Helen Mirren / Getty Images
With a résumé filled with every major acting award, a royal title of Dame bestowed upon her by the Queen of England, and a still-booming career on stage and screen, Helen Mirren is in the enviable position of being able to do whatever she damn well pleases.
Even better, the 69-year-old star of such films as The Queen and TV shows like Prime Suspect can also say whatever she pleases — as evidenced recently by a frank (and often quite funny) conversation we had recently in support of Woman in Gold, the new drama from My Week With Marilyn director Simon Curtis. The film, which is based on a true story, features Mirren as Maria Altmann, a Jewish woman who fled Austria at the outset of the Holocaust, only to return six decades later to reclaim the paintings of her aunt that the Nazis stole from her childhood home.
In the sixty years since Altmann fled the genocide, the paintings — created by the celebrated artist Gustav Klimt — became the pride and joy of Austria, and the government’s reluctance to part with the precious artwork led to a showdown in the U.S. Supreme Court and then an Austrian high court. The improbable story owes to Altmann’s brave determination and the tireless work of a young lawyer (played in the film by Ryan Reynolds).
Yahoo Movies spoke with Mirren about everything from Woman in Gold to Vin Diesel to the Queen (whom she’s playing again, this time in the Broadway show The Audience) to “manspreading” on the subway.
The big movie of March is Insurgent, and it seems that the film industry is focusing more and more on big franchise movies. Does that make it harder at all to find good parts?
I love the fact that female teenagers are finally being catered for, though. Finally, you’re getting great female teenaged heroines, and as far as I can see, that’s what Divergent is. I love that, I think that’s great. And they want to go to the cinema, bless them, thank God. I can come along and play the baddie.
My great ambition is to be in a Fast and Furious movie. I so want to be a mad driver in a Fast and Furious movie. My claim to fame is I always do my own driving — I was on Top Gear, and I did [my lap] in a very good time. I keep putting it out there, and they never ask me. I’ll be in Fast and Furious 8. I have to say Vin Diesel is brilliant. I love Vin Diesel. He’s a great guy, smart — I love him. It’s partly because of him I’d like to be in one, but also the driving. I’d also love to do another Red-type movie, because those are such fun to do.
Are they going to do a third Red?
I don’t think so. But I would love it if they did, or [did] something similar.
Just a movie in which you can carry around a big ol’ gun.
That’s right. Though it’s terrible, really — I’m anti-gun.
Well, at least the gun violence is exaggerated in a movie like that.
I guess. But still, people live in weird little fantasy worlds. It’s unfortunate. Minds are very dodgy little things. They can be pushed in any direction very easily.
Do you think about that how people will react when you take a movie?
Yes, I do. Absolutely. I won’t do anything that demeans women in a particularly unattractive and insulting sort of way.
You want to send out a positive message.
Absolutely. Push the world forward, not the world back.
The woman you play in Woman in Gold, Maria Altmann, was like that — she wanted to push the world forward.
She was great. She was smart, she was feisty, she was difficult, she was funny, and she was very dignified. The true description of an aristocrat, I would say.
Unfortunately, she was unable to actually be an aristocrat.
She dealt with that, and she dealt with it really well and made a life for herself. She had not a hugely successful business, but a successful business. And she never left that little bungalow she lived in. The money was spread amongst the family. I’m sure she died a wealthy woman, but she didn’t suddenly buy a huge house in Beverly Hills.
It’d be too much work. I have a one-bedroom apartment and that’s too much.
You’re a boy. You need a girl. I’m not saying she should do all the housework, but nesting is easy when there’s two of you.
I feel more responsible to clean up so she doesn’t think I’m disgusting.
You must do that. If you take any girl back there, just wash up, make the bed. Clean sheets above all. Fluff and fold is brilliant. I love fluff and fold.
What’s fluff and fold?
You don’t know? It’s when you take your washing to the laundrette and they fluff and fold it. You just drop it off, it comes back all beautifully neat, washed and folded.
That sounds very regal. Like being the Queen, whom you’re now playing on Broadway. Has your opinion of Queen Elizabeth changed between when you played her in The Queen and now?
I didn’t really have an opinion about her before. I did think, “Oh, she could smile a bit more. Is it so difficult to smile? You are living an incredibly luxurious life, would it be hard to smile?” But apart from that, she was like Big Ben: Always there. You drive past, [and] there’s Big Ben, lovely and alone. You never really think, “How does Big Ben work? Who cleans it? What goes inside Big Ben?” Can you go up there? I have no idea.
So I had to look at this Queen and think, “What goes on in there? Why doesn’t she smile? What’s the working on the inside?” And so of course my opinion of her changed. I understand why she doesn’t smile: Because she’s not a celebrity star or a movie star. Smiling is not what she needs to do. She needs to be there and be composed and dignified and make sure her skirt never flies up, [or that] her hat never flies off. She’s got to turn up on time and be gracious and polite to people. Smiling is not what she has to do. In fact, on the contrary, it’s better that she doesn’t smile. She doesn’t need to ingratiate.
Have you heard what she thinks of the movie or play?
No. We’ll never know. I’m just grateful that I don’t live in Iran and am being executed for it. I’m allowed to do it, which is brilliant.
Watch the trailer for ‘Woman in Gold’ below: