DON­ALD & HE­LEN

The Leisure Seeker stars on their long ca­reers, big­gest fears and the truth about liv­ing hap­pily ever af­ter

Albuquerque Journal - Parade - - Front Page - By Amy Spencer Cover and open­ing pho­tog­ra­phy by An­drew Ec­cles

He­len Mir­ren had enough with the kind of scripts that her agent kept send­ing her way. That is, as she got older. Like, “‘Oh, it’s a won­der­ful role ... she’s got can­cer,’ ” says the ac­tress, 72. Or “‘It’s a won­der­ful role ... she’s got dementia.’ ” Fi­nally, the Os­car win­ner told her agent, “‘I don’t want any scripts where I’ve got can­cer or Alzheimer’s—I don’t want any­thing to do with it.’

“And then this script ar­rives and it’s got both Alzheimer’s and can­cer—at the same time!” She cack­les. But it was a charm­ing story with a charm­ing di­rec­tor (Italy’s Paolo Virzì), she says. “And it was Don­ald.”

Don­ald is Don­ald Suther­land, 82, her co-star in the new film The Leisure Seeker ( Jan. 19), which fea­tures the two ac­tors as a long-mar­ried cou­ple with two grown chil­dren. Her char­ac­ter is the one with can­cer and he’s the one deal­ing with dementia.

Not want­ing to wither away at home, the pair de­cides to take a trip down mem­ory lane—lit­er­ally—in their vin­tage Win­nebago RV, dubbed “the Leisure Seeker.” They drive the rick­ety ve­hi­cle down the Eastern Seaboard to a spot that’s al­ways been on their bucket list: the Hem­ing­way Home in Key West, Fla.

This isn’t Suther­land’s first time play­ing a char­ac­ter who’s ill—or worse. He says years of scenes re­quir­ing his char­ac­ters to die and fall down have taken their toll on his body. “I can hardly move my shoul­ders,” he says. “When [you die] and fall on the

floor, you can’t put your hands down [to cush­ion the fall] be­cause you’re dead. So I land on my shoul­ders. I now no longer have any shoul­ders, ba­si­cally.”

But tak­ing on their char­ac­ters’ ail­ments clearly hasn’t slowed ei­ther of them down, as they tease each other in a Bev­erly Hills ho­tel suite. Suther­land is com­mand­ing, set­tled into a sturdy arm­chair as his Jack Rus­sell, Porque, sniffs about the room. Mir­ren sits sprightly at the end of a chaise, lean­ing back and cross­ing and un­cross­ing her legs as punc­tu­a­tion while she speaks.

WORLDS APART

While the two—with more than a cen­tury’s worth of stage and screen cred­its be­tween them—play a con­vinc­ing cou­ple on a clas­sic Amer­i­can road trip, their back­grounds are worlds apart.

Mir­ren was born in Ham­mer­smith, West Lon­don, and raised in the com­muter town of Leigh-on-Sea by her work­ing-class English mother, Kath­leen, and Rus­sian in­tel­lec­tual fa­ther, Vasiliy.

The mid­dle child, with an older sis­ter and younger brother, she and her sib­lings grew up without a lot of frills.

“We didn’t even have a car,” she says, nor did they get television un­til she’d left home and gone to col­lege. And she didn’t go to the movies as a young girl ei­ther. “It sounds a bit Amish, doesn’t it? We didn’t have money for me to go to the cinema.”

In­stead, she found in­spi­ra­tion on the stage. By 18, she was train­ing at Lon­don’s Na­tional Youth The­atre and then in­vited to join the Royal Shake­speare Com­pany. A long, suc­cess­ful the­atri­cal ca­reer even­tu­ally led her to roles in nu­mer­ous films—in­clud­ing Caligula, The Mad­ness of King Ge­orge, Gos­ford Park, Cal­en­dar Girls, Hitch­cock and The Hun­dred-Foot Jour­ney— and led to the lus­trous ca­reer that earned her act­ing’s “triple crown”—an Academy Award (for 2006’s The Queen), four Em­mys (for the HBO minis­eries El­iz­a­beth I, for the TV movie The Pas­sion of Ayn Rand and two for her role in Prime Sus­pect, which ran for seven sea­sons on PBS) and a Tony (for The Au­di­ence, a Broad­way take on her Queen El­iz­a­beth II role).

And in 2003, Mir­ren—who grew up in a hum­ble house­hold with so few lux­u­ries—was ap­pointed a dame by royal de­cree from Eng­land’s real-life Queen El­iz­a­beth.

Suther­land spent his youth in Canada. He was born in Saint John, New Brunswick, and raised in Nova Sco­tia. Like Mir­ren, he says his fam­ily didn’t have television when he was a child, but he’s quick to up her ante. “My coun­try didn’t get TV when I was grow­ing up,” he says. Raised by his par­ents, Dorothy and Fred­er­ick, he re­mem­bers his mother as “a very hon­est wo­man,” he says. “She was the daugh­ter of a Pres­by­te­rian min­is­ter, and she never— not in her whole life—lied.” He re­mem­bers at age 16 ask­ing her, “‘Mother, am I good look­ing?’ and my mother went [long pause], ‘ Your face has char­ac­ter, Don­ald.’ ”

He’d al­ready de­ter­mined he wanted to be an ac­tor. He at­tended Vic­to­ria Col­lege in Toronto, then the­atri­cal schools in Lon­don and Scot­land, be­fore fi­nally re­lo­cat­ing to Hol­ly­wood. His star rose af­ter his ap­pear­ances in a string of suc­cess­ful movies be­gin­ning in the late 1960s, in­clud­ing The Dirty Dozen, M*A*S*H, Kelly’s He­roes, Klute, Don’t Look Now, 1900, An­i­mal House and Or­di­nary Peo­ple. His ver­sa­tile, pro­lific work earned him an Emmy (for Sup­port­ing Ac­tor in the 1995 TV movie Ci­ti­zen X) and an hon­orary life­time achieve­ment Os­car in 2017.

HIT­TING THE ROAD

Mir re na nd Suther­land metal most 30 years ago when they costarred in the biopic Bethune: The Mak­ing of a Hero, about a Cana­dian doc­tor caught up in the Chi­nese Cul­tural Rev­o­lu­tion. He re­calls be­ing “in her thrall,” and she says she was struck by his in­tel­li­gence. “He’s knowl­edgable, in­cred­i­bly knowl­edgable—much more than I am,” Mir­ren says. “About literature, about his­tory.”

Mir­ren and Suther­land play a long-mar­ried cou­ple in TheLeisureSeeker.

Above: Mir­ren in a 1968 stage pro­duc­tion of Shake­speare’s Troilus and Cres­sida and with her hus­band, di­rec­tor Tay­lor Hack­ford; be­low: Suther­land with his wife of 45 years, Francine Racette, and in M*A*S*H (1970) with co-star El­liott Gould

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