Helen Mirren was ‘wary’ about becoming a Dame

She is a darling of the establishment, a doyen of stage and television and, after playing three different queens on the big screen, probably the closest thing to acting royalty Britain has.

But Helen Mirren has revealed she was wary about becoming a Dame – because she sees herself as a bit of an outsider.

Dame Helen, 69, told the Sunday Mirror’s Notebook magazine: “I was kind of ambivalent about it because I’ve always seen myself as slightly on the outside or the edge of things.

“In Britain, a Damehood is very much being welcomed by the establishment… so I was a bit wary.

“To me, actors shouldn’t be too establishment. Our job is to be sort of anti-establishment.

“But on the other hand… I just know how incredibly proud my father and Russian ancestors would have been.

“So, I took it for that reason and I did feel embarrassingly proud about it.”

Dame Helen, whose career has spanned almost 50 years, said she was obsessive about her work as a young actress but grew out of it.

She also said she finds it hard when people find her intimidating but admitted that she was nervous about meeting Bruce Willis, her co-star in the Red and Red 2 films.

“I was looking at him and going, ‘Oh my god, it’s Bruce Willis, oh f**k, it’s Bruce Willis, what do I do? What do I say, what do I do, where do I put my hands?” she said.

“And he just walked up, put his arms around me, and gave me a big hug.”

Dame Helen also admitted to having a crush on actor Mel Gibson during the days of his Mad Max films – and says she does not consider herself a sex symbol.

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August 17, 2014 by KirstyArticles


Inside the life of Helen Mirren: ‘I’m a savage in the kitchen’

“I’m a savage in the kitchen,” declares Helen Mirren unapologetically, a smile flashing across her fine features.

We are discussing the actress’s culinary skills in light of her latest movie role in The Hundred-Foot Journey; she plays the owner of a Michelin-starred French restaurant. Mirren’s imperious Madame Mallory is the crème de la crème in the world of haute cuisine. From her sublime hollandaise sauce to her beef bourguignon, her recipes are renowned.

The same cannot be said for the British Oscar winner herself. She confesses, over tea in LA, that in real life, cooking is not one of her strong points. “I am quite good at making soup when I put my mind to it and I can do chicken. I have an amazing rotisserie oven, but I don’t really cook. I love food programs, though,” she smiles. “I watch them avidly, thinking, ‘Ooh, I could do that. It looks really easy.’” Her favourite TV chefs? “Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsay, and the goddess, Nigella [Lawson], is fabulous.”

Filmed on location in the picturesque Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val – a village in southern France – Mirren’s mouth-watering new comedy revolves around a culture clash between the perfectionist restaurateur striving for her elusive second Michelin star and an Indian family who moves into the bucolic village and dares to open a rival establishment directly across the road. Madame is far from happy. Aside from lowering the tone of the neighbourhood (tandoori chicken is hardly fine dining, from her perspective), the rival Indian restaurant, Maison Mumbai, soon has the locals pouring in, enticed by the exotic spices and intense flavours. All-out war ensues.

Heartwarming and deliciously directed by Lasse Hallström (Chocolat), The Hundred-Foot Journey was produced by Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey, who Mirren describes as “incredibly inspiring. She visited the set for one day, and the French were so excited, they cried, ‘Oprah! Oprah!’ [Mirren switches to a beautifully enunciated French accent]. She’s got this natural warmth about her, which is what makes her Oprah.”

The film is a celebration of food – expect to exit the cinema craving an onion bhaji or a blanquette de veau – but, at heart, it’s a love story. At the outset, there is no love lost between the two rivals, but Madame and ‘Papa’, her new Indian neighbour (Om Puri), gradually warm to each other. Papa’s son, Hassan (Manish Dayal), a gifted and ambitious young chef, falls for the pretty French sous chef at the acclaimed Le Saule Pleureur restaurant, Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon).

And everyone has a love affair with gourmet cuisine, particularly Madame Mallory. An exacting boss, in short, she is… well… French, from the sartorial chic of her elegant outfts to the tastefully understated ambience of her restaurant. “She’s very French, in the sense the French have of being proud of being French and believing that everything that is French is great – and the best,” says Mirren, who speaks the language fluently (although the film is in English) and reveals she grew up in England fantasising about being a French actress.

“I loved Jeanne Moreau, Isabelle Huppert. I loved French movies, I still do. When I was very young, 14, I became obsessed with everything French. These French boys would arrive in Southend-on-Sea [a seaside resort town in Essex] for their summer holidays, to learn English, imagining it was sort of Saint-Tropez, and I got myself a French boyfriend. His name was Jean-Louis,” she says, eyes twinkling, “and, yes, I am still in touch with him.”

Unlike her character, who lives and breathes the art of good food, Mirren has simpler tastes. “I am not a foodie; I like peasant food. My husband [American director Taylor Hackford] and I very rarely go to what I think of as a posh restaurant – you know, with tablecloths. I wouldn’t travel to a certain area in France just so I could have foie gras. I like little, funky restaurants. Honestly, I am much more comfortable in those than in smart restaurants.”

Mirren is 69, yet seems much younger, partly due to her striking looks but also because of her attitude. She’s outspoken and exhilarating company. Rather unexpectedly, given her royal roles (she won the Best Actress Oscar in 2007 for The Queen), it’s not uncommon to hear Dame Helen swear, though somehow she manages to sound dignified in the process. For example, she tells me a story about filming Red. “I am looking at Bruce going, ‘Oh f*ck, it’s Bruce Willis! What do I do? What do I say? Where do I put my hands?’ And he just walks up and puts his arms around me, and gives me a big hug. I’m still rather starstruck to have been in a movie with Bruce Willis.”

And this is Mirren’s advice for young women dealing with sexist men: “I’ve always said, if I’d had children and had a girl, the first words I would have taught her would have been ‘F*ck off,’ because we were never brought up to say that to anyone, were we? And it’s quite valuable to have the courage and the confidence to say, ‘No, f*ck off, leave me alone, thank you very much.’”

We are meeting in LA, where the actress lives with Hackford. She is wearing a simple blue-and-white patterned dress – “It’s not a designer; I just bought it in Vermont, actually. I saw it in the shop window.” Her hair is short and blonde; she looks lovely – and very slim.

Does she diet? “Oh god, we are all on permanent diets, aren’t we?” Mirren laughs heartily and rolls her eyes. “I eat everything, but I don’t eat a lot of everything. I exercise, but I don’t do a lot of exercise. I like a glass of wine, but I don’t drink a huge amount of wine.” Any weaknesses? “I just discovered almond butter and I love it. Lethal.”

Mirren’s sex-symbol status was revived in 2008, when she was famously papped looking fabulous in a red bikini while on holiday in Puglia, Italy. When I bring it up, she shrugs it off, insisting, “I was posing for my husband, who was taking a photograph of me, so I was holding my tummy in. It was pure luck it was flattering. I looked at that picture and thought, ‘I wish I looked like that.’ You know, a long lens is always flattering. Because of that shot, I became paparazzi fodder any time I went near a beach. Just a few months after that, there were some much more realistic shots taken of me on a beach in Hawaii, where I was making a film. I don’t look remotely glamorous most of the time and I’m not very stylish.”

The comment is typical Helen Mirren: modest and self-effacing. “I am not gorgeous and I never was,” she continues. “I was always OK-looking but I was never beautiful, so there was never any pressure; in a way it was a liberation because I could sort of be who I was. That isn’t to say that, like all women, I didn’t grow up with insecurities – wishing my legs were longer and my bust wasn’t so big, and all of that sort of thing. But I’ve always loved dressing up; it’s one of the reasons I’m an actress. I love clothes and costumes, and the red carpet is kind of costume. You’re putting on a character; it’s certainly not you. But I love the artisan nature of clothes, the craftsmanship. I love fabrics and design. I’m quite a visual person.”

Mirren goes on to reveal she makes many of her own clothes: “I still have my mother’s old Singer sewing machine, with a treadle, which I love,” she smiles. “I make horrible things that are awful… although I did make my sister a good skirt, and I made myself a nice dressing gown for the theatre. I did want to make a dress for the red carpet, but my husband stopped me. He said, ‘I am saving you from yourself.’ But I’m still going to do it one of these days. I’m going to make a red-carpet dress out of bin bags. It will be beautiful.”

If anyone could pull it off, it would be Dame Helen; she exudes dignified cool. In the hotel where our interview is taking place, the actress is treated with respect bordering on reverence, understandably – given the title and the royal roles. “Americans are very flattering, aren’t they?” she says. “It’s lovely, but I always take it with a pinch of salt, because I think they just want you to feel good; they don’t want to hurt your feelings.”

Are people intimidated by her? “Sometimes people say that, and I find it hard to deal with because I don’t want them to feel like that. So I always try to make an effort to greet people and be relaxed with them.”

Mirren was born two months after the end of World War II in Europe, descended from a family of butchers on her London mother, Kathleen’s side. Her paternal grandfather was a Russian diplomat. “My ethnicity was a sort of a secret for quite a long time in my family. My father [Vasiliy] changed our name [from Mironoff ]. He didn’t want to be a foreigner. He believed in assimilation.”

She acted in school plays, worked in theatre during her twenties and cemented her stage career at the Royal Shakespeare Company. “I fell in love with Shakespeare, and the whole idea of drama was a wonderful thing to me, so I did catch the bug, as they say, quite early on.”

Her breakthrough film role was John Mackenzie’s The Long Good Friday (1980). Her credits over the past 30 years range across the spectrum from Peter Greenaway’s 1989 drama The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover to The Madness of King George (1994), which led to her frst Oscar nomination. She also received nods for Gosford Park (2001) and The Last Station (2009).

In 2012, Mirren gave an inspired performance in Hitchcock as the director’s wife, Alma Reville, and has astutely avoided typecasting. She starred in the 2011 remake of Arthur with Russell Brand, but her role as the retired gun-toting MI6 agent, Victoria, in the 2010 action comedy Red and last year’s sequel, Red 2, was perhaps her most surprising. “I love being a bad-ass, it’s just the best,” she smiles. “I’m very careful to try to do lots of different kinds of movies, and I go back to the theatre every so often.” She portrayed Her Majesty again last year in the West End production of The Audience, which led to a prestigious Olivier Award.

Is it easier for young actresses now than when she started out in the 1960s? “I’m not too sure we’re there yet. It’s not an easy profession; it’s hard for men, too. It’s obviously massively competitive. I’ve seen some great actresses’ careers slow right down and sometimes they disappear as they reach their zenith of ability. There’s suddenly nowhere for them to go, whereas comparatively mediocre male actors can go on working. It’s tough, you’re constantly facing unemployment. I think if you manage to hold on and you’re still standing at the end of it, that’s great. But fewer and fewer of us are left standing.”

Along with Meryl Streep, Mirren is one of the few women who has consistently landed interesting roles. She says she still thoroughly enjoys acting – her next film is Woman In Gold with Ryan Reynolds – but is no longer driven, which means more time focusing on family life. “When I was a young actress, I was very obsessed, very idealistic. But you grow out of that a little bit, thank god. It just becomes exhausting and you decide to give yourself a break.”

She’s been married to Hackford for 17 years. They met on the set of the 1985 film White Nights, which he directed. It’s her first marriage, his third. Was it luck that the relationship worked out so well? “No,” she says emphatically. “Marriage is always work. You know, it’s hard to live with someone who isn’t you, with all their foibles and their annoying habits and vice versa. When you’re bad-tempered, or you’re tired and the cogs aren’t turning, it’s work – but it’s work that’s worth doing. I think a lot of people get married when they probably shouldn’t have done and they haven’t really thought it through. But then, I think a lot of other people maybe give up too soon. Marriage is a lesson of self-discovery, isn’t it? It’s not airy-fairy blissful, not at all. I never wanted to be married, but now I love being married. I like the understanding that you are part of a partnership; it’s a team.”

The couple don’t have children of their own, but Mirren is close to Hackford’s sons. “I have a step-grandson and step-nephews; we’re quite a big, extended family and everybody lives in Los Angeles, except for my sister. And my other nephew lives on the East Coast now. It’s fantastic getting them all together. It’s brilliant because they’re all boys.”

Mirren and Hackford spend increasing amounts of time at their holiday home in Puglia. “My husband and I have been building this house there that’s sort of our retirement dream.”

Are there plans to stop working? “No, I could never retire; there might always be a fun job around the corner or just something I feel like doing. I’m never ever going to retire officially. Even if I did,” she says with a twinkle in the eye, “I would never declare it. I might just quietly disappear.”

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August 08, 2014 by KirstyArticles


Mirren Wants to Join “Fast and Furious” Franchise

In a new interview, Helen Mirren revealed that she’s such a fan of driving in movie scenes that her secret wish to join the cast of the “Fast and Furious” franchise.

“I always love stunt driving. I do as much driving in my movies as I can. If there’s driving stuff to be done, I always beg or insist on doing it myself. Little-known fact: Helen Mirren, stunt driver,” she said. “I’d love to be in a ‘Fast and Furious’ movie. I keep putting feelers out. I’d love to do ‘Fast and Furious.’ I love Vin Diesel as well. He doesn’t understand, I think he’s so cool.”

In other words, Mirren not only wants to be part of the franchise, but she also wants to get behind the wheel. That’s something I need to see.

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August 08, 2014 by KirstyArticles


A Minute With: Helen Mirren on allure of playing a Frenchwoman

Helen Mirren, the Oscar-winning British actress who has played queens, aristocrats and a middle-aged calendar girl, finally got to portray what her heart long desired: a Frenchwoman.

In Walt Disney Co’s food romance “The Hundred-Foot Journey,” which opens in U.S. theaters on Friday, Mirren dons the steely countenance of Madame Mallory, a proprietor of a Michelin-starred restaurant in Southern France who feuds with the Indian family that takes over the defunct restaurant across the street.

The feel-good tale of cultural and culinary fusion also stars actors Om Puri and Indian-American Manish Dayal, and was made with the backing of Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey as producers.

The 69-year-old Mirren spoke to Reuters about playing a Frenchwoman, how she chooses her roles and why a poorly reviewed film is easier to endure for an actor than a panned play.

Q: What drew you to the film?

A: There were a lot of attractions. The first phone call that came was from Steven Spielberg. It’s like that classic moment, (whispers) “Steven Spielberg! Oh, yes!”

And then very rapidly after that came all kinds of goodies: It was being shot in France; I got to play a Frenchwoman – I’ve always wanted to play a Frenchwoman. It was a wonderful, light, comedic but serious story.

Q: What’s so intriguing about playing a Frenchwoman?

A: I speak French very well. I love France. I’m a Francophile. I have worked in France in the theater, and I’ve always wanted to be a French actress. Not a British or an American actress, I wanted to be French or an Italian actress. I couldn’t, so this is the closest I could get.

I like the way the French think of women, and I like the way women are approached in French movies. There seems to be a sophistication, an elegance and a reality and a complexity about female characters in French movies that you don’t often find in English-speaking film.

Q: What complexity did you find in your character?

A: Just the fact that she runs a restaurant, she’s a woman of substance, she’s a very opinionated woman, but she’s fundamentally decent but with her very French idea of the correct way to do things. The French can be very strict about what it means to be French. But when in the film that is translated into nationalism or racism, she understands the fault in that.

Q: How do you go about choosing your roles?

A: It depends what I had just done, and usually what I choose to do next is a reaction against what I had just done to try and find something a bit different. Where it is and how good a role it is and who it’s with.

Q: Do you have a preference for stage or film work?

A: I prefer film nowadays, just because theater is so bloody exhausting and all-consuming and you can’t go anywhere or do anything and it seems endless … Every two or three years I’ve made sure I do theater again because it’s too scary if you leave it for too long, you just lose your nerve.

Q: Why is theater so unnerving?

A: The good thing is that if a film gets terrible reviews, you say, ‘Well, it’s not my fault.’ In theater, you have to step up and go out there and do it, good reviews or bad reviews. That’s psychologically tough. I love film. I love the fact that you really have no idea whether it’s working or not.

Q: Are there differences working on U.S. and British films?

A: Not really. The costume person is the same in France, Italy, Germany, Australia. The grip is the same guy. The cinematographer always wears a leather jacket, male or female, always. They’re the same characters. It’s funny. And the journalists always look like you.

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August 06, 2014 by KirstyArticles


Mirren credits husband for her belief in relationships

Actress Helen Mirren has revealed that her director husband Taylor Hackford helped her to change her perspective on relationships.

The happily married director and 68-year-old actress got together in their late 30s and waited 13 years to wed on New Year’s Eve 1997, reported People magazine.

“Before I met Taylor, all my relationships took second place to my work. If I had to go to Africa, it was ‘Bye-bye, I’m off to Africa.’ And then he came into my life, and I started thinking, ‘Maybe it’s time to have a different attitude – and to say that my relationship is at least as important as my work.’ To give it the time,” she said.

The ‘Queen’ star said she often used to complain to her husband for not meeting her in life earlier.

“I used to say to Taylor, ‘I wish we’d met earlier on. We’ve missed so much time together’. And he’d say, ‘We’d never be together now if we met earlier,’ ” she said.

“And I think he’s actually right because we were both on a trajectory of work and ambition and, of course, to a certain extent, wanting to resolve ourselves as ourselves,” she added.

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July 14, 2014 by KirstyArticles


Oscar Winner Helen Mirren Will Star in Peter Morgan’s The Audience on Broadway in 2015

Her Majesty is coming to Broadway! As previously speculated, Oscar winner Helen Mirren, who reprised the role of Queen Elizabeth II in the acclaimed 2013 West End production of The Audience, will star in a New York mounting of Peter Morgan’s new play. The Daily Mail reports that Mirren has confirmed that she will begin rehearsals in mid-January next year, with the show starting previews in February. The drama will officially open at a Shubert theater to be confirmed in March.

The Audience follows the reign of Queen Elizabeth II from 1952 to the Diamond Jubilee in 2012. For 50 years the Queen has sat with all of England’s Prime Ministers for private, weekly meetings at Buckingham Palace. The Audience breaks the silence on these highly secretive meetings. Morgan is apparently contemplating adding Tony Blair, who didn’t feature in London, to the New York line-up.

Morgan wrote the screenplay for the hit 2006 film The Queen, which also starred Mirren as Elizabeth II; her performance won her the Academy Award. She earned Tony nominations for A Month in the Country and Dance of Death. Mirren’s London theater credits include Teeth ‘n’ Smiles, The Seagull, Henry VI, The Roaring Girl, Two Way Mirror and Some Kind of Love Story. Her additional film and TV credits include The Debt, Excalibur, National Treasure: Book of Secrets, Frasier and a cameo as Becky’s Inner Voice on Glee.

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July 10, 2014 by KirstyArticles


Helen Mirren Cuts Her Own Hair

Dame Helen Mirren could afford some of the best hairdressers in the world but she still cuts her own hair.

The award-winning 68-year-old actress hates sitting in the hairdresser’s chair for hours on end and prefers to give her locks a quick snip with her kitchen scissors before a big event instead.

She told the August issue of Redbook magazine: “I can’t handle going to the hairdresser every six weeks, so I only go about once a year. In between, I get out the scissors and do something, usually rather disastrously. Sometimes I’ll even chop my hair the morning of a big red carpet event.”

‘The Queen’ star’s go-to beauty look is red lips with a pared down base because she finds she can no longer pull off heavy make-up.

Helen said: “I wear make-up every day. I love putting it on, and I get really into it: a little bit of this here, and little bit of that there. But then I stand back and look into the mirror and it’s awful!

“So I take it all off because I’ve gotten too anal about it. It’s absolutely true that as you get older, you have to wear less and less make-up.

“You can get away with naked eyes if you’ve got red lips. Or red lips and sunglasses!”

The British icon has always envied French women’s inherent sense of style and claims their perfectly-groomed looks leave her feeling “inferior”.

She added: “As a Brit, we’ve always looked to the French and [wondered], ‘Why do they never look untidy?’ We’ve got a terrific inferiority complex when it comes to them.”

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July 10, 2014 by KirstyArticles


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