Following eight successful years as Cersei Lannister on the iconic Game of Thrones, Lena Headey takes on her next big role as the real-life Dorothy Hunt in White House Plumbers.
The five-part limited series, premiering tonight on HBO, is based on the burglary of the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate Hotel in 1972 which led to the downfall of President Richard Nixon, from the perspective of the men who carried out the crime. Headey plays the wife of Watergate co-conspirator E. Howard Hunt (Woody Harrelson).
LA Magazine: White House Plumbers focuses on one of the most significant periods of US political history but from a different perspective. What excited you about this project?
Lena Headey: The writing is brilliant! I love [director and producer] David Mandel, then obviously Woody—getting the chance to team up and create a shitty marriage that is also entertaining.
How much did you know about Watergate before taking this role?
Big fat zero. I did no research, I gleaned my knowledge from David and [series co-creator] Alex [Gregory]. I did a lazy search.
What’s the most interesting thing you found out?
I think Dorothy was endlessly fascinating. She was this formidable spy and then she became this housewife and mother slowly realizing that she was married to a man who was nowhere near as smart as she is but holding on to that marriage and then making her bid for freedom, which was unheard of, and then meeting a really shitty end.
Was it fun to explore both sides of Dorothy, the spy and the suffering housewife?
I think she’s a slow burn, Dorothy. She’s calculated more than people give her credit for and she’s highly observant and deeply committed until she’s had enough.
You said that working with Woody Harrelson was a dream, what was this like in the end?
Awful. It was a fucking nightmare! No, he’s great. Woody is such a known figure and he’s not far from what you see, he’s fun and he’s open and you can’t really upset Woody.
I love the dynamic between your character and Justin Theroux’s Gordon Liddy, her hatred for him and his lack of self-awareness. What was it like to film the scene where he played Hitler speeches at a dinner party?
It was really ridiculous. It was as ridiculous as it was to watch. Also, when you realize it’s all true that Gordon Liddy played Hitler’s speeches as a rousing encouragement in his life, it’s so bizarre. It’s so bizarre that Howard [Hunt] thinks he’s amazing and Dorothy sat there looking at the three of them at that dinner thinking she’s in some fucking matrix.
I loved the 60s decor and fashion, did it feel like you were stepping back in time?
Yeah, Dorothy and Howard’s house was pretty much like that. It’s kind of like going back in time, it’s extraordinary. The costumes were amazing! Leah [Katznelson], our designer, was brilliant and she hunted and found all these treasures so it felt really special to wear a lot of those costumes.
Was Dorothy an inspirational figure because there weren’t too many women in that space?
So there’s that moment in history, the fact she was a mother and she was married and divorced and leaving [her] husband and the shame of that. A man would never have to carry any shame for anything but the woman would have to be this terrible sinful human who decided her life was unhappy so she left it, God forbid she take charge of her own destiny. So yes, I love the fact that we got to watch this woman, who is pretty contained by a societal expectancy, yet she makes a break for it. It doesn’t work out too well for Dorothy…welcome to patriarchy! But yeah, I loved playing her.
You played Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones for eight years. What was the transition like in your career after a show as defining and successful as that?
It was a wonderful time. I don’t think anyone expected that show to be as big and as loved as it was so that was mad and surreal. I think of it really fondly but when I left, like with most things, I was like “Okay, we’re done!” I had a great time.
You also had another big transition, as you’ve moved from Yorkshire in England to California.
Pretty wild! I did a stop in London first but it’s not that similar to Yorkshire [laughs. It was surreal but we’re such habitual creatures humans, right? So everything is a bit ‘Arghh!’ but then it just becomes life.