Helen Mirren is officially Fast & Furious royalty.
After openly campaigning for a role in the action franchise, the Oscar-winning The Queen actress debuted in 2017’s The Fate of the Furious as, fittingly, Queenie Shaw, the charming criminal mother of Deckard (Jason Statham), Owen (Luke Evans), and Hattie (Vanessa Kirby). She returned in the 2019 spin-off Hobbs & Shaw, but through two outings, Mirren, 75, never got a chance to do the one thing she wanted more than anything else: drive a car. Good news arrived in January, when Fast star and producer Vin Diesel told EW that F9 would finally feature Mirren getting the behind the wheel. “Without giving away any spoilers… You know what, I’m going to give you a spoiler,” he said. “Yes, she gets to drive. It’s so awesome. She gets to drive, and she gets to drive sleek.” Ahead of Mirren’s scene-stealing turn in F9 (in theaters Friday), she strapped into the passenger seat of EW’s BINGE: The Fast Saga to talk about her dream coming true, her unexplainable chemistry with Diesel, and possible casting for Papa Shaw.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I’m thrilled to talk to another Fast & Furious fan, especially since you basically willed yourself into these movies. So what is it that you love about Fast?
HELEN MIRREN: Oh, well, it’s the driving the cars, the spectacle of the whole thing. With this franchise, you know what you’re going to get and you know it’s going to be spectacular and exciting and fun. So I think especially for us all coming out of COVID and the way we’ve been enclosed and isolated and lonely and in a very small environment, to see this wonderful, expansive explosion of action is going to be such, such fun for the audiences. And I’m so glad that they – and it must have been a very difficult decision to make because we finished the film just before COVID started – decided to hold this film back and wait for the moment when people finally could get into the theater to watch it. So it’s fantastic that people can now go and just have a great night in the theater. I think people are really going to enjoy it.
You were pretty vocal about your hope to join the Fast saga, so once you got the call, how much input did you have on the development of Queenie?
Actually, quite a lot. It could have gone in any direction. I mean, obviously she was the mother of Jason Statham’s character, so there is an East End connection there. But immediately I knew how I wanted her to be this sort of tough matriarchal, powerful woman who had to make her own way in life, and has always done it slightly on the dodgy side. As we say in England, ducking and diving, but with great strength and great character and intelligence.
Before you came aboard, did you have a favorite movie from the series?
Not really. I wasn’t honestly that familiar in a sense with the series. I wasn’t an aficionado in knowing all the characters and the stories. I saw [The Fast and the Furious], and I really, really enjoyed it. But I had this incredible urge to drive a car fast in a movie. It was basically that, honestly, and of course my first two times out I wasn’t being in a car at all; I was in an ambulance in one and in jail in the other. And so the creators of the series very, very kindly finally put me behind the wheel, where I’ve been longing to be.
Ahead of F9, did you have to campaign at all for that?
Oh, I didn’t campaign. I whined, I moaned, I cried, I sniffled. I was annoying.
When it finally came time for you to get behind the wheel in F9, you’re not only driving, but you’ve got Vin riding shotgun, and he’s the movie car guy.
I know, I couldn’t believe it.
So what was that like? You did have the benefit of being on your home streets of London.
I have to say, it was slightly intimidating. Although Vin is so generous and kind, but it was a little bit intimidating because those guys are so experienced at what they do. They know it, and it’s all a bit new to me, the technicality of it. Not the driving part, but the filming of the driving. But you’re in very safe and loving hands when you’re in a Fast & Furious. It was just great to be in a very small space with Vin Diesel for quite a long time. I just loved every minute. It was great, hearing that beautiful, soft brown velvet voice really, really close, because we were squished together. Oh, I just so love his voice. He’s got the best voice ever.
There seems to be a bit of flirtatious energy between the two of you in the film. Is that something you two were actively playing up, or is that just natural chemistry?
That’s completely natural chemistry. It was there right from the very beginning of my first meeting with Vin. And I just adored him immediately, and he’s always been so kind and lovely to me. So it was there right from the beginning, and it is very weird. It doesn’t make any sense whatsoever on any level, but that’s the weird thing about chemistry, isn’t it? There’s never an explanation for it. It’s just one of those things that happens.
Speaking of Vin, we previously asked him who his dream next casting was for Fast [watch the interview above], and he brought up Michael Caine and said he had an idea for something with you and Michael together. Has he run this by you, or are we breaking this news?
No, but what a great idea. He’s absolutely right, that would be absolutely genius. My mum was a very East End working-class woman, and Michael absolutely comes from that world as well. And I have worked with Michael before, actually quite a long time ago. We were in the same film together and he played my husband who passed away during the film.
I think right there we might have it. We haven’t met Papa Shaw yet, so maybe you and Michael bring back that husband-wife dynamic!
No, absolutely. We haven’t seen Papa Shaw – and he’s going to be terrifying.
I can only imagine. Through three times out as Queenie, we’ve essentially seen you work with just Vin and Jason, and Vanessa Kirby popped up for that quick prison bit at the end of Hobbs & Shaw…
The great Vanessa. I’d love to work with her again. She’s such a talent and lovely girl.
And F9 is full of so many badass women. So is that the next thing we need to campaign for, to get you in scenes with Michelle Rodriguez, Charlize Theron, and Jordana Brewster?
Wouldn’t that be good? That’s the great thing about Fast & Furious. Of course it’s about cars, and boys love cars, for sure. Also, girls love cars! I love cars. So girls do love cars, but I think the strength of the female characters for me is another great reason to be in the franchise, because I love film franchises that have really authentic, good, strong female roles. The next generation of girls need to see that – and they are beginning to.
Now that you’ve gotten to drive, are there other things that you would love to do as Queenie?
I love stunts. And I do as many as my stunts that I physically can. I love flying, for example, when they haul you up on a rope and you’re flying. It’s fantastic. So yeah, something to do with flying would be great, where I sort of come out of a window or something and fly through the air.
We see the zip-lining in F9 with John Cena’s character.
Zip-lining, wouldn’t that be fantastic?! But I also quite like Queenie just being really down to earth and a real character who’s just there, and tough and manipulative.
You’ve managed to be a bit of the connective tissue between the main Fast series and the spin-off Hobbs & Shaw. Have you had any conversations about what’s next?
No, I just put myself in their hands. If they want me, I’m absolutely standing there first in line. But if the stories go a different way, that’s understandable. Working with Jason, Jason is the most incredibly professional, hardworking actor to work with. He’s just so committed, so professional. All of these people, they’re great to work with. And Vanessa was wonderful, funny, and a great girl. And the atmosphere on the sets of these movies has always been fantastic. So I’m happy to go in whatever direction they might push me – unless they decide to push me off the end and say goodbye to me. [Laughs]
And that’s when you fly! We’ll take more of Queenie in whatever fashion.
I love to hear you calling her Queenie because I gave her that name.
I had an auntie Queenie. One of my mother’s sisters was called Queenie, which is a very old East End name. It’s nothing to do with the queen, but I thought it was funny to play the Queen and then to be called Queenie. We’re a very different person from a very different background. So I love the fact my auntie Queenie has become a part of the Fast & Furious. She’d be amazed if she knew.