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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To London, for lunch with the Queen of England, or the next-best thing: Helen Mirren. “This isn’t your corner pub, you know,” she said when we met at the three-Michelin-starred Alain Ducasse restaurant at the Dorchester hotel. “We get proper food!”
The sold-out run of The Audience, in which the actress achieves a mesmerizing portrait of the Queen, was coming to a close in the West End. The likable, sometimes regal, innately intelligent Ms. Mirren is more petite than one expects: five feet four inches (the same height, coincidentally, as the Queen).
“But you’re not giving an impersonation of the Queen,” I said.
“I’m a crappy impersonator, actually,” she replied. “But, you know, she lets portrait artists make of her what they will. So, I’m making just another portrait of her.”
Even so, it’s an uncanny one—the living embodiment of the reserved, iconic, ultimately unknowable Queen Elizabeth II—along with permanently attached handbag, sensible shoes, and corgis. Sometimes people think Mirren is the Queen. She famously lost it during a performance when the racket made by drummers promoting gay rights was heard through the thin walls of the Gielgud Theatre. At intermission, she stormed outside to silence them, still in her Queen Elizabeth II costume. “Stop! Stop!” she demanded. “You’re fucking up our performance!” (They stopped.)
But aren’t monarchs really actors? I mentioned the King’s memorable line in Alan Bennett’s The Madness of King George (in which Ms. Mirren played Queen Charlotte): “Smile at the people! Wave to them! Let them see that we’re happy!”
“Waving, yes. Not necessarily smiling,” she responded. “The Queen doesn’t need to smile! Or make us think how charming or beautiful she is. She’s not at a permanent red-carpet event.”
“Madam has made a very good choice,” said our French waiter discreetly.
“Oh, lovely!” said Mirren, who was being treated like, well, royalty. She had ordered a simple starter of raw and cooked vegetables—“Not fattening, is it?”—followed by a delicious halibut. There could be no wine, because of the show that night. “Daren’t,” she said.
It’s difficult to believe that she will soon turn 68. Dame Helen’s roots are British working-class and partly Russian—she was born Helen Mironov—and she has always conveyed a beguiling image of theater aristocrat and earthy broad. When she was a prodigy in her peachy 20s at the Royal Shakespeare Company, she disarmed earnest journalists by telling them, “Oh, don’t let’s talk about serious acting. Let’s talk about my big tits!”
Today, she’s a national institution in England and keeps homes in London, Provence, and Hollywood (where she lives with director Taylor Hackford, whom she married when she was 52 after a long partnership). Until the international success of her driven TV detective, Jane Tennison, in Prime Suspect, during the 1990s, her Hollywood career was at a standstill. She told me, surprisingly, that she still suffers from the actor’s traditional neurosis of fearing she will never work again. She is therefore everywhere—as Hitchcock’s controlling wife, Alma Reville, in Hitchcock; Phil Spector’s attorney opposite Al Pacino in HBO’s Phil Spector; and a cool assassin named Victoria, if you please, in Red 2, out this month.
But monarchs are her specialty. After all, she’s played Cleopatra, Queen of the Nile, three times; the Queen in the TV series Elizabeth I, for which she won the Emmy; Elizabeth II in the movie The Queen, for which she won her Academy Award; and now Elizabeth II in The Audience, for which she won the Olivier Award. Enough with the awards already! So, why did she take the unusual step of playing Queen Elizabeth II again?
“When Peter Morgan (the screenwriter of The Queen) sent me the play and asked if I was interested, I e-mailed him back with just two words: ‘You bastard!’ I knew I couldn’t turn it down. At the same time, I felt uncertain, because I knew it would stick the Queen’s mantle on me even more fiercely than it was stuck already.”
She looked at me then in a certain opaque way, and for one bizarre moment it was as if I were staring back directly into the impenetrable gaze of the Queen herself.
How on earth does Helen Mirren do it? “The Queen always appears to be looking at the world. She’s objective and steady. She isn’t repressed or neurotic. There’s a sense of humor. But she remains a mystery. And I think it comes from living a life that nobody can ever comprehend. Remember, she has never drawn her own bath, never stood on line in a shop. Her husband walks two paces behind her in public. It’s a world we just can’t fathom, and there’s no escape from it for her. So I’ve thought of her weirdly as a captain of a submarine looking out at the world through a periscope. She takes us in. And then—dive, dive, dive!”