The Brothers Grimm (2005) – Q&A with Lena Headey

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Lena Headey plays the role of Angelika.


We all grew up with these fairy tales. What resonated with you all these years from those stories?

HEADEY: I just think a sort of youth of imagination that turns you on came from it. Obviously you are born with imagination but it is easy to shut it down. For me though, when I see a scary movie or read a frightening book, when the lights come back up, my imagination is so vast that I scare myself quite stupid (laugh).

Was there one tale that affected you more than any other?

HEADEY: For me, it was Rumplestilskin. I loved it because the guy had these long pointy feet and when he jumped up and down and he sounds quite creepy. When he doesn’t get his way, he would jump up and down and his feet with go through the floor. I loved imagery like that.

Most actors relish playing a period piece because they get to wear some impressive wardrobe. That wasn’t quite the case for you.

HEADEY: That was Monica’s bag on this film (laugh).

Your character is this trapper and when we first see you from the back, one might even conclude you are a man. So how did you create her to make her this unique woman of the time?

HEADEY: I loved the fact that she was a tomboy. That is what attracted me to her is that she wasn’t this predictable female character in this big movie. You meet her and she is masking who she is. I loved that her environment dictated who she is. She lives and grows up and survives in the forest. Terry and I talked about how her instincts are almost animalistic and she can see 360 degrees around her. She is aware of what is going on. That is how she is grounded. She is of the earth.

Did you have to take a boot camp to learn all these special attributes that she was to possess in the film?

HEADEY: I took archery classes and horse training. I also worked with the same guy who did the accents for ALEXANDER to give me the right dialect for the film. At first we had Angelika with an Irish lilt but that was dismissed. We worked a lot on how animal’s vision works. Because they are nocturnal creatures, they open their vision to this wide perspective. It was quite interested figuring it out. When you talk to someone, you stare right at them and you give them all your power. But in the animal world, you take it all in and everything you survey, you own. So while you are looking at someone, you are also taking in the chair over there and all the rest. You can really freak people out when you do that.

Had you ever ridden horses prior to making this film?

HEADEY: A long time ago I was thrown from a horse and dragged through a forest.

So did you have to conquer that fear?

HEADEY: I did actually. When that happened, I just got right back on because if I didn’t, I would have retained that fear.

How good did you develop your archery skills?

HEADEY: I was pretty bad at first. It looks kind of easy at first because it seems so graceful. You just pull back the bow and shoot the thing but it is really tough. It is all about the back but I loved it.

Did you feel you needed to condition yourself differently in the physical sense for the role?

HEADEY: Not really. If I had a long time to prepare I might have but I was cast rather late and so I rushed right in to the part.

Terry said that he really wanted you to actually skin a rabbit but little did he know that you are a vegetarian.

HEADEY: Yes (laugh). I said I wouldn’t do it. But I knew that I should because Terry felt it was important for the character. I went to meet the guys who did it and they had this bunny hanging up with its throat cut. It was white and really big. They gave me a knife and told me to just stick it in and cut. I couldn’t do it. I am pretty fearless but I couldn’t stick the knife in this body. I went back to Terry and he kept asking why I hadn’t done it yet. I asked him to come back with me to do it himself and he said okay. But when we got there, he couldn’t do it either (laugh).

So what did you end up doing for the film?

HEADEY: It is latex. I told the effects guys that if they can make a wolf fly, they can make a fake rabbit.

Terry mentioned that when you were first cast, you were a bit too pretty for the part and they had to dirty you up a bit. While I am sure an actor relishes the challenge, does vanity come into play? This will be how audiences see you.

HEADEY: Not at all. I can honestly say that. The exciting thing is being able to totally change the way you look. I just did a short film with friends in New York and played the freakiest thing I have ever done. I loved it. I was this motel-dwelling strange entity who wore the most bizarre clothes I could ever imagine. It was great.

I was doing some research as to various characters you have played and there is a lesbian prostitute, a virginal heroine, an idealistic girlfriend, an upstairs maid and a sexually precocious schoolgirl. You have run the gamut to have these eclectic roles. Some actors need to reassure audiences with the same vein of a character but you seem all over the map.

HEADEY: Someone said to me the other day that I always play the same type of character. He said that I always play the vixen, which I disagreed with. I am very aware of that because I don’t want to be typecast. I do want to play diverse characters. Yes, there have been some similar characters because I am female and those roles in your mid twenties can be similar. But I do try and avoid it because I do find it more interesting to play various type roles.

How did you get started to begin with as an actor?

HEADEY: I was 17 when I got my first job. I had not gone to drama school. I was lucky and just fell into it. I was asked to audition for a film when I was 17 and did that.

Why did they ask?

HEADEY: They saw a photo of me. I took a stage play that we devised at my school down to London and they took a photo. I was asked to audition from that picture and I got the job from that.

There are not many women in this film and your co-star Monica Bellucci was really on a separate stage doing all her special effects stuff. So how was it with you and the boys?

HEADEY: It was a very boy’s atmosphere. At times, I just kept wondering where the female contingency was. Then I would hang out with the make-up girls.

Did the guys defer to you or treat you like one of them?

HEADEY: Not really. I don’t think they noticed. When you have all these boy boys on set, you could run in naked and I am not sure they would even notice.

Trust me, men will notice. One look at the environment you filmed in and it seems that make up didn’t have to pat you down too often with dust and mud. You could just roll around on the set. Do you like getting immersed in all of that?

HEADEY: Yes. From being a kid, when you can lose yourself in the elements, it just makes you happy. You can be joyful in the elements. Take me to the ocean and I can lose myself in that element as well.

Let’s now take you to the element of a Terry Gilliam set, where you have trees that move and vines that come and cling to you. Was there a quintessential moment for you that really represented the fact that you were in this fantastical world?

HEADEY: There were actually quiet moments when I would just sit on the huge and beautiful set. I would go into a corner and gather my moment and it would just hit me where I was. As for the effects, you don’t really notice too much because you are in it. There was one sequence we shot that actually isn’t in the film anymore. We were doing this blue screen shot where we were attached to a harness, yanked 80 feet in the air and then swung around. It was not a quintessentially Gilliam moment but I kept asking myself, “What are you doing?” (Laugh).

What did they do to help you in the scenes with the wolf? Obviously it was added later CGI but did they afford you a reference point?

HEADEY: Maybe that was it. I think it was a tennis ball at first and then Terry ran off and got this prototype of the wolf’s head and stuck it on a stick. He just stood in front of me and growled and bobbed the head up and down saying the lines. It was funny. But that was as much CGI as we all did. It was all there for us.

What is your own relationship to magic and the supernatural?

HEADEY: I do think it exists. It is an endless talking point for people. I believe in the supernatural only because I have had experiences with a ghost since an early age. I have seen too much stuff to think I was crazy or it was a coincidence.

What happened?

HEADEY: I saw a ghost in the house. Me and a girlfriend went to France for a holiday and we both saw the same ghost in our rooms on separate nights. We saw this young girl ask for help. I have seen a woman walk into a wall in the village where I am from. I was in Nantucket and there was a lady and her baby in my room.

You seem to draw them out.

HEADEY: I know (laugh). I lived in a house in London that definitely had a little boy in for over two years.

As in the film, have you ever sought out an explanation?

HEADEY: I just think that some people said that ghosts just need to be acknowledged and that is why they are there. They need to be talked to. It is like an actor who hasn’t worked for a while (laugh). So I just talk to them and ask them to stop stealing. The little boy used to take my jewelry from my house and then bring them back. It was more mischievous than anything else.

So was Matt or Heath more mischievous?

HEADEY: I would say Heath was a bit more mischievous with this frenetic energy. They had their little boys’ plaything going on so I just left them alone.

At one point in the film you couldn’t. You had to kiss both of them.

HEADEY: I did. It was a tough day on set. I kissed a toad and now it was all going downhill. It is just part of the job. I know they are gorgeous boys but I don’t get all excited. It is just what I had to do. Besides the fact, I think Angelica is probably gay.

I forgot you had to kiss the frog.

HEADEY: I licked the frog.

Was that latex as well?

HEADEY: No. It was a real toad.

So you and Matt actually licked a real toad. As you are one of the only people in life I have ever met who has done that, what does it taste like? Chicken?

HEADEY: It doesn’t taste really. It is more texture. It is lumpy. It is like licking a lumpy hand.

Were there special toads they had to bring in?

HEADEY: I think there were. Some are poisonous and their secretions are poisonous. For ours, they had to wipe them down. I don’t know what comes out of it, toad sweat?

Do you practice?

HEADEY: I kept saying, “Terry, come on.” And he would respond, “Lick it.” It was fun once you did it. It grossed people out so once I did it, it was okay and then I liked grossing people out (laugh).

You were raised in Bermuda. What was your lifestyle like there?

HEADEY: I don’t really recall because I was so young. I do think it gave me my love for the ocean. I was thrown in from the moment I was born. I ran around with no clothes and no shoes and played in the water and then when I was 5, we moved to England.

Is there anyone else in your family who is in the entertainment business?

HEADEY: No, I am the black sheep (laugh). Get a proper job. People come and go and do what they do in my family. There are all sorts.

Can you talk about Prague? What did it lend to you?

HEADEY: Prague is a beautiful city and I had a great apartment there. It is almost like a Fairy Tale in itself. There are all these great clocks there and they go off every hour. Prague is very accessible and has all this money now so it is almost like Eastern Europe’s version of a little Hollywood.

The film shot for a long time. How does the mood shift on a set like that? Weather can be a factor as well; does it ever get to you?

HEADEY: We were inside most of the time. We were very lucky with the weather. Maybe I am imagining it but we had really good days. Our forest was a set so our environment was controlled. We lived in there for three months and came out with black nostrils every day (laugh).

What films of Terry Gilliam had you seen that sort of gave you the impression what you were about to step into?

HEADEY: I wasn’t that knowledgeable of what he had done but TIME BANDITS was one of my favorites. I loved TWELVE MONKEYS and THE FISHER KING. I knew those films. When I met him at the audition I realized what a crazy man he is. There is this youthful enthusiasm and beauty. He brings that to the set. He has this continual imagination as an adult that he didn’t lose as a 15 year-old. He has kept that alive and that keeps his mind going.

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