headey’s Thrones co-star Michelle Fairley as a woman living a life of solitude when she meets a mysterious young drifter (James Nelson Joyce). The project is based on Headey’s short film, which she also wrote.
The Trap comes at a busy time for Headey, who also stars in Zak Penn’s upcoming sci-fi series Beacon 23, which premieres Nov. 12 on MGM+, and she stars in Kurt Sutter’s upcoming Netflix Western drama series The Abandons, which likely premieres next year. While Headey was unable to discuss those two upcoming projects due to the ongoing actors strike, she did gamely look back at the final days of Cersei Lannister.*
So we have to be careful talking about the plot, but let met start with this: What was your inspiration for The Trap?
It came to me when I was pregnant 13 years ago. I was starting to panic. I was like, “Am I capable of loving something? I don’t know what this is.” It makes you question love. Then when I had my baby, I wondered, “Is love really unconditional? How far would you go? How much forgiveness is there? Would you really sacrifice everything for another person?”
And you cast Michelle as the lead. She’s obviously an amazing actress, but I wondered if there’s also a long-standing friendship there from your days on Thrones.
We are great mates. I hunted her down, made her drink with me, and we’ve got a lovely friendship. I used to watch Michelle and she’s such a fucking beautiful actress, and I love her face. So I wrote this with her in mind. I wanted to be able to do all the things.
How did you go about expanding this from a short film into a feature?
I had offers along the way to do the film with big names. But no. This film is what I love about British cinema. It’s working-class actors. There are accents. It has all the little things we don’t look at. And I was like, fuck it — I’m just going to do the film that I know I want to make with the people I want to make it with.
And what was it like for you transitioning to behind the camera? Was it—
Fucking heaven. It’s just so much better.
I guess that is an obvious question.
Well, I always think everybody would. But actually, they don’t. A huge amount of actors have no interest in doing it. I always have — from being 17 and working in the business, I’ve always been curious and driven towards it. Everyone that loves me has known this was my desire for two decades. So for me, it was mayhem and pure joy.
And in terms of directing actors. Did that come naturally, or was it a bit odd at first?
That was the most easy. I love it because it is creating space for people to be vulnerable. I work with actors as an actor. I study what people do, and I know when you’re not giving what you can, or being lazy, or just not in the space that day. So I believe there is a way of talking to actors that will elicit something else. And I think every actor’s got a fucking rocking performance in them, they just need the words and a story that will serve them. But maybe you have to ask them.
Have you screened this previously? What was that like for you?
Only for friends and family. I was fucking terrified. I was just sitting there in sheer fucking terror. They know me enough to not blow smoke up my ass, and everyone was really moved. People found it funny. People found connection. I don’t expect it to go shift lives or anything. It’s a very simple performance film.
Do you have a follow-up project in mind?
I’ve written a new one. It’s quite big in its [premise]. If there’s anybody out there with a cool $10 million, that would be rad.
I naturally wanted to ask a couple Thrones-related questions. First, I’m curious: Have you watched House of the Dragon?
Would that be too weird for you to watch?
Too weird. Yeah.
You’ve previously said you wanted more for Cersei in that final season, and suggested perhaps she could have had a fight scene, or a different death. But I wondered: Did you ever think about what your ideal storyline would have been for your character? And what would that have been?
I’m think all of us did, to be honest, because you start trying to write the story yourself. And [Arya Stark actress Maisie Williams] and I would fantasize about a Cersei and Arya showdown; that she would come back as Jaime. That was our dream. But they made different choices.
Right, and I understood it from the showrunners’ perspective, too — the amount of pressure, the massive amount of work and time involved, and trying to figure out how to get this complicated mix of stories just right.
Exactly. I think in hindsight, everybody understands that. You’re in it, and you’ve been so invested, there’s a moment of, “Why?” But I absolutely get it.
Do you ever miss it?
No. I miss the people — because you fall in love with people, and you create these family units. So that takes a little while to go though. There’s a weird grief from those relationships. But I don’t miss it. We did it. We put everything into it. It changed everyone’s fucking world, and we’ll always have it.
The Trap premieres at AFF on Sunday night at the Paramount Theatre. Headey will be doing a Q&A after the film’s premiere. *Thrones and Dragon are covered by Equity contracts instead of SAG-AFTRA.
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