Lena Headey

Before she landed the lead role in "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" (Mondays, 8 p.m., Ch. 13), Lena Headey was not exactly a big "Terminator" fan.

"I have to be honest. I saw the first 'Terminator' movie when I was a teenager, and at that time of my life, I wasn't deeply interested in things like that," Headey said in a conference call with TV critics. "I was more worried about chasing boys."

She has, however, gone back and watched "Terminator" again, as well as the second movie in the franchise, "which I absolutely love, and I think it's the most relevant to the show," Headey said. "And I find it actually very inspirational, and that's a very good thing."

Sarah Connor's son, John (Thomas Dekker), will one day save humans from being wiped out by intelligent machines. But she's got to protect John from murderous cyborgs — Terminators — who come back from the future to kill him.

Headey plays a role made famous by Linda Hamilton in the original 1984 movie and the 1991 sequel, "Terminator 2: Judgment Day." Sarah Connor is so closely identified with Hamilton it had to be a bit intimidating to step into those shoes.

"There are going to be obvious conversations about a new actress playing Sarah Connor, but Lena has done an amazing job," said supervising producer James Middleton. "In the screenings we have done ... people really embraced Lena as the new Sarah Connor.

"Well, some people," Headey said. "She's such a beloved, iconic character that certain people, I guess, will never open their minds, but, you know. ..."

In some quarters, there has been carping that Headey isn't as physically fit — as remarkably muscular — as Hamilton was in the movies.

"Obviously, the biggest difference is obviously our physical appearances. ... I guess that ghost is always going to be there," Headey said. "For the pilot I did quite a lot of physical training ... and then came out and worked with the stunt coordinator for a while.

"It's been very hard because the schedule is really tough and long days. I think the amount of physical work we do keeps you to a certain level of fitness."

And it's not like any of the carping has come from Hamilton.

"She has said she loves Lena and thinks she's going to do a great job and is passing the baton to her," Middleton said.

And Headey said she hasn't tried to contact Hamilton herself.

"Not because of any weirdness, I just thought it was really important to make this Sarah my own, because it's going to be on my shoulders and my responsibility," Headey said. "I think it was just down to my instincts, really.

"What I've taken from her performance is she's incredibly strong as a human being, and I think her belief in humanity and right and wrong is incredibly ingrained. And she's trying to put the same thing into John."

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