Sonoo Singh meets ac­tress and L’oréal brand am­bas­sador Dame He­len Mir­ren to talk ad­ver­tis­ing, cre­ativ­ity and fak­ing it

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L’oréal brand am­bas­sador and Os­car win­ner Dame He­len Mir­ren dis­cusses ad­ver­tis­ing, self-worth and sell­ing out

Dame He­len Mir­ren “as­pires” to be an artist. “I of­ten feel I’m fail­ing and should’ve been a suf­fer­ing, strug­gling artist,” the Os­car-win­ning ac­tress says, re­flect­ing on her suc­cess. But this is the woman who has con­quered it all – the stage, TV, film and even sex­ist in­ter­views (she fa­mously called out Sir Michael Parkin­son in a 1975 ap­pear­ance on his show), has por­trayed the Queen twice (on stage and film) and, at 71, re­mains a global star.

“I of­ten feel I’ve lost my way in my as­pi­ra­tion to be an artist. Of course, it’s won­der­ful to have suc­cess, and the thing I love most about it is eco­nomic free­dom,” Mir­ren says. “Com­ing from a back­ground where there was no money – and if you didn’t work, there was noth­ing to live on – to have bought my own house and to have never been in debt or on wel­fare is some­thing I feel proud of. But there’s a part of me that thinks I should’ve been a strug­gling artist.”

Mir­ren, who spoke to Cam­paign in Cannes, where she ap­peared on a L’oréal panel, ex­plains it isn’t the ro­man­tic no­tion of a be­ing a strug­gling artist that is ap­peal­ing – it’s about the “truth­ful qual­ity of art, about where art should sit in our cul­ture”.

So does she think she has sold out? “Yes, I do, in many ways. But, I may add, quite bliss­fully and hap­pily. I’m not go­ing ‘Oh my god, I’ve sold out’, but ‘Yeah, I’ve sold out’,” she says in full Hol­ly­wood mode – the dra­matic use of voice and hands, and that al­most-re­gal ex­pres­sion. In fact, she en­joys play­ing roles, such as one in The

Fate of the Fu­ri­ous, that lead to crit­ics ac­cus­ing her of sell­ing out. “Peo­ple think I must’ve been paid mil­lions for it, but I was hardly paid any­thing for do­ing it,” she says. “I did it for the fun.”

She en­joys giv­ing peo­ple a good night out at the cin­ema, hence the afore­men­tioned The Fate of the Fu­ri­ous, but she can’t imag­ine be­ing the next James Bond: “I’m too old. In my youth, that would’ve been great, of course. But that time was dif­fer­ent; we could never even have imag­ined a woman play­ing that role. I think it [a woman play­ing James Bond] prob­a­bly won’t hap­pen, but the fact it is be­ing con­tem­plated is a mas­sive step for­ward.”

And Mir­ren re­mains “pissed off” about how women are por­trayed both in films and, in­deed, ad­ver­tis­ing. “It used to drive me crazy that the ads pro­mot­ing skin prod­ucts were us­ing pic­tures of 15- or 16-year-old girls. As a 30-year-old, I used to look at that and think: what the fuck are you talk­ing about? It was ridicu­lous. Pissed me off ma­jorly,” she ex­plains. “Ad­ver­tis­ers are only just com­ing out of that, and it’s taken them a long time.”

As a L’oréal brand am­bas­sador, Mir­ren is part of the gen­er­a­tion of women try­ing to re­de­fine beauty. But she ap­pears gen­uinely hor­ri­fied at the thought that her at­tempt to cel­e­brate women for who they are, or be­have as they want to be­have, could be seen as set­ting stan­dards for other women who might not want the same thing for them­selves. “I’m not set­ting stan­dards for oth­ers. All I can do is be who I am. I’ve al­ways loved make-up,” she says. “I’m an eter­nal op­ti­mist – I know that when I put my mois­turiser on it prob­a­bly does fuck all, but it just makes me feel bet­ter. I’ve al­ways said to L’oréal as well that I will only do what makes me feel bet­ter.” Mir­ren has no­tably de­manded that L’oréal never re­touches images of her.

Ear­lier this year, she launched L’oréal’s “All worth it” cam­paign, in as­so­ci­a­tion with The Prince’s Trust, to help peo­ple suf­fer­ing from self­doubt to dis­cover self-worth. That said, at its core, she be­lieves, self­doubt can be a force that helps drive us for­ward. “If you have got a cre­ative mind, in­se­cu­rity is part of the nec­es­sary process,” Mir­ren says. “Cre­ativ­ity doesn’t come out of con­fi­dence. It comes out of a ques­tion­ing to­wards life in gen­eral. Maybe it’s this qual­ity that drives cre­ativ­ity.”

On the topic of cre­ativ­ity in ad­ver­tis­ing, she makes the fol­low­ing ob­ser­va­tion: “Ad­ver­tis­ing works on so many dif­fer­ent lev­els. It can be pure en­ter­tain­ment, like my favourite Ham­let cigar ads, or an ex­tra­or­di­nary form of art that pro­duces ar­rest­ing images like the Guin­ness ads from the past, or the spec­tac­u­lar Ap­ple ad with the girl sprint­ing while wield­ing a ham­mer.

“But ad­ver­tis­ing can’t just be about an ex­tra­or­di­nary me­morable im­age; it has to be about mak­ing peo­ple feel bet­ter about them­selves or try­ing to do some sort of so­cial good.”

And Mir­ren of­fers this ad­vice to peo­ple on how to do good: “Peo­ple keep look­ing at me for ad­vice of all sorts. I don’t know. I have no idea. My ad­vice is be on time and don’t be an ar­se­hole. Grab your op­por­tu­ni­ties when they come with both hands, give it your all and then fake it.”

“Cre­ativ­ity doesn’t come out of con­fi­dence. It comes out of a ques­tion­ing to­wards life in gen­eral. Maybe it’s this qual­ity that drives it”

Mir­ren: ‘Be on time and don’t be an ar­se­hole. Give it your all and then fake it’

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