Helen Mirren: The Queen loosens up

Oscar-winning actress Dame Helen Mirren has a powerful presence. In person or on screen, Mirren attracts focus like a magnet whether playing the Queen of England, a stressed-out police inspector (TV’s Prime Suspect series), or in her new film Love Ranch, the feisty owner of a 1970’s Nevada brothel.

Helen Mirren and her husband, director Taylor HackfordLove Ranch focuses on Grace and Charlie Bontempo (Helen Mirren and Joe Pesci), a husband-wife team whose relationship changes drastically when a macho boxer (Sergio Peris-Mencheta) is brought into their lives to train as part of Charlie’s attempt to expand his empire. The love triangle that results is steamy and very destructive.

Every time we see Helen Mirren, she looks classy and very fashionable. The last time, the gorgeous-in-her-60’s blonde was rebelling against her dowdy wardrobe for The Queen. On our current interview day, we first spotted Mirren leaning against a hotel room doorframe with a cup of tea in hand for her husband, Love Ranch director Taylor Hackford, who was finishing up his own chat with the press.

After listening to Taylor Hackford, who had no idea she was standing there, sing her praises, Helen Mirren entered our interview wearing a gorgeous black v-neck, knee-length cocktail dress by Italian fashion house Costume National, black pumps with gold trim and a ton of gorgeous pearls.

She handed the tea to her hubby and whispered something in his ear. We felt we were intruding upon a romantic private moment. It was glorious. Helen Mirren is now in a very cheery mood. Who wouldn’t be after overhearing their husband’s massive flattery? Let’s talk hot love scenes and posing topless with…The Queen.

The Dame speaks

SheKnows: We have to know, when Joe Pesci, playing your husband, delivers that line, “Who does she think she is? The Queen?” It was hilarious. Whose idea was that?
Helen Mirren: Well, we’d planned it. We planned it in the car while we were waiting. The shot was that Joe and I drive up in the car, park the car and get out all in one shot with dialogue, walking in. So obviously when we constantly reset, we have to go back and sit in the car again, ready to drive up. So, Joe and I are sitting in the car and we kind of cooked it up between us. So it wasn’t an improvised line essentially. It was something that we cooked up between us.

Love Ranch stars Joe Pesci and Helen Mirren

SheKnows: Just a gem. Did you cook up anything else that your husband the director wasn’t expecting?

Helen Mirren: [Laughs] I think that was the only one. This sort of thing happens all the time on film sets. That’s the nature of filmmaking. That’s what you do. And then we did a couple of takes without that line in so that Taylor would obviously have a choice.

SheKnows: You are pretty hot in this film. Were you looking for a role that would showcase your femininity and sexuality after making such an opposite impression as The Queen?

Helen Mirren: Well, I have to say that you look for your next piece of work to be as different from your last piece of work as possible because that way you keep interested and hopefully you keep the audience interested. It’s a bit of a poisoned chalice to be that kind of an actor because the audience, especially a film audience, really wants you to be the same thing over and over and over again because that’s what they’re familiar with and the great big movie stars, that’s really what they were. Maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration but the audience are kind of pushing you towards being the same thing. They like you like that so let’s see more of that kind of feeling. If you want to be a certain kind of actor, you have to resist that and fight against it even if sometimes it’s not in your own self-interest. I look for something that’s different and this was different from The Queen. But, it’s not about sexuality or even femininity. It’s the milieu. It’s the toughness of a profoundly working class woman. The Queen obviously is a profoundly aristocratic woman — so it’s those differences more.

All the world’s a stage for Helen Mirren

SheKnows: Do you make time for stage work because those audiences don’t come in with the same preconceptions about you?
Helen Mirren in Love Ranch

Helen Mirren: I think so, yes, I think it is why I always go back to the theater.

SheKnows: So, did you meet any brothel-owning “madams” to research for the role?

Helen Mirren: Honestly, the great thing about what we do, the thing that I love most about my job is that it takes me to the most unexpected places, places that I would never dream that I would ever be. Along comes a role and it takes you to that place. One of the places that I’ve been taken to is the inside of a brothel in Nevada and to be introduced to a pretty extraordinary woman — Susan Austin — very elegant, very gracious, very smart, very businesslike. If you met her on the street you’d think that she was the CEO of a cosmetics company. She was a revelation to me and it was great to meet her.

SheKnows: Was your love scene with hot Sergio (Peris-Mencheta) harder for your husband the director, you, the wife of the director or for Sergio?

Helen Mirren: I have done those scenes quite a few times and I think in general it’s harder for the guy. But that’s a great generalization. Taylor was great. He was absolutely straightforward and practical about it. He might as well be shooting a scene about washing up. “We’re going to be shooting here. This is what we’re going to see. This is what we’re not going to see. Okay, you lie down there. I’ll shoot it from here.” Incredibly straightforward about it, which really helped, I think, both Sergio and I. I know it’s really hard for people and it’s always the question that people ask. Always. I can understand why because, to you, kissing is an intimacy, sex is an intimacy and it’s something that you only do with your loved one or maybe on a drunken night with someone you don’t love, but it’s still very intimate.

Helen Mirren in Love Ranch

The thought of doing it with a complete stranger that you’re not intimate with in that sense, people cannot get their heads around it. I’ve often walked into a room and within ten minutes I’m kissing a complete stranger or I’m in some fumbling sex scene because we’re rehearsing or we’re auditioning or whatever. We’re used to that. We do that. That’s our jobs. It’s natural. It’s easy. It’s not a big deal. People just can’t get their heads around that but believe me, it’s no big deal. It really isn’t. It’s a big deal if you chose to make it into a big deal and some people do but it isn’t.

SheKnows: We hear that Sergio, playing a boxer, actually got punched.

Helen Mirren: See! This is real courage. Forget the sex scene.

Up next…Helen dishes working alongside Joe Pesci and her famous New York Magazine nude layout.