Multi award winning actress, Dame, legend – Grazia’s Joely Walker sat down with the inimitable Helen Mirren to talk diversity, Instagram and the ‘anti-ageing’ lingo she wishes would kindly jog one…
It’s the final day of the 72nd Cannes Film Festival and in a suite in the Hotel Martinez (where the A-list flock annually), we’re setting up for the arrival of a bona fide British legend – an actress with over five decades experience, 70-plus films under her belt and one of the few Brits to ever scoop up the elusive Triple Crown of Acting (winning an Academy Award, Emmy Award and Tony Award). But to everyone’s surprise (because, in this industry, being fashionably late is wholly expected), L’Oreal Paris Ambassador Dame Helen Mirren arrives on time and with little kerfuffle – no entourage in tow scribbling down convoluted coffee orders, no bodyguards sweeping the styling rail. Instead, just one manager and a laid-back outfit – her hands slouched casually in the pockets of her black Adidas tracksuit bottoms. All-in-all, an oddly serene set up for one of the most iconic British women in film – a testament to her no-fuss, no-fluff attitude.
Indeed, fluff is something Helen simply cannot abide, especially when it comes to the cosmetics industry and the way, for decades, women were addressed with scaremongering terminology like the outdated ‘anti-ageing’ rhetoric. ‘How can a product be “anti-ageing”?’ questions Helen. ‘That’s like saying I’m anti-sun, well the sun is going to rise, “Well no, I’m anti it.” But thankfully – with the likes of Helen and many others speaking up on the subject, as well as brands taking note of changing customer expectation – the lingo has shifted as part of a wider sea change in the sector. ‘All of these fences have been slowly broken down. And I think what L’Oreal [Paris] have done is they’ve truly embraced it. They’ve incorporated different ages and genders, they’ve incorporated race, they’ve incorporated disabilities. A diverse, realistic representation of people – an authentic selection of who we all are. It’s why I’m proud to be an Ambassador.’
Nowadays, ageism in the cosmetics industry seems blatantly trite and tragically misinformed, yet it was something Helen’s generation were subjected to for ‘far too long’. ‘It’s extremely annoying to women of my generation and others following mine to have beauty products sold on a 15-year-old face,’ she sighs, before stating how age is, quite simply, an identifying number (her own being 73). ‘I don’t want to die young, so I’m going to get old! I think to stay engaged in life, to stay curious about life, to stay with a sense of learning about life, constantly. I think those are the things that, if you like, stay young.’ When pondering the idea of going back in time to a certain time and doing it all over again, her answer is simple. ‘When you hit each age, you have new things that you don’t want to let go of. If someone said that they would wave a magic wand over your head and you could be 30 again, but you have to be 30 as you were, when you were 30. You can’t have all the stuff you’ve got now, you’ve got to be 30. Well, you’d say no. When you really think about it you’d go, “No, actually, I want to be who I am.”
It’s true that Helen has remained authentically real throughout her career (see her notoriously fabulous potty mouth) – including, now, on her Instagram, where she applies a similarly unfiltered take. ‘Filters are on the way out, I promise you. Because it was a lovely thing to be able to do but the whole “Look at me, don’t I look gorgeous? Look everybody…” As everybody does it, very soon people will go: “No, I’m not doing that, it’s much more interesting to not do that!’” That said, she still believes in the power of social media: ‘I love the people showing you how to do make-up on Instagram. People loved that before and after Instagram of me with absolutely no make-up on and then with it on. Both totally unfiltered.’
As for the younger generations who have grown up in the eye of the social media storm, Helen identifies them as the ones to watch. ‘I think that there’s a rising consciousness with young people of 16,17,18,19 and it’s going to be a very important generation. They are coming into womanhood with the consciousness of the #MeToo movement. With the consciousness of feminism being, again, an accepted and celebrated word.’
A word she isn’t so keen on, however, is ‘beauty’ as a term in the cosmetics industry. ‘The minute you use the word beauty, the people who feel like they are not beautiful are immediately excluded. They’ll think: “Well, I’m not beautiful. It’s all very well for all these beautiful women, but I don’t feel beautiful.” I don’t want to exclude these people from feeling fabulous about themselves.’ She’d replace it with the word ‘being’. ‘I’m a being that wants to wear red hair…’
Helen’s witty spark, infectious energy, composed confidence and ability to command the room is spellbinding. Yet when the photographer asks if she’d like to see the images as he shoots she politely declines. ‘I don’t like to look at myself whilst working.’ I later ask if this is something she applies to her films, too. ‘I don’t watch them back. If I look, it sort of paralyses me and I want to be free and relaxed.’ Although we respect her reasonings, we have to say – in this instance – she’s missing out on a treat…