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Seen and Heard in New York: Helen Mirren, Renee Fleming, Chuck Close

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Actress Helen Mirren, interviewed by Annette Insdorf, director of undergraduate film studies at Columbia University, at the 92nd St. Y www.92y.org in New York:

On the making of Shakespeare's The Tempest, in which Mirren stars in the newly female character of Prospera; the film will have its Nortth American premiere at the New York Film Festival on October 2:

I think Julie (Taymor, director of The Tempest) synonymously had the same idea (to turn the character of Prospero into Prospera). I'd just seen The Tempest, a wonderful actor playing Prospero, and as I'd been watching it I'd been thinking, actually this could be played by a woman, you really wouldn't have to change very much, it would work really well as a woman. I'd been thinking in the back of my mind, maybe one day I'll go to someone and say 'Why don't we do The Tempest and I'll play Prospero,' I thought in the theater.

Very shortly after that I met Julie Taymor for the first time. I told her how much I admired her, and she said we must work together sometime, what would you like to do. I said I'd been thinking it would be kind of fun to do The Tempest, thinking, again, for the theater. She said absolutely, I'd love to do that, I've directed it twice already in the theater, I always thought it would work well with a woman. End of story. She went away.

About a year later she calls up and she says, OK are you still up for it, because I think we're going to do it. I said that's great, where, thinking the Atlantic Theater. She said I've got the money to make a movie. I was absolutely gobstruck and terrified. But it was a great, great experience.

Discussing making thrillers, like the upcoming Red, compared to more intimate, smaller-scale films:

Sometimes they're more fun. It's just great to be able to mix it up. Very often in the smaller films I have the weight of the film sometimes on my shoulders, I feel that responsibility. In those big films, I'm just one. It's great to be number five on the call sheet, not number one, because you can relax a bit.

Renee Fleming, opera star and performer on the recently released indie rock CD Dark Hope, in conversation with Nimet Habachy, the lecturer, writer and broadcaster, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art:

I love jazz, I sang jazz in college, I still am an avid fan. I love Joni Mitchell, I have very eclectic taste in music. I was exposed to a lot because my parents were music teachers. My mother would dress my sister and I in costumes. We'd perform Susie Snowflake. We had a performance ethic in my family, we'd perform in churches, nursing homes, schools. At dinner we'd discuss their students, I'd sit in on their lessons as a toddler.

I was in The Sound of Music in seventh grade, they called me Mother Abscess. I sang Eliza Doolittle in eighth grade.

Having a Fulbright grant, speaking languages fluently has been very important. I don't know how I could be a convincing Marschallin (in Die Rosenkavalier), sing lieder without languages.

Supertitles and HD broadcasts are the two greatest things since I started performing. People can now experience operas at the highest level all over the world.

Paris is one city where I can relax. Something about Paris lends itself to a slower speed, people put life before work there.

Singing and raising my two daughters has been the focus of my life.

Painter Chuck Close in conversation with Christopher Finch, author of Chuck Close Work, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art:

There was no such thing as dyslexia in the 1940's-1950's. I was not academic, I couldn't add and subtract, I didn't know multiplication tables, I was not athletic, there was a lot of clumsiness.

My father died when I was 11. We moved to Everett (Washington) next to my grandparents. My mother worked, she was unbelievably phobic, she was a high-strung, nervous woman. She would quilt, crochet, knit. It would calm her, kept her from being as hysterical as she would otherwise be. It occurred to me recently that she built big, complicated things out of incremental units, exactly the way I work myself. It keeps me calm knowing that I'm signing onto a process for the next several months, knowing what I'm going to do.

I have an inability to recognize faces. Everything I do in my work is a direct outgrowth of my disabilities.

I have an almost photographic memory of things that are flat.

In America, teaching and testing and getting scores up are the most important thing schools can do. Schools are diverting money from the arts and putting it into remedial education. Everyone deserves the right to feel special. If I had not had art and music, I would have dropped out of school, if I'd not gone to Yale (where he received a BFA and MFA), I would have gone to jail.