Brian Vander Brug/Los Angeles Times/Contour by Getty Images

When it comes to her on-screen characters, actress LENA HEADEY takes no prisoners.

If you’re Lena Headey, it’s good to be the queen. This month, the 40-year-old beauty dons very different crowns as Queen Gorgo in 300: Rise of An Empire, out March 7, and on the fourth season (premiering early next month) of HBO’s smash hit Game of Thrones, portraying the wicked and powerful Queen Cersei. This kind of on-screen power becomes Headey, who is beloved by audiences for her thrilling collision of beauty and derring-do — lovely to behold but deadly with a dagger. “I’m a very physical person in my real life,” she says, “so it’s always nice to swing a sword on the job.” Here, Headey talks to American Way about her royally dynamic roles.

AMERICAN WAY: There’s something about you that screams royalty these days.
Who knows? I’m of a certain age now. People love an old queen, don’t they?

AW: In the 300 series, Queen Gorgo is nobody’s damsel in distress. I understand that you leaped at the chance to do fight training for the film.
LH: I’m a tomboy. I’m a very physical person. I’m a lazy bugger, too, mind you, but to have the chance to work out with people who know what they’re doing — that’s a very nice thing. Being still is a challenge for me. Being stoic is a challenge for me. So being physical like that is up my street, as the Brits say. There’s an element of catharsis to it all as well, doing things you couldn’t really get away with in real life.

AW: 300: Rise of An Empire looks action-packed and thrilling. What can audiences expect?
LH: It’s mainly set on the ocean this time, so lots of wet, beautiful people hurting each other. I think people are going to walk away feeling charged and excited. No one’s going to walk out of the theater and go cry in a corner. It’s wild and crazy.

AW: The queen you play on Game of Thrones is a very different creature.
LH: They are pretty different, but they’re both mothers, as am I, and there’s a certain ferocity that comes with that. I like that ferocity. It’s a lot of fun to play.

AW: You are quite the globe-trotter when it comes to work. Just with these two projects, you’ve been all over the planet.
LH: It’s a bloody nightmare! I’m a nomad, always traveling from one place to the next. I’m so blessed to work, but it’s so tantalizing to visit the most beautiful places on Earth and only see them for three days. It’s endless traveling, this job. Sometimes I do a little acting too.