Rejoice! Dame Helen Mirren is back on our screens. The actress has taken on many regal roles over her fifty-year-plus film and theatre career, including both Queen Elizabeth I and II, Queen Charlotte, and Cleopatra. And Dame Helen’s latest role is just as great – Catherine the Great, to be precise.
The actress, who plays the titular role, attended the premiere of the new show on Wednesday night (arriving on a throne no less) and spoke exclusively to HELLO! on the red carpet about playing the Russian Empress, a role she felt “privileged” to play. “To get into this woman, her mindsight, her history, was an amazing journey for me to take, it was wonderful, I feel very privileged.” Helen explained: “She [Catherine] took power at the age of twenty-five, and she took it and then she held onto it, and that was an extraordinary achievement in those days.”
Speaking at the premiere’s Q&A, Helen also told HELLO! and other reporters that taking on the pivotal character of Catherine gave her further insight into the true meaning of female empowerment. In an inspirational finish to the discussion, Helen said: “I learned [while playing the role] that women, if they have the capability, can do anything. Absolutely anything.” The actress continued: “If they have the capability and the ability to work hard, because that’s the other defining quality of Catherine – her ability to work incredibly hard – and if women have the capability and can work hard – they can do anything. Even becoming the Empress of Russia.”
As well as learning about female empowerment while playing Catherine, Helen also revealed how she immersed herself into the character in order to tackle the challenge of portraying the Empress’ liberated nature and sexuality. Helen said: “Even though I think of myself as a liberated women, I still couldn’t get my head around her sexual liberation. I thought ‘you just have to think like a man.’ Because men don’t have a problem with this,” the 74-year-old said.
Catherine the Great is a four-part series which tells the story of the Russian Empress and her journey after taking reign in the mid-eighteenth century until her death in 1796. The show’s four episodes, all of which will be available to watch from 3 October on Sky Atlantic, focus on Catherine and the political and personal journey she faced as Russia’s longest female ruler.
The show also focuses on the romantic relationship between Catherine and her lover, soldier and statesman Grigory Potemkin, and the tumultuous, sexually-charged Russian courts of the time. On the relationship, Helen said: “she was passionately in love with him, absolutely – whether he was with her, I don’t know, certainly it buttered his bread and he played that role very well but she was madly in love with him, physically, mentally, and as well as this incredibly intense physical life they had together, they had a very profound intellectual life together.”
Jason Clarke, who stars as Potemkin in the show, also attended the premiere Q&A and discussed the experience of taking on the role of Catherine’s lover. The actor, who has appeared in blockbuster films such as Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and Pet Sematary stated: “You know, it was one of the greatest experiences of my life and I knew Helen very, very well and I was very happy to move on from the scary, horror movie and do something proper.”
All episodes of Catherine the Great are available from 3 October on Sky Atlantic and NOW TV.