Helen Mirren has traded in Queen Elizabeth's pearls and corgis for camouflage and a sniper rifle. And according to her director, Dean Parisot, "She actually loves being sort of her own version of an action hero."
Parisot previously directed the now classic sci-fi action comedy "Galaxy Quest," and he gets to show the world just how bad Dame Helen can be in his new film, "RED 2." And to hear him tell it, the esteemed 67-year-old Academy Award-winning actress was fully committed to causing mayhem.
"She actually would train with all the weapons so that she was sure to look incredibly proficient at it," Parisot told Yahoo! Movies in a phone interview this week. "And in some ways she's more proficient than anyone in the movie. She's taking out bad guys left and right in this one."
The film reunites Mirren with the stars of the original "RED," the surprise 2010 hit adapted from the comic book by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner. Bruce Willis and John Malkovich also return as former CIA agents considered to be "Retired, Extremely Dangerous" with Mary-Louise Parker back and Willis' squeeze. And this time they're joined by Oscar-winning newcomers Catherine Zeta-Jones and Anthony Hopkins.
Watch the exclusive trailer for "RED 2," then read on to find out how much of the fighting, shooting and driving Dame Helen actually did herself. And Parisot explains why "Galaxy Quest" never got a sequel of its own.
So when you see Helen Mirren smash the face of a man half her age, or fire guns out the windows of a careening car, how much of it is actually her? According to Parisot, "She's doing everything herself. She's game for anything." While Mirren might have won her Oscar for playing the unflappable Elizabeth II in "The Queen," the director said she really sank her teeth into this less-than-regal role. "She enjoys this maybe more than anybody. She's just having a great time."
And Mirren wasn't alone in going all-out in the action scenes. Parisot said that the rest of the cast -- Willis (age 58), Malkovich (age 59), and Hopkins (age 75) -- also held their own in the stunt department. "It was kind of shocking," Parisot said. "They're all sort of gung-ho, in terrific shape, and really everything you see is what we're shooting."
Of course, there are limits to what you can ask any star to do, regardless of age. "Occasionally a stuntman will have to take over, but for the most part, everybody is game for it," Parisot said. "No one is jumping off of buildings or anything, but they're all basically running and shooting and diving and driving."
The addition of Hopkins and Zeta-Jones to the cast not only adds some fresh faces to "RED 2," but also reunites old friends. The two last worked together back in 1998's "The Mask of Zorro," but they actually go back even farther than that. The two natives of Wales first appeared together in a production of Dylan Thomas' "Under Milk Wood" that Hopkins directed over 20 years ago. Parisot said, "They've known each other for years… I know they were really happy to see each other."
[Photos: 'RED 2' exclusive character banners]
And Hopkins has another momentous on-screen pairing in "RED 2." Actor Brian Cox reprises his role of Ivan Simanov from the first movie, and he shares a scene with Hopkins for the first time in their long careers. This is especially notable since they both played Hannibal Lecter on screen. Cox was the notorious cannibal first in 1986's "Manhunter," and of course Hopkins won an Oscar for playing the good doctor in 1991's "The Silence of the Lambs."
Parisot said, "It's great because they're both playing the opposite kind of character [to Hannibal Lecter]. It was definitely an odd moment in cinema history." Parisot said the two acclaimed actors were pleased to finally face off in a scene together. "They were enjoying each other immensely."
Since "RED" -- a story about a retired group who unwittingly gets called back into action -- warranted a sequel, it did raise the question of why Parisot's previous (and thematically similar) film "Galaxy Quest" didn't get a follow-up as well.
"There was a lot of talk about doing a second 'Galaxy Quest,'" Parisot admitted. "There was a lot of talk about doing a television show." But he said the original set the bar so high it became intimidating to consider jumping over it again. Parisot said, "I enjoyed making 'Galaxy Quest' so much, and it was so close to what was in my imagination, and so close to what [screenwriter] Bob Gordon wrote, that I think that we didn't want to mess it up by doing another one."
The impact of "Galaxy Quest" was so far reaching, J.J. Abrams admitted that it helped shape how he reinvented "Star Trek" for his 2009 reboot. When asked about the impact of his film, Parisot admitted, "I'm both flattered and amazed, actually... It seems like "Galaxy Quest" has definitely I guess sustained itself somehow. It's absolutely the most fun I've had making a movie, so I'm happy that that's true. But I would say J.J. doesn't need any influence from me to be successful."
"RED 2" hits theaters on August 2.