Queen Cersei is waiting for you.
You walk through the parking lot, into a production trailer and there she is — at a little dinette table. You sit across from her. You cognitively know this is Game of Thrones actress Lena Headey in a trailer. But you’re having a tough time processing it. Mainly because she is completely in costume — the blonde wig, the ornate gown in Lannister red and gold, the makeup that covers Headey’s tattoos. But it’s also because the actress tends to be wary of the press, and wariness, coincidentally, is one of Cersei’s qualities.
So you sit there and feel weirdly nervous under her appraising gaze, a look that’s so familiar from watching the show. It’s like you just interrupted the Queen Regent on her RV trip and any misstep could result in guards bursting through the door and throwing you into the Black Cells.
After a couple minutes of initial chat, however, Headey opens up about Cersei, and lends some keen insights about her character — a matter that she has given considerable thought.
After surviving an attempted invasion of King’s Landing last season, Cersei begins season 3 contending with the arrival of her stern father, Tywin (Charles Dance), and missing her brother/lover, Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). “She’s missing Jaime because he’s been gone for awhile,” Headey says. “Interestingly her only ally is Tyrion (Peter Dinklage). It’s sort of an interesting dynamic between those two. They share a common ground because they’re both terrified of their father. It’s that interesting thing where children, if they’re frightened by their parents, there’s a competition between them for their father’s trust and belief. There’s an interesting teenage behavior between them, and she’s terrified of her father finding out who she really is.”
And speaking of teen behavior, there is also Cersei’s own son, King Joffrey (Jack Gleeson), whose ongoing psychopathic tendencies and rebellion are tearing her apart. “Joffrey is literally out of her control,” she says. “It’s so painful for her that it’s such a big f–k up, that the kid she loves so much is so out of hand and she has little-to-no control over him.”
I point out that Cersei is pretty much only kind to Joffrey, even though he’s the person in the world who least deserves kindness. “Yes, she keeps trying to be the soft, gentle mother with him, and he needs a good slap,” she says and laughs.
Cersei may be quite ruthless, but it’s difficult not to feel sympathy for a character whose children are such a motivating force. Not only is she terrified of something awful happening to them, but according to Headey, they are holding her together. “Her children are her sanity,” she says. “So the more they crumble, the more she does, and that’s a real mirror for her. And that’s why the Joffrey thing is so terrifying and upsetting to her.”
The wedge between Cersei and Joffrey is further widened this season by the arrival of her son’s bride-to-be, Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer), whose apparent kindness and obvious beauty fascinates her son. With their marriage, Margaery will essentially replace Cersei as the acting queen of Westeros. “The threat of Margaery, who’s younger and beautiful, is just killing her,” she says. But you can expect Cersei to keep her feelings about Margaery close to the vest — like she does just about everything.
“That’s the thing about Cersei,” Headey says. “She’s always covering her real feelings. Her honest state is fear, but it’s covered up by greed and pride.”
17 DAYS OF THRONES
EW rolled out 17 Game of Thrones stories with exclusive and spoiler-free behind-the-scenes content, largely drawn from our Northern Ireland set visit last fall, leading up to the show’s season 3 premiere on March 31. After each episode air we’ll have our popular recaps (catch up on the recaps for the first two seasons here) and interviews. Follow me on Twitter @james_hibberd for Game of Thrones news and bookmark our Thrones hub here.