Septuagenarian Siren

22nd September 2017

Trailblazer, hellraiser, and the glamorous recipient of one of the acting world’s most exclusive accolades, Dame Helen Mirren has remained an almost mythological figure on stage and screen throughout her decades-long career. And she’s showing little sign of slowing down, with no fewer than four new films in the offing. Ian Faulconbridge finds out more…

For someone whose name is now synonymous with the glamorous world of Hollywood, it took a good while for Helen Mirren to make her breakthrough on-screen. That role – as Jane Tennison in long-running police drama Prime Suspect – came in 1991, some two-and-a-half decades on from her earliest performances on stage and screen.

But the acclaim that was showered upon Mirren for her powerful portrayal of Tennison was a testament to the talent that she’d been treading the boards with in primarily, Shakespearean fare, for years prior. And, in the current pantheon of Hollywood greats, Mirren’s inclusion is now a given, thanks to virtuoso performances in films such as The Queen, The Madness of King George and The Station, to name but a few.

And with her filmography growing ever-longer, 72-year-old Mirren’s standing in contemporary cinema makes her one of Hollywood’s most coveted stars, even if the septuagenarian siren doesn’t see herself as particularly remarkable.

“I live in the present, and the only thing that occasionally strikes me as regards age is that I’m surprised when, for whatever reason, I am momentarily aware of it!” she laughs. “I ask myself, ‘Where has my life gone?’ Then I simply appreciate that I’ve worked hard and tried to do interesting things over the course of it. When I was in my twenties, my only goal was to become an actress and be able to earn my living at it.”

In this last regard, such humility goes no way to covering just quite how successful Mirren has been. As the recipient of Emmy, Tony and Academy Awards, she is one of the few performers to have secured the prestigious Triple Crown of Acting. And much like her Prime Suspect character, Tennison, she has had to carve out a place for herself in a notoriously male-dominated world… for the police force, read ‘Hollywood’.

Now as fearless an advocate of equality as ever, Mirren is beginning to see some positive change when it comes to the women who have walked in her shoes since.

“Times are changing and slowly there is more recognition that women need to occupy a larger and more important place in film, as in other levels of society, such as politics and industry,” she agrees. “More roles for women in film will also follow as a natural result of that. But a woman has to be active – it’s not enough to wonder why there are no roles for you. You need to fight. Women have always had to fight.”

Mirren may seem offhand about the perceived impact she has had on female stars of the future by virtue of her meteoric rise amidst a masculine hegemony. And when it comes to her widely held status as one of cinema’s most glamorous women, she remains idiosyncratically practical.

“When I was younger the aesthetic model for British girls was Twiggy and I suffered in that I was never stick-thin,” she laughs. “I’m a great admirer of beauty and sexiness, although I don’t think I’m that kind of a woman… Of course, it is flattering to be perceived as having some sort of sex appeal, but in my case, I think it’s more my force of personality, and some people find that sexy I suppose. At least it’s helped me find roles where I’m playing a more dynamic kind of woman, than those where you tend to be more subservient or retiring.”

Mirren’s dynamism is surely undoubted – and her legacy will endure long into the annals of film history. But she remains discontented as ever to rest on her laurels, and is always looking to the next project which to grace with her awe-inspiring presence. As it stands, that next big screen release is going to be The Leisure Seeker, a glorious and uplifting road trip of sorts, in which she stars alongside the legendary Donald Sutherland.

Past that, films Winchester and The Nutcracker and the Four Realms are both in post-production, while Berlin, I Love You is a much whispered about anthology feature film comprising ten romantic stories, with Mirren joined by other cinematic heavyweights such as Jared Leto, Keira Knightley, Gemma Arterton, Orlando Bloom and Mickey Rourke.

“When it comes to choosing the next role, I usually try to find something opposite to the one I’ve just played,” Mirren says. “And over the years, I’ve always been inclined towards taking risks and playing extravagant or extreme characters. I think as an actor it’s important to shake the tree a little.

“You can never judge those films that are going to turn out well and those where everything goes wrong.  Every film and every performance you give is subject to interpretation, and no performance is ever perfect.  So that keeps you on edge and it inspires you to keep pushing yourself… and that’s what I’m going to carry on doing.”

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