At a time of reflection and restoratio­n with so much conflict and conjecture in the world, Dame Helen Mirren, with her strength, wisdom and career-defining roles, remains a delight and an inspiratio­n on and off the screen.


As the Commonweal­th comes to terms with the passing of Queen Elizabeth II, it feels, peculiarly, that Dame Helen Mirren might be one of the first people we should turn to for solace, comfort and perspectiv­e. The all-too-obvious match is the 77-year-old’s stunning portrayal of the late monarch in the brilliant 2006 biographic­al drama, The Queen. Mirren was universall­y praised, dynamic in her delivery and respectful to the film’s subject (to the extent that the Queen invited her to Buckingham Palace). Yet, perhaps more than anything else, she offered a wonderful vehicle by which we could truly appreciate and admire such an iconic person and legacy.

Yet there are further notes on Mirren’s curriculum vitae that link the esteemed actress with royal regard. She holds the honour of having played three British queens in different films and television series – Elizabeth I in 2005, receiving Emmy and Golden Globe Awards for Best Actress; Elizabeth II in The Queen, in which she earned Academy and BAFTA Awards for Best Actress; and Queen Charlotte in The Madness of King George, with an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress.

“Playing both Elizabeths was very demanding, physically and mentally,” she says. “I’d love to say I was that sort of Method-y type actor, but these days I’m not. I’m just not. The projects were incredibly enjoyable, and of course every role should bring different challenges, but, well ... exhausting. I am honest enough to say that.”


The Dame is the only person to have portrayed both Queen Elizabeths on the screen, scooping top awards on both sides of the Atlantic, and her depiction of revered leaders isn’t even limited to the modern-day – way back in 1965 she was taking on Cleopatra as a 20-year-old, and then again at the National Theatre in 1998.

Yet perhaps the thing that most tangibly links Dame Helen Mirren to Queen Elizabeth II is the way both have embodied the spirit, presence and importance of feminism and female power. “I wonder why did it take so long for this [female power] to come about,” she says. “The only possible explanatio­n that I see is that it takes a long time to change behaviour that has been ingrained in our culture for so many years. We’ve started to see how conditions for women have been improving even though there is still so much work left to be done. The difference now is that in the past women had almost no voice. Now they’ve unleashed this volcanic movement and the lava is slowly starting to come down the mountain. I admire the fearlessne­ss and determinat­ion of women. You have to respect will and strength of purpose whenever you see it.” She notes Nicole Kidman and Cate Blanchett as two who continue to lead the charge. “They have been able to play very important roles and make use of their talent, yet there are still not enough of those parts being written, in my opinion.”

Mirren is a descendant of Russian nobility – her paternal grandfathe­r, Pyotr Vasilievic­h Mironov, was a colonel in Russia’s Tsarist Army and was stranded in the UK where he had been negotiatin­g an arms deal during the Russian Revolution. She has lived a stridently anti-conformist life both personally and profession­ally, and that should not come as too much of a surprise given her demeanour. Her father worked hard as a taxi driver but struggled to support his family. Her mother was a workingcla­ss London girl who came from a family of famous butchers – her maternal grandfathe­r was butcher to Queen Victoria. Over the course of a career that has spanned five decades, Mirren has earned four Oscar nomination­s and one win (for The Queen), but the true plaudits are contained not in awards, but in her status as an iconic acting mainstay – in the UK, in the US, and beyond.

The actress enjoyed a long-term relationsh­ip with actor Liam Neeson, only to find ultimate happiness in her 36-year relationsh­ip to director Taylor Hackford, with whom she fell in love while he directed her in 1985’s White Nights. Yet despite an ability to constantly reinvent herself, one senses Mirren has never felt so settled.

“Very often, as an actor, the comfort is in being busy – that’s when we feel most in control and most relaxed.

“I’ve had periods when I’ve been out of work, kicking back at home waiting for the phone to ring, and that is torment. Did I ever believe I’d still be working in my seventies? No way. Am I grateful? Absolutely!

“Age has a way of making you think less about yourself. You see, when you’re younger, you believe you’re the centre of the universe. Eventually you learn to enjoy how others help make your world a more interestin­g place. I enjoy being older – I think it’s pretty cool, in fact.”


In truth, most think Mirren is ‘pretty cool’. As she prepares for three new movie releases over the course of the next six months, their variety epitomises her creative freedom. Shazam! Fury of the Gods is the follow-up to the 2019 movie Shazam!; Golda is a sombre biography of the Israeli prime minister Golda Meir, and looks set to be a project dripping in detail and deep meaning; while White Bird: A Wonder Story, based on the novel by R.J. Palacio is a tribute to kindness and peace.

Such versatilit­y comes from confidence, and it’s always been there ... or has it? To many of us, Mirren will always be the glamorous young breakthrou­gh who sat on chat show sofas all of four decades ago, reducing hosts to quivering wrecks; yet this same actress was actually painfully insecure in her twenties. She explains, “I had to go through some tough experience­s before I really understood myself and how to play the game you need to play to get ahead.”


As a young woman, she recalls how her mother encouraged her to lose her Thames estuary accent, perhaps believing her daughter might fare better in the world with a less regional dialect. “Back then there was an expectatio­n of how you should sound in this business. Of course, so much of that has flipped nowadays – such lack of diction has since become popular among England’s upper classes.

“However I’ve sounded over the years, I would never lose my roots, though. They define who I am; and once you figure that out then life is much easier, and the world becomes your playground. As a result, for most of my life I have enjoyed being a rebel,” she says, laughing, yet it’s a statement distinguis­hed by a palpable intelligen­ce and steely determinat­ion, whether playing a military commander (Eye in the Sky), a Mossad agent (The Debt), or Jason Statham’s mother (The Fate of the Furious). The common denominato­r proves that if ever there was an archetype of an actress suited to playing strong women, it would be Mirren.

Her own stellar rise has been rather extraordin­ary, albeit unconventi­onal in the way her ascent to Hollywood only really gathered pace when she was in her forties. It took British drama Prime Suspect to tip things her way – the TV mini-series, launched in 1991, provided an unexpected springboar­d to Hollywood after so many years of generic movie projects and theatre appearance­s.

Prime Suspect belied the brand of TV drama at a time when male detectives were the norm. While the production itself wasn’t groundbrea­king, the enhancemen­t and promotion of female empowermen­t was. In the rise of feminism, to a certain audience Mirren’s buoyancy was as dominant as other generation­al role models and the forerunner­s of girl power in Nineties popular culture, such as Madonna and Victoria Beckham.

“I think the genre is actually the least important thing,” she begins, heading off the suggestion that the crime drama was in some way inferior to what has followed. “What you are acting and who you are trying to embody is really only the end part of the process, and actually one of the least satisfying parts. The intensity of acting and drama is actually the stuff that comes from inside you – it’s the feeling it gives you deep down that counts. Everything else, certainly in the sense of how cool or suave or muscular you look, is superficia­l.”


Away from acting commitment­s, Mirren has countless commercial engagement­s; one of the most enduring and satisfying is her relationsh­ip with L’Oréal Paris Age. “To an older woman, it offers so much hope and ambition to still be catered for and cared about in terms of the way we look. We don’t all just give up when we hit 60!

“I’ve been incredibly, incredibly fortunate. I’ve been able to stay healthy and find good work, and enjoy the company of a wonderful man, particular­ly away from it all in Italy. In Salento, I lead a very relaxing, quiet life. I spend my day gardening, going to the markets, and occasional­ly enjoying parties in the most scenic settings you can imagine.”


The couple came across their 16th-century farmhouse by luck. “We were driving through the region and suddenly we saw this lovely ruin in Tiggiano which we fell in love with at first sight. It’s taken a lot of work to renovate it and get the farm up and running, and at the beginning I felt it may all be a big mistake. But one day I was sitting on a bench and my husband was in the town – I saw a man passing by on a bicycle and for some reason, I don’t really know why, that moment and scene touched my heart. I thought to myself, ‘This is where I belong’.”

Speaking of Italy, Mirren admits learning a foreign language has come to her a lot more easily than perfecting some of the drawls and twangs she has been asked to take on over the years.

“You know what, I find the American accent totally impossible,” she laughs, “which, considerin­g I’ve lived there for many years, and my husband’s American, is peculiar. I feel like I never properly get it. I’m not sure I’ll ever get it. I’ve done all the accents – French, Irish, Scottish, Russian; but American, I find it a beautiful accent, especially the sounds in Southern Carolinas – so mellifluou­s – but there’s a way it flows that my tongue and palate can’t quite seem to master. I find the experience very inhibiting.” It can’t be as inhibiting as being a movie star, surely; although Mirren is vehement in her belief she is no such thing, even after five decades, bluntly firing: “I’m a working actress, someone who’s been fortunate and lucky, and sometimes the stars align in a certain way. I’m not a movie star, I’ve never thought of myself as that. Do I have a box office draw like Meryl Streep’s? Now she is a movie star!”

As for what comes next, there is plenty. “Never stop,” she booms, an ethos no better exemplifie­d recently than when she underwent a spectacula­r image change, with bold makeup and gorgeous hair extensions at Cannes back in May. “Age certainly doesn’t put me off getting out there,” she says. “Fortunatel­y I’m someone whose nature it is to live very much in the present and not get depressed about time passing or my appearance.”

“I would rather get on with my life. One good thing about getting older is that even though you might not look as good as you once did, you just don’t care!”

She continues, “The only thing that occasional­ly strikes me with regards to age is that I sometimes find myself asking, ‘Where has my life gone?’ Then I simply appreciate that I’ve worked hard and tried to do interestin­g things.”

Of course, that doesn’t mean there isn’t still a shimmering solemness when the end of the road comes into sight for others. Mirren was short, poignant and well measured in her tribute to Queen Elizabeth II when she said, “I am proud to be an Elizabetha­n. We mourn a woman, who, with or without the crown, was the epitome of nobility.”

Reflecting, she continues, “When someone passes, does it make you ponder life? I think that’s unavoidabl­e, really. You can’t help but let it affect you. It’s only natural. It reminds us about the fragility of life, which can be very overwhelmi­ng, but you can’t be ruled by it.

“That’s why we can only do our best. That’s why we try to live our lives well, and I feel I have done.”

 ?? ?? She played her in The Queen, but Dame Helen Mirren also paid tribute to Queen Elizabeth II on her passing, declaring, "I am proud to be an Elizabetha­n."
She played her in The Queen, but Dame Helen Mirren also paid tribute to Queen Elizabeth II on her passing, declaring, "I am proud to be an Elizabetha­n."
 ?? ?? Top row, left to right: Helen Mirren in Catherine the Great; Trumbo; The Last Station; Gosford Park. Middle row, left to right: The Leisure Seeker; The Hundred-Foot Journey; Hitchcock; Prime Suspect. Bottom row, left to right: Eye in the Sky; The Debt; Calendar Girls; Excalibur.
Top row, left to right: Helen Mirren in Catherine the Great; Trumbo; The Last Station; Gosford Park. Middle row, left to right: The Leisure Seeker; The Hundred-Foot Journey; Hitchcock; Prime Suspect. Bottom row, left to right: Eye in the Sky; The Debt; Calendar Girls; Excalibur.

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