It's a little-known fact that the actress -- who plays the Countess Sofya Tolstoy, the wife and muse of the eccentric author Leo Tolstoy, in the upcoming 'The Last Station' -- grew up in her working class British household hearing stories of her Russian grandfather and her family's Eastern European roots. Helen Mirren's Russian ancestry brought her and her sister face-to-face with the business end of loaded Kalishnokov assault rifles on a recent trip to her relatives' ancestral land.
It's a little-known fact that the actress -- who plays the Countess Sofya Tolstoy, the wife and muse of the eccentric author Leo Tolstoy, in the upcoming 'The Last Station' -- grew up in her working class British household hearing stories of her Russian grandfather and her family's Eastern European roots.
She tells Moviefone exclusively, "I am of Russian descent, but I wasn't specifically aware of the Tolstoyan movement or this historical moment in their lives. I was very much brought up being told stories of Russia of that era by my grandfather and being shown pictures. My grandfather had six sisters who were thrown out of their estates and suffered greatly because of the revolution. His mother was a countess and he became a London taxi cabdriver."
About three months before shooting began for 'The Last Station,' Mirren seized the opportunity to delve into her family's rich Russian history. She came upon a startling discovery that led to her family's country estate. She explains, "My grandfather's sisters had written him letters from 1918 through to the early '30s when Stalin came in and they couldn't write anymore, so I fairly recently had all those letters translated. For the first time I read their story through these letters which was an amazing moment for me. My sister and I had a research journalist in Moscow who found the descendants of those women and indeed had found the location of our country estate. So my sister and I went back to Russia and met with our relatives of these descendants and then went to our country estate."
Their excitement quickly turned to fear when they were greeted by armed Russian bodyguards. A young wealthy Russian had just bought the land from the local community and fiercely protected his new investment. Mirren recalls, "He said, 'Yes, you can come and see my land.'
But when we arrived he had two bodyguards with Kalishnokovs [assault rifles]. I think he thought my sister and I were gonna storm back onto our land! As we stepped onto the land, which was an incredible, moment he said, 'Welcome to my land.' And I said to him, 'Welcome to my land!'"
'The Last Station' opens Friday, January 15th.