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Helen MirrenHelen Mirren | Morning Becomes Her
an emily blunt interview



Giddy as a gal who stumbled across George Clooney's changing room at the gym, I skipped into the trendy sheik hotel in Los Angeles to meet yet another legend - Helen Mirren. Known primarily for upper crust Brits that sit straight up and quietly judge your every move- the "real" Ms. Mirren is polar opposite. Get all the Gosford's Park roles and such right out of your head…

In fact her latest soiree on film, the delightful Calendar Girls, has Helen playing a character that has a bit more of her spark beneath the costume. And - get this Mirren followers - it's a comedy!

Helen is presently back on stage in a grueling production riddled with mega-stage-talents at The National in London. She has taken on the role of Christine Mannon in Eugene O'Neill's (other) behemoth 'Mourning Becomes Electra'. Mannon is a "ripe" woman who has the audacity to have a "young" lover in post civil war days to the tantrum tizzy seizures of her jealous daughter. It's really Oresteia set in puritan New England…but back to Helen:

Helen: Hello!

Emily: Hello! You're outfit is beautiful!

Helen: Thank you, it's an amalgamate if bits and pieces.

Emily: When you are playing someone who is real, and of course still alive, do you feel it's better to meet them to get a bit of their spirit?

Helen: My first reaction with this [Calendar Girls] was, "I just want to play the character that is on the page." I'm not interested that she's a real person out there somewhere. I am interested in as I see her from the page- I think Nigel [Cole - the director] had the right approach too. He didn't want us to do an impersonation of the people. The film, although based on the truth, it does take dramatic license…for example, the real Chris didn't have a son [at home], hers was at college by the time this thing happened. She didn't have a flower shop. Having said that, when I did meet the real women, as you were saying, it was terribly important to take that spirit "on board" till you do meet them you can't believe they had quite that much fun…

Emily: [In the film a "mature" group of women pose "naked" for a calendar - hence the name - and become famous] What do think - if anything - it says about society that these women become famous for just taking their clothes off - essentially.

Helen: Good point. I mean I don't know if it says something specific about British society. The real Britain is always a little raunchier than anyone ever really understands. People have a schizophrenic idea of what England is…there's this stiff upper lip Prince Charles England, then there's the punk rock, cutting edge fashion - Monty Python, Peter Greenaway. Parts of Britain are just…wild…for lack of a better word.

Emily: So, what makes Calendar Girls special? There's such a bright buzz about on this film.

Helen: Obviously it's a film that celebrates women. Not just physically but emotionally. These are great women. It is a film a lot of men enjoy - and it's a film groups of women love to go see together of course.

Emily: How was it actually taking the photos for the "calendar' the scenes? Was it hard?

Helen: I think the hardest was Celia - she was the first. [laughter] We were all like clucking hens around Celia - terribly protective. We were a bit overly protective and eventually you've got to say, "Oh, come on just get on with it! Take it off. You're not being tortured here!" Not that Celia was behaving so, I mean professionally. We were all a bit nervous. As each person did their shots - it took about two weeks - we'd all gather in Celia's dressing room and we'd always have five or six bottles of champagne and we would toast the person who'd just done their shot. Let them talk about it. We'd make them feel good - tell each other, "You looked gorgeous. You looked fantastic!" And so we transformed it into a fun thing!

Emily: They make a point of pointing out these women - who are now a bit dull - were children of the sixties, the flower children era. Do you relate to that?

Helen: Interesting - I don't...they were children of the sixties. I didn't get the feeling they were children of the sixties in the sense that they smoked dope, dropped out and did all that. There was a whole part of society that didn't engage in all of that. I personally DID! I was an artist I followed a different route. These were women, who got married, had children lived in tiny towns-they were not drop out children at all. So, though they were historically children of that generation, I don't think they were philosophically of that generation. There's one of them that has obviously got a bit of that history- she has the tattoo and the black child - who's either hers or adopted. She's obviously had a bit of a past. The point was not about the historical reference it was the fact that they had fantastic, exuberant and fun filled personalities.

Emily: And soul. Inside the crusts they're fun

Helen: Yes, and soul! And fun exactly.

Emily: This film celebrates the womens' comfort with their lives as well - they aren't trying to "get away" and leave their lives - it's realistic. Is that a British indie trend?

Helen: No. Or at least what I think is...people who live in Yorkshire are incredibly proud of where they live and where they come from. They're always sort of yearning to go back if they do leave. They're very straightforward and specific. Um, I do know Nigel always said, "I want this to be a big picture." In other words he really wanted to celebrate the sort of glory of that Yorkshire countryside. To our discredit we think everything happens in say New York or Los Angeles…and Britain is really a small Island, we always think London. But the rural community is a very powerful political area, a powerful economic area and an important part of Britain. It is what keeps Britain going, actually.

Emily: How true. Nearly every big-budget Hollywood film is set in New York City or Los Angeles - but - ironically it's the Fargos that stay with us years after. How was it to be on a predominantly girl film? Were you reminded of school days?

Helen: Yes! It was just like being at school - except better because there was no homework - and we could drink at night [laughter]. You know as an "actress" you mostly spend your life with men. [laughter] Most plays, films - everything - is 85% men. There's a couple of little tiny women in the corner sort of thing. Almost all of my professional life has been spent with men. It's wonderful - they're wonderful - but this was really good fun to be with a big group of women! It the first time, actually, in my career. We had a great time. More like college a dorm.

Emily: [ Wasn't Helen linked to studly doright Ralph Fiennes at one point? Or was it that gargantuan gorgeous manly man Liam Neeson pre-Richardson?] Hmm. 85% men - I need to get into your end of the field! [laughter]. Did you all get drunk and rowdy?

Helen: [laughter] They did! They got drunk in the bar! I wasn't in the hotel. I rented a house. Which was just as well! I was separate from nights in the bar at the hotel [laughter]. They did have quite a few nights there.

Emily: Now you are very different here as Chris. I mean a more "Mirrenish" role would have been say, the other protagonist "Annie" that Julie Walters plays.

Helen: Absolutely - it was sort of casting cross type - and I was thrilled. I'm more like Chris in my real personality. But I am very rarely asked to play that! It was wonderful to play something were I could let it all hang out.

Emily: Literally! You think this movie will open your doors to more witty, if not naked, roles now?

Helen: [laughter] Maybe. Hopefully. But those people do have absolutely no imagination in the end - but yes maybe it will. I'm very into to comedy. I am doing a four and a half hour serious play at present in London. It's called 'Mourning Becomes Electra'.

Emily: That's hardly comedy! [laughter] I am sorry I will not get to see it- you.

Helen: It's a fantastic production. A massive success! Come over!

Emily: I wish.

Helen: It's such a big success, we'll probably bring it back.

Emily: Broadway bound?

Helen: I doubt we'll do it on Broadway partly because we cant do it eight times a week - I don't think we can even do it six times a week! It's exhausting.

Emily: I am quite sure - and not just physically. So what do the different avenues of your career give you? I mean to even bother to take on a 4 ½ O'Neill? Wow.

Helen: Well, film gives me money [laughter] and theater gives me pain and self-doubt - and you know - which is the better? And television gives me fame.


Wait. Did she say, "Come over" in an all-expenses invite way??? I'm kidding. But can you imagine this talent in an O'Neill? Ah, the wilderness of my mind danced a bit…for a moment lost in some long journey…

Helen's great fun. We chatted on for a bit and off she went to pretty up for more film promoting. Calendar Girls is a fun film. Helen shows she can be witty and show the ti **y. She's a thespian force to be sure.


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