Hail to the Queenie! Helen Mirren opens up about her fierce ‘Fast & Furious’ role, tackling sexism and how the real queen is doing
Helen Mirren can check something off her bucket list. After two “Fast & Furious” movies, she finally gets behind the wheel in “F9” (out today), which follows Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) & Co. as they battle to stop a plot by a highly skilled assassin and driver – who is also Dom’s estranged brother. The London-born star, 75, who publicly lobbied for a part in the action franchise, joked that it felt like a “cruel hoax” to secure a role only to be told that she wouldn’t be putting her foot on the pedal. The acclaimed actress — whose career spans decades, with movies like “The Good Liar,” “Gosford Park” and “Hitchcock” — appeared in an uncredited role in 2017’s “The Fate of the Furious” as Magdalene “Queenie” Shaw, mom to badass siblings Deckard (Jason Statham), Owen (Luke Evans) and Hattie (Vanessa Kirby).
“I was so excited when they first said, ‘You’ve been [cast] in the “Fast & Furious” movie,’ ” she told The Post. “‘Fantastic. Finally, all my whining and moaning and begging worked.’ And then, of course, I was in the back of an ambulance in the first one.” Mirren then popped up briefly in 2019’s spinoff flick “Hobbs & Shaw,” which saw Dwayne Johnson and Statham reprise their “Fast & Furious” roles and team up to battle a cyber-savvy terrorist threatening the world with a deadly virus. Alas, no driving was required. “The second one came. ‘Oh, brilliant. Finally now, now I’ll get to drive one of those super cool cars.’ ‘Oh, no, you’re in jail. So I’m afraid no, you’re not going to be driving anywhere,’ ” she said, sounding a tad miffed.
But the third time was finally the charm for Mirren, who crowed that it was worth the wait. “Because not only am I driving, I’m driving down the Mall towards Buckingham Palace,” she said. “It’s amazing. I mean, the last time I went to Buckingham Palace, I went to get [appointed as a] dame. I went in the back of a very smelly taxi. So it was astounding. It was just so exciting.” Speaking of the palace, Mirren — who won an Oscar for her 2006 performance as Queen Elizabeth II in “The Queen” — said she feels sorry for the 95-year-old reigning monarch. “She’s had drama all of her life,” Mirren said of the royal, who recently lost her husband, Prince Philip, and has also been the subject of scathing criticism by her grandson Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan Markle. (Mirren has previously expressed support for the couple and particularly for Markle, whom she called “a fantastic addition to the royal family.”)
“When you think that when [Elizabeth] was in her early teens [it] was the Second World War,” the actress said, “what could be more dramatic than that? I mean, what would have happened to that family if the Nazis, if Germany, had won that war?” Mirren said she believes the queen’s considerable life experience will help her weather this difficult time: “Yeah, it really, really looked as if Germany was going to win that war. So, you know, this is a woman who’s been through an extraordinary life of change, of drama, of tragedy, of triumph… She’s a survivor.” Periodically, the “Prime Suspect” star goes viral for the resurfacing of an infamous 1975 interview she did with British then-talk show host Michael Parkinson, who asked her if her “equipment” or “physical attributes” prevented her from becoming a serious actress and whether her breast size would “detract from the performance.”
Mirren noted that after the interview — in which she pushed back on the sexist questions — it was she who was “criticized for being argumentative, you know, being a bit bolshie [British slang for uncooperative]. You know, you weren’t supposed to do that. “Until the culture changes, you are absolutely in a straitjacket,” she added of the criticism she received. “You cannot get out. And then you have a moment like the #MeToo movement, when really the pressure was building up behind the dam for so long that the dam kind of breaks in one big break. But that takes an awfully long time. You know, that almost takes generations.” She firmly believes that real change for women can only happen if we “get as many women into politics as possible.”
Mirren, who has become an icon both for her outspokenness and for aging gracefully in the spotlight, credits her glam squad for her gorgeous look. “That’s the secret, honestly,” she said modestly. As for exercising her brain, she says learning lines is helpful, as well as studying a foreign language. “I’ve been trying to learn Italian… tiny bit by tiny bit — poco, poco,” she said.