Why I love be­ing a BADASS

Only Helen Mir­ren could man­age to be a gun-tot­ing se­cret agent, the Queen and a 67-year-old pin-up all at the same time. Just don’t men­tion sex­ist men... By Elaine Lip­worth

The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - COVER STORY -

The Queen is not amused. She has just learned she is go­ing to lose her beloved yacht, Bri­tan­nia. Nei­ther is Helen Mir­ren — who is on stage as Queen El­iz­a­beth II re­liv­ing the scene in The Au­di­ence, di­rected by Stephen Daldry. It’s a piv­otal and emo­tional mo­ment in the play — but the au­di­ence at Lon­don’s Giel­gud Theatre ear­lier this year can’t hear a word be­cause the dia­logue is be­ing drowned out by an almighty racket in the street from a group of en­thu­si­as­tic drum­mers pro­mot­ing a gay fes­ti­val.

The drum­mers get the shock of their lives when, at 8.30pm, the 67-year- old Os­car­win­ning star of The Queen emerges in per­son at the stage door to give them a per­sonal dress­ing-down. ‘I was on­stage try­ing to make my­self heard to an au­di­ence of 900 peo­ple with my fel­low ac­tors,’ says Helen, who is dis­cussing the bizarre in­ci­dent in de­tail for the first time. ‘It was im­pos­si­ble; we couldn’t hear each other speak.’ The cast had al­ready per­formed a mati­nee, she ex­plains. ‘Af­ter do­ing one-and-a-half shows — and I speak non- stop on stage for two hours — I just thought I couldn’t carry on like this. Soho on Satur­day night is absolutely heav­ing. It’s in­cred­i­ble fun; peo­ple are out drink­ing and par­ty­ing, hav­ing a grand old time. Lovely, noth­ing wrong with that. But th­ese drum­mers had been hired to, lit­er­ally, drum up peo­ple for this fes­ti­val and they were drum­ming out­side a nearby gay bar, not real­is­ing that we were prob­a­bly 10 feet, if not less, away.’

A video of the ac­tress out­side the theatre that went vi­ral showed her in full cos­tume with a grey wig, bel­low­ing at the drum­mers, who seemed obliv­i­ous. ‘The drum­ming was so loud, I re­alised the only way to com­mu­ni­cate with them was to try and be louder than they were,’ says Helen. Her colour­ful lan­guage has been widely re­ported but Mir­ren, who won the Olivier Best Ac­tress award for her role in the play, says it was not di­rected at the drum­mers. ‘I didn’t swear at them ever. I said: “Do you re­alise what you’re do­ing? You’re f****** up our per­for­mance; we can’t hear our­selves speak. Please stop.’”

She pauses for thought. ‘It must have been very funny, ac­tu­ally. I think peo­ple must have thought I was a mad, drunken old woman stag­ger­ing around Soho.’ It is a mea­sure of the high re­gard in which she is held that her out­burst had the de­sired ef­fect. ‘Sweetly, they stopped, al­most im­me­di­ately.’ And it is a tes­ta­ment to her good-na­tured sense of hu­mour that she was seen the fol­low­ing day sport­ing a T-shirt pro­mot­ing the ‘As One In The Park’ event. There were no hard feel­ings. ‘I love drum­mers and I love drum­ming,’ she says

I’ve met Helen sev­eral times and she is great com­pany — opin­ion­ated, en­ter­tain­ing and dis­arm­ingly warm but also self- ef­fac­ing to a fault. We are talk­ing to­day in LA, where the ac­tress lives with her hus­band, di­rec­tor Tay­lor Hack­ford (An Of­fi­cer And A Gen­tle­man, The Devil’s Ad­vo­cate) and where her ‘Royal Rant’ was a topic of in­ter­est for days. Amer­i­cans have de­vel­oped their own re­la­tion­ship with ‘Dame Helen’, which bor­ders on rev­er­ence. ‘Amer­i­cans are very flat­ter­ing, aren’t they? I mean, it’s lovely but I al­ways take it with a pinch of salt be­cause I think they want you to feel good. They don’t want to hurt your feel­ings, so they al­ways say very nice things

about you .’ Through­out her ca­reer she has al­ways avoided type­cast­ing. Her role as the re­tired, gun-tot­ing MI6 agent Vic­to­ria, in the 2010 ac­tion com­edy RED, was her most sur­pris­ing so far. Helen joined a star-heavy cast led by Bruce Wil­lis, as for­mer black-ops CIA agent Frank Moses, and John Malkovich as his ec­cen­tric part­ner, Marvin. ( RED is an acro­nym for Re­tired, Ex­tremely Danger­ous). Now she re­turns for the se­quel, RED 2.

‘Apart from my moral­is­tic feel­ings about guns, it just looked like a lot of fun,’ she says. ‘They trained me on small hand­guns, nor­mal hand­guns, Berettas and all the way up to the Gatling gun, through the sniper ri­fles and so forth. I had an ex­pe­ri­ence of shoot­ing with real live am­mu­ni­tion, which was fan­tas­tic, a real ed­u­ca­tion. That’s the good thing about do­ing a film like RED: it’s good just to shake it up a bit.’

She also rev­els in her new­found ac­tion heroine sta­tus. ‘Mama Ma­trix,’ she ex­claims glee­fully when I men­tion a RED 2 shot in which, swathed in fur, she is in the pas­sen­ger seat of a blue Lo­tus Ex­ige, shoot­ing out of both win­dows si­mul­ta­ne­ously. ‘ I love be­ing a badass; it’s just the best,’ she smiles. ‘But the more I han­dle guns, the less I like them. It’s so easy to cause such in­cred­i­ble dam­age. There’s no sport in­volved. That’s why I like Vic­to­ria — she’s a sniper. Tar­get shoot­ing, that sort of very pre­cise clay-pi­geon shoot­ing, is fine, but the idea of us­ing a gun to hurt any liv­ing crea­ture is pretty hor­ren­dous. I want to make it very clear: I’m not killing any­one. I’m just de­bil­i­tat­ing them with non-life-threat­en­ing in­juries that they will fully re­cover from, just be­cause... I have to get from A to B.’

There’s a good dose of satire in RED 2 and the ac­tion is stylised; none­the­less the body count is high. Does she think there is any cor­re­la­tion be­tween film vi­o­lence and the re­al­life shoot­ings that have plagued Amer­ica? ‘I don’t know,’ she says. ‘Bud­dhists can be very vi­o­lent when their but­tons are pushed, as we are see­ing right now in In­done­sia [re­fer­ring to the sec­tar­ian vi­o­lence be­tween Bud­dhists and Mus­lims in Belawan], and maybe they’ve never seen an ac­tion movie in their lives. I can’t sort my head out around that par­tic­u­lar is­sue. Au­di­ences all around the world, from five years up to 85, love ac­tion movies. It’s very ex­pen­sive to make a movie and you have to take the de­sires of the au­di­ence on board to a cer­tain ex­tent.’ The con­ver­sa­tion moves on from film vi­o­lence to sex­ism in show­busi­ness and the fall­out from the Jimmy Sav­ile af­fair. ‘Oh, he could get away with any­thing, of course,’ Helen says. ‘I think the im­pact of all that has been mas­sive and, you know, when cer­tain peo­ple at the BBC, women, came out and said: “Well, ac­tu­ally it was per­fectly nor­mal”. I re­mem­ber that. You didn’t com­plain — you just had to have a sense of hu­mour about it; it was your job. Well, you know what? I don’t want to have a sense of hu­mour about that. I didn’t then, but you just had to carry on.’

Along with Meryl Streep, Mir­ren con­sis­tently lands some of the best roles for women of

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