She's won every acting award there is, reigned onscreen as three different queens and since 2003 has served as a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire. Needless to say, Dame Helen Mirren is a living treasure of stage and screen, and had been long before becoming a household name on this side of the Atlantic with her Academy Award-winning turn in 2006's 'The Queen.'
Still, it's been particularly gratifying to see Mirren shrug off that Oscar-anointed monarchic image in the last few years, in which we've seen her gallivant around Mt. Rushmore ('National Treasure: Book of Secrets'), dazzle as the wife of Tolstoy ('The Last Station'), embark on an affair with a younger man while running a brothel ('Love Ranch') and voice an icy, evil animated owl ('Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole'). (Of course, she's no stranger to making daring artistic choices or embracing her seductive side; look no further than Tinto Brass's 'Caligula' for proof.)
Cinematical was honored to sit briefly with Dame Helen Mirren to discuss gun control, Harvey Pekar, and her role in this week's action comedy 'Red,' in which she continues to surprise and delight as an ex-sniper pulled out of cozy retirement alongside Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman and John Malkovich.
One of the highlights of 'Red' is the image of you wielding automatic weapons. Was that as fun for you to shoot as it is for us watch?
Helen Mirren: I know, everyone loves that! 'Oh, what's the Queen doing with a gun?' Do you know what? This is a big secret. I'm only going to tell you; you mustn't tell anyone else. [Whispers] I'm not the Queen. I'm an actress. [Laughs] But yes, they are going to enjoy that, absolutely. It was a great character, a lovely character – very cool, very relaxed, a professional. Someone who is obviously very good at what she did. She doesn't make a big deal out of it. To her, she's not Miss Action Woman, she's just a sniper. It's what she did. She says, 'I kill people, dear.' Sorry about that, but there you go. So it was a lovely character, I must say.
How did this character and this script find its way to you?
You never quite know what happens backstage, but it just came in the script from my agent. In the classic way. And I was just so excited when I got it because of 'The Queen,' because it was so different. I've done a lot of small budget movies, independent movies, interesting subjects, but it's great to do a big studio film. I loved 'National Treasure' for the same reason, incidentally.
It wasn't your first time packing heat onscreen, but you got to handle an array of combat weapons as Victoria, sniper extraordinaire. Did you enjoy the thrill of shooting all those guns in 'Red?'
[I shot] quite a lot, of all different sizes. I'm not conflicted about guns, but I'm contradictory. I enjoy shooting them on a range, with a proper target. But the idea of taking a gun into any kind of a public situation, or indeed, private situation ... I'd never have a gun in my home. An absolutely disastrous idea. And this whole argument of self defense makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. The only way to carry a gun for self defense is to have it constantly loaded, safety lock off, in your pocket. And if that's the case, what you're most likely to do is shoot your own balls off. It's a completely idiotic argument as far as I'm concerned.
Some audiences might be surprised to see you shooting bad guys in 'Red' or running a brothel as you did in 'Love Ranch' earlier this year, but your career has been consistently diverse.
It's great to be able to mix it up a bit. I'm so privileged to have that opportunity. I've done a lot of contradictory things before 'The Queen' as well, if you look at my filmography. It's very varied, actually. And a lot of it is quite out there as well. I've done very traditional sorts of things and I've done quite radical things. I've always been up for a bit of adventure in film making.
What do you make of the idea that you've become a sex symbol to a new generation that's come to know you later in your career? And what do you say to the idea of the term "cougar?"
Well, I like the fact that it's at least thought of as a concept. I mean, that's cool. I don't much like the idea of a word for it; I'm not quite sure what cougar actually means. A sort of sexually predatory woman, chasing after younger men? What's the male equivalent? There isn't one.
When you came to Comic-Con earlier this year, you wore a custom shirt dedicated to Harvey Pekar. Can you share the story behind that?
I had it made for [Comic-Con], out of respect for Harvey Pekar who I thought was a great, great artist. A great revolutionary, in a way, in the world of graphic novels. I'm not sure anybody did what he did before he did it. I've been a fan for about ten, fifteen years. I wasn't turned on to him right at the very beginning of his career, but I caught up with him and as soon as I was exposed to his world he opened my eyes as to what a graphic novel, what graphic art, could be.
'Red' opens nationwide today.