Welcome to The Helen Mirren Archives, your premiere web resource on the British actress. Best known for her performances with the Royal Shakespeare Company, "Prime Suspect" and her Oscar-winning role in "The Queen", Helen Mirren is one of the world's most eminent actors today. This unofficial fansite provides you with all latest news, photos and videos on her past and present projects. Enjoy your stay.
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Cal, which opens in London on Friday, won Helen Mirren best actress award in Cannes. She talks to Tom Davies
There are some actresses who are as simple as a raindrop but there is nothing remotely simple about Helen she has more levels than the largest onion and you can never be quite sure how you are going to find her.
All this year she has been working in Los Angeles 2010-the sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s epic 2001. It has been a marvellous experience, she says, and she has just fallen head over heels for LA. She finds the American film people tough, creative and uncompromising and so, when we met in the fashionable Blake’s Hotel in Chelsea for a drink recently, she was still flush with the thrill of it.
Indeed she was so happy with old Tinsel- town she was planning on going straight back the following week. “I was terribly pleased to be asked to go to Hollywood. It was like winning a competition on the back of a Daz packet. It was all so unexpected really. It cheered me up and made me stay cheered up.”
Just lately she has also signed up to do a film with the Russian emigré dancer Misha Baryshnikov, so, as they say, her cup was really flowing over. Happiness suits her as does her short new hair-style. She has had it dyed blonde and it goes well with her strong mobile features which, if not exactly beauti- ful, have a haunting sense of power. There’s a small strange tattoo on her left hand and she likes understated but expensive jewel- lery. Her figure is, well, epic.
When she laughs she does so lustily and it makes your spirits go hang-gliding. But it’s those jungle-cat eyes that are her most compelling feature, changing colour from green to yellow, always on the watchful prowl, waiting for you to stumble and say something silly when she will pounce and eat you up. It’s her bluntness that keeps you most on edge.
Even as she spoke in a voice which was brimming with laughter about her new film I saw that her hands were steady, her nails carefully manicured, her legs curled up underneath her in a picture of perfect re- met in Dublin just a year ago when she was making Cal, the new David Puttnam film which opens this week. It was, she says now, the most insecure period of her life.
The film’s publicists had arranged that I fly over to Dublin and have dinner with her but, almost as soon as I landed, there were difficulties. Helen does not want to have dinner with you after all. Helen says she’ll only drink too much over dinner and talk a lot of nonsense. Helen wonders half an hour will be enough. Helen has asked…
When we finally met “for half an hour” she was a smouldering mixture of gloom and belligerence. “What does an actress’s opinion matter? I am being endlessly interviewed for my pathetic opinions which are being endlessly recorded. Who cares ?”
Much of the press got her down, it seemed. “It wouldn’t bother me if I was never inter- viewed again. But if you refuse to do it they accuse you of being destructive of the film. I like to think I do my job.”
As it turned out we got on quite well with the half hour turning into a long walk through Dublin for a long dinner fortified by lots of wine in which we talked a lot of nonsense. Helen is somehow a Dublin sort of girl and clearly knew a lot about the place. “Films do well here,” she said as we walked past the cinema queues. “There’s still a tradition of courtship here. You know, couples going out for a date.”
Cal is a love story of sorts set in the sectarian violence of Ulster. It’s a bleak story of a young man (played by John Lynch) whose future offers nothing. The present offers little beyond getting the present employee at the local library (Helen Mirren) and his past meant violence and destruction. For Cal is an IRA activist, and therefore a wanted man. Trapped in his own his life mirrors the problems of the be- problems, leaguered province. Despite the sterility of its setting it is a fine film alive with un- expected was the violent though, as it turned out, it I nature of the film that was contributing to her ever-increasing feelings of alienation. People had warned her not to do it. She was not sure she wanted to do it herself.
She was also worried by the fact that, in a few days’ time, she was yet again going to have to shed her clothes to do a nude scene with John Lynch. She hated sexism and pornography, she said. Yet she starred in that awesome piece of pornographic rub- bish Caligula. She hates violence too, but again starred in The Long Good Friday, a brutally murderous portrait of London’s gangland.
“But what can you do? I’m one of the school that likes to get up and go to work in the morning. I’m grateful to Caligula in the sense that I still don’t have to worry about money after that one. I’ve no idea if I’m going to be out of work for a year after finishing this film either. You’ve must got to take everything that’s offered you. There’s an awful lot of really good actresses around.
There’s a genuine despair when she talks of the impossible difficulties of keeping her integrity intact. It’s only what everyone has long known, of course; that there is more fun in having all your teeth pulled out than there is in being an actress; that, yes, there are really fates worse than death.
We found a small Italian restaurant where the candlelight did wonders for that compelling face. Her hair was long and dark. Her fingernails were also dirty-the true hallmark of a great actress. She could certainly eat – whoofing it down with the gusto of someone who had some secret information that a famine was about to sweep the land.
There were other aspects of Cal that were bothering her too, she said. Who then could possibly have guessed that she was then half-way through the finest film performance of her career: a role in which she shed the image of the boozing rock ‘n’ roll slag and turned in a vivid quiet performance, as clear and fresh as cut glass, in which her very talent and intelligence triumphed over a tawdry theme? It was for that role that she won the best actress of the year award in the Cannes Film Festi- val. Out of all that gloom and despair she had wrenched a clump of greatness.
The next day, wanting to learn what the others thought of her, I went down to watch the location work on Cal in the dusty town of Drogheda. It was one of those mournfully wet Irish days though almost everyone brightened up when they spoke of the sheer strength that Helen had brought to the role, particularly in the way she had helped John Lynch, a young lad who had temporarily been plucked out of a London drama school for the lead role of the film.
“With Helen there’s always something beneath the surface,” said the film’s co-producer Stuart Craig. “It’s not a sexual role she plays but it is something very strong which draws the situation together. It’s not an easy film but she does make it more access- ible. When you look at her you are always aware of a lot of undercurrents.”
The film’s director, Pat O’Connor, said, “Helen has to remain very enigmatic. She’s a symbol of Cal’s fantasies, a rather inaccessible figure, so it needed an actress of great texture, quality and depth. I felt that Helen would be right because she is strong and interesting and has this marvellous intelligence. From being a vamp a few years ago she has turned into a very beautiful woman.”
Indeed she asked for – and got – a lot of her lines rewritten since they were out of character and was very supportive to young John Lynch with whom she was unusually soft and even maternal.
I spoke to John Lynch during a break in the filming and found him a youth with the softest voice, a stunning Byronic face with gaunt cheeks and coal-black eyes. It is the sort of face you remember for ever. His first love is the theatre. “Filming is so much more intimate. At the beginning I thought “This isn’t me but I’ve got to like it. I was very frightened working with Helen, but she was lovely, just great. We’d discuss the scenes in the make-up caravan, over a drink, whatever.”
Now 38, Helen was born in London and raised in Westcliff-on-Sea in Essex, the daughter of an emigré from the Russian Revolution who had come to Britain at the age of two. He and his wife were atheists but Helen had a natural inclination to spiritual matters, fostered in at Catholic convent where she went to school.
Something clearly went wrong after that, though, since she was. soon attracting press attention. with such remarks as how she liked to pick up boys in fairgrounds, working first at Stratford and later at the Aldwych Theatre. The stage has always been-and remains-her great love. Terry Hands of the Royal Shakespeare Company called her the most outstanding actress of her generation. [Article incomplete]