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A few things to note about Dame Helen Mirren.
When speaking to her, never address her by the honorific bestowed on her by Queen Elizabeth II. She’ll cringe.
Despite her impressive and lengthy list of credits, on stage and screen, and the Oscar she won for playing Queen Elizabeth, Mirren retains her very dry, very earthy sense of humor. Upon seeing this writer’s shirt with a yowling cat on it, she smiles and compliments it using a term made infamous by Donald Trump. All in good fun.
And despite the plate of Broccolini in front her, Mirren isn’t some kind of health fanatic. “I’m only eating these vegetables because I put on 10 pounds and I need to lose them,” she laughs. “I love to eat.”
Remember those photos that surfaced in 2008, showcasing the actress’s stunning physique in a scarlet suit? Mirren has no trick up her sleeve for staying fit. She works out — for about eight weeks at a time, before losing interest. She jokes about making constant excuses to avoid the gym. She likes her libations. In person, she’s glowing and gorgeous.
Her secret: Good posture. “John Gielgud had that element of energy and experimentation and commitment. He always said, ‘It’s all in the spine.’ It’s amazing, what a difference it makes. Sit up straight. Look at life like that,” she says, squaring off in her seat.
This year, Mirren took part in the annual Pirelli calendar, shot by Peter Lindbergh, and featuring Uma Thurman, Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore and Kate Winslet looking like tousled, sexual, gorgeous real women, with laugh lines on display.
A photo posted by Antonio Gallo (@iamantoniogallo) on Nov 30, 2016 at 5:20am PST
“Actually, when I looked at the picture, I thought, ‘Oh my god, I look so awful!’ In the context of the calendar, it’s brilliant, actually,” says Mirren. “At the time, I was very pissed off that I wasn’t beautifully lit, in amazing makeup, with a gorgeous dress. Actually, it worked. It worked. They are all the real deal. Kate Winslet. Nicole Kidman. Whenever I’m asked to play a role, I always ask myself, ‘Would Julianne Moore do this?’ If the answer is yes, I do it. Her choices are spectacular.”
And Mirren loves to work. In Collateral Beauty, opening Dec. 16, she plays “Death,” who struggles to reignite the life force of a despairing father (Will Smith) whose daughter died. It’s a true ensemble drama, starring Edward Norton and Kate Winslet as Smith’s friends and colleagues, and Naomie Harris as a grief counselor. The film makes you ponder why we’re here,and how we go on when something terrible takes place.
“I do think about mortality anyway. Inevitably as you get older, you do. And you face mortality more often. You face the death of your parents. Just recently my colleague Alan Rickman died,” says Mirren. “You think about it more. You do think, ‘How many more Christmases do I have, actually, and what’s the quality of my life going to be?’ At first, I didn’t want to play Death. But it’s natural to all of us.”
She doesn’t understand this ongoing obsession to erase wrinkles, to strive to stay as youthful as possible. Life is a gift. As are years spent on earth.
”You die young or get old. There’s nothing in between. So embrace it,” says Mirren. “Go with it. Allow it to happen. It’s not that you want to stay young. You want to keep that love of life going. You do become less relevant. Life is about the young, about ambition.”
Given that just in the past few years, Mirren has played vicious gossip hound Hedda Hopper in Trumbo and a Jewish refugee fighting the Austrian government over stolen artwork in Woman in Gold, staying engaged doesn’t seem to be an issue for her.
She’s been married to director Taylor Hackford since 1997 and has a place in Manhattan. Sure, happiness at home has something to do with the warmth and normalcy Mirren exudes at all times. How does she stay so vibrant, so dynamic? Mirren pauses before she answers. Because there’s no easy answer.
“Sometimes I feel that I am walking along the edge of the abyss. It’s sort of always there. I’ve just been so lucky in the fact that I can still work and that I have a financial stability that I so enjoy, having not come from that at all,” she says.