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.
on the web
Leave it to Bruce Willis to define Helen Mirren. “She’s a dame,” he says admiringly, “a real dame.” Willis, with whom she co-stars in this summer’s action comedy Red 2 (premiering July 19), isn’t talking about the “knighthood” bestowed by Queen Elizabeth II, an honor that literally made Mirren a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire. He’s zoning in on what makes the acclaimed actress—an Oscar winner for her performance in the 2006 classic The Queen—impossible to forget on and off the screen. In person, she’s a beguiling blend of no-nonsense opinions and a quick wit that she’s always ready to turn on herself. Time hasn’t dimmed her cool beauty. The 67-year-old is at the top of her game.
Mirren has played an amazing range of roles, including several royals (more on that later), but none has surprised her fans more than her deliciously comic turn as a skilled assassin in the Red movies alongside Willis and co-stars including John Malkovich, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and for the sequel, Anthony Hopkins. Before Red, you probably wouldn’t have described Helen Mirren as “gun toting.” Whether elegantly dressed or done up in camo, she plays the former British intelligence agent with a dry humor, reflected in an on-screen confession: “I kill people, dear!” And she does seem to have a way with firearms. “With that automatic gun, in a cocktail dress, she is the true definition of rock ‘n’ roll,” Willis laughs. Malkovich deadpans, “After seeing Helen Mirren handling weapons, I was ready to depart this earth a happy man.”
You’re always surprising us with your choice of roles, especially in Red and, now, Red 2. How did that happen? An action heroine? Was the chance to play with all those guns part of the attraction?
HM: Really, I’m not a fan of guns. In fact, I don’t even own a gun. I’m not too sure that guns nowadays are that useful. I’m certainly very ambivalent about them in civilian life. The guns I found the most horrifying are those small machine guns. They’re terrible because you can cause such havoc.
Are you a good shot?
HM: I’m not bad. I like target practice, especially clay pigeon shooting, which is very difficult. That’s a great sport. So I’m up for shooting at a target, just not a human being.
So what was the appeal of this part?
HM: I was getting a bit sick of people saying, “Oh, you’re so evil. You play all these queens.” Actually, I didn’t just play queens. For a long time I was a police detective, and then I transmogrified into the queen. You just want to always try and push the last thing out of people’s minds so they can look at you with an open mind. Also, it’s the cast. John Malkovich, Mary-Louise Parker, and, of course, our fearless leader Bruce Willis.
You’re quite taken with Bruce Willis aren’t you?
HM: He’s so masterful. I think he’s one of the top 10 American actors. I would love to see him back in the theater. He has become this fantastic action hero but he’s just much cleverer. I think he’s brilliant. I kind of sit at his feet a bit on the set and watch him and learn from him.
That sounds like a crush.
HM: Don’t let my husband [Oscar-winning director Taylor Hackford] know. I’m joking. My husband knows that I do have a crush on Bruce. Actually, I have two kinds: The classic fan crush and a more aesthetic one as an actress looking at an actor who I think is really wonderful, it’s the venal and the respectful.
What about John Malkovich?
HM: John just keeps us all entertained because he’s just a fund of unbelievable stories. He does so much with his life. You say, “So where were you last month?” And he says, “Oh, I was directing an opera in Berlin.” “Where were you the month before?” “I was in Italy for the launch of my clothing line, and, before that, I was directing a play in Sweden.” He’s an amazing person.
Well, it’s true that you’re best known as the queen. Ironically, early this year you became the mean queen in real life while you were doing a play in London.
HM: It’s true. I was starring in The Audience—playing the queen at many ages and stages. During a performance, this group began demonstrating outside the theater banging on drums. You couldn’t hear anything on stage but the drums. So at the interval [intermission] I went outside in my costume, and let them have it. I was doing it, not as the queen but as Helen Mirren, because her majesty would never have used the language I used. I suddenly looked round and realized I was surrounded by camera phones and I thought, “Oh, dear, what have I done?” There were a few headlines the next day, but they did stop drumming.
Do you frequently get into rows?
HM: Actually, I’m so not confrontational. I’ll always run away from confrontation because I find it very embarrassing. I called my husband later and told how I stormed out, and he said, “Good for you. Obviously, I’ve taught you a lot.”
So he took all the credit. You’ve been married to Taylor Hackford a long time, lived together for a good stretch, and finally married in 1997. You were quoted at the time saying you were afraid “marriage might change things.” But it seems you’re doing well together. What’s the secret?
HM: Loyalty, love, and respect works every time. We’re there to support each other and say to each other, “You’re fantastic,” even if everyone else says you’re terrible. It sounds pathetic but we’re really very proud of each other’s work. Hollywood is very much about optimism. So when you say “You’re wonderful,” it’s not necessarily lying.
What about when you have disagreements?
HM: Taylor and I have been together for a very long time and obviously we have fights. When you are in the middle of a fight you are upset—which is never a good thing—so you’re not really particularly conscious of what you’re doing or saying. And you can do and say hurtful things or you can be hurt. But it gets back to respect. That’s the key.
When did you first decide to become an actress?
HM: I made my debut as the Virgin Mary when I was 7, and I loved it because I got to wear a nice dress. When I was 15, I was like, “I’m ready, I’m here, where are you all?” But it took a long time. My father was Russian, and we were brought up talking and having deep discussions. We had no TV and the only movie I remember is Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.
What do you do when you aren’t acting?
HM: I’ve been sewing. I love sewing. I get my mum’s very old Singer treadle machine out. It badly needs a renovation. Anyway I just made myself a new gown to wear in my dressing room.
You wear everything well. We’ve seen a few shots of you in a bikini, proving that you could still tackle a nude scene like the ones that got you a lot of attention earlier in your career.
HM: I think it’s worse when you’re young to do nude scenes, funnily enough, because you’re more of a sex object. It’s never comfortable. The best thing would be if all the crew took their clothes off too, and then you’d feel fine. But if my body is still holding up, it’s not because I’m a fitness person. I am really not. I constantly feel guilty about the fact that I am not going to the gym.
After all these years, do you ever suffer from stage fright?
HM: Oh, God, it’s massive. The fear is massive. I remember when I was younger people telling me it doesn’t get easier when you get older. You make it look easier, but it doesn’t get easier. I’m afraid to say they’re absolutely right. It doesn’t. I was so frightened every night before I did The Audience. I think what it is, is a sense of responsibility. As you get better known, the weight of the responsibility sort of gets heavier and heavier. You’re worried about letting people down. Not being good enough is a huge concern.
And yet you get standing ovations?
HM: At the end of every show there is an incredible response, and that’s really wonderful. But it kind of never fails to take me by surprise and give me relief. I’m like, “Got away with one more!”
And you received this year’s Legend Award in London at the Empire Magazine awards ceremony.
HM: I was like, “Why do I have to be a legend? Couldn’t they wait a few years? OK, I’ll take it.” Seriously, I think it’s the same for everyone. It’s really hard to get your head around the age that you actually are. Because inside yourself you feel at least 20 years younger, if not 30 years younger. But the reality is you’re not. You just go on from day to day. Honestly, I don’t question it or think about it. That way madness lies. You just have to get on with your life on a daily basis.
But there’s a lot of fun that goes along with your career isn’t there?
HM: There are moments of huge, huge fun. I had my hands and feet done in cement outside of the Chinese Theatre a couple of years ago, and I was incredibly honored. But even more was to have my star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. I was so excited. I really, really felt like I had achieved something. But being a professional actor is not all fun. There is a lot of terror and angst and hard work and fear and insecurity attached, and part of the process of being an artist is to constantly challenge yourself. Constantly.
Do you ever think about retiring?
HM: You don’t know how you’ll feel until it happens. As night follows day, inevitably, it will. I think we all have a dream of what it would be like not to work and grow heirloom tomatoes, and I do have that dream. It would be lovely. I do love gardening and all of that, but I do love my work. Mostly, I love the people I get to work with, to constantly meet and work with and be involved with clever, imaginative people who constantly surprise you and push you forward and inspire you. I think I would miss that a lot.