Honestly, what can't Helen Mirren do? Be boring — that's for sure. Not only does the Oscar-winning Brit have a resume so far from expected, the number of characters Mirren has portrayed boggles the mind as well. She exhibits no problem posing in her birthday suit, dying her hair pink, or wearing "stripper" high heels to a red-carpet premiere. The confidence and poise that she brings to each role is merely an extension of her own bad self — even if that means playing a foul-mouthed assassin.
Who knew the woman who once played Queen Elizabeth II could wield a gun and throw a punch like a real secret agent? Viewers might forget they're watching a tried-and-true Dame during RED 2, as Mirren plays a vicious MI-6 operative who knows how to kill. She is, for lack of a better word, a true badass — something she's reveling in as Red 2 gears up for its opening weekend. (And consider yourself warned: If the descriptor "badass" is offensive or disturbing to you in any way, you might want to stop reading now.
What's the reaction your fans are having to your role in RED 2?
“Well, the word 'badass' gets thrown around quite frequently. To lurch from being the Queen to a badass is very cool. It’s lovely to reprise a character. The character always takes on a different kind of life when you come back to it. It’s like when I did Prime Suspect and I kept coming back to Jane Tennyson. It’s funny, somehow the characters become a part of your personal life. That's how I feel about Victoria.”
What's the best kind of outfit for combat?
“I think killing in formal wear is fine, as long as you've got the right shoes on. There’s a sequence in the first film where we’ve got this bag of combat boots — that was completely my idea. I said, ‘No woman can do this kind of job in high-heeled shoes; you cannot run!. I told the directors, 'If you’re going to be serious about it, I want her to get the right shoes on.”
Let's imagine the Red movies happened years ago, what classic film stars can you see playing these roles?
“Cary Grant would have been wonderful in Red, wouldn’t he? He’s got that wit and relaxation. I’m a huge admirer of Cary Grant. He would have been fabulous. I think Bette Davis would have done a wonderful Victoria at some point or other. She would have been incredible! Those would have been my two favorites. I’d have liked to see Cary Grant and Bette Davis together — that would have been interesting. Also Barbara Stanwyck, I’m a great fan of Barbara Stanwyck’s. Oh, Doris Day, too, because you’ve got the whole unexpected thing there. You wouldn't expect her to do this, but then she would.”
What are your thoughts on retirement?
“You have your dream of what it’s going to be like to be retired. My husband and I have been building this house in Italy that’s sort of like our retirement dream, but I don't know whether we’ll actually ever retire or not. It’s hard to let go of our business. It’s also hard to let go of the attention you get. You don’t think that you’re addicted, or in love with the attention. You think it doesn’t mean anything to you until you suddenly don’t get it. You go, ‘Why isn’t everyone asking me questions and taking photos of me?’ It’s no wonder people are so obsessed with putting themselves up on Facebook, and stuff like that. It’s their way of saying, ‘I exist,’ because they're in some sort of media. I don't know, maybe it would be lovely to retire in the end."
How have you and your husband managed to stay together so long?
“I think we work well because we had the advantage of coming upon each other quite later in life. I asked him when we got together, ‘Why didn’t we get together when we were in our 20s? We missed all of that time!’ He said, ‘If we got together in our twenties, we wouldn’t be together now.’ And he was absolutely right! When you’re in your 20s, you're so busy pursuing your goals, your dreams, and your profession. There wasn’t room in either of our lives at that point for our relationship. So we were very lucky that we met when we did, and I think that’s part of the success. By then we learned what both of us needed in a relationship. We've honed the ability to continue working and have recognized that need in the other person; to give the other person the freedom, the liberty, and encouragement to go and practice our respective professions. We’ve always given each other complete support and freedom in that, and the unconditional praise, not criticism — we get enough that in the world. We get brick bats thrown at us all the time. That doesn’t mean we don’t have our rows. We do! But in terms of work, all I want to hear is, 'Darling, that was brilliant,' and vice versa.
RED 2 opens July 19.
Photo: Courtesy of Summit Entertainment / Frank Masi.