Helen Mirren is perhaps best remembered for her Oscar-nominated performance in The Madness of King George and on PBS as the police superintendent Jane Tennison in Prime Suspect. And what a delight she is. We met in a crowded coffee shop in Chelsea amid what seemed like dozens of chorus boys breakfasting and admiring themselves and each other. Helen delighted in the hubbub. “We’re renting a place just around the comer,” she said, the “we” being herself and her husband, Taylor Hackford, who directed An Officer and a Gentleman and Proof of Life. Her own latest film, Last Orders, opens Feb. 15. It’s a sentimental British drama with a powerful male cast: Michael Caine, Bob Hoskins, David Hemmings and Tom Courtenay. At year’s end, she was in Robert Altman’s Gosford Park, an Agatha Christie-esque English country house mystery with an all-star cast.
With all her filming and Broadway, where is home? “Mostly California, then London, and now we’re here,” said Mirren. “We love the interior of California, the brown hills, the wild plants. I really like old Hollywood. I pray that Hollywood Boulevard comes back to its old glory. How can they allow such a gem to fall into decay?” And if she could live in only one place? “London,” she said. “My family is there, my country, my culture.” On Broadway. Mirren and Ian McKellen were starring in Dance of Death, a production of the gloomy Strindberg play about a husband and wife waging a corrosive and long-running feud. “The reviews were fantastic, but we opened at a very difficult time one week after the Sept. 1 1 attack,” said Mirren.
Next she’ll be doing a TV version of The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone originally starring Vivien Leigh for Showtime. And here’s really important news from Mirren: “I will do one more ‘Jane Tennison.’ It’s in the planning stages, a TV movie. You know, Prime Suspect was never a series. I would do one four-hour story every 18 months or so. It changed my attitude toward the police. I used to be so critical. But they are immensely brave and hardworking and dedicated.” Helen Mirren has no children, but her husband has two grown kids whom she calls her “borrowed children.” I asked if she came from a moneyed background. “My father drove a taxi,” said Mirren, “and then got a low-level civil service job. We had no TV, no fridge, no car, no record player or washing machine. But I was exposed to literature. My mother and dad took me to a production of Hamlet, and I was blown away by all that poetry the tension, the graves and duels. Children simply must be exposed to Shakespeare.” On Sept. 11, Mirren was on her way to a rehearsal when, from her car, she saw the second tower go down. “No one was panicking,” she recalled, “just standing on sidewalks looking up at TV screens.” And their rehearsal went on that day for the show always goes on. “During the German airraids on London, people continued going to the theater,” Mirren reminded me, “and then, instead of going home, they went down into the bomb shelters.”