Starring in the new thriller ‘The Good Liar’, the Oscar winner reflects on success, beauty and banishing insecurities.
Helen Mirren has always seen beauty as an admirable – but largely irrelevant – trait. Early in her career she broke through on screen in sexy roles, like a courtesan turned empress in the 1979 erotic drama Caligula and a gangster moll in 1980’s The Long Good Friday. Still, Mirren says, “I had a huge lack of self-confidence. I felt profoundly awkward.” Rather than revel in her ingenue status, she says, “I kind of raged against it.” She instead began building a long-lasting career playing characters like Lady Macbeth, hard-boiled detective Jane Tennison in Prime Suspect and Queen Elizabeth II – strong, steely women. When she looks back on those earlier insecure days, she says: “In a way I used them as an instrument of liberation. I was very incredibly physically uptight and unliberated. I needed to be freer in myself.”
Now one of the most acclaimed actresses in Hollywood, with an Oscar, four Emmys and a Tony, the star, 74, is busier and bolder than ever. She played a criminal mastermind in this year’s Hobbs and Shaw and Russian ruler Catherine the Great in a new HBO series. And she’s earning awards buzz for her latest movie, The Good Liar, in which she portrays a widow who might not be as gullible as she appears. A brand ambassador for L’Oréal Paris, Mirren is clearly only getting better with age. “I think the key to ageing gracefully is to really not make yourself the centre of the universe,” she says. “Find a way of making other people more important than yourself – or at least as important as yourself. Ask questions and enjoy the amazing, wonderful, miraculous variety of life.”
Mirren was raised in Essex, England, by her mother, Kathleen, who was English, and father Vasily Mironoff, a Russian immigrant who later changed the family name to Mirren. In 1967 she pursued her love of performance and joined the prestigious Royal Shakespeare Company. “People often forget that at the time I was doing my early movies, I was also doing very heavy, serious theatre,” she says. “I always felt that was what proved myself as an actress.” In 2003 she was named a Dame by Queen Elizabeth – and four years later she won the Best Actress Oscar playing her in The Queen. On the personal front Mirren lives a low-key life in LA with her husband, American film director Taylor Hackford, 74, whom she wed in 1997. Only one time have the duo been tabloid fodder – in 2008, when Mirren was snapped looking stunning in a red bikini by paparazzi while the couple were on vacation in Italy. She told People in 2011, “I was posing for my husband, which is why I was holding my tummy in.” The photo only further cemented her status as a beauty icon. Yet the star deflects such talk. “I’m not beautiful,” she says. “I’m not. I’m not Naomi Campbell or Kate Moss. We recognise beauty, but it’s not the end-all and be-all of humanity. Far from it. To me, it’s what you are as a being, outside and inside. So I have issues with the word ‘beauty’.” With typical British restraint, she’ll share only one attribute she admires in herself: “My timeliness. I’m very rarely late.”
Good Liar director Bill Condon is more effusive. “She has this inner glow and youthfulness,” he says. “It’s her curiosity. She got to know everybody on-set. She cares about people.” Mirren credits her life experience. “I don’t know if I’m better or worse, but you change, and life changes around you,” she says. “As you get older, certain insecurities drop away. Other things become more difficult. I’m constantly evolving.”
Now if she could give her former insecure self any advice? She smiles slyly. “I would tell myself to learn these words, ‘Go to hell!’”