Helen Mirren: 'The Debt' Star On Her Regrets And Shakespearean Dreams
At age 66, Dame Helen Mirren shows no signs of slowing down. The woman who wowed the world while rocking a red bikini a couple of years ago has “The Debt” out in theaters now and “The Tempest” recently released on DVD. Mirren spoke to HuffPost Celebrity from New Orleans where she was tagging along while her husband, Taylor Hackford, directs a movie.
HuffPost: You’re in “The Debt,” which opened in theaters last month. What drew you to the film?
Helen Mirren: An interesting role in an interesting movie. It’s kind of a grown-up movie, for want of a better word.
HuffPost: I love the themes it plays on memory and forgiveness.
Mirren: Yes, and guilt as well. It’s very much about guilt and making mistakes when you’re young and having to pay for those mistakes when you’re older.
HuffPost: Do you have any regrets?
Mirren: Of course, lots of them. Usually they’re mistakes of omission. Having omitted to do something that you should have really done either through selfishness or laziness or whatever.
HuffPost: You’re also in “The Tempest,” which just came out on DVD. You basically play the boy role.
Mirren: Well, yes, I played the man role. Shakespeare very often had boys dressed as girls but not so often women dressed as men, but I play it as a woman. I don’t play it as a man.
HuffPost: Did you take the role because you thought it would be interesting to switch things around?
Mirren: No, it was an idea that I had, that that particular role could be played as a woman. It would just give a new take on the relationships in the play. Shakespeare is such an extraordinary writer -- you can do all kinds of things with him and the core of the piece stays strong, but you do get different reverberations through the play. I’ve seen “Henry V,” for example, played by a black actor which gave it a whole different kind of feeling and again in “The Tempest,” Prospero can be played as a woman.
HuffPost: Did you do Shakespeare when you were younger?
Mirren: I did a lot of Shakespeare. I started off with Shakespeare. I loved it. As a young actress I wanted to be a Shakespearean actress. It’s the most demanding of all the acting that you can ever get to do.
HuffPost: When I interviewed Alan Cumming for “The Tempest,” he said the cast had so much fun, having hot tubs after work.
Mirren: (Laughs) I don’t remember the hot tubs together. Maybe that happened when I was trying to build up my energy for the next day. But yes, it was a great experience because it was a fantastic cast and we were shooting in Hawaii -- what could be better than that?
HuffPost: I would have chosen it just for that.
Mirren: Yes, exactly, you’re right. Location is extremely important.
HuffPost: I don’t know how actors learn their lines for Shakespeare. I would never, ever be able to do that.
Mirren: Learning “The Tempest” was the hardest thing. I knew I had to learn the whole thing before I shot any film so I learned the whole play. It took me about two months of solid learning every day. You just sit down and do it. It’s time consuming, you just go over it and over it and over it. Eight-year-old children learn the Quran by heart. The human brain has the capability of doing it. It’s just a matter of knuckling down and doing it.
HuffPost: When I was studying, I’d reward myself with a treat at the end of the day like a chocolate biscuit. Did you ever do that?
Mirren: (Laughs) More like a vodka.
HuffPost: You project such an aura of confidence in your acting.
Mirren: I’m not that confident. I’m really not. I’m fraught with self-doubt and self-questioning. Maybe I’ve gotten better at hiding it or maybe I don’t ultimately care so much anymore that I don’t have any confidence, if you know what I mean. It doesn’t rack me in the way it used to. I’m resigned to it, let’s put it that way.