February 15, 2002
British actress Helen Mirren made a name for
herself in films such as the controversial The
Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover and
Where Angels Fear to Tread. When she appears
for the interview in the New York Sony offices,
you instantly understand why. The petite actress
is dressed smartly in dark clothes and a sleek
black leather jacket gives her a sexy appearance
and her blonde softly coiffed hair radiates a
youthful glow. She's friendly, energetic and polite
to the publicists who offer to fetch coffee or
Ms. Mirren, who has just completed a lengthy
run on Broadway in Dancer in the Dark,
has received glowing reviews for her role and
an Oscar nomination for her performance in Robert
Altman's Gosford Park. She's cheerful
while doing press for a smaller, independent film,
Last Orders directed by Fred Schepisi.
In both films, the sensual actress who hasn't
flinch when playing forceful women, returns to
her roots by portraying working class women who
have suffered disappointments in their personal
On Tuesday, the Academy Awards will be announced
and I wish you well.
Oh well, thank you for very much. I never really
think about awards.
Did you look for a couple of ensemble films?
No, it's just the way it worked. I was doing
a lot of theater last year so the time that I
could commit to film work was fairly limited.
I think that I was just luck that two films [Gosford
Park and Last Orders] came by that
I had the time to do.
Did you do the films back to back?
No, I think I did Last Orders and then
I did a play and then... I can't remember. It
all goes through my brain a muddle. I did Orpheus
Descending before Last Orders.
How do you balance everything? You
live in the United States, you work in England
and you do plays either in London or New York?
I ask myself that a lot. I don't know and I'm
a bad organizer - and I don't have an assistant.
It sort of sorts itself out in the end. It's balancing
out with my husband's [director Taylor Hackford]
schedule as well. It's a beloved ball game. He's
use to moving around as well and I am so. It's
incredible fun to do that as well.
Are you more partial to the London stage rather
than the American stage?
Oh, no. I was happy to be able to do Broadway.
It's always been a dream of mine. It was thrilling
that it actually happened. You've done two plays,
now. Broadway is a much more dangerous sort of
- it's a higher board to jump off especially with
someone like Strindberg.
What did you like about Last Orders?
I wanted to do it because it was so much a part
of my history. When I was invited on board, I
already knew a lot of the other casting [Michael
Caine, David Hemmings, Tom Courtney and Bob Hoskins]
and it was because of the casting, I wanted to
be so involved. Because of these people are such
iconic people from my own past. It's like seeing
a concentrated history of British film, almost
and British theater - rather like Gosford Park
as well - very concentrated of the late Sixties,
early Seventies era. And all from my part of the
world - East London. I grew up in a town called
South End -on-Sea, which is just down the road
from East London. It was exactly like Margate
that those people would go to for their day trips
and holidays. So, it was so much part of my personal
history that I was longing to do it.
So, you had a shared experience?
Well, Tom is from the North. He's not a Londoner.
So, that's what separates him in that sense. The
rest of us - we're all East End basically one
way or another working class London or lower-middle-class
How did you begin acting? Did you start after
I did really. I did little bits right out of
school and I really enjoyed it. There a brilliant
organization called the National Youth Theater
and that was - and still is - for kids who are
not going to go to drama school. Actually, in
England, its gone back to the way it use to be
when I was in school. You can only go to drama
school if you're rich. The government won't give
you a grant and it's just impossible to finance
yourself. But, I wasn't a rich kid so I couldn't
go to drama school. This Youth Theater - you would
join and it's a charitable organization and you
did full on productions in the West End in your
summer holidays. I got to do leading roles. It
was much better than being in drama school because
you don't really learn anything in drama school.
It gives you exposure. All the national critics
- they would come to Youth Theater productions
so I got fantastic exposure and that sort of put
me into the business. It's hard if you're outside
of it because it's hard to get in.
Did you start out playing Cleopatra?
Yes I did.
Is that why there is a strong sexual component
to your work?
[Laughs] No, there isn't. Maybe I carry it on
me as a piece of baggage but... Cleopatra isn't
really sexual. She's clever and she wrecked her
havoc through enormous cleverness and great charisma.
Do you have a health regiment?
No, I have a cappuccino. No, I don't and I'm
a bit of wreck at the moment.
What about your techniques of characters that
No. It's always valuable to go to the place
that they come from and sniff around and get a
feeling of it. It's not a specific thing. That's
always very, very valuable. Like when I was coming
up for Last Orders, I didn't have enough
time to prepare because I was coming off of something.
But, I did go to the East End of London and I
spent a couple of days driving around, going into
shops, finding butcher shops and hanging out really.
Going into shops listening to people and lurking
in Woolworth's and just watching and listening
to people and just getting it back.
Did you find a nice estate for Gosford Park?
Gosford Park was different. The production team
had done a lot of fantastic research so we were
given a huge book of really good research. And,
also George Orwell - his mother was a housekeeper
in a big house and he wrote a novel/autobiography
thin disguised and that's what I found to be most
valuable - more than the research.
What are you doing next?
I'm going to do The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone
- a remake for Showtime. Ann Bancroft will be
in it playing the Countess but I'm not sure whom
the young man will be. We'll be shooting in Dublin
and Rome and we start in April.
What happen to Primes Suspect the Movie?
I've been asked that question for the last ten
years. I don't know. It's much better that something
is alive and living in the place it was created
for. It really doesn't worry more.
Will you do another play?
No, after five months of Dance of Death
on Broadway, I'm ready to take a break from a
What do you do to relax?
I watch television.
No, I hate soaps. I watch Judge Judy. I watch
all the judges.
Do you have a favorite place to visit when
you're in England?
I always crave the countryside when I'm in England.
So, I love the Cotswold because I know Stratford-on-Avon